The Apéro or Après-Ski….Two Alternatives to What We Know As Happy Hour

When we lived in The States, we frequently had “Happy Hour”.   Whether it was with colleagues or friends, it was common to get together after work, enjoy a drink and catch up.  In the US, it is also common for bars and establishments to have Happy Hour Specials such as dollar beers or half priced glasses of wine, etc.

In France, they have a similar tradition, however usually without the discount.  We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing them before but while in Morzine for Christmas, we feel like we’ve really gotten a lot of practice!

The first is “L’Apero”, or The Apero.    L’Apero is the French bridge between your normal busy day and the start of the evening.   Enjoying an ‘aperitif’ before dinner is classified as a gesture of health or well-being, to start your appetite.   The typical aperitif consists of :  champagnes, martinis, vermouths, sherries, or a light or sweet white wines, as well as small snacks like olives, chips or nuts.  A fruit juice is also an alternative to the alcoholic beverages.

Having Champagne for an aperitif

Having Champagne for an aperitif

In ski towns, the apero has a fun spin in terms of the “Après Ski”.   Literally translated, it means ‘after the ski’.  Crowds gather at the most popular bars to start the night.    Here the drink selections are more broad, including beers and mixed drinks.

The Après Ski buzz

The Après Ski buzz

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends, including a special birthday celebration

Finally, after dinner, it is common in France and other European countries to be served a digestif.   Many times this is included with the meal, and is intended to help your food settle.   In Greece, it is raki or ouza.  In Italy, many times it is limoncello.  Here in France, we had homemade apple and pear liquor as well as a hot rum digestif.

While I have heard of “the night cap”, an alcoholic beverage consumed before going to bed, in the US, I typically know it as a sleep aid vs. a digestive aid.

It sure is hard to do this research, but we are happy to do it for the benefit of the blog!  Happy New Years Eve, everyone!!

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The Christmas I Visited The French Trauma Clinic

I’ll spare you the details, but my feet have been having some growing pains getting used to winter boots from their new post-surgery shape & size.   I’d seen the podologue for it, but it seemed not to get any better.

We arrived to Morzine for Christmas holiday on Saturday and through the night had a hard time sleeping with the pain.  The next morning, Sunday, I realized we were in France and the pharmacy might be open on a Sunday, unlike Switzerland.  I visited but they couldn’t give me an antibiotic or anything to help (it’s common in Switzerland that pharmacists can prescribe meds) but advised there was a trauma doctor nearby I could visit who had Sunday hours.

I found the office and sat down and waited my turn two hours for the doctor, hearing the screams of those getting their shoulders readjusted into sockets and cuts cleaned up & stitched from the ski slopes.  Yikes!!

After meeting with the doctor, he frowned at my feet and said, “mumble…mumble….petit operation”.    The receptionist took me downstairs to the basement ‘operating room’, made a bath for my feet to sterilize them, started arranging a variety of instruments and indicated it would be “cinq ou dix minutes pour le docteur” (5 – 10 minutes).   It was over an hour wait.  Guess some more skiers had come in.  My comfort and peace of mind did not build during that hour.

They gave me anesthesia and so didn’t feel much as he removed the nails and a lot of the skin surrounding them which had grown very infected and bandaged me up.  But they said no skiing in the near future, at least until they could see me again at my check up Tuesday.  Which happened to be Christmas morning.   I thought it was incredible they put me in that day, but the lady indicated that they had to work on Christmas because the skiers still got hurt, so it didn’t bother them any to see me as well.

They wrote me many prescriptions to fill after the operation.   I tried to fill them immediately while still hopped up on the anesthesia but the pharmacy closes for a daily lunch break for two hours so hobbled back later in the day.

When I filled it, I was given painkillers, antibiotics, and a variety of bandages.   You don’t have to wait…French pharmacy techs fill immediately vs.  saying come back in 20 minutes.  I like this about France and Switzerland.  The bizarre thing was that she said my prescription called for a fresh bottle of anesthesia, but she couldn’t dispense it to me because I didn’t have a fridge in my hotel.  She said I’d have to come back and get it right before my follow up appointment.     I was a little confused why I would need more anesthesia anyhow, but with the language barrier, I just figured I’d go with it.

Hanging out the day of

Hanging out the day of petit operation

I brought all my supplies back to my Christmas morning appointment, including the fresh bottle of anesthesia I’d just picked up.  The nurse used my supplies to fix me up, then took the anesthesia and kept it as well as some of my bandages.   It was then that I remembered something N mentioned when she was pregnant…she always had to go to the pharmacy before her routine shots and bring the medicine to the doctor.    This French doctor’s office was kind enough to “lend” me the anesthesia and bandages after my petit operation, but I had to reimburse them for it instead of them charging me like the US would.

After my follow up appointment, with my bag of stuff

After my follow up appointment, with my bag of stuff.  It’s BYOB (bring your own bandages) here.

I ended up with a third appointment on our last day, for the final check up, where she ended up giving me a bottle of iodine, after I said I didn’t have one, and knowing we were leaving town.

All in all, it cost 150 euros cash for my little petite operation and 30 euros for all my meds and supplies.  Unbelievably cheap.  Just grateful for the French doctor and the fact that my French is more up to par to handle these situations better!

Gratitude Friday: Fitness

This Friday, I just want to reflect on my gratitude for fitness.

Not everyone has the chance to exercise.  Physical ailments, injuries and accidents have taken this ability away from some people.   So, I feel lucky to be able to exercise the way that I do and to reap the health and emotional benefits that come from it.    Sometimes nothing feels better than completing a grueling workout.   It can clear you mind as well as the toxins out of your body.

In fact, during workouts, if I am having a hard time with motivation, I think of that fact : how fortunate I am to be able to get to this point of discomfort or physical exertion.  There are many who would gladly trade places with me.  So, it pushes me to keep going.

Secondly, eight months after my bi-lateral foot surgery, I am happy to report that my feet are about 95% fully back to normal.   This weekend, we hiked quite a bit in the Cinque Terre, a trip that we were saving until I had recovered more.

Very happy to be able to climb to greater heights these days

In addition to the spinning and weight lifting I had done while recovering, I can now run, hike and do fitness activities with more impact.

Resting our feet after a big day

That’s something to be grateful for, for sure!

Bon weekend, everyone!

Gratitude Friday : Heath Insurance

I often complain about the amount of time I spend processing my health insurance claims.  You see, we have to pay in advance and then go to get reimbursed.

Each visit this includes:

1. paying doctor, either up front or by a bank machine

2. scanning all of my documentation in.  So if the doctors invoice is 3 pages, one by one

3. exporting and reserving each page of my documentation as black & white pdf file (the others are too large so insurance doesn’t accept it).  Make note to save this in the proper file on the computer.

4. Login to insurance website.  Navigate.  Upload 1st document. Wait 5 minutes. Upload 2nd page. Wait 5 minutes. Repeat.

I also have to verify that they paid both on the insurance website and our bank account.   I won’t get into the details of using a Swiss bank account online, but it involves like 5 extra layers of security and a handheld machine that looks like a calculator to log into the internet.   One I get in, a lot of the time I realize they didn’t pay us properly.  I know this is a big surprise to you with an insurance company 🙂   Then resolution starts working around time zones, etc. Or getting proper documentation from the doctor while attempting to speak French.

With all my physical therapy and surgeon bills having to be done individually, let’s just say I have become very intimate with this process.  Gabe tells me its like a full time job for me to do my insurance follow up.

However, today, as I was spending time doing this, I stopped and thought “How lucky am I do get to do all this?”   I am very fortunate for good health insurance, and  it’s certainly not the case for all people.   So, today’s gratitude post is for our insurance….I am quite thankful.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Gratitude Friday: Fresh Food Sources

I think that it is very important to have a very true glimpse into where our food comes from.  Especially in the US, so much of our food is packaged and doesn’t resemble it’s source.

Seeing it as an animal helps you remember that it in fact, came from an animal.  I think it helps promote our gratitude for the food, that a living being is contributing to our well being.  Also, I think it helps in respecting to eat in small quantity and not wasting.

We had a very real experience of this in Tuscany when we visited the pig farm.  Prusciutto is shaved off the leg of the pig in the butcher.  You can easily recognize the body part.

Yup. That’s a leg.

When we were recently in Venice, two of our seafood meals were presented to us whole before cooking, after whole and de-boned at our table.

A delicious fresh flounder for four.

In Crete, we also had this experience in the fishing village of Plaka, which was nearby our hotel.   Our first night, we ordered a sampling of the local seafood.  When it comes out staring you in the face, you really get a connection.

Our dinner. A few whole fish.  A few whole shrimp – heads and tails.  I especially liked the “flying fish” they had.

This guy wanted a part of the whole fish action as well.

Our second night, we returned to Plaka, but a different restaurant.   We had the same experience of fresh catch of the day, yet with the pleasantry of them de-boning it for us and removing the head and fins.  I am sort of a wimp and while I appreciate seeing it whole before and afterwards in the presentation, I don’t like the eyes looking at me while I eat.

Our grouper the first night, split open, and drizzled with Createan olive oil. Perfection!

This grouper was the BEST fish I have ever had in my life, caught that day, in that very bay.

The fishing village of Plaka, the home of our grouper

We loved it so much we returned to the same restaurant the next night.   This is a first for Gabe & I.

Second night in Plaka

So, this gratitude Friday, I just wanted to express my thanks for fresh food and the appreciation of its source.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Where to find the best fish of our lives:

Ostria fish tavern

plaka elounda

720 53 crete

Gratitude Friday: Tootsie’s

This Friday, I reflect on my gratitude for continual feeling of my feet.  It’s been 4 months since my surgery.  They aren’t 100% yet, but they are a ton better.

A few advancements that I am particularly grateful for:

–I have few limitations.  I haven’t attempted hiking yet, but I am fine in walking around town and have been okay in our recent travels.   It’s nice not to have to plan the whole day around the length of time I can walk or do errands.

–I have graduated into sandals for walking short distances.  This is a big deal.  For the exception of the month I was in my special orthotic shoes, I have been wearing the same black tennis shoes for 3 months solid.    Let’s just say its a welcome change to have new options.

–I got a pedicure.  It was done by the podologue*, who I have been going to since the surgery to help with side effects, etc. of the procedure.  This last time she asked if I wanted her to add color and I gladly accepted.    Not that I get pedicures anymore (they are about 100 CHF in Geneva) but it’s been over 6 months since they’ve been painted even at home.

Bon weekend, everyone!

*Yes, this is the same lady who I tried to go to for foot surgery and she said, “I can only cut your toenails”.  I am not sure if she recognizes me from that instance.  I still haven’t confessed that I was the one who tried to get her to operate on me.

Reason which I wish I spoke better French #241

Gabe just got back from being in the US.   One of the things we do when we go back are all our appointments – hair, dental, doctor, etc.   Before he left, we booked all that stuff for him.

I have slowly started to wean myself off my US appointments.  For all of 2011, I managed to get by with going to get my hair highlighted and cut in Charlotte when I was visiting.  And, with the 350 CHF price tag that a certain popular English-speaking salon has here in Geneva for highlights, I concluded that it might be cheaper to fly back to the US for these services.

Luckily, I found a wonderful hair gal who is super reasonable, so in 2012, I didn’t need to plan any hair-centric transAtlantic trips.

In 2011, I also managed to make two dental visits in during my trips home.   However, I decided, like the hair, it is time to find a more local solution.  So, now I am walking a little better, last week, I made an appointment with an English-speaking Geneva dentist.

This leads us to today’s lesson:

Lesson #1 – just because you find out a doctor speaks English, doesn’t mean their receptionist will.    Oh well, its okay.   I am used to it with my foot surgeon’s office and nurses.  And, I have basic French so while it is not pretty, I can accomplish things like taking an appointment.  So, I asked for a check-up / cleaning.  Success.

And, last week, I went.  And didn’t get a cleaning.   Fail.  Which leads us to Lessons 2 & 3:

Lesson #2 – do not celebrate an appointment as successful until you leave.  As I sat down, I was in awe of how cool the office was.  Everything was pristine and cheerful.   I envisioned how many friends I would tell about how awesome this dental office was.   However, I should have remembered my episode at the pedicurist and not to celebrate too early.

Lesson #3 – which I now know after yesterday, a dental appointment does not constitute a cleaning.   I was greeted by a superbly English speaking dentist who asked me what was wrong.  I presented her with my digital x-rays and just indicated nothing was wrong, that I was just in for a cleaning.  And she responded,   “Well, you should have made an appointment for a cleaning.  This was an appointment for a check-up.”

So my French could have been better.   I think I asked for the equivalent of a house cleaning instead of a teeth cleaning when I was on the phone.  And I was in the wrong assumption that the cleaning / check-ups are combination.   Nope. Separate altogether in Switzerland.

So, take heed, fellow ex-pats.  Maybe your French is better that mine.  But in case you are like me, ask for a “le détartrage” to avoid a little embarrassment.

Next week, I’ll go back for my actual appointment.