31 January 2007

Ill-Behaved Cat

GLH started making frequent business trips to Zürich last February. On that first trip he was in the city center and happened to notice a tram drive by that said "Fondue Tram." Inside the tram, diners sat at tables eating fondue and looking at the sights out of the window.

He returned from Zürich and said "I'd enjoy doing that some day."

We've seen it a few times since then and I knew that GLH was just itching to ride around in a tram eating some fondue.

So I put my librarian skills to good use and found out how you get yourself on the tram. Then I called for reservations. And got booked for the only time they still had availability this Fondue season: Wednesday, 28 February at 5:30 pm.

But I wanted this to be a fun surprise for GLH and decided I wouldn't tell him what it was until the Fondue Tram arrived at the Bellevue Tram stop on the evening of the dinner. So I made arrangements for him to leave work a bit early that day and told him there would be a surprise and he had to get home quickly so he could change and we could catch a train into the city. But that was all the information I would give him, even though he was going nuts trying to figure it out.

And here's where we get to the Ill Behaved Cat part of the story.

I had buried the information about the Fondue Tram in a stack of papers on my desk.

Max the Cat jumped on top of the stack of papers, lost his balance and scrambled to find it again. As a result, the entire stack of papers went flying.

I was trying to gather them up as quickly as I could when I heard GLH's voice ask, "What's this? Hey, it's the Fondue Tram!" Out of all the papers in that stack, it had to be that one that landed at his feet.

The jig is up...

But I am SO going to blog about Fondue Tram Night!

Field Trip to Canton Vaud

I've been invited to join a tour group that will be going to Château de Prangins on the shores of Lake Geneva in Canton Vaud. The Château, originally built in the 1730's, is now one of the Swiss National Museums. They are currently hosting an exhibit entitled Papierschnitte - von der Tradition zur Moderne (Paper Cutting Découpage - from the Traditional to Modern). The bus leaves tomorrow morning at 8:00 am.

Frau M., our landlady, thought I might be interested both in the exhibit and in seeing another area of Switzerland. I most certainly am.

It will also be an excellent opportunity for me to listen to Swiss German and become more accustomed to the words and pronunciations as most of the other participants are Swiss.

I'm looking forward to it. And, of course, I will post photos of the Château and grounds!

30 January 2007

Readers Who Blog, Bloggers Who Read

Earlier today Jessica innocently posted a comment to one of Beth's postings...

"We should start a book club."

I'm not sure that she understood the force that she was releasing. 'Cause the Librarian jumped all over it.

After a quick exchange of comments and a couple of e-mails, Beth and I have decided that we are gonna do it. We will start a book club.

The process and format are still being decided. But it will be a blog of some kind.

Anyone else want to add their two cents? How do you think it should work? How should it look?

Send me your ideas at: global_librarian@yahoo.com

An Overview of Chocolate

Being a Confirmed Chocoholic, when I first learned we would be moving to Switzerland, Visions of Chocolate danced through my head.

So it shouldn't comes as surprise when I tell you that I am developing a Chocolate Project. More on that in a future post.

This post is intended to lay the groundwork.

A Brief History of Chocolate

Cocoa beans originate from Central America. The Mayans began cultivating them around 600 AD. The cocoa beans were roasted, ground and mixed with water and spices to prepare a frothy drink called Xocolatl. This drink soon spread to the Toltecs and Aztecs. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 16th Century, it was a well established tradition. And, in the case of the Aztecs, a sacred ceremony reserved for priests and kings.

Hernando Cortes brought the first cocoa, and necessary equipment to make the drink, to Spain in 1528. Not surprisingly, it immediately became popular among the Spanish aristocracy and became known as chocolate. Anna of Austria, who was raised in Madrid, married King Louis XIII of France in 1615 and introduced the chocolate drink to Paris. It quickly spread to the rest of Europe and became the rage among the fashionable wealthy.

By the 19th century, drinking chocolate had declined in popularity. But chocolate in solid form was just beginning. In 1828 Conraad Van Houten, a Dutchman, devised a method to separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa mass. Thus creating the basis for solid chocolate.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Types of Chocolate

There are three primary varieties of chocolate: dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate.

Dark chocolate is the most intense flavor. Under European standards, in order to be sold as dark chocolate it must contain a minimum of 43% cocoa mass and/or cocoa butter (US standard: 35% cocoa). However, fine dark chocolate could contain up to 70% cocoa. And a true dark chocolate connoisseur will seek out chocolates of up to 85% or even 88%. Therefore, dark chocolate is the purest form. Although some sugar and other ingredients must be included or the product is too bitter for even the most ardent of dark chocolate lovers.

The most popular of the chocolates, Milk Chocolate, is made by combining the cocoa mass with extra cocoa butter, milk or cream, sweeteners and other flavorings. Milk chocolate in Europe must contain a minimum of 25% cocoa (US standard: 10%).

White Chocolate is not considered by most to be "real chocolate." Although it does have cocoa butter and fine white chocolate contains at least 32%. It does not, however, have cocoa mass, which gives chocolate its familiar brown coloring and more intense flavor. The European standard requires a minimum of 23.5% cocoa butter (US standard: 20%). It has a very mild chocolate taste and, not surprisingly, is the highest in fat content.

So who eats the most chocolate?

The Swiss rate as the highest chocolate consumers in the world with an average annual consumption of 11.6 kilograms per capita*. (That's close to 20 pounds to those of you living on the other side of the Atlantic.) Although the figure includes all of the tourists who buy chocolate during their visit, the Swiss people (and expats!) who bring it as gifts for family and friends as well as those in nearby countries who cross the border specifically to purchase Swiss chocolate.

The Belgiums are close behind with 10.7 kilograms per capita consumed. Followed by Denmark (10.5 kg), Austria (9.4 kg) and the UK (9.2 kg).

The United States is in 10th place with 5.4 kilograms per capita.

*Chocolate Consumption Statistics provided by ChocoSuisse, the Union of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers.

Pride Cometh Nicht

Yesterday we received an official-looking letter. GLH immediately handed it to me to translate. I was able to work out that our permit papers were ready and we could go pick them up. I was even able to determine what we needed to bring with us while only consulting the German English Dictionary one time.

This morning we returned to the Gemeindehaus (City Hall) with our documents, passports, id photos and a bunch of money. In exchange, we received our Ausländerausweis (foreigner identification card.)

The woman who helped us spoke very little English, but I was able to have the conversation with her in halting German with a few English words tossed in. (Gernglish, if you will.) Fortunately she answered me in High German, not in Swiss German, or I would have been lost.

I was able to understand most of what she was saying, quickly translated the important things to GLH and even asked a question regarding whether we had to carry the document with us at all times or not. (Answer: when crossing the Swiss border we must have the original document with us. Within Switzerland it is acceptable to carry only a photocopy.) But I was very proud of myself and quite happy that obviously my German is improving.

As we were leaving, the woman said something in very fast Swiss German to GLH. We both gave her blank looks as I was unable to translate it. I asked her to repeat it more slowly.

Turns out that she thought GLH was the one who spoke German and he was translating things to me, not the reverse. Once she found out that I am the one who speaks German and GLH understands no German, she gave us this horrified look. It seemed to say, "Wow. If that's the best you can do, you two are in trouble!"

She didn't repeat what she had originally said. It was likely a commentary upon my pathetic attempt to speak German.

Somewhat deflated, I walked away. Guess my German skills are not yet able to justify pride...

29 January 2007

My Very Own Granny Cart

Perhaps we can hold off on getting a car just a while longer...

Following in the brave footsteps of Mrs. TBF, I've purchased a shopping cart to assist me with the 2-3 trips per week to the grocery store.

GLH had actually suggested that I purchase one on a few occasions. We've seen them at the grocery store. However, I thought they looked a bit cheap and too old lady-ish. Not to mention that their handles didn't come nearly high enough for me.

Then on Sunday we saw a young woman walking about Zürich with a rather stylish one. It had leopard skin print and everything.

So today I went on a hunt for a better quality, more stylish one as well.

I was unable to find the animal print. Or even my favorite color, purple.

But I did find this:

The handle even adjusts to the correct height so I do not need to stoop to drag it along.

Our landlady happened by this afternoon and saw it. She said it was exactly what I needed. She even told me the Swiss German word for it. But it was quite long and had multiple syllables. I immediately forgot what it was.

So I may be an "Old Lady." But at least I am an Old Lady who can now accomplish her errands on foot.

While We're on the Topic...

...could we discuss male teen fashion in Zürich?

To all the teen gangster wannabes out there -

You may spray paint gangster rap graffiti on every bus shelter in town.

You may study MTV and act out the rap videos with your friends.

You may even be trying to learn that distinction strut. (And trust me, you've got a ways to go before you actually have rhythm.)

But you are not now, nor will you ever be, a tough talking, badass mutha' from the inner city with your own tale of hardship and survival to tell.

So pull up your pants, go buy some clothes that actually fit you and quit the posing right now. None of us are buying it.

And a special note to the young man I saw walking through the streets of my Swiss town earlier today.

Sean Coombs (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, whatever) may be able to pull off the dressed all in white super-smooth look. But he is a multimillionaire rap mogul with incredibly hot women dripping from his arms. And he wears that look at clubs, restaurants and other multimillion dollar events in Miami, LA and Las Vegas.

You are most certainly not P. Diddy. It's the middle of the afternoon with no events or gorgeous rap video hotties in sight. And this is Switzerland in January.

By the way, you may want to be more careful about where you sit. Grunge shows up really well on white jeans...

Men's Fashion Quandary

One day last week GLH walked into the kitchen for breakfast.

I glanced his way, then did a double-take. "Is that what you're going to wear?"

GLH looked down at his checkered shirt, patterned tie and houndstooth jacket.

"Yes," he said.

Speaking as kindly as I could under the circumstances I said, "Sweetie, I'm not sure that all works together."

"But," he said quite earnestly, "this is what men in Europe wear. All sorts of crazy shirt and tie combinations. You just don't know because you don't see it every day."

Still doubtful, I said "There seems to be a lot going on there. But if that's what you want to wear. Just make sure that the people you work with know that I had nothing to do with it."

That evening when GLH came home I asked how it went with the clothing.

"Well, they didn't think it worked either. Apparently if you go with the patterned shirt and patterned tie you need to either match colors. Or match patterns. Or something like that. Not really sure. But I think I need new ties."

In his defense, it is very difficult. Men's fashion in Europe is quite different and much more complicated than in the United States.

In the US it is straight forward and very little has changed in nearly a hundred years of men's fashion. As long as you don't take into account those unfortunate years in the 60's and 70's. But even those years make warped sense. Everyone was doing too many drugs.

Regardless, in general men's business wear involves simple lines, dark colors and very few patterns. The emphasis is on looking as masculine as possible.

It is much harder in Europe where you routinely see grown men, not just high school and college boys, wearing clothing such as neon green corduroy skinny slacks with a bright orange jacket and an extra long purple scarf. Or a multi-colored checkered shirt with a bright pink tie. Or even brightly colored plaid capris with dark socks and dark shoes! (No, I am NOT making this up!)

Side note: with these extreme differences, is it any wonder the European males frequently think American males are brawny, overbearing chest-beaters? Or that American males tend to question the sexual orientation of European males?

But as we are living in Europe, GLH is doing the admirable thing. He is trying to follow the local customs. And failing. But at least he is trying.

So now we are on the hunt for new ties that will go with checkered shirts.

But if GLH ever comes home with a pair of capris, I am putting my foot down.

28 January 2007

Here Comes the Sun!

The morning dawned bright and clear. With temperatures above freezing for the first time in a week, Zürichers (Zürichians? Zürchers?) emerged en masse from their homes to bask in the glorious sunlight.

Near the Bahnhof Stadelhofen, a fountain starts to flow again.

And all day I've humming the Beatles...

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
and I say it's all right
Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right
Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right

Office Gossip Mill

I would have thought that as I quit my job to prepare for this move back at the end of August that I would no longer be involved in the Office Gossip.

This weekend I found out that I was wrong.

It all started a few months ago, shortly before we left Kansas City. I started to notice some unusual hits and keyword searches on my StatCounter. One person spent more than an hour searching my blog for a few different words in multiple combinations. I noticed that all of these hits were coming from an IP address I identified as my former place of employment.


I mentioned it to a couple of friends who still work there. None of us could figure out why this would happen. We then forgot all about it.

But I did notice that periodically the searches would happen again, either from an office IP address or from another Kansas City internet provider. However, I didn't pay much attention because what did it matter to me?

This weekend a friend told me that she had just heard what this was all about. Apparently there is a rumor going around that I had blogged some gossip about an individual with whom I used to work. She was astounded to hear it and told the person who told her that it simply was not true. But they insisted that it was true, even though they never actually saw it or even read my blog at any stage. My friend has now heard the same rumor from other people as well.

This amazes me for a couple of reasons.

Anybody who actually reads my blog would know that I have never mentioned my former place of employment in any way, shape or form. Indeed, I've been careful to not mention either my former job or my husband's current job because that is not what this blog is about. And besides, people get in serious trouble for that kind of thing. Just ask those bloggers who have been fired for it!

At my going away party for work I told anybody who wanted to be notified when my blog was up and running to put their name on a list. The individual I supposedly gossiped about was one of those people. Why would I then post gossip about them knowing they may read it? Really not logical.

And most importantly, I've been exceptionally busy for the last few months and very much focused first on moving preparations then on settling into our new life. I didn't have time to care about what might be going on where I once worked, much less blog about it!

Ah well. Such is life. People will talk about what they choose, regardless of facts or truth. In the end, it doesn't matter.

But it is still very, very strange.

27 January 2007

Saturday Surprise

This morning I ordered GLH to take a shower and get dressed. We had a train to catch.

"Where are we going?"

"It's a surprise."

"Are we going to Uetliberg?"

No answer.

"Are we going to Rapperswil?"

No answer.

"Where are we going?"

Seriously, does the man not understand the meaning of the word "surprise?" I refused to tell him.

Shortly thereafter we left the house and walked to the train station to catch the S8. "Zürich, Winterthur" said the sign above the track.

"Are we going to Winterthur?"

"We are first going to Zürich. Then we are going somewhere from there."

"Are we going by train, tram or bus?"


On the train he was still full of questions.

"Which way are we going after we get off the train?"

"Just follow me."

"What if you get amnesia? Shouldn't one of us know where we are going?"

"If I get amnesia, take me to the hospital."

In Zürich I stood to get off the train. GLH followed me, still peppering me with questions.

We stepped off the train, walked to the next door and got back on the train we had just exited.

"Yes, we are going to Winterthur."

After arriving in Winterthur we found a tourist booth and asked for a map and guide. We walked around the Alt Stadt for a bit and enjoyed the quaint streets and traditional Swiss feel. Then we stepped into a coffee shop to warm up and study the map and guide we had been given. We decided next to go to the Bäumli, a park on top of the largest hill in Winterthur. Advertised as the "best view of Winterthur," it lived up to its marketing. We discovered it was indeed the highest hill in the town after walking a gazillion steps up to it!

Fortunately, it was also an amazing view. Even if the overcast grey skies refused to reveal the "impressive panorama of the Glarner Alps." We walked around on top of the hill for a bit taking a few photos before heading to the restaurant that sits on top for a leisurely lunch with large picture windows showcasing the sight. (Truly just a few photos as my fingers were so cold I thought they might break off!)

After lunch we walked back down the hill and grabbed the bus again. Back in the city center we decided it was really very cold and starting to get a bit late. With the sun setting it was only going to get colder. So we hopped on the train back to Zürich.
Winterthur will be another trip when it's a bit warmer and we can enjoy it more!

26 January 2007

I Have Decided...

...we are buying a car.

There was no input from GLH. But I do not care. It will happen.

This decision was made after I had to schlep up the hill from town carrying full bags of groceries in each hand while struggling to also hold on to several pieces of dry cleaning.

Eventually I hooked the dry cleaning to the back of the collar on my coat, leaned way forward to balance myself and continued schlepping.

A couple of drivers slowed down for a better look.

They did not offer me a ride.

Yep. We are definitely buying a car.

Learning to Cook All Over Again

I've recently developed a fear of cooking. And it is crippling me in the kitchen.

I was never a fabulous cook, but I was certainly better than just ok. Perhaps even good. I had a few dishes that I had made my own and I knew they were reliable "Company for Dinner" dishes.

But since moving here I have been excessively basic. Most nights I broil a bit of meat (chicken, pork, sausages, whatever), boil a package of mixed vegetables then stick a hunk of bread next to it and call it dinner.

Which actually has been quite healthy. GLH and I are both losing weight. Between the many hills to climb and the simple dinners, I've lost nearly 10 pounds.

And I am certainly not complaining about that! But I have always had a home-based social life and I enjoy inviting people over for dinner. I certainly cannot serve them a bit of meat, frozen vegetables and a hunk of bread, now can I?

So what is causing this fear?

Perhaps it's the change in cooking equipment and tools? I am having a difficult time figuring out what temperature to use. Plus, the oven has so many more options than our oven in the United States and I'm not certain which selection does what. Even when I convert the temp, because there are so many options I invariably get the timing off. Then the food is either overcooked or undercooked.

Perhaps it's the change in grocery stores? The grocery stores do not have my Old Reliable ingredients and I'm not certain what to use. Plus it's difficult for me to ask because very few people who work at the local grocery stores speak much English. At least, the ones I've tried to ask previously do not. So I've given up asking.

Perhaps it's also that there have been so many new things to learn and figure out that I just haven't had the energy to focus on this?

Regardless, it has left me feeling inadequate. Especially given my new status as a Haus Frau.

So yesterday I took a small step forward. I picked up some pork chops. I've never really mastered pork and I tend to overcook so it is dry and tough. But if I am going to live in a Germanic culture, I better learn how to cook pork. And pork chops are supposed to be the easiest to manage.

Then I did some research on the web. The National Pork Producers Council in the United States has a website with consumer information. Including recipes and instructions. Following their instructions, I seasoned the pork chops with a bit of Jack Stack barbecue rub (brought from Kansas City and the only seasoning we could not live without) and then sauted them over medium-high heat for 6-7 minutes while turning frequently to brown them, cook them evenly and keep them juicy.

What do you know? It worked! The pork chops were tasty and juicy and done perfectly. Iffen I do say so myself.

Empowered by my small success, I've decided to brave the kitchen again and roast a chicken for tonight's dinner. Because I have decided that I will learn how to cook in Switzerland.

Now excuse me while I google how to roast a chicken in a European oven...

25 January 2007

Follow Up to Lawyer Insurance

Librarians have a tendency to research those topics that peak our interest. I am no exception.

I came across an article entitled "Most Fearful? Its the Swiss" by Aline Sullivan. (International Herald Tribune, 18 March, 1995.) Although the article is old, it still has some relevant points.

Article Excerpt:
The pattern of insurance buying does appear to vary hugely between countries, however. For example, the litigiousness of Americans means that third party liability insurance of various kinds is enormously popular. Directors will often refuse to accept jobs unless they are covered by directors and officers liability insurance, which covers them against lawsuits from shareholders and others. The risks are very real.

In Japan and Switzerland, lawsuits of this kind are virtually unknown. The high insurance expenditure of the Swiss and the Japanese does genuinely appear to derive from a deep fear of risk.

Note: For some strange reason the link does not work every time. If it does not work for you, try refreshing and then clicking on the link again.

Stereotypes about America

Since my arrival I am discovering some things about the United States that I, as a citizen of the country, did not even know. Here are a few I heard about just this past week...

Americans do not use public transportation.

Some people have expressed surprise the GLH and I not only use public transportation, but actually do not currently have a car. There is a belief that people in the US never use public transit. Tell that to the New Yorkers!

Americans will sue you for the slightest reason.

When we arranged for our apartment insurance, the salesperson impressed upon us the importance of getting Lawyer Insurance. She stated it was especially important if we travel back and forth to the United States with any frequency because it greatly increased our risk of being sued. I have lived in the United States for most of my life. I have never been sued nor have I ever sued anyone else. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who have ever been sued or sued someone else. And I have never before heard of lawyer insurance!

When traveling for business in the United States, men should not get on an elevator if the only other person on the elevator is a woman.

Apparently there is too great of a risk that he will be charged with sexual harassment or sexual discrimination. There seems to be some confusion about the differences between the two. Regardless, never be alone with a woman in the workplace.

Wow! I don't even know what to say to that one!

So what things have you heard?

24 January 2007

While waiting for the laundry cycle...

I found this:

Your Vocabulary Score: A

Congratulations on your multifarious vocabulary!
You must be quite an erudite person.

What do you know? My $60,000 undergraduate degree has finally been validated. Woo hoo! See Dad, I told you majoring in English would be worth something someday...

Ther's Snow in Dem Der Hills

Winter has finally arrived in Switzerland.

This is the view from the front window. If I have energy I may go out later and take more photos. Or I may just sit at home, curled up on the couch reading a book and sipping a cup of tea.

Could go either way.

23 January 2007

Hey, I'm Famous!

Well, o.k. Not really.

But I did receive a request for an interview from Expat Interviews.

Check it out...

More Sprachen Schulen

I'm off to visit more language schools today. Didn't care for the ones I visited last week. Nothing wrong with them necessarily, just not quite the learning style I am seeking.

On the advice of others I am going to Benedict near the Hauptbahnhof, Bellingua on Lowenstrasse and Sprachen Schule on Limmatquai.

Hopefully I will find a program I like soon because I want to get started with the language classes as soon as possible. Knowing how to speak with people, not to mention read signs, listen to announcements on the tram and actually knowing what you are buying at the grocery store all make life so much easier.

So here I go.

But at least I have something to look forward that will get me through a day of trudging from school to school, taking placement tests that show me exactly how much German I have forgotten. The Expat Hausfraus Gone Wild are meeting for Happy Hour this evening. And this time our husbands are even invited to join us.

22 January 2007

When Will It Happen?

There is an aspect of moving here that I dreaded. Since arriving in Switzerland I am daily reminded of how much I hate this one part about our new life here. Our trip to Italy just reinforced it and a part of me resisted coming back to Zürich. Or wanted to bring a part of Italy back with us.

Which is sad, because in every other respect I love the fact that we are living in Switzerland and have very much enjoyed being here.

So what is it? What is that one thing that I wish could change?

The fact that smoking is allowed in most public buildings. And I sometimes feel as if I have a choice between staying at home or being exposed to excessive amounts of smoke.

One third of the Swiss population are smokers. And this minority smokes so enthusiastically that it is virtually impossible to be in any public place and not be surrounded by the unpleasantness of tobacco smoke.

As time goes on I find myself resenting those smokers more and more. My head aches, my eyes burn, my throat becomes dry and it is difficult for me to breathe. And I cannot help but wonder what their habit could be doing to my health in the longterm.

I have even more of a distaste for those smokers who refrain from smoking during their own meals, but light up as soon as they are done. Thus disturbing all of the other diners' meals.

Or the ones who hold the cigarette away from their companions so they are not bothered by the smoke. Thereby bringing the cigarette even closer to someone else without even a "by your leave!"

It was such a relief to be in Italy and know that any restaurant we selected would be blissfully free of smoke. Some of the restaurants did have smoking sections as the law allows it as long as the smoking room is completely enclosed and has a good ventilation system. Even so, on Saturday night there was a long line of diners who chose to wait for a table rather then sit in the nearly empty smoking section.

Thank God that Switzerland already doesn't allow the smoking on the public transit. Otherwise I truly wouldn't feel that I could go anwhere. But I want it to go further!

Throughout Europe smoking bans are steadily being passed. France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK have all passed bans. Even within Switzerland, the Canton of Ticino passed the ban last year by an overwhelming majority.

In a recent survey of Swiss voters, a 60% majority supported a country-wide ban of smoking in all public places. Most of the political parties have also come out in support of a ban.

So what's the hold up?

C'mon, Switzerland! Take this issue out of committee and put it to a vote already!

Milan Experience: A Photographic Journey

Without a doubt, the highlight of Milan is the Duomo de Milano (Cathedral of Milan). Italy's largest gothic cathedral, it is the fourth largest cathedral in the world. Begun in 1397 and finished in 1813, the structure features 135 spires and over 2000 statues. As well as rows of flying buttresses. C'mon, say it with me: "Flying Buttresses." Isn't that a fun one!

What makes the Duomo very special for me is that it is the first cathedral roof I have ever visited. And the view is spectacular! It was well worth the visit, even if my vertigo kicked in a couple of times.

Of course, the interior is beautiful as well.
I wish I had more photos to show of the interior, but I only had the new point and shoot digital camera with me. I brought only that one in order to force myself to learn how to use it. Last time I do that. It's abilities in low-light are not nearly as good as the Nikon D70s, so I missed a lot of potentially fabulous shots as a result.

After leaving the cathedral we walked through the Piazza del Duomo. While GLH consulted the map and guidebook, I stood and gazed around me. Suddenly, a man approached and grabbed my hand, speaking in very fast Italian. He would not let go, no matter how much I tried to get away and said "No!" He put some birdseed in my hand and I was immediately surrounded by pigeons. By the time GLH looked up, he thought I had actually wanted this, but I was still trying desperately to get away. Finally, I wrenched my hand away while the man walked behind me screaming for money. GLH stepped in, towering over him, and forced him to back away. I later found out that the Duomo Birdseed salesmen are notorious for this kind of behavior.

After that experience, I needed to recover. So we found a nearby cafe serving gelato.

While taking a photo of the gelato offerings, our waiter stepped up to me, posed and said "Me too! Me too!"
It was just what I needed.
After a cappuccino (for GLH) and a tea (for me) plus a shared gelato, we wandered down via Orifici, which confusingly for us soon became via Dante. But we went with the flow until we spotted Castillo Sforzesco in the distance.

Originally built in 1368, it was remodelled by Francesco Sforza in the 15th century with the help of Leonardo da Vinci. The castle grounds now contain several museums, including Museo Egizio (Eygptian Museum), Museo della Preistoria e Protostoria (prehistorical), Museo d'Arte Antica (antiquities) and more. Unfortunately, by the time we made our way to this area of Milan the museums were about to close, so we only got a quick peek inside the doors.

Behind the castle is the Parco Sempione, a 47-hectare park featuring a neoclassical arch.
Although what we found amazing about this park (and other parks throughout Milan) was that most of the benches were occupied by extremely amorous couples, most of whom were "all but" right out in public. Including one couple that were in their 80's and still "getting busy!"
It was both refreshing and a shock to our Midwestern eyes. After all, in Minnesota we sometimes get emotional enough to almost say "I love you" in public. Almost.

As it was after 6 pm and we were quite hungry, we wandered back towards the Duomo to find a restaurant for dinner. However, none of the restaurants opened until 7 - 7:30 pm. Given my blood sugar issues, that was a little too European for me. (I don't know how I would survive in Spain, where people do not eat dinner until 11 pm!)
We stopped at a sidewalk cafe for an apertivo and people watching while we waited for the magical 7 pm. We also walked through Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. I loved its glass and metal work as well as the beautiful mosaic floors. Apparently I was also supposed to be impressed by the original Prada store within it. But I just stood and looked at the incredibly expensive, and frankly rather ugly, leather-fringed purses. Fashion is lost on me.

Promptly at 7 pm we went back to a restaurant for dinner. And joined all the other Americans and English who were queuing up for a table. Dinner was wonderful and we very much enjoyed the tiramisu as well. As we were leaving, the Italians and French were just arriving for their dinner. A full two hours after the Americans and English. Cultural differences are amazing, eh?
After dinner we aimlessly strolled back in the general direction of the hotel and came upon the Teatro all Scala, Milan's Opera House.

All in all, Milan was a fabulous trip and we highly recommend it.

19 January 2007

Windy Night!

This morning I had e-mails from family and friends in the United States worried about our safety. The worst of the winds and rain is to the north of us. We are getting high winds here that rattle the windows and howl as they race around the house. But we are fine.

At least GLH and I are.

The cats are seriously freaked out. They are running from window to window with their hair on end, their tails puffed out and their ears flat against their heads. Max even banged his head when he tried to catch a leaf that was blowing around and forgot that the window was in the way.

Am I wrong for laughing at them?

18 January 2007

Spreckle Ze What?

This morning I checked out three different language schools.
  • Sprachen Schule Schneider at Bahnhof Wollishofen
  • Berlitz in Bellevue
  • Migros Klubschule at Bahnhof Oerlikon

I had to rule out Migros Klubschule because they only have German classes that start at 8:30 am or in the evening. The morning classes will not work because my annual transit pass is only good for after 9 am on week days, therefore I would end up paying quite a lot in additional transit costs. And I would hate to have an evening class. During the winter time I like to be tucked up at home in the evenings, preferably with GLH by my side, a cat or two in my lap and a book in hand.

At the Sprachen Schule I spoke with the people and liked the program. They gave me a test to determine my level of knowledge. I got a 38 out of 80, which I thought not too shabby after 15 years of not speaking the language. But I was told I would likely be in the Beginning German class. I need to go back on Monday morning for the Verbal Skills Test. In terms of location, this would be the most convenient for me.

At Berlitz the Language Counselor was not available, so I have an appointment to meet with her on Tuesday afternoon. Centrally located and an acceptable transit location. We'll see what I think after I meet with the woman.

I will also need to decide whether I do an intensive class (meets 5 times per week for a month) or a regular class (meets 2 times per week for a few months). And before I sign up for anything I'd like to sit through a class to witness the teaching style.

So, any thoughts or suggestions from those who have gone before me? Any experience with these schools or others? Thoughts on intensive versus regular lessons?

I await to receive your wisdom.


On Tuesday evening GLH and I booked a hotel for this coming weekend in Milan, Italy. Yesterday I purchased tickets for the early Saturday morning train with reserved window seats. It will be a quick overnight and we'll be back Sunday evening.

GLH is insisting we take only one small backpack for the two of us. We'll see how THAT works!

My first trip to Italy. I am so excited! I cannot wait to do the Historical Walking Tour in the guide book. Although the fact that Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the World will be lost on me. I hate shopping.

Thanks loads to Jul over at This Non-American Life. She used to live there and gave me a list of tips and Must Do's.

17 January 2007

Sunrise over the Alps

This is the view from our kitchen window. The last couple of mornings the Alps have been shrouded in fog. Today they were outlined by a glorious sunrise.

I am certain that eventually I will get used to the sight and perhaps not even fully notice it. But for now I find myself staring in amazement.

16 January 2007

You asked for it...

GLH's brother, who complained that I never post anything about him or put his picture on the blog.
There ya go! Happy now?

We Passed!

This week our garbage was deemed acceptable. They picked it up and all is well in our world. We have now passed Swiss Garbage 101.

Woo hoo!

Next step: Swiss Recycling...

14 January 2007

Bloggers in Basel

Today GLH and I hopped on a train and traveled to the Swiss city of Basel. The trip from Zürich took approximately an hour.

The primary purpose of our trip was to join up with a bunch of other Swiss bloggers for lunch. Organized by The Big Finn, Sara from Life Is Nicht So Mal and Jul from This Non-American Life, the event was attended by approximately 20-25 bloggers, spouses and friends from around Switzerland.

Other bloggers who attended include the Expatters, Risse's in Switzerland, Swiss Job and Tales of an Expat Hausfrau. And a bunch more, but I'm not sure where their blogs are! I'd give ya imbedded links to the blogs I know, but I'm feeling lazy and still getting accustomed to my new German language keyboard. So look to your right and hit the links yerself!

We stayed at the restaurant for a couple of hours and then left as it was our first time in Basel and we wanted time for a walk-about to explore the city.

Below are some photos I took with my brand-new camera. It was my first time using it. The quality of the photos is nowhere near what I get from my Nikon D70, but it can fit easily into my purse and doesn't weigh a ton. Therefore, it will become my "carry with me just in case" camera.

Enjoy the photos! I'd tell you what they are, but I don't actually know. Uncharacteristically for me, I did absolutely no research before going, did not have a guidebook and we just rambled aimlessly about enjoying the weather and the whole experience. And learning how to use the new camera.

We'll have to go back another time for an official "Discover Basel" trip!

13 January 2007

Saturday at the Migros

I thought Ikea was a scary place on a Saturday. I was wrong. Ikea ain't nuthin'!

For scary, just go down to the local grocery store. Too much stuff packed into too small of a space with very narrow aisles and mobs of people welding shopping carts who will suddenly stop in the middle of your way to chat with each other.

Add to that your own long list of things to purchase and a list of words in German that you should be looking for and it all adds up to an unpleasant experience with shades of claustophobia.

I never much cared for grocery shopping in the United States. Just one of those "get it out of the way activities." And we generally shopped on weekends, when it was busier. But in the United States most grocery stores are open 24 hours a day and on both Saturday and Sunday.

Imagine taking all of those shoppers from Saturday morning through Sunday evening and squeezing them into an 8-hour period. 'Cause the local grocery stores here are only open from 8 am - 4 pm on Saturdays and closed on Sundays.

Grocery shopping is now a mid-week activity. Preferably in the morning when there are very few people.

12 January 2007

Adventures in Furniture Assembly

On Wednesday we picked up two bookcases from Ikea. Last night we put one together and it all went perfectly and looks very nice in the space. We ran out of time as we needed to stop pounding by 10 pm (Swiss Quiet Laws are strictly enforced.) However, no problem. The piece was actually quite easy to put together and I knew I could do it on my own while GLH worked.

This morning I went to put the other bookcase together and discovered to my dismay that instead of giving us a right side and a left side that are mirror images, they gave us two right sides. Or two left sides. Regardless, it was wrong. Unfortunately, they are the largest pieces in the kit -- the two tall sides of the bookcase. Each piece is slightly more than six feet tall.

I called Ikea. "No problem," I was cheerfully informed, "Just bring one piece in and we will replace it with the correct piece."

Problem. We no longer have the rental car to take it back. After a quick discussion about the logistics of carrying the piece down the hill to the train station, on a train to Zurich Haubtbahnhof, transferring to another train to Dietlikon and finally a bus to the Ikea and then doing it all in reverse, we decided to rent another vehicle for one more day.

So much for saving money by getting it from Ikea!

11 January 2007


You are never as intelligent in a second language as you are in your first language. And I am proving that theory in spades!

GLH and I will soon be signing up for German language classes. And the German I learned way back in high school and college is slowly coming out again. At this stage, I could probably have a conversation at the level of a 2 year old. Although the 2 year old would have better grammar and a wider vocabulary.

Yesterday I was even able to have some very small conversations completely in German -- with the postman who needed a signature, the restroom attendant who gave me the correct change to access the restroom and even directions from a hotel employee, although the finger pointed answer helped much better than the words for that last one.

But I am still reminded on a daily basis that I am an Auslander (foreigner) who hasn't a clue how to go about the business of daily life in this new country. This is very difficult for me as I am an intelligent and competent individual who is very unaccustomed to feeling like a complete idiot.

Here are some examples:

Earlier today I filled up the gas tank on the rental car. After 5 minutes of trying, I still could not for the life of me figure out how get the gas to come out of the pump. Finally I asked for assistance and a station employee came out to help. He explained to me in German what he was doing. But I didn't understand. The next time I have to fill up a tank, I still won't know. Although as the car has now been returned and we won't have our own for at least a few months, perhaps I will know enough German by then.

I needed to purchase feminine hygiene products. The tampons were no problem as Tampax is an international brand. But the maxi pads presented more of an issue. After staring at the wall of packages for a while I finally selected one with a picture of a maxi pad on the side. When I got home, I realized I had inadvertently purchased incontinence pads. They do look the same. But they are much, much larger.

I am happy to report that I am successfully using the public transit system and thus far have been able to get myself anywhere that I needed to go. Although I suspect that is more the result of a well designed and efficient system than any display of intelligence by me.

10 January 2007


Our first garbage day has come and gone. And I have failed in Swiss Garbage 101.

I put our garbage out on the curb along with the other bags of garbage. In the morning the truck came along and took everyone else's garbage. Our garbage was left sitting there, looking a little dejected.

We received a sticker on the offending garbage explaining why they did not take the garbage. But of course, understanding very little German, I had no idea what it meant.

The landlady explained that I had used the wrong bag. I was confused about which bag to use and went the wrong way.

The garbage is now in our basement storage room, already placed in the correct bag. We'll give it another try next week.

Fingers crossed!

My Turn?

I've received my first tag. Beth at Shenanigans has tagged me to reveal five useless facts about myself. So here goes...

1. While in college I majored in English Literature. It was a writing intensive program and we were required to write 4-5 papers per week, varying in length from 5 pages up to 20 pages with much longer ones at the end of each semester for each class. As a result, I write very quickly and compose sentences completely in my head. But I am much lazier at grammar and punctuation than I used to be. It saves time. So don't be too amazed at the number of long postings!

2. I also minored in Women's Studies. However, I dropped it from my resume shortly after graduation on the advice of a career counselor. With the Women's Studies on the resume I was unable to get a single interview. After I dropped it, I started getting some. Apparently employers are afraid of feminists.

(SIDE NOTE: What was I thinking? English Lit & Women's Studies? No wonder I had to go to grad school to actually get a career!)

3. I studied classical voice and opera for ten years, but haven't sung seriously in more than five years. GLH believes I have a freakish ability to remember lyrics to songs, jingles, commercials, whatever. As long as it is set to music, I generally remember it.

4. On my 7th birthday I was allowed to pick out my own gift. I selected a large, ugly stuffed dog. My mother tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted because I thought he was so ugly no one else would ever buy him. That made me sad. I named him "Ralph." I took him with me everywhere and he has been through many washing machines and received many patches and repairs. He is now in storage in Kansas City. I kinda miss him.

5. My pointer fingers on both hands are double-jointed at the knuckles closest to the tips. I can bend them backwards. This freaks out many people.

I guess I am also supposed to tag other bloggers. But I feel weird about it. So if ya want to, go for it. If not, that's o.k.

09 January 2007

Are You Looking at Me?

Since moving into our new apartment I have noticed people walking along the street in front of our house and actually stopping in order to stare up at the building. I had put it down to nosy neighbors wondering about the new people on the block. But you'd think they could be more subtle. When I look into people's windows, I always do it casually so that they don't know I'm doing it.

I figured that after a time the curiosity would fade and it would stop.

Today I mentioned it to Frau M., our new landlady.

Apparently the people staring at the building could care less about us. This building, which contains three apartments, is still relatively new. And it is unusual in that most new constructions in the Zurich area are very modern cement and glass cubes. This home was designed in the traditional Swiss vernacular -- large shutters, peaked roof, flower boxes and all. It looks as if it could possibly be a single family home. Just with all the conveniences of modern living (except closets, of course). People actually walk or drive out of their way to have a look at it.

Who knew?

However, there is no doubt the old woman who lives next door is staring at us. I see her lace curtains twitching frequently when we are in the kitchen. Behind those curtains, you can make out the faint shape of someone who is most definitely being nosy.

One of these days I am going to open the window and cheerfully wave at her. Will she come out and say hello? Or will she scurry back from the window in guilt. Any wagers?

Almost done putting things to right. Woo hoo!

Prompt and Efficient

The movers arrived at 7:54 am. Six minutes ahead of schedule. All boxes were present and accounted for. Thus far I have found nothing broken, although a thorough examination has not yet occurred. Everything was unpacked and the packing materials removed by 9:47 am.

I should have everything put away and be finished by dinner time.

Except the computers. Those are GLH's responsibility...

I am also proud to say we did a pretty good job weeding through our possessions and didn't bring much that I would look at and say "What were we thinking?"

Except for one notable exception. I purged more than half the contents of my closet. Why did I forget to remove half of the hangers from the closet before the movers arrive? I now have way more hangers than I could possibly need. The plan was conceived, but not implemented.

Anyone in the Zurich area looking for some hangers? They're the nice ones from Target. They swivel and everything.

08 January 2007

My Love Affair with Cereal Need Not End

Jul, on your advice I have already picked up a bottle of soy milk. We'll give it a whirl. Thanks so much for the words of wisdom.

And thanks to GLH, who knew first hand of my dilemma, and discovered that Migros carries a lactose free milk that is only 1.7% milk fat.

I once again live in hope.

Now if only I was capable of wasting the 3.8% milk I already have by pouring it down the sink. But no, that would be wrong.

Anyone want to try the UHT lactose free whole milk? Just send me an address. C'mon, it will be fun!

Air Shipment

Our air shipment has almost arrived. It was flown into Paris on Saturday and will be delivered to Zurich via truck this morning. It should clear customs later today and will be delivered at 8 am tomorrow morning.

It will be nice to unpack completely and feel more settled. It will also be fabulous to put out the photos of family and friends as well as hang our artwork to make the apartment feel more like home.

Not to mention getting my desktop computer here so that I can download all the photos I've taken since our computers left Kansas City on December 21st.

My blog should be peppered with photos soon! Hopefully everything will be hooked up and ready to go by the end of the week.

Cereal -- It's Not Just for Breakfast

I love cereal and I usually have at least 2-3 types of cereal on hand. Raisin Bran is my favorite.

I could eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I consider it an any time meal and in the past, especially when I was single and working two jobs, I depended upon a couple of bowls of cereal, a couple of hard-boiled eggs along with a yogurt and fruit to get me through the 8 am to 11 pm work day. Sometimes a protein bar if I was very hungry that day.

For a special treat I would make slow-cooked oatmeal with raisins when I had a bit of time on the weekends. Instant oatmeal is a travesty.

Not coincidentally, I was also at my slimmest during this time!

I mean it. I really, really love cereal.

My love of cereal is now being tested. The problem is not the cereal. I've already found a couple of brands that I like. The real issue is that I don't like the milk.

I was raised on skim milk. Even 1% or 2% seems too thick. And whole milk (4%) is not even to be considered. Tastes like a glass of cream. Yeech! Adding water to it just makes it watered down.

And I am very sad because the lowest fat content I can find in the lactose free milk is 3.8% milk fat. (Yes, lactose free is necessary. Otherwise extreme unpleasantness occurs. Enough said.) And the higher fat content is also causing other, how do I put this delicately, "issues." My stomach is just not accustomed to eating a higher fat diet.

I suppose eventually I will become accustomed to it and will be able to stomach it better. And I believe that I will branch out into other genres of breakfast, perhaps even the traditional Germanic breakfast of cold-cut meats, cheese and bread.

But I am still concerned that my Love Fest with cereal is at an end.

By the way, is anyone else freaked out by the fact that milk isn't refrigerated in the grocery stores here? Is it just the American obsession with germs and bacteria that causes us to refrigerate milk? Or is the milk processed differently to allow for a longer shelf life?

07 January 2007

Getting Around

We have given up using the 3-Day Zurich Passes forever. As of today I have the Canton Zurich Annual Pass, which allows for unlimited travel on any mode of public transportation in the area after 9 am Monday through Friday and anytime on weekends. Brings the price down drastically to not travel during the morning rush hour. (GLH can get his anytime pass cheaply through work and will get that tomorrow.)

In addition, we also got the Half Pass, which allows for half off any train or bus ticket in the country, as well as many tourist attractions and ski lifts.

And finally, since we were there anyway, we purchased our half price tickets for the Swiss Bloggers Meet-up in Basel next Sunday. Woo hoo!

For others who are thinking about getting either pass, don't forget your passport and make certain to stop by a Passport Photo Booth on your way there. Otherwise you may end up frustrated and standing in line multiple times...

Not Vacation

In my last post I wondered how long it would be before it no longer felt like vacation.

We are cleaning and doing laundry today. It definitely DOES NOT feel like vacation.

But it does mean we are likely to be about if any family or friends would like to try to call us on the Skype telephone. You know the number...

05 January 2007

We Have Arrived

The long-awaited day has now been realized. We arrived in Zurich yesterday. GLH, Max, Tilly and I all made it safely.

Traveling with the cats was pretty easy. The only real difficulty we ran into was on the United flight between Minneapolis and Chicago. The United employees did not think we had all of the documentation Switzerland required. (By the way, Switzerland only requires proof of rabies vaccination for imported cats.) They wanted all sorts of other information, including special visas for cats, a form of documentation that doesn't even exist!

What made this all so strange is that we only flew United for a domestic flight. We switched over to Swiss Air for the international flight. So what did they care? Still, it took us 45 minutes to convince them to allow us on the flight.

Swiss Air didn't even blink and it was no problem. And when we arrived in Zurich the very bored customs official glanced at our paperwork and stamped it. Took less than 1 minute.

The only other issue is when I briefly became the Crazy Cat Lady. While departing the plane in Zurich, I had taken one of the carriers out from under the seat and placed it in the aisle while I reached around for the other carrier. A very impatient Swiss man actually kicked the carrier out of his way instead of just waiting for me to finish. I yelled at him and everyone immediately backed away from me and the cats. It felt good actually. Normally I am a polite Minnesotan who rarely raises her voice in public. But goodness sake, you don't kick someone else's luggage out of your way regardless of what is in it. I don't care that he didn't know it was a living animal!

Thus far we have spent our time by stocking up on food, purchasing necessary sundry items and registering our existence with the local Gemeindehaus (City Hall). This evening we had time for a nice walk before dinner. We really like the village we are living in. It's only 10 minutes to Zurich via train and has many lovely little shops, three grocery stores, numerous restaurants and, we were amazed to see, a Starbucks. All within easy walking distance. Although it will take some physical training to get accustomed to the enormous hill that must be climbed back to our home.

So, I wonder how long it will be before we no longer feel as if we are on vacation? It will probably happen to GLH faster as he has to go to work...