Todd Rubenstein is an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles with his fingers on the pulse. He is an avid traveler and we’re thrilled he agreed to share highlights and photos from his recent adventure with us here!
The opportunity to travel anywhere is a privilege, amazing and wonderful. Exposed to new places, people and things, we learn, find inspiration and titillation. Zurich is no exception. Switzerland is a small country of only 8 Million people (Los Angeles County has 11 Million, Germany 55M for reference), it sits perched at the fulcrum of 3 countries; Germany, France and Italy. About 60% of the country is Germanic, 30% French and the balance Italian. Zurich, a city of 2M, is strikingly civilized, orderly, clean, and uncrowded. The people are friendly enough, if not reserved; yet, for a Jew, hearing your name pronounced “VRuubenSHTEIN!” with emphasis triggers an innate suspicion of evil design. Never quite comfortable, but appreciative of their better offerings…
Their diet is German. They gush about their bratwurst, shnitzel, meat, potatoes of all sorts, cheese and confections. Not a heart smart situation and it all tends toward the creamy and bland. Their culinary daring is summed up in mustard. Yes, it’s hot.
The degree of orderliness cannot be overstated. Our Swiss Air flight out of Los Angeles left 10 minutes early. Yes, EARLY! Everyone on board, all baggage accounted for, doors closed manifest confirmed – no reason to linger. Early we left and early we arrived. When it comes to organization, the Swiss don’t play. Another big plus: the cleanliness. You can swim, fish and drink from Lake Zurich, which runs through the center of town and is populated by swans. The natural beauty of the surrounding green mountains with snow capped peaks looms and influences everything. It is clear this is a city in a country of rural villages and high country peasants. The architecture is enchanting, like Disneyland. Their love of art and cinema cannot be denied. Museums have enviable collections. All in all, fun for a quick stopover.
Next stop was San Sebastian, Spain. What a contrast. The city has the architectural beauty of Paris, with the added allure of sitting on the spectacular Atlantic shore, yet with the temperament of Lollapalooza. Grand and gorgeous, yet chaotic. Mess on the floor, unorganized, loud, fun and passionate. Nothing is on time, no one seems to care, they speak loudly and accent points by slapping you in the arm, chest and shoulder. Speaking loudly, they often repeat themselves to the point of absurdity and continue to explain things well after you’ve gotten the point. Without question, and no great revelation here, the Spanish are far more fun than the Swiss. That said, flight schedules were screwed up, they failed to book my friend’s seat on his outbound flight and his luggage was lost between Madrid and San Sebastian, which is hard to do. It’s a 45 minute flight. Iberia is not Air Swiss.
We ate like kings in San Sebastian– a great variety of things, some fresh, some fried, meat and fish, spicy and savory. At a typical tapas bar, the custom is that you order a “small” beer, which is about 4 oz, eat a few tapas, and move on to the next bar and repeat. Perfectly sensible. Choosing a place to eat is not a commitment – why should it be? A virtuous cycle of comings and goings, eating, drinking and merriment. Partying doesn’t start until midnight. Starts and goes late, with very little clock watching.
The people, like the country, are a bit disheveled. One of our professional hosts wore dirty sneakers untied… On the first night after a long night out, she insisted, against our protests, that we must go to the place that had award winning gin and tonics – the best in Europe she repeated and repeated and repeated while slapping arms. Late and tired, it was not worth the effort to resist, so we went. And she was right. I don’t care for gin and tonics but we loved these. They were huge and delicious and made by an older gray haired man wearing a tie and spectacles, taking it all very seriously. The bar played old American jazz and smelled a bit rank.
San Sebastian is definitely a place to surrender and act against instinct. The Spaniards are insistent and vibrant, passionate and emotive. Wonderful people, if a bit nutty. They tease and joke, drink and push and smoke and drink some more and treat strangers like friends. You can’t help but smile. Super fun, but come prepared to be patient and forgiving.