Travel Blogging an Expensive Prospect

I want to blog about the Zimtstern fashion show I went to last night in Zurich but at 20 bucks to use the Internet at my hotel, forget it. It was in the hip and cool slightly dodgy area of Zurich West – dirty chic you might say – and the snowboarding fashions were much to be desired. If I were a snowboarder. Which I am not. But if I take it up I will now know what to wear.

Blogging on the Road – St Moritz

I had no idea it would be so hard to keep up a blog while travelling – especially when you’re on a press trip and your time is not your own. But how can I not mention St Moritz, the elite of the elite of the ski world.

From the highest hot tub in the world (so they tell me ) …

The tub at the top of the world

to the only natural bob sleigh run (which, because November is so gorgeous and un-snow-like, is not ready to go yet – the projected date is December 19th) St Moritz is one hot winter destination.

Maybe I didn’t get to do the bob sled run, but I did get to fake it …

No one told me to look at the camera

Even for the non rich and non famous like me, St Moritz is the place to be.

 

Hockey Night in Zurich – VIP Style

Stay on your feet!

 It’s not every day I go to a hockey game. It’s not any day I go to a hockey game. But when in Zürich, do as the local fans do. EVZ, the hockey team from a town called Zug are playing the ZSC Lions, the home team here in Zürich. The Lions are winning 3 to 1, and I’m in a VIP box with a bunch of journalists, all of whom know way more about hockey than I do.

Life in the fast box

I have no complaints about hanging out in a VIP box though. We’re here compliments of Florian Zimmermann, the former marketing director of EVZ, now the Managing Director of Number8 LTD, a sports event media agency. After the game he’s arranged for the head coach, Doug Shedden, of EVZ to stop by – the coach was a former player in the NHL (just in case you don’t know offhand the history of every single player to ever have graced the ice).

I’m sure you’re dying to know some differences between hockey in Canada and Switzerland so here’s a few exciting facts.

1) The Rinks: NHL rinks are 200 feet long and 85 feet wide.  Swiss rinks are bigger. 210 long and 98 wide.

2) The Teams: Switzerland has 12 teams and USA/Canada has 30

3) Fighting: NHL players are penalized 5 minutes for fighting. Players here in Switzerland receive a match penalty and are ejected from the game. Although, just in case you think Swiss players never fight – such a peaceful country – two players have already been ejected. It happened in the first period. We missed the excitement though, as we were spending too much time eating fondu at the Restaurant Swiss Chuchi.

4) Money: NHL players get paid waaaay more.

That's one big rink!

Oh, oh. The game is finished and we were rooting for EVZ from Zug – which, I hear, is a bit of a tax haven. They lost 4 to 1. And just when I thought that I was the only hockey ignoramus, Jennifer, the PR rep on our trip, told me that she doesn’t know what’s going on, she just cheers when everyone else does. While it’s advice I think I’ll take to heart, I had to explain that we are not cheering for the Zurich team, we’re cheering for Zug.  Oh, wait. Here’s the EVS coach, gotta go …. but I won’t cheer.

Florian Zimmermann and Doug Shedden

Zimmermann and Shedden - Good Sports

 Coach Shedden just talked about how much he loves working here in Switzerland. He says that sportsmanship is what it’s all about in Europe. “Play hard but don’t fight.” Words to live by.

Writing on the Road – Switzerland

Sleepy and Dull? I don't think so!

This is what my Rick Steves guidebook says about Geneva. “Skip the big, dull city of Geneva: instead, sleep in fun, breezy Lausanne.” Well! I loved Geneva, even if I was there less than 24 hours. I loved the view from my window at Hotel le Richemond that overlooks Lake Geneva, though it seemed particularly poignant since the Empress Sisi, the Hapsburg Lady Di of yore, who I am fascinated by (and, as an aside, used to spend up to 3 hours a day having her long hair combed and festooned with stars) was assassinated as she climbed aboard a boat here. A plaque marks the spot. Except I couldn’t find it. But still …

My biggest regret is that the Museum of the Reformation was closed because it was a Monday. Is that weird? Not that it’s closed on Monday, but because that was my number one pick for a tourist site to visit. I suppose I could have gone to the Museum of the Red Cross, but I wanted to learn about Calvinism. I think I liked the challenge of trying to make the reformation a fun and breezy travel article.

This isn't a bad view either!

Then on to Montreux.  I didn’t know Montreux existed until Swiss Tourism sent me here, and now I can’t figure out why I don’t live here. It is stunning, with the hills behind, Lake Geneva in front and a holiday turn of the century atmosphere. I stayed at the Montreux Palace which is one of those hotels that you just can’t believe still exists. The difference is that now conferences are held in the ballrooms and the old Belle Époque roller skating rink is a convention centre.

Montreux and nearby Vevey are spa central and I did my best to see as many as possible. The American woman who showed me around the famous La Prairie clinic said she ended up living here when she came to Switzerland for a holiday and went to a hockey game one night, saw a good-looking man there and thought, I’m going to marry him. And she did. Now that is positive thinking. Hey, wait a minute. I’m going to a hockey game in Zürich. Oh, oh.

I just arrived in Lausanne, and we’ll see if Rick Steves is right after all. It better be fun and breezy or he’ll have steered me wrong. Whether it could possibly be as fun and breezy as the Reformation, though, remains to be seen.

Travel is Never Easy – Even for a Travel Writer

On Thursday afternoon I called British Airways to try and get a window seat for my Saturday night flight.

“What’s you reference number?” asked the woman on the other end of the line.

I gave it to her. “Sorry,” she said. “Your ticket wasn’t paid and you’ve been erased from the system.”

“Pardon?”

“Deleted. It’s a good thing you phoned.”

So much for getting a window seat. Even when you’re on a Fam (ie a familiarization trip) and someone else is organizing it, like a tourist board or PR company, things can go wrong. In this case, after a small panic attack I contacted the woman at the PR company I’m working with, who said she had my eticket right in front of her on the computer screen. Turns out the reference number had been changed, but the ticket still existed, at least in the virtual world.

The point is that hassles seem to be a natural byproduct of travelling. Hey, if it were easy, everyone would do it! Oh, wait. Loads of people do travel these days. But still. Sometimes people get surprised that I’m just as affected by screw ups on the road as the next person. “I thought you were an expert,” is something I’ve heard before. Boy are they wrong.

I’m a terrible traveller – grumpy when sleep deprived, cranky when overworked airline staff are rude at check in, and shocked and affronted when I get pulled out of the customs line to have someone paw through my dirty underwear. (That happened last week, and actually, I wasn’t so much affronted as embarrassed by my messy packing job. Other than that it was kind of interesting.) Rather than offering expertise to anyone bored enough to read my column, I think I give people hope, because if I can manage to function on the road, anyone can.

So I call British Airways back with my new reference number. “Can I have a window seat?”

It’s a man on the line. “Either you have to pay $30 for a seat assignment, or you can get your seat assignment online 24 hours before your flight.”

What bureaucrat thought this one up? What to do? What to do? I need a window seat. I am obsessive about window seats. I want my own piece of wall or window beside me. It’s the only way I can sleep. But it seems like a pointless waste of money. I ask the guy to check how full the flight is. “Should I pay?” I ask him.

“No,” he says.

It’s a gamble, but one that pays off, Precisely 24 hours before my flight (actually one minute beforehand) I log on and presto. The window seat is mine. I love an airline agent I can trust.

So now on to Geneva, Montreux, Lausanne, Bern, St Moritz and Zürich. When people say to me, “Oh, you must have travelled everywhere,” my reply is usually, “Nope. I’ve never been to Switzerland.” How can I never have been to Switzerland? It’s not exactly off the beaten trail. That’s all changing as of tomorrow. Snow, mountains and well-made watches here I come. And if all goes well, I won’t come back with all these stereotypical images of snow, mountains and well-made watches.

Still, even when you think you’ve got everything ironed out, it’s never smooth sailing. So far I haven’t been able to get into La Prairie Spa, which is the grand dame of the spa world; and someone else has just beat me to a Lausanne story, but come on, who wouldn’t be excited about a trip to beautiful Switzerland? Hassles are just part of the road.

Where Am I? A Travel Writer’s Life of Confusion

Toronto

I Think I'm Here

Okay, physically I’m in Toronto. I know that because the view out of my window shows highrises and trees with dingy gold coloured leaves ready to fall. Mentally, I’m still on the island of Grand Bahama thinking about pirate treasure and the burial sites of the Lucayan people who onced lived here. There. Whatever.

Bahamas

My Head is Here

At the same time I’m thinking about Switzerland where I’m next heading and trying to plan spa treatments in Lausanne (oh, poor me!), thinking about the history of Switzerland in the Olympics, and wondering what the heck to wear to a Swiss fasion show and after party. And how to get a window seat when I’m told British Airways won’t let you book your seat in advance. Is that true? I think I’d better check it out for myself.

Normally I like to give myself two weeks at least between trips, but it doesn’t always happen that way. When a good destination comes up, how can you turn it down? But it messes with your head and your body. Travel is exhausting, even if I did carefully avoid the shots-of rum-at-two-in-the-morning-on-the-beach activities.

The worst cross-over between destinations was when I was staying at the Four Seasons Tented Camp at the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet. An editor suddenly wanted a rewrite of a story I’d just done on Puerto Rico. So I was riding elephants in the jungle by day, and doing all-nighters writing about Puerto Rico at night. That really sucked, because I was only given two days at the tent camp and didn’t want to spend half of it in Puerto Rico.

They say a soul travels at the speed of a trotting camel, and you know what, I think they’re right. At that rate, I should be back from the Bahamas just in time to catch my flight to Geneva.

From Beach Bunny to Art Snob

I’m just back from the Bahamas, and from pirate loot to unexplored cave systems, Grand Bahama is a grand island indeed. I may not be tanned but at least I ended up with plenty to write about.

Now I have to go from beach mode to art mode and I have to do it fast. My brother-in-law, Graham Fowler, is having an art opening at Gevick Gallery in Toronto’s chi chi Yorkville this afternoon at 12 Hazelton Avenue.

Painting by Graham Fowler

That man can really paint!

Last time I went to one of his art exhibits it was in London, England, on the posh gallery row of Cork Street where he had a two-person show with my sister, Catherine. It was a different party in the gallery every night for four evenings running. Why don’t they do that here?

Although at times it might have got carried away. I remember one night when the art dealer who organized the exhibition had to toss out one scraggley Brit found crouched behind the catering table chugging straight from a bottle of champagne. At least I know enough to drink my champagne from a plastic glass.