The lady that puts the "grrr" in growl, Miss Greta.

The lady that puts the “grrr” in growl, Miss Greta.

As 2011 comes to an end, it’s time to announce the winners of our much anticipated (yet never duplicated), EuropeanMarket Golden Greta Awards. This year, the award committee had difficulties compiling a list of the best (and the worst) of our travel experiences. But, after much discussion and a few cocktails, we now reveal our winners. So, roll out the red carpet, turn on the spotlights, and put on your glittering party clothes as we bestow our 2011 Golden Gretas. Drum roll, please…..

Best In-flight Bar Service—Air France
When an airline serves free Champagne to economy class passengers, there really isn’t any competition. Air France wins this category. And, yes, I might have had enjoyed more than one glass. Someone had to be a tester for this award competition.

Dinner is served onboard Air France.

Dinner is served onboard Air France.

Best In-flight Meal Service—Air France
Not only do they put some other carriers to shame with their bar service, but Air France wins this year’s award for best economy class meals. Flight attendants pass out menus (just like they do for the folks riding in the front of the plane). Then,  return to take and present your order. Here’s a sample of one meal we enjoyed—soybean, corn, and cranberry salad; roast chicken in grain mustard sauce with rice pilaf and vegetables; French cheese; and chocolate raspberry cake. Yum!

Most Awkward 10 Minutes Spent with Border Agents—Lake Constance, Switzerland
The Swiss are a thorough people. And, a secure people. So secure that in September, while driving from Germany to Switzerland, the Swiss Border Patrol stopped us. We both thought, “What the French toast did Chris do now?” Chuckle away, gentle reader. After I stopped the car, a very stern and official looking soldier instructed me to get out of the car. Then, in his best German/English combo said, “Passports, bitte.” For the next 10 minutes, he and another agent went over our passports, my driver’s license, my international driver’s license, and our luggage (and let me say we have a lot of luggage). I think they thought we were smuggling cocaine. Yup, just a couple of drug runners from Wisconsin.

The wonderful and cozy Hotel La Marisa.

The wonderful and cozy Hotel La Marisa.

Best Hotel—Hotel La Marissa
Located in the charming French beach town of St. Jean de Luz, the Hotel La Marissa wins as our favorite home-away-from-home for 2011. We loved it from the minute we arrived at 1:30 a.m. after a long trip. This small hotel offers comfortable rooms, delicious breakfasts (Basque cheese, rolls, cherry jam, ham, yogurt, and robust coffee) set either in the breakfast room or on the patio. Plus, and this is what sets this hotel apart from the rest, Ms. Sylvie oversees everything with an eye to her clients’ comfort. She’s assisted by Mehdi (the manager) and the other top-notch crew members. Perfect!

Best Small World Moment—Café Latin
At the Café Latin in Paris we met Sly, our waiter. Turned out Sly spent time working at a resort in northern Wisconsin about 15 years ago. So, we talked about the Green Bay Packers, Friday night fish fries, cheese, summer sausage, Milwaukee, and Madison. We made Sly an honorary Cheesehead.

Jenny Craig who?

Jenny Craig who?

Best Dessert—Rice Pudding with Nut Brittle
We enjoyed this incredible creamy, updated classic treat at Le Kaiku in St. Jean de Luz, France. Presented in a glass, the pudding was in layers—at the bottom was homemade caramel sauce, then rice pudding, and then some wonderful nut brittle. We ordered one and split it. Big mistake. Sue wasn’t interested in sharing. 

Worst Time Trying to Leave an Airport—Bilbao, Spain
This has to rank as one of the most frustrating 50 minutes of my life. We landed in Bilbao at 11:30 at night (probably our first mistake). Then, it was time to load the rental car, exit the airport parking ramp, and drive to St. Jean de Luz, France (about 1.5 hours away). It also might have been helpful if I had gotten better directions. Well, well, well. Or as they say in Spain, “Silly Americans shouldn’t drive at night.” We circled the Bilbao airport for at least 30 minutes. 30 minutes looking for an exit. 30 minutes looking for anything that looked like a road toward France. After 40 minutes we did travel down a dark road (Sue claims it was a farm path) and passed Bilbao’s sewage treatment plant. After 50 minutes, we finally found the correct highway and headed for France. At that point, I dropped an entire OPEN bottle of Coke on my lap. Have you ever sat in wet pants? For 90 minutes? It wasn’t a fun drive. I’ll leave it at that. Oh, and there might have been cursing.

When I retire, be sure to visit me in St. Jean de Luz. You can't beat this view.

When I retire, be sure to visit me in St. Jean de Luz. You can’t beat this view.

Favorite Location—St. Jean de Luz, France
We’ve been fortunate enough to visit some wonderful locations across Europe, but this year’s winner is the French town of St. Jean de Luz. Located in southwest France, St. Jean de Luz, sits on a bay facing the Atlantic Ocean. Sandy beaches stretch for miles. If there was a European address we’d move to for retirement, this just might be it. Did I mention the sangria?

Best Customers, Vendor Partners, and Friends
The last award is the most coveted and it belongs to all of you. We wouldn’t be here without your business and support. We appreciate all of you, so come up on stage and accept your awards. But, please try to keep your acceptance speeches to the allotted time. We’re on a tight budget with the network.