… say in 2002, it was possible to get airfare from a major European airport to the East Coast for $500 roundtrip, taxes and fees included. Today, Mr. Mad Cow and I booked tickets to go home for the holidays, and I am sorry to report that those days of five hundred dollar fares are over.
This morning I learned a new word in German: Der Abschleppdienst.
I was walking down the street when I saw this vehicle that looked a lot like a tow truck doing something that looked a lot like towing an illegally parked car. The truck was yellow, and on the cab, there were big black letters that spelled out “ABSCHLEPPDIENST”. One of the awesome things about German is how you can break words into smaller chunks in order to figure out what the meaning is. So I broke my new word into three pieces: ab, schlepp, and dienst.
Piece one: AB… I know that “ab” on its own is a preposition that can mean “from”. I also know that when you combine it with a verb, it can add the word “up” to its meaning. For example, the verb holen on its own means “to fetch” or “to get”. If you add the preposition “ab” to it, you get the verb abholen which means “to pick up”. A little word, but big connotations.
Piece two: SCHLEPP… Thanks to Yiddish, the verb “to schlep” is very common in American English. Like many other Yiddish words, it has a comparable German counterpart schleppen which, get this, means “to lug or haul something”.
Piece three: DIENST… I don’t really use any form of the word “Dienst” or its compound variants all too often in my everyday German vocabulary, but I am very familiar with Zurich Gesundheitsdienst, or Health Service, since we have to provide them with documentation every year to prove that we have health insurance.
Putting these three pieces together, I deduced that the word meant “service to haul or pick up something”. I also could have simply looked the word up on dict.leo.org, saving myself the intellectual trouble, and learned that “Abschleppdienst” meant “towing service”.
But where would the fun be in that?
On a recent trip to the farmers’ market, I picked up some local eggplant and green beans, both of which appear to be in season right now. Normally, when I see eggplant in the fall, I think ratatouille. However, the green beans that I saw were ideal for fasolia. For the briefest second, I felt conflicted, but then I had this great idea: Faso-touille!!!
Here are the ingredients that I started with:
I sliced the onion and pressed the garlic, and then sauteed the two together with some olive oil in a soup pot. Then I took the pot off the heat and added the can of tomatoes. Then I added the cubed eggplant and the sliced green beans. I put some sea salt into the mixture, as well as some thyme and rosemary, and let the whole thing simmer together for about a half hour. Then since I had some left over fresh spinach (also from the farmers’ market), I stirred that into the mixture. At the end, I decided to add a can of lentils for some protein since I planned on serving the stew over rice.
Voila, the finished product:
And yes, it tasted just as good as it looked!
I love Greek food. There’s just something about all that divine olive oil that makes food taste so darn good. And all those divine vegetables that get nourished by that divine Mediterranean sun. Before my first trip to Greece in 2003, I already love spanakopita, dolmades, and tsatsiki. Then after going to Greece, I tried briam, gigantes, gemista, and Cretan boureki. Mmmm…
This summer I tried some new Greek dishes: patzaria (beet salad), fasolakia (Greek style green beans), mashed fava beans, skordalia (a garlic-based dip) and horta (kale-like greens cooked with olive oil and other fine ingredients.) I also had this really great cold but cooked spinach salad at a restaurant in Halki. Now that I have tried these great dishes, it’s time that I start making them myself. After all, I make a mean spanakopita and some awesome gigantes.
… and they were absolutely right! I’ve reached the halfway point in my Oxford program, and only now have I found a free moment to jot down a few words. The whole Oxford college experience has been a real trip: meals in the Hall, the Fellow’s Garden, the gargoyles that adorn the buildings. In a word, Fabulous. Of course, the lack of rain helps. All this, and I have been writing too.
Whenever I go back to the US, it often strikes me how friendly people are, especially compared to the Swiss. I have heard American friendliness described as superficial, and there may be some truth to that. After all, the reason why “small talk” is referred to as “small talk” is pretty obvious. The Irish, however. possess such a genuine type of affability that can warm you up like a ray of sunshine, something that can thaw out the coldest of souls. It is possible that they use this interpersonal amiability as a way to compensate for the lack of sunshine. Regardless, it was lovely.
We first got a taste of the Irish cordiality when we went through immigration at the airport. Flying in and out of Zurich, I have become accustomed to a gruff “Gruezi” and then a forced smile of approval. Dublin was another story. First the officer asked us how long we were staying. Then in response to our “two days”, he said how that was really too bad, to have come from so far away and not get to spend more time in Ireland. Then we explained to him that we lived in Zurich, meaning it would be very easy for us to come back. This fact then started off a five minute round about what life was like in Zurich. None of his questions were authoritative. He was just making genuine conversation.
Later, when we were out and about in the city, the friendliness trend continued. No one ever seemed put out when we asked them for directions. A bus driver walked us directly to the kiosk where we could buy tickets. Another bus driver made a point to call out our stop over the loud speaker when we were trying to find the Gaol. (While most Zurich bus drivers call out the names of each stop, I have a strong feeling that no bus driver would ever go out of his way to alert a tourist to his or her stop.) The taxi drivers were chatty, as were wait staff in cafes. In one cafe that we went to, some guy came up to us and said that Niko looked like some English musician that we had never heard of. This same stranger asked Elias if Niko was his son (a comment that both Jane and I found hilarious) and then proceeded to chat with us for about ten minutes.
We did do some sight-seeing (Trinity College, the Book of Kells, St Stephen’s Green, the Gaol, Temple Bar, etc.) and we went a few pubs (also fun), but it really was the warmth of the people that made the visit fabulous.
Mr. Mad Cow and I travel a lot. We have covered a decent amount of mileage and we have changed climates a few times as well. Despite this fact, I still battle temperature shock. Temperature shock is very similar to culture shock, except that it deals with changes in temperature, naturally.
Before we left for our trips to Dublin and Cyprus, Zurich was in the midst of a hot spell, the kind of weather that the American in me associates with summer. It was deliciously warm (around 30 Celsius) with only a spattering of clouds across the sky. Thanks to online forecasts, I knew that I was in for a serious temperature drop. (The high in Dublin was supposed to be 17 degrees.) Even though I knew what was in store for me, Ireland felt really cold to me, especially after the Swiss sunshine. When I walked around at night with a wool cap on, I was grateful that we would soon be in Cyprus, where the high in Paphos held steady in the 30’s with evening temps in the upper 20’s.
Now we are back in Zurich, which, I am sorry to report, is more akin to Dublin than Paphos.
Mr. Mad Cow is currently attending the ECOOP ’08 conference in Paphos, Cyprus. I feel quite spoiled. The conference is taking place in a five-star hotel right on the beach. The wi-fi only works from the reception, so this is the view that I am enjoying as I type:
And here you see that I am not the only person busy with a laptop early in the morning:
PS- Doesn’t he look handsome in that red shirt!
(Right now I am sitting in the Zurich airport waiting to board a flight to Dublin. Let’s see if I can finish detailing our Stockholm trip before I leave for my next one.)
So the next day… again we did not set an alarm with the intent to get up whenever we got up. However, sleeping in is easier said than done when the sun rises sometime before 4 AM. Despite the lack of sleep, we still managed to have another action-packed day.
We decided to take a boat tour of the city, and we picked one that focused more of parts of the city that we hadn’t seen yet. Our boat tour left from a dock that was near City Hall, so we made a point to leave the hotel a little early in order to visit the City Hall beforehand. Stockholm’s City Hall is pretty important. Not only is it home to the city’s government, it is also the locale where the Nobel Prize is given out (I think, or at least it has some big role to play with the Nobel Prize.) The building itself is quite pretty, but its little dock/garden is really what is eye-catching. We spent a good twenty minutes there soaking up the sun and enjoying the water-filled view. Then, we got to have more quality water time thanks to the boat tour. I admit that I am a sucker for water. You would think that after living in Switzerland, I would love jagged mountain peaks, and those peaks do make for some spectacular vistas. However, nothing is as dear and spiritual to me as water. Ok, enough digression. Back to Sweden.
After the boat tour, we went back to the awesome quiche cafe for lunch. Creatures of habit, we ordered the exact same thing as we had the day before. With our bellies full, it was now time to do a museum. Stockholm certainly has a plenty of them. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day, so we decided to do the open-air museum, Skansen. Skansen is located in the middle of a park and focuses on all things Swedish. We saw exhibits with old-school farmhouses, Sami tents, etc. There was even a collection of native animals. I must admit to being very excited about the prospect of seeing real life reindeer. Skansen was fascinating. We spent the entire afternoon there and were thoroughly cultured-out when we walked through the exit. Fortunately, we found a nice waterfront cafe with a view of Stockholm’s poshest street, Strandwagen, where we could revive ourselves. Like Denmark, drip coffee is the default in Sweden, but unlike the US, the coffee really did taste like coffee, instead of coffee-flavored water.
Our flight back to Zurich left early the next afternoon which left us just enough time to check out the History museum which is home to various Viking artifacts and plunder. Unfortunately, we were a little pressed for time, so I did not get as much time for the Viking exhibit as I would have liked and we had to rush through the Gold Room. The various precious metals in the Gold Room were really interesting, especially compared to the treasures stored in the Thessaloniki Archaeology Museum. The Viking style was so much simpler, but nonetheless beautiful.
My one big regret about the trip: We did not have time to visit Birka, a former Viking settlement not too far from Stockholm. I think we may have to go back next summer just to visit Birka. According to some brochure, there appears to be some sort of Viking Faire, a la US Renaissance Faires, in July and August. Now that would be AWESOME!!!
And that would mean another trip to the airport!
Every Friday morning, there is a farmer’s market about two blocks away from my apartment, and as much as I am looking forward to my travels, I am sorry that I can’t go there tomorrow morning. The local fruit available in the summer is so good. Last Friday, since I knew it would be my last farmer’s market until September, I went a little overboard with my purchases. For forty francs, I got spinach and other salad greens, local free range eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, nectarines, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and fresh chives.
Check out this little picnic that I put together from some of the above for an afternoon at the Letten:
I got the potato salad idea from a BBQ that I went to. Most of the time I make potato salad with olive oil and cumin, but this potato salad is dressed with fresh chives, sweet pickles, and a mayo-mustard mixture.
And the fruit salad… just a mix of the fresh strawberries and blueberries from the farmer’s market. They were so sweet that they didn’t need anything else. It was like eating candy.