Sunday, April 29, 2007

Grandpa Paul's Visit

Waiting for our ferry back to Locarno.
A funicular and aerial cable allowed us to reach these heights. Of which we couldn't really see anything because of the haze. I'm sure the Swiss/Italian Alps are beautiful here - when you can see them.

My dad (Susan's) came out for 10 days of experiencing life in Switzerland with us. He survived several days of no cold water (ie - filling toilet tanks so we could flush), no water, hazy skies in Locarno, eating long lunches/dinners (educated him on the idea that you must ask for your check - they do not volunteer it nor drive you away from your table), eating dinner on the terrace almost every night due to unseasonably nice April weather, roasting marshmallows with his grand-daughters, enjoying Le Gruyere cheese, trying the local dishes AND helping his oldest grand-daughter with math homework. YEAH Grandpa!!!!!

As an electrician for more years than either of us would like to count, he enjoyed looking at the ongoing construction and the differences between the countries. And many times, when things did not make sense to his reasonable mind, I just had to remind him that things are different. When you live in a different place, you adapt, you don't try to make it your old way. Part of the learning process we go thru. And I warned him, but, he still tried to talk to the electricians in the grocery store AND not a lick of English in the bunch. Is this where daughter get to say "I told you so" to the parent? We had a great time and were soo glad he came out.

So Dad is safely back in the US of A and we are still on a fast track. Bart worked about 70 hrs last week and is working today, May 1st, a holiday (May Day) so that he can 1) just get everything done that needs to be done for 1st Qtr reports (lots of changes which I will not bore non-finance people with) and 2) so he does not have to work such long hours as I am catching a flight to New York tomorrow morning. Yahoo!

So I am paying the price that all moms are willing to pay to get a few days of girl fun. The schedule for pick up/drop off from school and friends, suggested lunchbox menus, phone #'s, medications/dosage is done, Rachel is packed for her class trip next week, housework will be done, all laundry is washed and then I will do housework and laundry when I return. I'm sure I will forget something BUT Bart is very capable with the girls. I told him I was more worried about my plants than the girls. Therefore, I am able to leave with confidence - unless someone gets sick. So please pray none of them get sick. Because then I will have guilt and more guilt for not being with them.

Rachel leaves for a week long class trip to Verbier (Swiss French Alps) next Mon. just as I will be on a train coming from the airport. We are very bummed about this but found out too late that the trips coincided to make the changes very well. I have never, not seen her for that many days. So will let the teacher know that she should be allowed to call me if she needs to (they really discourage calling parents on the trip as there are only so many hours in the day and the kids do better on the overnights if parents are out of sight and out of mind). Rachel is really looking forward to her trip and I hope to let her post a blog about it later - she is taking a disposable camera and enjoys taking pic's. I hope Mom survives the week!

To make matters just a little crazier - it is May Day today. Zurich is a Protestant Canton and May Day is a big holiday. Apparently not all the Catholic Canton's take this as a holiday. But, it essentially means bus service is nonexistent, trains are limited, stores are closed, etc... Like Christmas all over again. But I'm not sure why? So will need to Google the origins of May Day but haven't the time now if I want to finish this blog that has taken me 3 days to get done - so I can leave for NY! Just another infamous European holiday - you really have to watch out in May - many little holidays. And I think the European holidays catch people by surprise because they are not consistent by country and/or cities (or Canton's). Switzerland is divided by Canton's - kind of like mini States/County's - and they are either Catholic or Protestant. This will determine whether you have All Saint's Day or May Day as holidays AND certain cities have holidays or half day holidays as well. Keeps you hopping.

So with that long-winded explanation - I came off a weekend (think ALL stores closed on Sun.) having to do groceries for the family while I am gone (Wed. - Sun) on a Monday because then all the stores are closed again on Tues. for the holiday. Not that Bart can't go to a store but, it has been a while as he's been working so much. I always suggest he take the girls because they know where things are :) . Once again, life is just different here. And we are still enjoying it.

'Til I return from NY (with my bag full of US goodies - incl. a promised trip to the American Girl Doll Store for my sweeties).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Villefranche (again)

Villefranche - walking to the Rue d' obscuer - Basically, there was a housing shortage during the 13th Century so they built housing on top of a street. They covered it, lit it and it runs the length of the "Old City" in Villefranche. Is now lit with electricity and very cool: little doorways, nooks & crannies. The girls loved it.
Rachel and Kendra on the street in Monaco Village.
Cool doorstep in Eze Village - a medieval fortress high up on a hill along the coast.
One of the beautiful statues placed in the gardens of Eze overlooking the Mediterranean (Cap Ferrat in the distance).
OK - I'm back. We had a lovely time in the South of France for the girls Spring Break. We stayed in Villefranche which is between Nice and Monaco. Had a little condo there and were able to walk, cab, bus or train to wherever we needed to go. Outside of our arrival day and Easter Sunday, we made a trip each day; Nice, Monaco, Eze Village, Cap Ferrat and Antibes. Such a blend of old and new, rich and poor, big (yachts) and small (little fishing boats) with lots of fish, pasta and ice cream to accompany it.
We were able to spend some time on the beach. We are spoiled as we (Bart & I) are used to nice, sandy beaches and these were a bit rockier than we are used to. The beach in Nice, in fact, is made up entirely of smooth stones - Who knew? Not me. Antibes appeared to have some sandy beaches and we think Cannes does as well. It didn't really matter. Everyone is on the beach regardless and the girls had a great time.
The language turned out to be NO PROBLEM. The South of France had a lot of money pumped into it in the 19th Century by the English and Russians who were escaping their dreary winters. As a result, it is a huge British playground (we are basing this on the accents heard and the number of Union Jacks flying from all the yachts/sailboats in the harbors). So, most of the service industry has a good smattering of English - even found one who spoke Deutsch - Yippee!
Now we are back to school and in overdrive! Besides, Bart and Rachel were becoming regulars at the bakery in the mornings - always a sign the vacation must be coming to an end.

Monday, April 16, 2007

We're Back! Family fun in France

Our little fashionistas with Villefranche in the background.
Playing on the beach in Villefranche.
In the gardens of Eze Village. A medieval village high on a hill - Beautiful!
Bart and his sweeties in the gardens at the Rothschild Estate.

What can we say? We loved our Spring Break in Villefranche (midway between Nice and Monaco on the Cote d' Azur) and returned to lovely weather here in Zurich. I will have to write more later. This is a teaser.

Because - I have no cold water for 4 days (no dishwasher/washingmachine) and therefore life is just a little more hectic (at least we have warm water but it is very warm). Oh, we must also fill the water tank by hand so we can flush the toilet right now. And the house is constantly dirty from the work. Thankfully - I had washed ALL our clothes from the trip by this morning before the plumbing contractors came. All except the delicates which need cold water but which I can live without til Friday. Or I can run some hot water and wait for it to cool down and then wash them by hand. OH YEAH - AND, my dad is showing up from CA on Wed. am. At least we have hot water! This whole "pipe" project was supposed to be done by the 18th. But what can one do - it is construction - and I doubt there was any bonus offered to get the work done by any deadline. Not even in Switzerland can they control the construction schedule. OH, let me not forget, the property managers never bothered to forward the whole schedule for this work to us (3 - 4 week project). Maybe they thought our not reading German didn't matter - we only have to live here.

SORRY! I am venting to the computer. It is kinda funny and kinda not. Kinda tossed all the vacation stories I had in my head down the drain as of 8:20am when I found out.

I promise - better stories later - and more pic's. Right now must run along and see if my tub of water has cooled down enough so I can wash the strawberries and carrots I am taking tonight for the big Parade party in Zurich (pics from that will be forthcoming as well).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Strain on my Brain

Bart can't wait to take these hot babes out to dinner!!!

Learning languages when you are halfway along in life is not as easy as it is when you are a child. Scientifically proven fact! Encourage your children to study foreign language!!! PLEASE!! And Spanish is great - useful in the US of A and all the verb conjugations, feminine/masculine/neutral, informal & formal - all of these work great when learning other languages - like Deutsch. But I am making progress and spent all of Tues. with our Swiss neighbors. The wife has a fairly good command of Engl. - enough for us to enjoy visiting, the husband has a 'little' bit and the two small children know as much Engl. as the mom has been able to teach.

So - we went skiing with them Tues! Michel and the kids were already in her hometown near the ski area and I picked up Daniel and drove with my girls to the ski area. He spoke mostly all Deutsch in the whole 2 hrs it took to get there (a road was closed so a winding detour was in store - I'm not having good luck driving around lately). And therefore, I did too. There were times we just couldn't get there with the language - a word or two that neither could explain sufficiently. But what I have found is that if I know the context of the conversation, I can pretty much figure out the intent and overall meaning even if I can't translate all the words.

So the kids all had their morning lessons while Michel and I skiied on slush for a while. But it was fun and enjoyable and I look forward to taking Bart next year as I thought it was a really good family ski area. She is really good at correcting my pronunciation and giving me the words. Then we were invited to her mother's house for coffee after lunch. So I had the opportunity to see her hometown, the apartment she grew up in and the farm of her grandmother's across the valley where she spent her childhood. It is in an area designated as a UNESCO area (think European National Park/Protection areas). Huge area for hiking besides skiing and an area that caters to tourists who want a "country" Swiss experience - sleep in the hay, hike, milk goats/cows, etc... - great for kids (not for those of us with allergies). It was a treat to be invited and have part of her childhood shared with us. The larger majority in Switzerland still doesn't live more than 40 km from where they were raised unless they go to University and/or travel.

We took Michel back home with us (they have a holiday week and parents are taking turns with alone time) and thanked her for such an enjoyable day. And I must say, I was tired after working my brain so hard all day. But it was good. And I know much more than I did even a month ago. So now we are going to France.

I found that our Engl. and Deutsch were useless in Switz (French). There is definitely a difference in the desire to speak other languages between the French, Deutsch and Italian parts of Switzerland. I think the French Swiss don't pay attention to their foreign language classes in school - and they are required to take them. I did not find many people who would help us in anything but French. The Italians however are more than willing to help you with Italian and the Deutsch as well - they appreciate your efforts. It was interesting. But Mom has assured me we will be fine in Villefrache with our polite French words.
So - until I can blog again - Have a Happy Easter in Celebration of the Risen Christ!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Good Day or a Good Story - Montreux

Chateau du Chillon - This place was soooo coooool. Literally - it was cold, built into the rock. Honestly, a very special place and we enjoyed it tremendously. The fireplaces in virtually every living space is a good indication of additional housework prior to central air & heat.
The Chateau - another angle.
Funny musical creatures - these 'band' members and 'dancers' line the beachfront walk along Montreux on Lake Geneva. Montreux is world-reknown for its Jazz Festival which occurs in July. And let's not forget it's tribute to Freddy Mercury (of Queen). He lived in Montreux - they even have Freddy Mercury Day - there's a big statue of him on the Boardwalk - "Another One Bite's the Dust..." Anyway.....
St. Bernard puppies at the St. Bernard Museum in Martingny. They are so cute, so big and so slobbery. Well, actually, our belief is that the ones kept here at the museum had their 'slobber glands' removed. Every other St. Bern. we've seen produces massive amounts of drool - sniffing or not. They can be sitting there in front of a store waiting for their master and wind up swimming away. But not these St. Bernards - they are perfectly groomed and slobberless. Exactly what one would expect in a Swiss Museum.
The wine country between Montreux and Martigny. Absolutely beautiful and the green of Spring hasn't even arrived yet. Must go back later.

OK - Since we moved here, Bart always says about our Expat experiences "It's either a good day or a good story." I don't know that our Friday trip to Montreux qualified for either. It was an extremely hectic day - packing, kid parties at school (not to mention kid stuff for the last week!), everyone trying to get out of School for Spring Break and then getting home so we could take off for Montreux. We chose to drive this trip instead of taking the train so we would have the flexibility of going where we wanted, when we wanted. Enter the TwiLight Zone:
We depart Waedenswil about 4:20 (no leaving early due to kid stuff), take 15 min. to get to Zurich - and 2+ hrs to move thru Zurich(about 3miles hr average)!!! We are creeping thru lights and Bart's thinking he could have worked another 3 hrs and walked over to the car from the office. It was excruciating - fortunately I am driving and Bart can sit and relax - Ha Ha. By time we were on the other side of Zurich, we could have been arriving in Montreux by train. But at least we are moving - RIGHT? Now we encounter lovely road construction going into Basel - stay in the super skinny lane with your oversized European auto. They paint orangey-pink lines to let you know where to go and supposedly there are two lanes - for side by side Fiats. Now it is dark, we just need to get there, eat at the hotel/room service and start fresh the next day. Journey is not over folks!
Between Bern and Fribourg, it begins to rain. As we leave Fribourg, it turns to slushy snow and its getting thicker - sticking to the road. This was not in our weather forecast! We checked! Then emergency vehicles are passing us and we are stopped and creeping along in the blowing snow. Unfortunately there was an accident - maybe due to the unexpected snowstorm? And it snows and snows but finally stops - just as we are descending into Montreux. We find our hotel, we check in and Lo' and Behold - We find ourselves in our hotel room looking at two twin beds shoved together (European standard for a "double room"). Then we are looking at each other saying "the reservation is for 4 persons and we are not all sleeping on that one bed." Technically, we can all fit on the 2 european twins shoved together but we did not WANT to. So Bart went down, they gave us the room next door also (no extra charge :-) ) and I proceeded to look at the menu for room service because it is now 9pm. BUT, I call down to the kitchen and they say "We are sorry but the kitchen is closed, we close at 9pm" AHHH - it's 9:05! Fortunately we had eaten snacks on the way. We ate peanuts/almonds from the minibar and the girls supplemented with another Baby Bell. Then Bart retired with Rachel next door (keep the early risers together) and Kendra and I got some sleep as well. We knew we could count on breakfast the next day.
I certainly wouldn't have qualified that as a good day and I'm not sure it's a good story - But it is definitely a story. And we seem to have had several.
The rest of the weekend went fine and that part of Lake Geneva is BEAUTIFUL. The Chateau is definitely a recommended stop if you are ever close to that area (yeah, we know, just stopping thru). And I would only go to the St. Bernard museum if you are a great dog lover and just happen to find yourself in Martigny (which is great for access to many Alp regions but not a tourist haunt in itself). And we loved the atmosphere along the lake, the surrounding wine country all terraced into the hills and the old towns - some buildings there are 600 yrs old - and people still live in them.
What I did not love was children who fell apart in the souvenir store and asked a gazillion ?'s about when are we done? are we going back to the hotel? when are we going to have our ice cream? Sometimes, the same ? was asked 5 x's in the span of 20 minutes! It was all I could do to not scream at them. Apparently they lost their knowledge retention on the way over in the snow storm. That's all I can figure. And you know, every stuffed St. Bernard in EVERY gift shop in Switzerland is special and the fact they already have one at home means nothing. Tears, drama, pouting - by the end of the trip, I was pouting because I thought maybe I should have hired a sitter for the weekend. (And NO, they did not come home with another St. Bernard - in fact, they came home with nothing but they did get some ice cream. I had better not get any "you're so mean" comments.)
I did get a good chuckle on the way home though. Bart thought he could pass an equally "fat" car in the construction zones - he opted out. And we are glad to be home.