Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Get Away.

Once upon a time in the beautiful land of Cleve, five lovely maidens made an annual journey across miles and miles of wilderness to an enchanted and intoxicating island, where the natives were quick to laugh, eager to love and interested in first names only. For two days each year these luscious beauties would experience the mystery and wonder of the world’s wackiest brownies, the world’s shortest shower and the world’s longest bar, all in the world’s lostest weekend that will forever be Put-in-Bay.

After the weekend was over the maidens turned back into…poof! girls. As the years went by, love, maturity, responsibility and crabgrass took the reins. Marriages, families, health issues, jobs, Seinfeld, The Sopranos and the Internet were cause for major distraction. And while we all remained good friends, our individual paths took us in many different directions, separating us a little more and a little more as life in general lead the way.

It’s funny how things work out though, because as luck would have it, the kids grew up learned to feed themselves, the DVR came to know us better than we know us, the crabgrass wasn’t going anywhere and we all got back to feeling pretty darn good, thank you very much. What else was there to do but gather this gaggle of girls for a long-overdue weekend celebration of renewed friendship, delicious food, adult beverages, some smart shopping and a little Private Benjamin? We were all on board. Everyone was psyched for the getaway. The only bad part was a last-minute cancellation by one of the girls due to a case of the shingles. WTF? That left a hole in the soul of our plans, but we carried on.

Was it back to Put-in-Bay? Yeah, I don’t think so. There’s no going back. Besides, the place bears little resemblance to its 20th century style and character. That’s my opinion, and after all, this is my blog. Besides, the looks we’d get from the boys these days would be more like ohshitit’smyMOTHER than hey, baby, wanna buy me a drink?

No public showers, bunk beds and urine-soaked village green for us.  
The Lake House. And my car.
The sun came out just enough.
We headed instead for the Lake House, a charming little yellow house in Huron, with Lake Erie as its back yard. I almost said “cottage” because the place is so stinkin’ cute, but this house is so much more: two bedrooms, one bedroom suite and two and-a-half more baths, plus a full kitchen, living room, dining room, bar, laundry facilities, balcony, patio and grill. The WORKS!

We picked an off-peak weekend, the last weekend of September. What to do in Huron other than chill? Not a lot, but that’s OK. When the weather is good a person could golf or go to Cedar Point if that’s what you like. Me? I was happy to sit and stare at the lake, because we had the worst weather that weekend. Cold. Rain. Wind. Fabulous. 

The waves were crashing over the rocks and smashing onto our windows. At times I felt like I was inside my neighborhood Buckeye Super Car Wash. My undercarriage never felt so clean. Then on Saturday this crazy gorgeous rainbow appeared. At times it was a double-rainbow, and it lingered and was bright and brilliant and magnificent. Rainbows lose intensity in pictures, but this un-retouched photo gives you a pretty good idea of our enhanced views.
This would be the rainbow.
 We couldn’t stay inside ALL day (it’s possible that I could have), so we piled in the van and high-tailed it to the local Goodwill and some excellent bargain hunting. I found a 100% cotton, mint condition Liz Clairborne sweater for $4.85. Fits like a dream. I’m wearing it now.

Lunch at the Sand Bar was fun and full of a bunch of old guys watching Ohio State football. I thought I recognized one of them - maybe from 25 years ago at Put-in-Bay. What do I know? Great Lakes beer and fresh perch sandwiches were all I really cared about.

How far I have come.

Evenings were filled with LCR, wine, cards, beer, backgammon, rum and Hairspray, Chicago, Bridesmaids and Private Benjamin. Early in the movie Judy Benjamin just wanted to go to lunch and be normal. I don’t know much about normal, but I do know a bit about lunch, and friends, and a great weekend. Maybe Judy will join us next year along with our other dear friend, minus the shingles.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Play Time

For the past several years we’ve enjoyed a late summer/early autumn excursion with friends to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada for the Shaw Festival. Here we indulge in a long weekend of theater, dinners, drinks and late evening French fries. It’s traditionally been a back-road, top-down trip in our respective convertibles.

This year the weather was threatening to threaten so Darrell and I took the Volvo instead. The handsome photo of the mineral blue 1966 MGB pictured at the top of this page is the car we would have taken, if the sun had come out sooner. Bob and Chris took their cute little Miata anyway because it’s more cooperative when the top has to come up fast. Lucky them. Oh, heck, lucky us, too, in our kitted-out Volvo.

Our drive to NOTL from Cleveland takes about 5 hours since we start off on I-90 and then take Route 5 once we hit western New York. It makes us happy to save on tolls and buy cheaper gas from Native Americans. The lake trail is a picturesque ride with Lake Erie to our left and lush grape fields to the right. Even in early September the grapes were starting to become fragrant. In October you can smell them through closed windows as you drive. It kind of makes you feel all Smuckered inside.

Once we get across the Peace Bridge we head for the Niagara Parkway for the last leg of the trip. The parkway is surprisingly untraveled which makes the views of the Niagara River and some beautiful homes that much more pleasant. Oh, Canada.

Of course we stayed at a bed & breakfast and there are gobs of them in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The chosen one this year was Lyons House B&B.
Little-known fact: Lyons House is cube-shaped. So there.
The house is an easy walk to all the theaters, although King Street can get a little noisy with traffic.  Guests have the use of a lovely, large, comfortable sitting room and a cheerful dining room. Our rooms were nice, too, but the bathroom situation left a tad to be desired. The john was “separated” from the bedroom by a cheap-o, bi-fold, see-through glass door. I don’t know about you, but I like a door that stays closed when I close it and I prefer to not have to avert my eyes when someone else is doing their duty. But that’s just me.

Howard was our Lyons House host. Ah, Howard. He’s a bit of a snob, however benevolent, who likes to wax sarcastic and chat it up some. I mean that in a kind way, but he did get on one or two of Darrell’s nerves.  Mine, too, for that matter. I think a good B&B host should be seen and not so much heard. It really is not about them, after all.

Having said that, I will say this…that Howard can cook. Breakfasts were memorable. When asked if we had any food issues I mentioned that I couldn’t handle eggs if I can see their parts – like yolks and whites and such. So nothing fried, poached or boiled for me. Scrambled, quiched or omeleted I can handle. You get the idea. Howard had some fun with me on this, but did manage to adapt Eggs Benedict quite nicely to my special needs. We also loaded up on omelets, blueberry pancakes and some of the best bacon I’ve ever had. Is there any such thing as bad bacon? Yes, there is, if you’ve been to England, but that’s another story. Bob particularly liked the strawberries and yogurt with a nutty, toasty grainy thing sprinkled on top and a banana surprise down below…as it were.

We asked for a dinner recommendation and H. suggested the Stone Road Grille as being the best restaurant around. He warned that it was pricey. PRICEY! HOLY KRONA! It rivals Stockholm prices. The food was just OK and the portions were rather small. We weren’t too impressed with the price-to-value ratio.

Our favorite restaurant is Ginger, a quiet little white tablecloth place (but not hoity-toity) specializing in Asian style cuisine. Fresh herbs and spices, lightly prepared entrees just so full of flavor. I had the tilapia for dinner and a shrimp bisque to die for. We all came away from that meal feeling really good.

Stone Road and Ginger are a quick car ride from the center of town. We also had a decent meal at Corks, right in the center of town. Howard said Corks was garbage. Hmph! Get off y’er high horse, Howard. The place was just fine. And the price was right.

So, OK, we stayed for 3 nights and saw 5 plays. I’m an actor, not a critic, but I will share some quick opinions on what we saw:

The Admirable Crichton by J.M. Barrie.  The story dealt with class structure, role reversal and nature’s way therein. We usually love J.M. Barrie plays, but this one was not his best. It felt more like a period piece gone all Gilligan’s Island. 
The Admirable Crichton

My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady. One of our favorite NOTL actors, Deborah Hay, played Eliza Doolittle, which was the main draw for us. The show received glowing reviews but we were all underwhelmed. It just felt flat. The choreography was blah and Higgins was kind of dumpy and not very likable. Disappointing.

Drama at Inish, a Comedy. Such an absolute delight seeing how the people of the tiny seaside town of Inish, Ireland are affected by a troupe of traveling actors.  A funny, touching, poignant gem of a play. Bravo to Mary Haney for her priceless portrayal of Lizzie.
Drama at Inish. This actress is not Mary Haney. It's Corrine Koslo who also played Big Mama in Cat.
The President. The Shaw Festival features morning one-acts that are always a great way to start the day. This year’s was the hilarious The President
The President

The lead character, a corporate president, has exactly one hour in which to transform a derelict communist (is there any other kind?) into a credible business executive (your oxymoron joke goes here). Played by laser-sharp Lorne Kennedy, this manic, maniacal “suit” spewed instructions, invectives and asides at warp speed. The. Whole. Time. Beyond brilliant.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This production of the Tennessee Williams classic was a scorcher if I ever saw one. Act I was a tiny bit tepid, as this particular Maggie seemed rather forced to me. But look out for Act II when Big Daddy hits the stage with both barrels blazing.  It was absolutely riveting from there on out.  When we got home we watched the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives and Paul Newman.  Ha! Hollywood left out just a few significant details about Skipper and Brick’s relationship. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Shhhh. It's a secret.

Some people like NOTL because it’s pretty and quaint and has lots of shops to blow your wad in…I mean to go broke in…I mean to browse around in. With the possible exception of the affordable and curiosity-provoking Cheese Secrets, touristy shopping is not a selling point for us. We more appreciate The Stratford Festival for being in a real city with commerce, depth and texture.

But in defense of Niagara, there is one authentic stop that leaves Stratford’s nightlife in the dust, and that is The Old Angel Inn.
The Old Angel Inn
The Old Angel Pub

Established in 1789, the Old Angel is the oldest operating inn in Ontario.

The pub has the best fries on the planet, great manly beers, low ceilings, rickety steps and live music every weekend. It’s always packed after the theater and that just adds to the fun. One day I’ll tell you about Charles from Dusseldorf and his passion for Old Angel B-52s. Wish I had a picture of Charles. He was cute.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Cleveland of Sweden

The drive from Stockholm to Goteborg was pretty easy. Easy for me, since I did absolutely none of the driving on this trip. Good job, Darrell. Getting out of the city was very civilized and nonaggressive. There's not a lot of horn blowing or angry driving in Sweden. Made the morning rush hour escape noteworthy in its uneventfulness. This makes sense to me, and possibly only to me.

It took about five hours to get to Goteborg. The GPS guided us safely back to the Volvo HQ where we dropped off our mud-encrusted car. We emptied out the car and Volvo promised to make it all spic and span before shipping it home. Note: At the start of the trip we asked if we could use the car to carry larger purchases back to the states. The answer was NO. The car had to be empty as it went through customs. We were glad we asked, even though we didn't buy ANYTHING other than what we ate, drank, slept in or handed to a ticket-taker.

The nice Volvo man drove us to our hotel in downtown Goteborg. We stayed two nights at the Radisson Blu, a very nice hotel located near the city center and colorful local entertainment - like the Swedish Michael Jackson.
The Swedish Michael Jackson

Volvo paid for one night of our stay in this vibrant, working-class city. Goteborg somehow reminded us of Cleveland, and I mean that in a good way. You can read about Cleveland's problems in someone else's blog. Goteborg seemed more down-to-earth and accessible than Stockholm. The people had more grit and girth, and that's not to say they were fat and unfriendly, they just seemed more regular. We spent a day and a half here, walking around, taking a bus tour and just chilling out before heading home.

Rooftop view of the city and the port
Upon arrival we went on the hunt for lunch and found plenty of choices well within walking distance of our hotel. We stopped in a pub and had a nice chat with the young bartender who was from New Zealand. I'll call him Sam. Sorry I don't have a picture of Sam. He's really cute. Sam told us how easy it is to get a work visa in Sweden. His girlfriend is from Goteborg and all he had to do to get his visa was prove that they were a couple. We heard a similar story from an American girl living in Stockholm. (Did I mention that already?) Sam also said how confounding he found the language and we had a laugh about that. Then he pointed out, with a bit of disdain, the "Norwegians." Very wealthy men with an air of entitlement, in Sam's estimation. He went on to say that the cost of living in Norway far exceeds that of Sweden. We were a bit dumbfounded by that. Yikes! What are we talkin'...$40 hamburgers? Could be.

Other highlights in Goteborg included Saluhallen, an indoor marketplace similar to Cleveland's West Side Market, only the West Side Market is cooler, more authentic.

Also, Olhallen, a 100+ years old beer hall. One room. No food. No wine. No liquor. Just beer, thank you very much. Darrell wasn't too impressed, but I thought it was worth a picture. Too bad they didn't have any Dortmunder.

There are lots of restaurants in Goteborg. We found a little out-of-the-way gem, Indiska Hornet (Indian Corner) and enjoyed a terrific Tandoori dinner there.

The other culinary, Cleveland-like highlight was the breakfast buffet at the Radisson. Getting readjusted to USA breakfasts, we enjoyed all the bacon, sausages and eggs you could shake a stick at. There were still plenty of cold cuts and plain yogurt, too. Both mornings as we had our breakfast we could hear the mood music over the PA system. Sure enough, we weren't imagining that we were listening to the Kenny G Christmas album...on May 31 and June 1. Swedish humor? You tell me.

On the morning of our departure, after breakfast with Kenny, another nice Volvo man picked us up and took us to the airport. They said they would do that and they kept their word. I love me some Swedish promises and we're on our way, having enjoyed a great trip, happy to head home.

The only glitch getting home was due to a tornado in the Boston area that delayed our departure out of Newark by several hours. This enabled us to catch up on the news via CNN and the continuous loop of Anthony Weiner explaining that his Twitter account had been hacked and he had nothing to do with sending lewd photos to young girls, and with a name like Weiner and blahdy-blah-blah. The first time I watched the interview I thought "who's Anthony Weiner?" By about the eighth time I watched it I had my answer. He's a flippin' liar, that's who! Why I oughta.

Welcome to America.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"The Girl With The Sensible Shoes"

Not many people are aware that the title of this post served as the working title of Stieg Larsson's last book, the story of Lisbeth Salander's long lost Aunt Laura, who came to Stockholm with her Chuck Taylors, a Volvo and a dream. That's because I just made that up. Hard to believe, I know. But the truth is I did pack my Chuck Taylors at the last minute and wore them constantly in Stockholm, with great comfort and confidence as Converse were de rigueur there. I talk like I know who Chuck Taylor is. I don't, or didn't, until Darrell told me that the shoes were named for him. I'm assuming Chuck had something to do with basketball. And yes, I said "de rigueur."

Enough about shoes and more about beautiful Stockholm, a city situated on 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, infused and embraced by Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea. We stayed in the Columbus Hotell ( in the heart of Sodermalm, a gentrified "cool 'hood" full of boutiques, galleries, cafes, clubs and restaurants. Lisbeth's apartment was in Sodermalm. The Columbus Hotell is a mid-priced hotel for (expensive) Stockholm. I think our room was around $200/night, which included a full breakfast. I expected a tiny room with just enough space for us and our luggage - like we had in London. But when we opened our door we were delighted to find a sitting room with a couch and TV, then a sizable bedroom and bath. Really nice and quiet and comfortable. The quiet part might have had something to do with the cemetery outside our window. We recommended the Columbus Hotell to other friends who were making a Finland/Sweden trip and they loved it, too. So it wasn't a fluke.

We stayed in Stockholm for three days and made great use of The Stockholm Card, which we bought online while still in the states. Just load up the card with money and number of days and then use it for just about every museum, church, palace, gallery and all public transportation, including groovy little water taxis. Very convenient and a lot better than digging around for cash all the time.

We toured the Royal Palace, which was decorated in early gaud. Yikes there was a lot of chunky, clumsy, gold and silver regalia all over the place. And portraits galore of the royal family. We were surprised to learn that Gene Wilder was a descendant.

Another notable stop was the Royal Opera House where we encountered crabby Lars and Budapest cake at a nearby cafe (see earlier post). I think Lars and the Real Cake was more memorable than the Opera House, which was nice but can't touch Cleveland's theaters for beauty and splendor.

The Fotografiska Museet was also very cool and we were struck by a fantastic showing of Canadian photographer Ed Burtynksy's manufactured landscapes.

We also visited the Vasa Museet. They built a museum to house this ship that was built in 1628 and sank on its maiden voyage because of the dumb design. But some archeologist dug it up in the 1950s and it was restored and put on display. A monument to stupidity, I guess.

I think our favorite stop was The Tiel Gallery in Djurgarden - not far from the Museum of the Stupid Ship.

The Tiel Gallery was a house built by this Swedish banker, Ernest Thiel, designed for the display of his fantastic art collection, including works by Munch, Vuillard, Toulouse-Lautrec. We arrived 15 minutes before closing so had to zippidy-do-dah through, but it really made an impression. And Djurgarden is a beautiful park of an island, perfect for the Sunday stroll that we took after the Tiel.

Let's see, what else about Stockholm? More than I can cover here, it's a terrific city, full of young people and young families. Babies everywhere, but they're well maintained. Lots of young, lots of old, like Gamla Stan, The Old Town, full of narrow, cobbled streets, lined with shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants and dogs that bear a striking resemblance to Winston Churchill. And Koh Phangan, this nutty Thai restaurant, packed with people, kitsch, and cricket and tropical thunder sound effects.

And while this isn't particular to Stockholm, but rather the Swedish language in general, it was mind-numbing to try to match the spelling of a word to its pronunciation. For example, on the Metro, you'd think the Malarhojden stop should sound something close to "malar" and "hoden." You would be wrong. It sounds more like "yourmotherwearshulahoops." Just ask the New Zealand bartender in Goteburg, he'll corroborate this phenomenon. Next.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Going Baltic

It was a beautiful day -  most of them were during our week+ stay in Sweden - as we enjoyed an easy drive to Oskarshamn where we boarded the ferry to Gotland. Gotland is the biggest island in the Baltic sea and quite the tourist attraction. Visby, where we stayed, is supposedly party central for the hipsters and the rest of the island is a retreat from the aforementioned. We were lucky to miss the summer crush. I might have mentioned that. I forget.

It was a comfortable 2-1/2 hour cruise and if not for the reliable timing of the squeaking bathroom doors, it would have been restful as well. We arrived in Visby, another charming, walled, medieval city. Very small city, but the only one of any size on the island.  Visby is a mix of ancient ruins and modern chic. Lots of history which Darrell could explain in interesting detail. Many trendy restaurants and shops.

We found a nice pub that was a little easier on the wallet. Have I mentioned that the Swedes love outdoor cafes and patio bars? So much so that most places provide blankets for chilly evenings. And they are put to good use by people other than me, being the fan of indoor eating and drinking that I am.

Our hotel (not the one in the picture) was simple, quiet, clean and just fine. Thumbs up on the Hotell Stenugnen.

We spent two days on Gotland. Day One was a stroll around Visby. On Day Two we visited Bro Church, which has drawings that date back to the 6th century. Fwaaa? That is OLD. This was a good stop.
From there we made our way to Faro, a smaller island to the north. There's a free ferry that runs regularly, so it's easy to get there. 

Driving along in silence, just the two of us, with no other people and not much else in sight, this place somehow reminded Darrell and me of Death Valley. It was so arid and surreal looking. Very open, sparse landscape. Along the beaches are limestone formations that jut out of the water and the sand. Very cool. Ingmar Bergman lived on Faro and filmed on location there. You can picture it. 

Sidebar: I'm not presenting the word Faro properly here because it has a couple of different umlaut-looking symbols over the "a" and the "o" and I don't know how to produce that. And God knows how it's really pronounced. We said Fairo. It was lucky that everyone speaks English in Sweden, because their native language is a bear to figure out and pronounce. I'll tell you a little more about that when we get to Stockholm. Soon.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Road to Gotland

Hello! I'm back to share more about our trip to Sweden. Remember Sweden and the Volvo? The Falkenberg freebie? Anthony Weiner? Yeah, well, more on him later. Now that I have your attention.

After a memorable dinner and a comatose-like sleep in Falkenberg, we hopped in the car and hit the road to Gotland. The road trip was only one part of the journey because Gotland is an island off Sweden's west coast, which made driving the entire way a bit risky.

In the southern part of Sweden it's not terribly far from east to west, so we took our time as we headed out, stopping off in the pretty town of Halmstad. Halmstad is a medieval, walled city. It has a seriously old castle and a possibly older church, St. Nicholai. 

Halmstad does naturally what Crocker Park can only contrive, with beautiful existing structures that are filled with shops, restaurants, homes, businesses and history that make the town charming and interesting.

This link gives you more pictures of Halmstad, so have a look.

After Halmstad we headed for our day's destination - a tiny town in the middle of nowhere called Broakulla, aka "Dracula" to us crazy kids in the Volvo. We booked a room at a bed and breakfast called The Dutch Dreamcatcher. It was nice enough, mostly because we had the place to ourselves. Our room was not ensuite and there was a private kitchen area just outside our door. Great for a family, and fine for just us. But otherwise much too close for comfort. Speaking of comfort, I barely slept at the DDc. The mattresses in Sweden are very thin, dense and firm - not uncomfortable really, but our hosts had odd scratchy sheets that about drove me nuts. (Too late you say? Ha! You have no idea.)

Finding a place for dinner that night was not easy. But we had the GPS and it led us to a tiny Italian restaurant in the town of Lindas. The restaurant was on the main floor of an apartment building in this goofy rundown suburban neighborhood. No other commerce nearby and we're the only ones there, except for some old local guy watching TV. Don't ask me. I can't tell you. But I can tell you that the spaghetti bolognese was not half bad.

The next morning we had our breakfast of cold meat, cheese, bread, yogurt and cereal and were on our way. Passed a sign for the town of Pukeberg as we headed for Oskarshamn and the ferry to Gotland. Gosh, we sure wanted to pay a visit to the people of Pukeberg but had to keep going.

We arrived in Oskarshamn in plenty of time. We had booked the ferry in advance. Big, comfortable reclining seats for us and a place for the car below. This ferry is a huge ship making the 2 and-a-half hour trip to Gotland Island very enjoyable, indeed.

I'll tell you all about Gotland and Visby and Faro very soon. It gets better and better.
Cheers for now.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Varberg Affair

Hello out there. I'm back, as promised, to share highlights of Darrell's and my trip Sweden. In a nutshell. Remember the Volvo? We picked up our beautiful new car in Goteborg and drove to Varberg, a nice little stop-off port where we would cool our jets for one night. It's May 23. When we started the trip it was May 22. We'd been without sleep for I forget how long, but suffice it to say it was well past our bedtime, yet only around noon. Go figure.

We arrive at the Hotel Varberg, a nice enough, older hotel. At the reservation desk I announce our name and proudly present our printed confirmation. The nice enough, older lady behind the desk looks and looks for our name on her list, while I rediscover my ability to read upside down. No Starnik. No (insert expletive here). The lady behind the desk immediately calls her boss who shows up right away, while she makes phone call after phone call, speaking rapid Swedish. They admitted to screwing up our reservation and were calling all the hotels to find a room. We're too tired to even cry. There's a convention in town and all the hotels in the area are booked solid. We're feeling more like crying now. But wait. There's a hotel in Falkenberg, about 35-40 minutes from there. Not too far out of our way. The Grand Hotel.

"It's a beautiful hotel, right on the river," says the boss. "And they have a room for you." When I asked what it would cost (Sweden is very expensive), boss man said, "It won't cost you anything. This was our mistake and we're paying for your room." The clouds parted and the angels sang and we were in business. Darrell started to cry. (not really. I'm just being silly.)

Let me back up a little: earlier in this episode I had asked for a ladies room. They just say "toilet" in Sweden. No frills there. I was taken to an as-yet unoccupied hotel room to use the facility...I mean toilet. The room was OK, clean and fine, but a tiny bit rundown and a little sparse amenity-wise.

We get to The Grand Hotel and it was indeed on the river and very beautiful. They had our reservation and there was no issue about who was paying for it. We had one of the few rooms with a balcony, and our room was mighty fine. Spacious, with a sitting area and comfy everything. And Falkenberg was nicer than Varberg, so we totally made out on this deal. Totally. Welcome to Sweden. The beer bottle was not there upon arrival. We added that later after enjoying a gourmet dinner at Gustat Bratt, a charming upstairs restaurant just around the corner from our grand hotel.

Dinner was around $200. Yikes. But the hotel was free, right? Get used to those prices, friends, because that's the deal in Sweden. $20 hamburgers is standard. But you get fries with that. The bad news is there's a 25% tax, but the good news is tipping is not expected. Leave the change or give 5% or so and everyone's happy. Restaurant workers are paid a decent wage.

It's expensive in Sweden, yes, but the service we had was exceptional. The Varberg Affair could have been a nightmare, but it turned out great. We were very impressed with the way the Hotel Varberg handled the situation, jumping on their mistake and making it right without batting an eye.

So far, between the people at Volvo, the people in Varberg and the people in Falkenberg, Sweden is on the ball.

Next stop: Broakulla and the Dutch Dreamcatcher.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My bucket runneth over

Greetings from the southwest suburbs. The sun is shining, tea is steaming, my blogger password has been reset and I am finally focusing on giving you the low-down on a trip to Sweden that Darrell and I experienced in May.

Was Sweden on my bucket list? Nope. Uh-uh. Negatory. Maybe I'd wave at it from a cruise ship one day, but other than that and the Stieg Larsson triology, not much interest. Well, my friends, that was about to change.

It all began in a Volvo, as most things in Sweden probably do.

Our particular Volvo journey began on Brookpark Road in Cleveland. We bought one. We're lucky. It's a fine car, made finer by the Volvo overseas delivery program. I can't tell you about the trip without first telling you about "the deal."

So, here's the deal: Volvo paid our airfare to Sweden, put us up in a nice hotel for one night, AND knocked a chunk of change off the price of the car. All we had to do was fly to Sweden and take possession of our car, drive it around and return it to the Volvo HQ in Goteborg (aka Gothenburg if you're American, or Yooteburg if you're a local). Somehow this saves Volvo a ton of money in taxes or whatEVER. I should know and understand the inner workings, but I'm shallow and don't really care. Volvo's investment paid for our trip.

Was I skeptical about all of this at first? You betcha. I spent most of my career in advertising and was weaned on the greed of our clients. No way was this Volvo thing going to be a good thing for anybody but Volvo.

Boy, was I wrong. There. I said it.

Long story short. The Volvo overseas delivery program kicks major butt. It's as sweet as the Budapest cake we had in a cafe in Stockholm. Oh, my GOD was that good. Quite memorable, actually. and delicious, yet melt-in-your-mouth creamy...where was I? Oh, yes. Volvo picked us up at the airport just like they said they would. It was very fun to see our name on a sign in the hands of some guy who schlepped our luggage and and took us to Volvo HQ to get our car. They even fed us lunch and didn't blink when we accidentally ate the wrong ones. (How were we supposed to know there were other tours and such going on?) At the end of our weeklong road trip in our nice new car we returned said car to the exact place we picked it up. Volvo then drove us to our hotel and picked us up a day-and-a-half later to get us to the airport as we headed for home. They didn't skip a beat and were very nice, too.

Everybody in Sweden was very nice for that matter. Except for one snotty guy in Stockholm, working the box office at the Royal Opera House. Sorry, Lars. We just wanted to know about the tour. Take a pill.

Lars was just a tiny blip. Actually, he made me laugh. Truth is, Sweden is a beautiful country full of beautiful people. Dang, they're beautiful. But they get really wrinkly really fast.

So there you go.

And there I go. Signing off for now, but will return soon to give you the highlights of our Swedish adventure. What we saw, where we stayed, what we ate. It's all good. Just like that Budapest cake.