Friday, August 14, 2015

A Retro Chalet Among the Alps, Complete with a Side Order of Bosnia-Herzegovina


When I last left off on the trip to Europe, we had just arrived in Switzerland and spent the afternoon in Zurich, a very cool place.  Our next stop was a retro, 70's style chalet in a tiny little hamlet in the Swiss Alps called Alpnachstadt, just outside of Luzern.  The place was not modern by any means, not how it looked and not how it was run, but as I think back now, it was definitely the coolest and most comfortable place we stayed in the entire trip.



The pictures above depict the road where the chalet was...a quaint little village surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains. The school's group has been staying there for years now and it is, from what I am told and from what I could plainly see, pretty much the same as it was from many years ago. The Hotel Roessli is run by a burly, gruff Swiss woman and her young, twenty-something year old son.  The dad passed away a few years back and so now the youngster has taken his place in the family business.  

Though outdated in decor, this large chalet in the middle of nowhere was charming, albeit a little strange.  They sell items like pillows that the mom makes and other knick knacks found throughout the chalet and the keys to the rooms had to be put into boxes whenever you left the hotel.  There was a curfew, 11 p.m., and if you happened to be outside of the hotel after then you were in trouble.  Oh, and you were locked out of the lobby in the morning hours before breakfast, as I found out that first morning when I tried to get to that area early to pick up the place's only Wifi.  

The charm of the place, though, made up for its few oddities.  The expansive wooden structure housed many suite-like rooms on three floors towards the back of the building, overlooking the Alps, and a old-fashioned beer garden-like dining room on the main floor served as our familial atmosphere spot for breakfast and dinner.  It was nice to all be together for those meals, enjoying one another's company in such a beautiful place.








The rooms were quaint, and just like you might imagine a chalet would look like.  Wood paneled walls, nooks and crannies everywhere, a little room for zie toilette and another for zie shower, and mine even had a balcony...what a view!  The retro feel of the place didn't really matter...it was by far the most comfortable and coolest place we'd stayed in.




Bosnia-Herzegovina

Being a small, family-run business, the Hotel Roessli had a cast of characters that could have made up a sitcom, from the mom and son to the cooks in the kitchen to the bartender in the pub and especially the very strange waitress whom we called Bosnia-Herzegovina.



She was tall and thin and had a beehive hairdo just like Amy Winehouse.  She spoke with a heavy accent that sounded a little Slavic, but none of us were sure.  One thing was for sure, and that's that she wasn't Swiss.  Ivan tried talking with her, to be friendly, but he had a hard time understanding whatever it was she was saying.  I could tell from the way he was answering her very poor English.  I was standing within earshot of them though, as they spoke, I thought she said she was from Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Thus the name.  

From that moment on, Bosnia-Herzegovina became fodder for my own, made-up stories to give Ivan chuckles.  It turns out, she was in Switzerland to pursue her singing career, doing, of course, Amy Winehouse tunes.  She'd come to Switzerland partly to escape her abusive husband and terrible agent Fang.  She took the waitressing gig at the Hotel Roessli because they were going to let her perform on Wednesday nights at the bar in the hotel and she thought it would be a stepping stone to bigger and better things.  

For the remainder of our trip and even until now, Bosnia-Herzegovina's name comes up every once in awhile.  We were saying we'd wished we had her to perform at our European slideshow back in June, or perhaps a Europe trip reunion somewhere here on Long Island.  Well, wherever she is, I'm sure she's packing em in either still in the mountains of Alpnachstadt or maybe even somewhere in Transylvania.  Either way, we all miss her!     

I wish I had a video of Bosnia-Herzegovina performing Rehab or some other Amy Winehouse smash, but I'm just going to have to leave it up to your imagination what that train wreck is like.  In the meantime, check out my past posts on my trip to Europe and stay tuned for more...












Saturday, August 8, 2015

Dollywood Announces Lightning Rod, The World's Fastest Wood Coaster

There's a new trend in the theme park industry and their ongoing coaster wars that generate mega bucks at the gates, and I'm not sure if I like it, but it does get me excited nonetheless.  Whereas in recent years, amusement parks have been saving their big coaster announcements for the dreary, inactive winter months, new ride press releases have been coming out in the summer months, sometimes up to a couple of years in advance of the newest, baddest roller coaster.  With Cedar Point's teasing of a big announcement on August 18th, Tennessee's biggest theme park attraction, Dollywood, has already made a big one.  Lightning Rod will strike in March 2016.

 

Lightning Rod is a huge announcement for Dollywood, The new record-breaking coaster stands as the park's largest investment ever, coming in at a cool $22 million.  That signifies a seriousness in the parks desire to become one of the beacons of coaster coolness, adding to their already respectable line-up of great roller coasters.


Here's what the theme park has to say about the new Lightning Rod coaster on their website:

Themed after a tricked out 1950s-era hot rod, Lightning Rod launches riders from zero to 45 mph more than 20 stories up its lift hill to one of the ride’s first airtime moments. At the crest of the hill, riders face twin summit airtime hills before tackling the daring first drop. Lightning Rod races down the 165-foot drop and propels guests along its 3,800-ft. track to a top speed of 73 mph, the fastest speed for a wood coaster in the world. 

Located in Dollywood's Jukebox Junction, Lightning Rod rockets riders around its massive wooden structure on an adrenaline-charged lap through the trees in the hills and valleys surrounding Dollywood. During the ride, guests experience nearly 20 seconds of airtime. The coaster train is comprised of 12 cars, carrying two passengers each, for a total of 24 people per train.

Sounds pretty exciting, no?  2016 is already sounding ike it's already going to be a great year! Check out a video simulation of the new ride and stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Pitiful Night on the Sea Tea

It's been way too long in between posts for me on here, but this summer's been a really busy one. Between work and taking classes and making plans with people I only get to see over the summer, I've hardly had any time to get to John's World. But here I am now, and I've got something that I feel needs to be shared...


It had all the promise of a fun night.  Three buddies heading into the city to enjoy four hours aboard the Sea Tea's fabulous new yacht.  Rich, Bobby and I have been going on the Sea Tea a couple of times each summer for just about ten years now, Sometimes it was a lot of fun, others not so much. I've said before that going on the Sea Tea, which dubs itself as New York's Gay Party Cruise, has the potential to be really great or really lousy.  Factors such as the deejay, the crowd, the theme, and the boat itself can make or break an evening on the four-hour excursion into New York Harbor, but we always head on in on a Sunday afternoon excitedly hoping for a great time.  Not so much on this go around.  In fact, our evening this past Sunday on the Sea Tea may have quashed our desire to ever venture into NYC on a Sunday night again.



Like I said, for the second year in a row, the Sea Tea has a new boat, bigger and better than ever. This year's model is called the Hornblower Infinity and it is a big, beautiful yacht, with multiple levels from which to enjoy the four-hour sail.  Upon boarding at 6 p.m., we began to explore the cruise ship-like boat.  It was elegant, with two large tastefully decorated rooms, the top lounge area, full of comfortable little seating nooks,  overlooking the dining room with a large dance floor and dining tables from its center. Multiple tiered decks dotted the boat, affording the most spectacular view of the skyline, Lady Liberty and all else there is to take in here.  Oh, it's going to be a great night!, I thought to myself.

But not Miss Dita, no.  As we parlayed our way around the massive yacht, he was noticing things neither Blanche nor I were noticing.  Finally, he shared his most important observation.

There's no place to dance outside.  That's what always makes this fun!

He was right.  There was no place to dance outside.  The dance floor was located in the dining room, the lower half of the two-tiered center of the boat.  At that time we were on the upper level, towards the center of the yacht and in a not-too-big, but biggish kind of open air area.  Though I really knew better, I suggested that maybe there'd be music out there later on and people would dance there, even though the space was not really dance floor material, though.

Hmmm, maybe, he answered not too confidently.


And so we hung out, waiting for the boat to set sail at 7:30, as other passengers gathered aboard the ever-crowding boat.  It was plain to see that this ginormous floater would handle a lot more people than any of the company's previous ships.  Mo money, mo money, mo money!  That first hour and a half was pleasant enough.  The three of us chatting on the various decks of the boat and taking it all in.  By the time 7:30 came around, we were all hungry and wanted to eat (passengers on the Sea Tea get a free buffet with their ticket!), but we still wanted to be outside when the ship embarked into the Hudson.  So we waited.  That was okay, though, because the sunset on Sunday night was spectacular!

  


Finally, we were out on our sail and it was time to eat.  We've all been on this thing enough times to know the routine.  We eat quick, and then we usually take our spots in, around and on the dance floor.  What we were in for on this Sunday, though, was that this was going to be no ordinary routine. We took our spots at the end of one of two lines for food.  The lines were pretty long, but not that different than normal.  At first, we took turns making trips to the bathroom while the others held our spots and we chit-chatted some more before noticing that the line was not moving.  In fact, well over an hour after we'd entered the line, we were still waiting.  Not good!


At first, we were all complaining about the people in line, how they could be so slow in getting their food, but as we crept closer, the reason for the line not moving became clearer...the food dishes were running out quickly and weren't being replaced.  As those last excruciating minutes passed, we were at our wits end, angry and disgusted.  By this time we were starving, and even as we got to the front of the line, the mismanagement of the food became plainly evident.  

I actually felt bad for the food servers who had to face the frustrated crowds of people.  All they could do, like us, was wait for more the replacement dishes to come out.  While Bobby was lucky enough to get his food rather quickly and run to a table, Rich and I were not.  Both the salad and the bread were gone and we literally stood there for about ten minutes, our hot food quickly getting cold, waiting for more salad and bread to come out.  It was pitiful, and no one around seemed in charge to oversee this debacle.  Most of the tickets for the cruise are purchased in advance (it's five bucks cheaper that way!), and so one might think they'd have an idea of how much food o prepare and have the kitchen staff well-trained to handle it.  

By the time we all sat down to eat, it was about ten past nine.  We'd first entered the line at around 7:40.  An hour and a half completely wasted and all we had once we were done was about 40 minutes to enjoy the remainder of the cruise before it ended at 10.  I said 'enjoy,' but that really wasn't the case.  The three of us spent the remainder of the ride on the top deck where we began, steaming mad, as a drag show came on to the stage below.  Ugh!

So that was our Sea Tea cruise in a bad bad nutshell.  Yeah, the new boat was spectacularly beautiful, but that was about all the good things I can say about it.  We'd spent an hour and a half standing around at the beginning, waiting to get things started and then another waiting and wasting our precious time for food.  There was little to no dancing, as the food lines lined both sides of the dance floor and most of the people were waiting to eat like us.  It was too bad, too, because the deejay was pretty good.  

Now I don;t know anything about the laws that govern boating excursions from New York Harbor, but I have a few suggestions, a wish list, of how the Sea Tea could possibly get better like it should:

- Serve the food while the boat is still in dock.  That's when passengers are gathering anyway and there is no real dancing or mingling.  

- Or better yet, especially if there is some kind of ordinance against serving food while the ship is at the pier, make the food an extra part of the package.  If that were the case, the three of us would have opted out and grabbed a slice of pizza beforehand, but would have had the choice to eat or not.  Of course the price of the ticket should be cheaper in this instance, but still they're making more money already by serving that many more people.  

- Drinks on the Sea Tea have gone up extravagantly in the past couple of years.  Whereas three or four years ago, you used to get a decent sized drink for eight or nine bucks, now you get  teeny tiny cup of whatever for a whopping $14...and they don't even pack a punch!  Make the prices match the product.  If you're going to charge $14 for a drink, at least make it a little larger and a little stronger.

The food and the drinks are never the main reason for us going on the Sea Tea to begin with.  When we go, we go to dance and have a good time in a great setting, but really, we haven't had fun on it for at least a couple of years now.  It's apparently sad, but true, that those who run 'New York's Only Gay Party Cruise' run it as if they're serving stray clientele who don't expect much from the cruise except for maybe cool views in a party atmosphere.  Between the exorbitant prices for a ticket (a not unreasonable $30, but considering what we've been getting, that's a ripoff!) and the drinks, and the poor food service, it would seem as if they don't give a crap about customers getting their money's worth and maybe wanting to do it again.  As for me, I don't think I do anymore and that's really sad! 
  



  








Sunday, July 26, 2015

Still Family

It's been a really long time coming...a little lunch date with young Miss Skylar.  She first messaged me on Instagram after seeing me post a lot of pictures from Europe back in April and we first made tentative plans to see each other way back then.  After a couple of conflicting dates, we finally found time to make a date for today.

Skylar Rose is the niece of my ex, Joe, and I've known her since the day she was born.  In fact, her little corner of Joe's great big family was the one in which accepted me into the fold first, and they all hold a special place in my heart. I have to admit, I was a teensy bit nervous right before our date this afternoon...I mean, Skylar's a young adult now at 16 years old and I haven't really had much contact with her since she was about 8.  All was for naught, though, as I now feel as if I've got a brand new young adult in my life...still my niece...and still Skylar Rose.



Lunch with Skylar was pretty comfortable and wonderful at the same time.  Like the very cool and mature little girl that she was as a tyke, she is equally mature as a mid to late teenager.  She'd told me earlier how she'd discovered my blog through my page on Facebook and there were a couple of posts that she found particularly moving. There was one I had written right after Joe's dad's funeral about me lamenting that I only got to see this whole family, of which I was once a part of, at funerals (see Funerals and Sentimentality, but No Weddings), but never on happy occasions, and another reflective piece written last year on the anniversary of mine and Joe's breakup (see Seven Years).  Of course these were some of the things that came up during our conversation, but there was a lot more.

We spent the two-plus hours catching up, doing a lot of reminiscing, and getting to know one another again.  The whole thing just felt good.  Sitting there and hearing her recall some of the things she remembers about me that I had forgotten gave me such a warm feeling inside...my little rendition of the "peanut butter jelly" song I sang endlessly one Thanksgiving, making the kids wiggle their butts whilst batting in a backyard baseball game, and me taking a page off my nana's book pretending to push their car out of the driveway whenever they'd leave after a visit.  Knowing that those little things made an impact kinda make me feel like I do as a teacher...I'm pretty lucky to have had her and her sisters and her cousins to do those things with.

I learned all about the latest goings on in the family that I'd once been a part of, and as we spoke about each individual, memories came rushing through my brain and I was instantly missing them all. I guess I'm still feeling the same way as I was when I wrote that piece on funerals.  These days, though, another person has taken my place, but little Miss Skylar reminded me that I am not ex-family...I am still family.  Love you!