Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving in France and Switzerland

My Thanksgiving dinner last year was a burnt panini in some crappy truck stop in the middle of nowhere in eastern France.

But I’m not complaining. But really, how hard is it to mess up a panini, much less burn them for 20-odd people?

The reason I was in the middle of nowhere in France was because I was on an hours-long bus ride to Switzerland – where I had one of the best “Thanksgiving” dinners of my life.

I’d never been to Switzerland before, and I would like to say my arrival involved snow-capped mountains, friendly border police and clanging cowbells, but it was a nondescript little town where we made our crossing at 2:30 in the morning.

We checked into Balmer’s Hostel, one of the classic student haunts and backpackers’ hangouts in Interlaken. I was able to comprehend that the curtains reminded me of tablecloths at an Italian restaurant before I passed out on my bed in a room with five of my friends.

The next morning – the day after Thanksgiving – I awoke to one of those fabled perfect Alpine days.

I looked up to the three towering mountains above Interlaken: the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau (Europe’s tallest mountain).

My roommate from Paris and a few of my friends took a bike ride to Thunsee, one of the two “Laken” (lakes) we were “Inter” (between). Along the way we passed glacier water and more majestic scenery.

We later jumped off a cliff without parachutes or bungee cords and were back in Interlaken in time to eat a feast at Balmer’s.

I’ll explain how I hurled myself off an Alpine cliff without dying at some later date.

Walking back into Balmer’s fresh off the adrenaline rush of a four-second freefall arrested by a single rope, my friends and I joined the rest of the students with whome we were studying in Paris and got table assignments.

It’s a tradition at Balmer’s that a Thanksgiving meal is served every year, and as much as I love other cultures’ foods, after two months in France, I was ready for some traditional American food.

And did Balmer’s ever deliver.

We were served heaping portions of turkey with mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables and even stuffing rolled into a pair of golfball-sized portions.

All of that was capped off with seemingly unlimited bottles of wine (but maybe that was just because some of the female students were shamelessly flirting with our male server so he’d keep them coming.

A few of us guys might have been egging them on...

Once we’d fully stuffed ourselves, drank our wine and eaten our desserts, we headed downstairs to the night club/bar that is under Balmer’s and is one of the few night spots in the town.

Beers were two for $5, and we drank our fill, then we hit the dance floor.

Several hours later, when the club closed and the tryptophan overcame the effects of drink and the endorphins from dancing, we all made our way to our beds.

They’d given us little beer mugs with graphics reading “I had a great time at Balmer’s.” When first handed mine, I thought it was a bit cheesy. Just before the lights went out, however, I glanced at the cup and smiled. Cheesy? Maybe. Dead-on? Yes.

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