New Yorkers, We’re Nicer Than You Think

New York City is the 5th most visited city in the world, so I think it’s fair to include some sage advice from a New York native every now and then.

What makes one a native, you ask?  It’s when you reach this moment of realization described by John Updike: The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.

Also, I’ve lived here for just a little over 16 years.  Admitting that makes me feel really old.

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New Yorkers have a bad reputation for being rude, cold, direct, unfriendly, and blunt.  Which is true.  But mostly it’s only true because you’re in the way and we’re in a hurry.  It’s also not true and here’s a great example of why.

Yesterday, I got off the subway and headed toward the gym, heavy gym bag slung over my shoulder.  It was a bit rainy, but nothing serious.  I was wearing these boots that are a bit slippery–although I will never understand why any shoe maker would make BOOTS that have a slippery heel, aren’t boots meant for inclement weather?!

So a bit of rain, plus my slippery boots, plus my head in the clouds resulted in me first slipping on the wet pavement and then me tripping gracelessly over my own feet until I came crashing down so hard on the pavement that I literally bounced.  Bounced! 

As my gym bag went flying off to the right all I heard behind me were loud gasps of “OH MY GOD!” and “OH NO!”  I could even imagine what I must have looked like falling for absolutely NO REASON.  Thankfully I was wearing a large puffy jacket (I’m so over you, Winter) and it somewhat cushioned my fall.  Somewhat.

As I was attempting to pick myself up off the ground as quickly as I could, two teenage boys (that looked like the kind of kids that would be shot in Florida) stopped and immediately tried to help me up, and were all, “You okay, ma’am?”

“I’m okay, I’m totally fine…thank you so much, I’m fine,” but I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide forever.  And also, when did people start calling me ma’am??

I instantly decided that the gym was just not going to happen, and changed direction and started walking home instead.  A really nice, older homeless guy started walking down the block with me and said, “Honey, don’t be embarrassed, we all fall down sometimes…you’ll be okay.”

I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, I probably did a little of both.  Then I went home and ordered Thai food and watched really really bad tv.

See, New Yorkers, they’re nice people.  When you fall, they pick you up and they tell you it’s going to be okay.

The Time We Found A Haunted House In Cooperstown, NY

Let’s go on a little adventure…in the country.

This is Cooperstown, NY.  Gather your friends or your family and drive on over.  Or down.  Or up.

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Rent a gorgeous house with an awesome name like The Treehouse.

Pull in the driveway and be all like whoa….

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Circle around back and be like OH MY GAWD.

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Then sit back, relax and enjoy the view and be all like, “alright alright alright”.

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Slowly unravel your city-self shaking off the intensity and speed with which you are accustomed and take in the quiet.  Think about you life and where you’re headed.  Take a minute to reflect.  Start to feel a little bit terrified of being alone with your thoughts…and the eery quiet.  Are there wolves out there?  Bears?  Racoons??  Why are there no car alarms going off?   How far is the closest hospital?  How long would it take the police to get here?  WHERE AM I?  WHY DID I AGREE TO THIS?  DO THEY EVEN DELIVER PIZZA OUT THIS FAR??

Shake all that off and think of…the creameries.  Where there is country, there is a dairy farm, and where there is a dairy farm, there is a creamery.  Go ahead…eat your feelings.

Because seriously.  Creameries.

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Wake up to a bright new day and go for a walk.  And see this sign.

And ignore it.

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Ignore this sign, too.

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Realize you’ve stumbled upon every child-who-grew-up-in-the-80’s dream–AN ABANDONED HOUSE THAT HAS TO TOTALLY BE HAUNTED.  Because, what’s creepier and more of a ghost magnet than an abandoned swing set?

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Debate whether the house is safe enough to go into.

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Lose one city-slicker who says, “I’m pretty sure spirits have been living in there for a while, and I don’t want to make their invisible acquaintance and then bring them with me wherever I go for the rest of my life.  Also, that floor looks like it’s going to collapse.”

Indeed, it does.

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But this brave little camper is NOT AFRAID.

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Leave your only smart and logical friend outside and forge ahead.  Because there is graffiti in there from 1979!

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Take in the conflicted messages left for you all over the walls.  God? Satan? Or Manson?

jesus savesgodissatancreator

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Ponder the oddly religious graffiti artists that have been through these doors and take in the kitchen.

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And the window treatments.

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And the lovely gardens.

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Then realize that yes, the floor is probably going to collapse.  Go outside and pick some fresh flowers left by your friendly ghosts next door.

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And shake off the creepy feeling that you have ghosts following you around for the rest of your life and go have some drinks on the dock.

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Blow some bubble for the kiddies because, seriously, this entertains them for HOURS.

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Take in the beauty of your surroundings.

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And watch the sun set on yet another perfect day.

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And program the nearest pizza delivery place in your phone in case of an emergency.

The Time I Had The Best Beef Jerky Of My Life. In Cleveland.

Guys, I know what you’re thinking.  Who goes to Cleveland…on purpose?

Well, no one really.  Despite their really awesome marketing campaign here:

And here:

So you might have some preconceived notions of what Cleveland is like…I mean, yes, both times I went it was rainy and gloomy and miserable…and cold.  Very very cold.  BUT!  But I believe misery breeds creativity.  And cold miserable weather breeds the desire to eat.  So creativity + food = some seriously fine food.

And we all know how serious I am about food.

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So you can credit Cleveland’s surprisingly thriving food scene to crappy weather, the desire to eat, and of course Iron Chef Michael Symon.

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I mean, have you BEEN TO LOLA or LOLITA or THE B SPOT??  I have, I have been to all three and this is what I have to say about that.

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Michael Symon revolutionized the food scene in Downtown Cleveland, and now between the hours of 6:00 and 9:30 on any night, you had better have a reservation somewhere or you’re not eating.  Because people are serious about their eating there.  And they don’t have time for your out-of-town notions of just walking in somewhere and getting seated because, “seriously, this is Cleveland, how busy can it be?”  Well, it’s busy.  Real busy.  So plan ahead or you’ll be driving around really strange places outside that few mile radius that feels charming wondering if you should maybe drive through that red light to avoid, I don’t know, perhaps being car-jacked.  (Just kidding, Cleveland!  Sort of.)

So now that you have your dinner reservations for every night you’re in town, you probably want to start planning your days.  There is a lot to do in Cleveland and you want to be sure to fit it all in.

really

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But you do want to make time to go to The West Side Market.  Because it is glorious.  And you must go directly to J and J Meats and immediately order the beef jerky.  Because its not really beef jerky, it’s more like a juicy steak that you can carry around with you and bite into anytime you feel like it.

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Now, if you aren’t going to drop your vacation plans in the Bahamas to fly immediately over to Cleveland, you can actually order this beef jerky ONLINE!!.

I know, I know.

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The Time I Met Ron Jeremy, Bill Plympton, and The Hulk at Comic Con.

Sometimes my job sends me to really random places, and one of those places for four years in a row was Comic Con in San Diego.

When I was assigned the project, I was all this on the outside:

snookie

But on the inside, I was all:

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Let’s be honest, it’s a total nerd fest, but I’m a total nerd so I felt right at home.  I mean, I wasn’t playing “Magic the Gathering” in the corner or taking Klingon-as-a-second-language classes or anything, but I was as dazzled as anyone else entering the entirely overwhelming 615,700 sq. ft. of pure advertising.  No longer a convention of comics, this convention had now become Hollywood’s launching pad.  Premiere something at Comic Con and the message goes flying to the four corners of the earth as quickly as you can say something in 140 characters.

The first year I went I was pretty impressed with the costumes.  I mean…these guys,  amiright?

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Or this curious looking group:

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Or my new friend:

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However, what I will never understand is this whole bizarre world of Anime.  I’m not judging it, but seriously, I really don’t understand it.  It this a cat?  A person?  A caperson?  And does it have a super power?

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So whenever I have a few minutes of downtime I roam around the exhibition floor and one time I just sort of stumbled upon the Bill Plympton booth–Bill is a cartoonist who I happened to think is pretty awesome.  I chatted with him for a little while, he seemed to like me, and then he drew this for me!  I think he captured me pretty well here, right?

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As I was about to leave RON JEREMY!! just sort of sidles up and totally crashes my conversation with Bill!  Not only did he crash the conversation, but he completely took control of the conversation.  And quickly organized an impromptu photo session.  He grabbed my phone right out of my hand and had his friend take a photo of he and I together (which I will not be posting because I look pretty horrible in it…and terrified).  Then he gave me my phone back and posed with Bill and I snatched this photo.

Ron

And then we all chatted for a while like we’d known each other for years.  There was talk of drinks and “where’s the party at” which I just kind of stayed out of.  More because I couldn’t quite grasp what was happening than anything else.  I mean, it was all seriously very bizarre.  However, throughout that conversation I learned that Ron Jeremy is actually a pretty nice guy.  Maybe he’s not very nice looking, but he’s a nice guy.  And Bill Plympton, well, Bill is just all kinds of awesome.

So the moral of the story here is…everyone should go to Comic Con at least once.  Because you might run into Ron Jeremy.  Or Lou Ferrigno.  Who is pretty much the coolest guy in the world.  Hulk, indeed, although I think I can take him in an arm wrestling match pretty easy.  Probably.

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The Time I Became a Graffiti Artist in Berlin

I’m a big fan of street art, and I always wished I had one single artistic bone in my body, but sadly, this is pretty much the extent of my art skills.  Seriously, I like, just drew that.  And I was TRYING.

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Probably better to leave the whole art thing to the experts, but if those said experts ever want to employ me to help them spread their art, I’m all about it.  And this is how I became a graffiti artist for almost two whole minutes.

My friend Alexis Ames is one of those super talented arty people…obviously, I mean look how adorably arty she is!

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Before I headed out to Berlin, Lex told me about this really cool place called Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles), originally called: Friedrichsstadtpassagen.

No really: Friedrichsstadtpassagen

Michael-Scott

It was originally a department store in the Jewish quarter in Berlin, and then sadly it served as a Nazi prison.  After World War II it was partially demolished and then after the Berlin Wall came down it was taken over by artists who called it Tacheles, which is Yiddish for “straight talking”.  And Germans are nothing, if not straight talkers.

For instance, when we were driving around aimlessly looking for the Berlin Wall, we pulled up to this guy at a stop light and asked for directions to The Wall.

His response:  “well, ya, you just have to go straight…back in time about 30 years.”

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But I digress.  Tacheles was at the top of our list of things to do in Berlin, and Lex gave me a FLYING BUNNY sticker to bring with me and put in as many places as I could.  The Flying Bunny is part of Lex’s logo design (see right over there on the right).

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The FLYING BUNNY was inspired by her beloved pet, the late Mr. Bun Buns:

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So I took The Flying Bunny with me to Tacheles and I totally TAGGED a wall.

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All for you Mr. Bun Buns…all for you.

Unfortunately, Tacheles was closed down on September 4, 2012 after fighting the good fight for alternative art for 22 years.

I feel pretty lucky to have seen it before it was gone, and of course I took about a million photos.  Here is a little tour through the building…

Me with a gorilla outside in the courtyard:

gorilla

Enter if you dare:

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Jewelry for sale:

rings

This painting both frightens and confuses me:

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People posting photos of themselves in support of Tacheles:

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My awesome nephew, Greg:

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I was a little afraid to touch it.

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And of course a super creepy hallway.

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So, I would totally say GO HERE, except that there is no longer a HERE to GO…

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For Eats: RedFarm

Customer service is truly a lost art in America.  Or, at least in Manhattan.  And if you’ve ever had the misfortune of having to go to a Duane Reade, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Everyone that works at Duane Reade is all…

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and you’re like…

hello

and they’re like…

ok

So you’re like…

waiting

To which they’re like…

ohmygod

Until you finally leave with your overpriced toothpaste and your hair spray feeling all…

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That’s why when you stumble upon a place that actually DOES care about their customers, you treasure it and hope that no one discovers it so they can’t take it away from you, except that it’s so great that you also want to tell everyone you know.

Back in late January, my friend and I decided that it was not too late in life to take ballet classes.  Adult beginner ballet classes.  Because, you know, it’s never too late to become a Prima ballerina.  And also, up to this point, I really believed that despite my love of eating, my short legs, and my lack of flexibility, I was always really destined to be a dancer.

Well, friends, that dream is never going to be realized because I looked a lot less like this:

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And a lot more like this.

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After accepting the cold, hard reality that we will never be cast in swan lake, we decided we deserved a great brunch after the utter humiliation of sadly flailing about in ballet shoes.  It was about 10 degrees outside and neither of us wanted to have to go very far, so we settled on a new place that opened up on the upper west side only a few blocks down: the magical RedFarm.

We stumbled in out of the 2nd or 3rd polar vortex (I don’t know, I lost count), and were immediately greeted by the host.  It was packed, and we had no reservations, yet somehow they were able to find a spot for us at the communal table pretty quickly.  I should note here that we were both in gym cloths, had no make-up on, and looked pretty unfit to be eating at a nice restaurant.  Yet…they still welcomed us with open arms.

As I mentioned before, it was bitterly cold and because RedFarm just opened, they hadn’t gotten their “winter door” yet which helps block a lot of the icy air from coming in every time someone enters.  So my friend and I were just a little bit cold, but we were okay with it because, well, because wine.

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However, the host or owner (not sure which?) noticed us looking a little rough around the edges (and also cold) and DESPITE the fact that the place was totally packed he said, “Girls, I just can’t watch you shivering over here, I’m going to move you to a warmer table.”

I mean?

I wanted to be all like…

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And it didn’t stop there!  The entire staff, from the hostess to the waiters to the bartender were just…awesome.  Points for knowing the menu, points for knowing the wine list and points for making great recommendations–and bonus points for everyone wearing really cool t-shirts.  It felt like a cozy neighborhood joint that had been there forever.

Yet, that wasn’t even the best part.  The best part was the food.  They take Chinese Cuisine to a whole other-worldly level.

I mean, just look at these adorable Pacman inspired dumplings!

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And clearly, anything that reminds me of the 80’s is aces in my book.

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Also: the mussels with eggplant & okra.  ORDER IT.

Also also: this bizarre chicken stuffed with shrimp thing–I cannot figure out how they made it, but AH MAH GAWD.

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When you combine excellent service with an inspired menu, it’s well worth the price of admission.

So the next time you poo-poo the Upper West Side for not being as “foodie” as other parts of Manhattan, give RedFarm a try.  And then I want you to write me a note thanking me.  Because you will.  You will totally thank me.

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The Time We Coined The Term “Franc-en-shafted”

Last month, I decided to go on a European road trip with my brother, two of my nephews and my cousin.  We like to think of ourselves as “the dream team”…but probably resemble something more along the lines of this.

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We landed in the Milano airport and immediately got busy.

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Coffee?  Check.

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Patron XO Cafe?  At 8:30am?  After an overnight sleepless flight?  Sure why not.

Our very loose plan was to land in Milan, drive up to Zurich, then over to Liechtenstein (more on that in another post), then onto to Venice, Florence, Bologna, Rome and then up to Parma through the Tuscan countryside, ending our trip back in Milan.

IN 5 DAYS.

I do not normally like to travel like this—I prefer a nice leisurely pace with time to really absorb my surroundings (preferably a nice lukewarm Caribbean ocean with a fancy drink in hand).  But sometimes you have just have to go for it.  You have to be the America cliché because you are, for the most part, American.

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So we landed in Milan, had some coffee and were on our way.  One small glitch: our GPS was set in Russian.

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Russian.  An alphabet that is, like, totally impossible to work with when you’re desperately trying to search “how do I change the damn language on the GPS when it’s set to Russian” with my limited data roaming plan.  (Verizon, you’re the worse.)

GPS OUT, iPhone IN.  Our first mission was to leave Milan and head to Zurich.  Something I absolutely DID NOT want to do.  Why why why would we leave beautiful, wonderful, WARM Italy for the mountains, and cold, and dark, and dreary?  WHY WOULD WE DO THAT?  I tried my best to convince the dream team to skip the Alps, but I was outnumbered.  So I gave in and focused on the photo ops instead.

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At the border of Italy and Switzerland you are charged 35 Euros to enter Switzerland.  That’s a red flag if I ever did see one.  But we resumed blissfully unaware that the Franc-en-shaft had begun.

Around noonish we arrived in Zurich and started looking for places to eat lunch.  I looked up some places on yelp and picked the highest rated/cheapest option.  Except in Zurich “cheap” means something completely different than what it means for the rest of the entire world.

We find a pub and it’s tiny and cute and the owner seemed like a pretty authentic, rough around the edges kind of guy.  Thankfully, my brother speaks German which earned us just a touch more respect than perhaps other American tourists would have.  He plopped down menus in front of us, and gave us all of 3 seconds to look it over and figure it out.  All the while standing impatiently over us waiting for our order.

When we told him we weren’t ready he gruffly took our drink order.  My order went something like this:

“Can I have a glass of the house red wine?”

“WINE.  WHITE.  OKAY.”

“Ohhh, no…red.  Red wine.”

“OKAY.  WHITE.”

My brother, laughing, ordered my red wine in German.  The owner was not pleased.  Did they have an abundance of white wine that he was trying to get rid of?

He came back two minutes later and pulled the menus out of our hands and waited for our orders.  Let me repeat that, HE TOOK MY MENU AWAY BEFORE I COULD POINT TO WHAT I WANTED.  Which of course left me to place my order in my ridiculous version of German.

“Geschnetzeltes, please.”  Yeah.  Exactly.

I ordered what is supposed to be the specialty in Zurich, and it looks like this.

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It’s chicken (or pork or veal) smothered in a creamy mushroom sauce with what looks/tastes like a hash-brown on the side.  And despite myself, and my growing dislike of this pub owner, it was pretty tasty.  One side creamy, one side fried—win-win, right?

Our check came out, and was placed gently on the table.  Ha, I’m kidding, gentle is not in the German/Swiss vocabulary.

You may or may not know this, but Switzerland is so rich that it never converted to the Euro.  They’re all about the Swiss Franc.  And because the country is so small, everyone is obviously a millionaire.  Because our bill for the cheapest/highest rated pub in Zurich induced this reaction.

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So we paid.  Yet, still, we shrugged it off because we were ON VACATION!  YEAH!

But then we went to get coffee at the Starbucks (Zurich is basically an outdoor mall full of American chain stores set in picturesque surroundings).

And we paid 8 Francs, or $9.20, for a coffee.  This, this was the moment we coined the term: FRANC-EN-SHAFTED.

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The entirety of our Swiss adventure felt like one big Franc-en-shaft after another.

Our most expensive, most delicious meal at a very expensive restaurant in Rome cost HALF of what a crappy “cheap” pub with terrible service costs in Zurich.

So do GO to Zurich for the photo ops:

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alps

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But DO NOT eat/stay/drink there.  Just turn yourself around and get yourself to Italy stat.

However, if you do decide that you must see the Swiss Alps, because they really are beautiful, you should perhaps brush up on your German:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_xUIDRxdmc