Is This What People Mean By Birthday Weekend?

Because I certainly had a better birthday weekend than anyone I’ve ever met. You may now commence your jealousy. (By the way, I just checked the length of this post, and it is 5 pages single-spaced…be prepared!)

WEDNESDAY – November 7th

I had two and a half hours of sleep when I awoke and ran out the door to go pick up my family at the airport. Before I picked them up, I made a quick stop at a chocolate store to pick up three Cailler chocolate bars for them, just in case they were hungry. Also as a sort of “Welcome to Switzerland” souvenir. I found them quicker than I thought I would! The reunion was really awesome: I was going down an elevator and they were right on the bottom. As soon as my brother Areg saw me, he jumped up and down with excitement! Essentially, I was doing the same thing in my head. 🙂

My family and I took the train to Geneva, tram 15 to Môle, walked a couple of blocks and stopped at Hertz. My dad had wanted to rent a Mercedes and was disappointed that one wasn’t available. We got a Volvo instead, which was still a very good car! Unaware that the car might have a built-in navigation system, my parents wanted to be safe and brought my dad’s GPS too–so we had two GPS systems! Which is good because sometimes one was wrong while the other was right, and vice versa. We quickly found our apartment in Vieille Ville and soon found a parking space. The apartment is pretty spacious: one bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, a corridor, a toilet room and a bathroom. Every now and then, Areg got confused as to which of the two rooms had the toilet in it. We got settled in, they unpacked their stuff and we were soon out the door. We drove around for about ten minutes trying to find a place to park so we could walk around, when we noticed that my brother fell asleep. It was a really deep sleep. My parents didn’t want to wake him so we drove around for the entirety of the time…it was about an hour and a half! I showed my parents Le Grand Théâtre, Le Conservatoire, Le Parc des Bastions, La Chaise Cassée, Les Nations, Le Musée Ariana, Le Croix Rouge, the neighborhood Place Bourg de Four which included Saint Pierre Cathedral, Les Armures, Hôtel de Ville, Maison Tavel, the world’s longest wooden bench, and lots of other landmarks! Poor Areg missed all of it, although I am currently unsure of whether he would have appreciated it.

My dad found a parking spot in Vieille Ville and we dragged little bro bro out of the car. He was so angry with us! Although, he is at his cutest when he’s tired and sleepy. My mom found a cafe/restaurant that she liked and we got some food there; Areg was asleep the entire time. Well, it did make for some cute photos, as you can see below.

Back at the apartment, we slept. Somehow Dad got up just in time to wake us up to go to my host family’s house for dinner. Once we arrived, my host family was very inviting–they offered us appetizers and wine and we made some pretty good conversation. My host mom served us raclette (for a refresher on raclette, see this post) and my parents loved it so much they’re thinking of getting us a machine for home! YES. My evil plan worked. What was unfortunate is that Areg was unable to enjoy the food. Which is bizarre, because he loves cheese and he loves potatoes! He asked my host mom for butter to make a puree out of the potatoes. Silly… The night was a great success, save for some itty-bitty moments of awkwardness because of language barriers. My brother tried to communicate with the 12-year-old, Mathis, and was having a really hard time because Mathis does not speak English. My poor brother even tried speaking to him in Russian at one point! God, that was hilarious.

BIRTHDAY – MILANO

The first trip of the visit! We encountered some beautiful sites on our way to Milan and paid approximately €40 to enter a tunnel! These people really know how to make some money. Funny: every time my parents would point to a beautiful mountain, my brother would respond with, “Yeah, what’s the big deal. We have that in New Jersey.” To which I would typically respond, “No, you could only find that in Delaware or Pennsylvania!” At a certain point, my dad handed the wheel over to my mom. I really don’t know why she agreed. Because every five seconds he would interrupt the person who was talking previously and butt in about how my mom should merge left, right, pay attention to the road, read the signs, slow down, speed up, use the neutral gear, and the list goes on. And it only got worse in Milan!! It didn’t help that Mom was trying to put her make-up on at every red light… I guess we all have our faults! My dad turned to my mom and said, “Why is it that you keep speeding? What, do you have something to do at the Duomo?” I really should not have missed that hint. You’ll see why in the next paragraph.

My dad told my mom he would drive and immediately stopped at a corner. He told all of us to get out while he’d wait in the car. I was so confused… Why were we going sight-seeing without him? Because we weren’t. I was too much in awe of the Duomo to notice when my brother had screamed out, “Tigran!” I turned around and saw my godmother Anoush (whom I haven’t seen in four years since I last visited Moscow), with her son Tigran aka Tiko (whom I had never seen)! I was in complete shock. I wondered what they were doing in Milan and why we hadn’t set up a meeting with them. But then I noticed that my mom and Anoush didn’t seem very surprised… I almost cried, “Conspiracy!” Why did my mom set up a meeting with them and not tell me!! I legitimately thought that we had met there by accident! Tigran handed me a tote bag and said, “This is for you!” Whoa the entire thing? It was pretty heavy… While we were walking back to the car, Tigran came over to me and said he wanted to practice his English so we talked about American schools for a bit.

Dad parked the car in public parking, we checked in to our apartment and walked to the Piazza del Duomo where we sat in a pizzeria. We lit a few candles in the Cathedral del Duomo, walked through the Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II (a covered shopping mall) and ended up at the Piazza della Scala. La Scala isn’t as beautiful as I expected it to be, though we did walk in and experience walking around a little. 🙂 And of course we had gelato afterwards! Mmm I had tiramisu flavor… We went shopping shortly thereafter! I didn’t like anything in the shopping center by the Duomo, so we went instead to the Via Monte Napoleone, Milan’s most fashionable shopping street. Complete with Versace, Armani, Valentino, Christian Dior, Emilio Pucci, Giuseppe Zanotti, Ralph Lauren, and others, it felt like we were almost royalty walking down that street–yet we were somewhat hesitant to walk in to any of the stores. I saw Burberry and had to go in! After spending thirty minutes in the store, with Tiko watching Areg in the lobby, my parents, Anoush and I decided that no matter what you bought in the store, you couldn’t go wrong. Everything they make is top-notch and looks superb on practically any figure because it is so aristocratic.

I wish I knew the name of the restaurant where we had reservations… We all had such a wonderful time. I spent the evening occasionally talking to my mom, watching my brother and talking to Tiko. I told him about college life in the United States and about my roommate experiences; how I really did not want to live away from my family but learned independence while away; and described to him what extra-curriculars are and what are some characteristics employers look for in their candidates. He is a very curious young adult and throughout the course of our conversation, he realized how much he would love to come live in the United States. His biggest fear is leaving family behind, but I told him that if he were to attend a university in New York or New Jersey, he would be surrounded by family that would drop everything for him: he would not even have to live in a dorm his first year if he did not want to! Newly-encouraged, my mom suggested that Tiko try an intensive language program in the US over the summer to gauge his level of confidence in the language and see if he liked the American atmosphere. Secretly, I got excited too because Tiko clearly has a very bright future ahead of him and I would really love to keep up better contact with him.

FRIDAY – VADUZ and ZÜRICH

We met with Anoush and Tiko for breakfast in a little Italian bakery. Tiko had a strawberry sorbet while the rest of us ate croissants. Areg threw another little tantrum by approaching the saleswoman and asking her to cut open his croissant and add a bunch of Nutella. Of course he realized afterwards that the Nutella was overwhelming and complained that he ate too much chocolate. After we all finished breakfast, Tiko and Anoush walked us over to the car and we said good-bye. I really hope that the next time we meet won’t be 14 years from now…

To get to Vaduz (the capital of Liechtenstein), we drove through Lugano, the only Italian canton of Switzerland. Now I could say I’ve been there! I’ve been meaning to visit out of curiosity but the trip is too long and I wouldn’t want to sleep over there. Driving in to Vaduz, it seems like any old small Swiss town. Life is very slow there and the town is tiny. My dad immediately found the Hofkellerei (Wine Cellars) of the Prince of Vaduz. All we really wanted to do in Vaduz is take some pictures of the castle and taste their wine. The white wine was the best I’d ever tasted, though the red wine ranked rather low. My parents bought a couple of bottles for us and for others as gifts. A little queasy from the smell of alcohol, my brother left the winery to walk around outside. I went with him and we took some impromptu pictures in the vineyards while hiding from my parents. 🙂

Next stop on our trip was Zurich–it is so beautiful!! In comparison with Geneva, it is a much more vibrant city, with stores closing later and a generally cleaner atmosphere. I was under the impression that there are hardly any immigrants in Zurich, but at an interview for my research project later, I learned that there are about as many immigrants there as there are in Geneva–the difference is that they typically speak English. The city is famous for its churches, which we didn’t have the opportunity to walk in to but of which I was still able to take pictures. It is also famous for housing the Bahnhofstrasse, Europe’s most expensive and exclusive shopping street, stretching over a mile long. Areg wanted to walk in to one of its chocolate stores and begged for some morsels of chocolate from my parents. Inside of the central station in Zurich, we accidentally walked in on a live taping of a show of Swiss machinery! Cameras were everywhere and taking interviews from the people who operated the machinery. And then we saw ourselves on the big screen hehe.

We took a stroll on a tiny street called Liederdorfstrasse where we found a plethora of restaurants and cafes to choose from. We stopped in a cafe that seemed as if it served pizza but then we didn’t find pizza on the menu…still we saw people getting served pizza! It was rather confusing. Every one of us ordered something really small and not too filling. On our way back to the car, my dad proposed a game: the one who found the car first would win €20. Obviously I jumped in first, then because Areg wanted to beat me he joined, and because Dad told Mom that she wouldn’t be able to find it, she joined as well! Mom told me (so that Dad could hear) that no matter who won, Dad would end up keeping the money for himself. Areg made the first wrong turn; he was eliminated. I said that we could go one of two ways; the second way Dad didn’t like so he decided to disqualify me. Thus leaving Mom to gather the spoils! But, given that Mom won, Dad didn’t think he needed to give her the money, since it’d be from their shared bank account anyway, leaving Mom with nothing. In the end of course, she was right. Dad bought himself two sausages from a vendor near the station with the money he should have given to Mom.

SATURDAY – GENEVA

So wiped out from yesterday, we all finally got up at 11:00. We left the apartment at around 12:15 and ate at a bakery on Boulevard Helvétique. We rushed to find a bus that would take us back to central Geneva because my grandmother had sent some money with my parents to buy my grandpa a legitimate Swiss watch. After window browsing for about thirty minutes, I found a watch that I really liked. My mom talked to someone who said that there are some great watches in Place du Molard, so we kept that particular watch dealer in mind and took the same bus out to Molard. I realized pretty quickly that there was no way we were going to find a good price for a watch there. Everything was too darn expensive, given that it was a hot tourist attraction. When passing by a little market, my mom got a craving for some grapes. My dad refused to buy her some–claiming that 6.20 CHF a kilo was too expensive–so I ended up getting us grapes. Dad asked me which ones I wanted and I picked black grapes. Mom came back from looking at some other fruits and was really disappointed that we didn’t get white grapes. I didn’t know those were her favorite! Either way, both types of grape had seeds in them (all of the grapes I’ve tasted in Geneva did) which my parents didn’t like. Too bad for them–more for me!

We were sitting by a fountain eating the grapes when my mom received a telephone call. She picked it up and went to the side while the rest of us got up and began walking again. When she came back, I asked her who the call was from: she said it was nobody. Weird. What was also weird was that a minute or so later, my mom said to me, “Oh, isn’t that one of your friends over there?” Confused that she knew what my friends looked like abroad, I didn’t have a chance to react as immediately my eyes were covered up by someone’s hands. I didn’t know who it was! …until he spoke. And I knew immediately it was Karen, my mom’s nephew and my brother’s godfather! He lives in Moscow and travels a lot so he is almost impossible to get a hold of. Yet here he was in Geneva for my birthday! I was completely shocked and really touched.

After meeting Karen’s friend, Lena, and walking around Place du Molard a some more, I told my family that I wanted to get that watch from before for my grandpa. Back at the store, my dad tried on the watch and said it was too heavy. Sad. 😦 But we found a better watch! It is a Certina silver watch with gold lining. Here it is:

Model: DS Caimano Gent

We went to Karen’s hotel, Hotel Wilson, where Karen and my dad asked the concierge for his opinion on a good restaurant outside of Geneva. He suggested a restaurant called Creux-de-Genthod, in the town of Creux-de-Genthod. That really boggled me… After much searching, my dad realized that the restaurant was near the docks, completely hidden from anyone who didn’t already know where was. Our reservation was at 19:30 and the table was already set for us, candles lit! What can I say…really French! From the beginning, we established that I am the only one in my family who speaks French, so the waiter would sometimes look to me for guidance when he didn’t know how to say something. Kind of adorable! The food was sooo pricey. My brother ordered a soup and main course which cost 39 CHF! My mom and I shared an appetizer that cost 19 CHF. Granted everything was magnificent, though my brother wasn’t completely thrilled with his main course. Oh, and my dad ordered pumpkin soup. That arrived in a pumpkin! Just when I thought Halloween was over. Dessert was great but really overkill. I ordered crème brûlée of three different types: vanilla, mint and chocolate. The mint was outrageously good! Practically everyone at the table tried it and loved it too.

We dropped Karen and Lena off at their hotel and headed to the apartment after dinner. All packed up, we collapsed, exhausted.

SUNDAY – November 11th

A great end to an unbelievable weekend. Dad thought we were running late when we left the apartment at 9:15 in the morning. Ha! After returning the Volvo to Hertz, walking to the train station and taking the train, my parents and brother were all checked in by 10:30. Beyond possible! My poor brother had been meaning to buy something with the money he was given by my parents, me and the street (yes, he was picking money up from the streets), so he began counting his change at a sandwich place. He discovered that he had €6.60  and 20 CHF. He asked my mom and me if he could combine the two currencies to buy himself a cool toy. Disappointed, he made the best of it and realized that he could buy two articles instead of one. That calmed him down a little bit. He bought something in the airport, but I didn’t find out until later.

As if I hadn’t had enough surprises for one weekend. I texted my host mom to let her know when I would be coming home. Per  my arrival, she was waiting for me in the kitchen, kissed me three times, hugged me, wished me a happy birthday and shoved a gift in my face. I looked at it: “SWATCH.” I’m sorry, what now? I go bonkers over watches and my host family got me a watch! I really have not felt any more thankful than I do this second that I am writing. The cutest thing is that my host brother picked it out. My host mom asked me if I wanted to exchange it and I said no way! Her son picked it out and that’s all that matters to me.