28 February 2007

Formal or Informal?

This is from GLH's German Class Workbook. He is supposed to select whether the discussion taking place should use the formal "Sie" or the informal "du."

The first two are pretty obvious.

But we are not certain what the woman's hand is doing in the final illustration.

Is that formal or informal?

Anyone know?

27 February 2007


The driver behind me is very impatient. Apparently I am not going fast enough. They are so close that I cannot even see the front of their car. All I can see is the windshield, far too close for comfort.

It makes me nervous. What if I had to stop suddenly? There is no way they could stop in time. So I pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and allow them to pass me. When the road is clear, I pull out again. But here comes another one!

This scenario has happened again and again and again. And I have pulled to the side to let them pass again and again and again. In the short time I have been driving here, I cannot even count the number of times that someone has tailgated me.

I started to feel paranoid. What am I doing? Am I reading the speed limit signs wrong? Am I going well under the legal limit?

Oddly enough, even after they pass me they never seem to go that much faster.

Seeking understanding, I turn to the internet for answers. I google "Switzerland Tailgating."

There is a flood of hits. Rant after rant after rant. Apparently a common complaint.

So common that among all the responses I found a link to Verkehrssicherheitskampagne ABSTAND! (Translation: Traffic Safety Campaign DISTANCE!)

Yep, it would appear that the Swiss drivers tend to follow closely behind. Even if they do not want to drive faster.

It has caused so many unnecessary accidents that the Canton of Zürich started a campaign in May 2006 to tell people "Keep Your Distance!"

As far as I can tell it hasn't had any effect yet.

Unless it was even worse before...

Barter and Trade

Today some of the Bloggy Hausfraus met for lunch at one of the member's townhouse. (Thanks, A!)

After a wonderful lunch of quiche and salad with some decadent chocolate treats as dessert, we hatched an idea...

A's husband has a small brewery in the basement. Trust me when I use the word "brewery" because this is definitely more than the typical home-brewing set-up!

He has just added a new, larger brew pot and is trying to set up a computer to automat the beer brewing process. But he could use some help.

As it so happens, L and I have husbands with a background in IT.

So here is the plan...

We brought some sample beers home for the husbands to whet their appetite. Once they fall in love with the free beer, we will explain that there is more where that came from. So long as they help the guy set up the computer.

That way, we can all spend a Sunday afternoon chatting with each other, or watching chick flicks, while our husbands are all downstairs dealing with the computer and brewing.

Yeah, I think they'll go for it.

And I am just thankful this is one gadget we do not have room for in our apartment!

26 February 2007

I Have a Job!

Alright, so it's a volunteer job.

And it's part-time.

The important thing is that it involves professional responsibilities in my career field - librarianship. It will help me begin to build a network of contacts in Swiss libraries. And it will force me to learn German faster by increasing my exposure to it.

It's a small step. But it's a start.

25 February 2007

Sunday Afternoon at the Landesmuseum

It was a rainy day and we had no plans, so we decided today would be the perfect day to visit the Swiss National Museum, commonly called the Landesmuseum, across the street from the Zürich Hauptbahnhof.

Built in 1898, the museum houses the largest collection of Swiss historical artifacts in Switzerland, and perhaps the world as well. GLH and I walked through the rambling halls. I found the most interesting section to be the recreated rooms from various times in Switzerland's past.

Although I have to say, the museum had a lack of focus in its exhibits. You frequently did not know quite what you were looking at. Perhaps it was due to the renovation work currently being done, but there was little order in how the displays were arranged. Visitors meander aimlessly from room to room with few clues as to which way to go next or how the exhibits connect to one another.

I had hoped the museum would provide me with a good overview of Swiss history. In that regards, I was disappointed. I believe that I shall invest some time in reading a book on Swiss history, wait for the museum renovations to be complete and then go again. Perhaps I will then be equipped with the knowledge to appreciate the exhibits.

My apologies for the one photograph. As I mentioned before, it was raining and I did not wish to stand in the open and take photographs. Although I am water-proof, my camera is not.
Surprisingly, the museum does not allow photography, not even if you turn off the flash. Very few museums have that restriction any longer. You are even allowed to take photos inside the Louvre in Paris! Does any museum have a larger or more valuable collection than there?

Bath Time: A Guide to Bathing a Cat

I am allergic to cats and dogs. It is difficult for me to spend time in the homes of others who have pets. People are always surprised by this since I have cats myself. But here is my secret...

Most people are not allergic to the cat or dog itself. What they are allergic to is the dander, pollen, dust and so on that accumulates on the animal's fur. Especially in the case of animals that regularly go outside.

I avoid all this by doing two things.
1. My cats are indoor only cats in order to limit their exposure to allergens.
2. I routinely give them baths to remove the dander that accumulates.

Yes, you read that correctly. I bathe my cats. Every cat I have ever had has had regular baths since kittenhood. I always know when the next bath is due because my eyes start itching and watering. Generally I bathe Max and Tilly about once a month.

And now you too can bathe your cat based upon these simple instructions:

In order for the process to go as smoothly as possible, you must first prepare the bath area.

Start by selecting a cat shampoo at your local pet supply store. Animals have a different pH balance in their skin. Using shampoo intended for a person can cause dry skin and irritation. I use a shampoo I brought from the United States that comes complete with a hairball remedy in the formula. If you do not have this kind of shampoo, I would suggest you purchase a separate hairball remedy.

Pet shampoo is available in Europe as well. I found some at Qualipet in Switzerland, but it did not come with the hairball remedy already in it.

On the day of the bath, prepare your house. If it is a cool day, turn up the heat slightly. Your cats will be cold when wet. Also, remove access to the litter box, especially if you have clumping litter, until your cat is completely dry. Trust me on this!

Next lay out some large, fluffy, very absorbent towels next to the bath location. As we have two cats, I always have two bath towels ready to go.

The final preparation is to ready the bath. I use the kitchen sink as it uses the least amount of water and suds necessary. Very important consideration if there is a struggle as less water equals less mess. I thoroughly clean the sink both before and after the bath.

Fill the sink with warm water. It should be slightly warmer than room temperature, but not hot. Squirt some shampoo directly into the water as it is pouring to create suds.

Once the bath is ready, carefully lower the cat into the sink. I suggest doing it quickly so they have less time to react.

Scoop up handfuls of water and suds and massage into your cat all over except the face and ears.

At this stage your cat may begin to emit sounds you have never heard before. Do not worry. Despite the cat's belief, this process will not kill them.

After you have finished shampooing the body, take small amounts of water (no suds) in your hand and carefully wash the face and around the ears. Make certain you do not put water directly into the cat's eyes or ears.

Lift the cat out of the water with one hand while the other hand slicks as much of the water and suds off as possible. Rinsing the cat is not necessary as long as you have used a shampoo formulated for cats.

Lay the cat down on the towel and quickly wrap it up as if swaddling a baby.

When you are finished, only the cat's face should be visible. Hold your cat this way for a few minutes to absorb as much of the water into the towel as possible.

Then unwrap the cat slightly and use the drier end of the towel to rub him/her until the cat is more damp than wet.

Let him/her down on the floor so s/he can begin the arduous licking process.
At this time it is permissible to laugh as the cat awkwardly walks away, trying desperately to find it's dignity.

The cat will immediately find a quiet spot and lick him/herself all over until it is satisfied that s/he has removed all trace of the offensive shampoo (and hairball remedy!)
When it is mostly dry, give your cat a thorough brushing. The shampooing process will have slightly dislodged a lot of hair, giving the cat an odd, scruffy appearance. Brushing the fur will remove most of that hair, thus restoring the cat's appearance and hopefully preventing excessive shedding all over your furniture. If your cat has a very thick coat of fur, it may need a second brushing an hour or so later.
A special thanks to Max and Tilly, our somewhat unwilling volunteers in the demonstration process. Thanks also to GLH who took the photographs.

24 February 2007

Shopping in Konstanz, Germany

Konstanz is 1 kilometer from the border between Germany and Switzerland. A convenient geographic fact that served them well during World War II. Every night when the rest of Germany would have black-outs in a vain effort to avoid Allied bombing missions, the citizens of Konstanz would leave their city brightly lit. And it worked. The Allied forces thought Konstanz was part of Switzerland and it was never bombed. Clever, eh?

But history was not our purpose today.

Since arriving in Switzerland we have repeatedly heard that you must go to Konstanz for the shopping. Every weekend, an hourly train from Zürich and a steady stream of cars with Swiss license plates cross the border full of those seeking one thing - value shopping.

Although the sales taxes are much higher in Germany (currently 19%), all of the stores provide a VAT form which you can use to reclaim the taxes at the border. You must also declare your purchases with Swiss Customs if the total amount you spent equals or exceeds 100 CHF (per person) and pay 7% sales tax to Switzerland. (See note below.) In the end you have a 12% discount on your goods.

Today we headed off to scope out the shopping scene and perhaps purchase some cordless telephone handsets not available in Switzerland. We were joined by L and I, on a hunt of their own to find linens for their German-made bed.

I am afraid we were disappointed in our own search. The electronics store did not carry the handsets we need. Our search continues. Fortunately, L & I were more successful and returned home with a bag of bed linens.

In the end we concluded that it is only worth the extra effort of driving to Konstanz if you are purchasing a big ticket item or plan to purchase many smaller things. In our case, the savings did not equal the cost of the gasoline for the trip. It would have been even less worthwhile had we paid for train tickets.

But we did see enough of Konstanz to know that it is a charming town with a beautiful Old City area that is picturesquely situated on the Bodensee, a large lake the Rhein both flows into and out of. In addition, the town seems to have a relatively large Asian immigrant population. Much to the pleasure of our taste buds. For lunch we ate at an Asian restaurant with a combination of Vietnamese and Thai entrees. I had the best Pad Thai I've tasted since coming to Europe. (Not quite as flavorful as my favorite Thai restaurant in the United States, but thankfully not as bland as the three places we have tried in Zürich.)

Next time we go back it will likely be as tourists. My only regret is that I forgot to bring my camera.

NOTE: To those who attempt to avoid paying the Swiss Customs, please be aware that if you get caught you will receive a long and unpleasant inspection, a stiff fine and have to pay the taxes anyway. Plus your name lands on a list of those to watch. Do not forget, shopping is a common reason to visit Konstanz and Swiss officials keep an eye out for those who may be returning with undeclared goods.

23 February 2007

A Visit to Rapperswil

Yesterday GLH called to tell me that his business trip to Munich was postponed until next month. As we were supposed to fly to Munich that evening, his Friday schedule was completely clear.

Hurrah for surprise holidays!

Our original plan to hike on Uetliberg and take some photographs was scrapped after the haze failed to lift. We knew the photographs would not be as striking and decided to go on a clearer day.

Instead, we drove to Rapperswil for the afternoon.

Rapperswil is on a penisula at the southern end of Lake Zürich. A popular summer destination, we were happy to find the streets sparsely populated. The only downside is that the museums were all closed so I have limited information about the history of the town.

Most of the people we did see gathered around the shores of the lake.

After a walk along the lake, we started the climb up the Lindenhof to Schloss Rapperswil.

The castle was built in the 13th century as the keep for the Counts of Rapperswil.

The parish church was added in the 15th century. It's small, but beautiful. Indeed, it is one of the most ornate churches I have seen in Switzerland to date.

After our walk through the castle grounds, we wandered about the Altstadt.

Although I have to admit the most thrilling part of the day is that I found cranberry juice at the Reformhaus (Health Food Store). I have sorely missed my cranberry juice and have had a difficult time finding the 100% pure juice in Switzerland. Our upstairs neighbor knew of my desire and surprised me by bringing it back from her trip to the UK. (Along with oatmeal AND vanilla essense. Thanks, K!) But I am happy to have found a source here in Switzerland. Now I just need to look in the Reformhauses a bit closer to us.

The Long and Winding Road

When we left Rapperswil, GLH headed for the hills. The foothills of the Alps, that is. Which means that they are actually mountains in their own right.

After all, a new car is just a really big, really expensive gadget. And there is no point in having all-wheel drive if you never use it.

So off we went. And we began to steadily ascend. At first it was quite pleasant and I was enjoying the view. But soon the two-way, two-lane road became a two-way, one-lane road. When we would occasionally meet another car, one driver would need to manuever as far onto the shoulder as possible to let the other car pass. Or, if there was inadequate shoulder, one car would need to back up until there was.

Eventually the switch backs started to happen. It seemed to me as if we were mere inches from the edge of an alarming drop to our certain death.

When the two-way, one-lane PAVED road became a two-way, one-lane GRAVEL road with increasing perilous drops I put my foot down.

I'm just a simple Midwestern girl from the Prairie. And did I mention that I am completely and totally terrified of heights? There is really only so much I can handle.

I'm sorry to say that I cannot show you any photos of the really scary parts. Mostly because I was clenching the armrests, trying not to look down and periodically hissing at GLH to "slow down!" and "keep away from the edge!" And getting increasingly angry when GLH laughed at me!

It's hard to use a camera when one is in that state.

But here is one I took before I reached that level of near-hysteria.

That windy road you see in the middle of the photo is the road we were still driving. But further down and many switch-backs away.

By the way, at every level we reached there were farmhouses. I have concluded that the people who live up there must be a tad crazy. You would have to be when you have a yard you could accidentally fall off and die!

The Down Side of an Early Spring

The unusually warm winter in Switzerland has been wonderful.

It feels like spring already. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. The children are playing. The flowers are blooming...

Oh. The flowers are blooming.

GLH and I are both red-eyed with running noses and lots of sneezing.

No, we do not have colds. We have allergies.

The aspect about winter I appreciate the most is the nice break from allergies in the spring, summer and fall. Not much of a break this year.

When I come back from my trip to the United States next week, I will be fully stocked with my favorite allergy medicine. It's going to be a long time before the hard frost next fall...

And I'll have to go from pharmacy to pharmacy because of that stupid law limiting how much allergy medicine you can buy at a time.

C'mon. Do I really look like I am going to make crack from the stuff?

I hope it's not a problem at the airport. Does anyone know?

22 February 2007

Debating with Strangers

I originally sent this as a rant in an e-mail to a handful of friends. I needed to vent after it happened once again. While it is a rare occurrence, it is extremely frustrating when it does happen and I tend to obsess about it.

I didn't intend to post it in my blog, mostly because I didn't want to deal with flaming.

But after the e-mail went out, some of my friends e-mailed me back and encouraged me to post it. In addition, I saw another perspective on this same topic posted yesterday by the Expatters.

The likelihood of something like this occurring varies depending upon what country you are in and what is happening on the American political scene at the time. But it is an illustration of what sometimes happens to Americans living or travelling abroad.

So to prevent any offensive comments, I am going to turn on comments moderation for a little while.

'Cause it's My Blog. And I can censor if I want to!

If you wish to comment on it, please do. I expect I will approve most comments anyway...


It has only happened a few times since moving to Switzerland. When it does I am always taken by surprise.

I will be out in public, minding my own business, when a complete stranger will somehow recognize me as an American and launch into a session of Bush-Bashing.

I do not mind having an open and respectful debate about political issues with people I know, or at the very least, people with whom I am marginally acquainted. Indeed, I rather enjoy it. But I never quite know how to react when it is a confrontational stranger in a public place.

Simply put, I do not want to spend my time discussing American politics with a stranger on a train or a street corner or wherever I happen to be. So I generally make some innocuous comment to deflect it or just turn and walk away.

However, what I would like to do is say this:

Oh, you don't agree with President Bush's foreign policy? I'm certain he would like to hear your views personally. Hold on a second, let me get my mobile. I've got his direct number in my speed dial.

Given how you approached me, you must have somehow known that I am one of his personal advisors. But then, I am certain that the elected officials in your country listen to everything you say as well. Oh, it's ringing now...

Bummer, it went to voice mail. He must have stepped out of the Oval Office for a minute. I'll leave a message: "Yo, GW. Global here calling from Zürich. Say, I've got someone standing next to me who would like to speak with you regarding your foreign policy. Could you give me a jingle back? You know my number. Talk to you in a few!"

He should call back in a minute. While we're waiting, why don't we chat about something else?

I know, how about the Swiss Banking Laws?

The practice of some Swiss Cantons of giving tax breaks to multi-millionaires and multinational corporations?

Or maybe you would prefer to discuss the new Swiss Immigration Laws that passed last autumn?

What's that you say? You don't want to discuss any of these topics with a stranger?

So what, exactly, made you think I did?

This post does not represent the views of the American government, the American people or any individual except the post's author. Because, after all, the United Status Census Department estimates there are 298,444,215 people living in the United States as of July 2006. And that number doesn't include the number of US citizens living abroad.

Believe it or not, we all have different opinions and beliefs and values. It's a pretty diverse population!

Are We "Laughing" Yet?

Yesterday GLH and I had a planned evening. Based upon a recommendation from Jul over at This Non-American Life, we had planned to attend a course entitled "Introduction to Swiss Wines" taught by the owners of the Laughing Lemon. The class was to take place at the Tezet near the Oerlikon Bahnhof.

The course was scheduled to begin at 6:30 pm. It is a 5-minute walk from the train station. Since our train arrived at 6:10 pm, we should have been in good shape, right?

Well, we ended up getting a bit turned around on the directions, but thought we were in the right area. We asked some people for directions, but couldn't find anyone who spoke English and my German was inadequate for the job.

We then asked people for either the Laughing Lemon or Tezet. But no one had ever heard of either of those places. (We later found out Tezet is the community center, which should have been widely known. I suspect I wasn't pronouncing it correctly.)

We showed the map to someone and after a great deal of gesturing and many fast words I hadn't a hope of understanding, we set off in the direction they indicated. And we walked and we walked and we walked. When we got down near the stadium, we figured that we were much too far away.

Although the evening still could have been saved if only we were Shakira fans. She was singing at the stadium last night and we were approached by many independent salespeople who happened to have available tickets with only a slight mark-up in the ticket's original value.

We still are not certain whether we misunderstood the original pointing and gesturing or whether the person we showed the map to was herself confused about the direction, but it ended up being a wild goose chase. After more than an hour of blindly wandering around Oerlikon, we gave up.

By this time it was 7:30 pm and we were famished. We had found our way back to the train station and noticed a restaurant across the street. We wandered across and looked at its menu. It seemed alright and there were people eating inside, so we gave it a try.

After a few beers, GLH was feeling better and laughing about the experience.

I had worn shoes intended for a short walk from the train station. Very nice with two-inch heels. Not intended for an hour long hike. My feet hurt. A lot. It took me a bit longer to recover from the experience.

Once the food came and I was no longer on the verge of starving, I too felt better.

One interesting note...

I ordered älplermacaron (Swiss-style macaroni and cheese). Instead I received the spaghetti alla carbonara.

I think fate is messing with me. In the last month I have rarely gotten what I actually ordered. It is almost like someone is saying "You ordered food. You got food. What's the problem?"

And it is such a pain to explain that it wasn't what I ordered and could they bring what I did order instead that I just eat it.

But what makes this so weird is that the last time we were in an Italian restaurant I ordered spaghetti alla carbonara. And received tortellini soup instead.

So perhaps fate is having a bit of a laugh as well!

I wonder when I will actually get the älplermacaron?

All's well that ends well.

I contacted the Laughing Lemon to explain the situation as I knew they have a "no refunds policy." They were very nice and have told me we can just come the next time they offer the class instead.

But the next time we are taking the portable GPS system!

By the way, if you are ever lost in Oerlikon and find yourself near the train station, walk across the street to the Restaurant Baumgarten.

The food is pretty good. But what is better are the people in the place. Not for certain, but it seems to be owned by a husband and wife. He works the kitchen and bar while she takes care of the "front of the house." They don't speak any English which made ordering a bit of a challenge (hence the food mix-up), but they are very friendly and smile quite a lot to everyone who enters. Regardless of whether they are a regular or stranger. Which I loved because you see that so rarely here.

In addition, the place is full of regulars. When we first got there, it was pretty empty. But the woman made certain we sat at a specific table. As time went on we figured out that she was concerned about which table we sat at because the regulars trickled in and went to tables they obviously considered "theirs."

In most cases, their food and drinks were brought out just a few minutes after they arrived. Without the pesky annoyance of actually having to order it!

21 February 2007

Swiss Car Sales

NOTE: Informational Posting for others who are new to Switzerland or considering a move here...

One of the most "foreign experiences" we have had to date has been the process of buying a car in Switzerland. Fortunately it is an extremely easy and smooth process.

In the United States you cannot step foot on a car sales lot without being approached by a salesperson within a minute of your arrival. From the moment the salesperson greets you, it is a hard sell. So much so that the last time we purchased a car in the US, we went to the lots when they were closed just to look at the cars and see the sticker prices without hearing the sales pitch.

In Switzerland the sales process is very low-key. In most cases we were not approached at all. The sales staff did not want to "intrude upon our privacy." At most, we may have had someone ask "Do you have any questions?" But there was never a sales pitch. If we had questions, we knew where to find the staff and ask them. Our questions were answered in full and very honestly. Both the positives and negatives were explained to us.

Once you decide to purchase a car, there are virtually no negotiations. The price is based upon the list price and any options the car has. And frankly, the price listed is a fair price. Not the elevated price you see in the US where it is expected you will bargain it down. We had been warned by friends and acquaintances that negotiations do not happen, but decided to try anyway. It never hurts to ask.

The best we were able to do is have them exchange the rubber floor mats for the carpet floor mats without adding the price difference to our total. Apparently there is a small amount of room for negotiation when purchasing a regular used car, but not as much as you would find in the United States.

The car we purchased was a demonstration car. A few people have asked us what this means because most car dealerships in the United States do not have these. The exceptions to this are some higher end cars with many possible options or cars that are extremely popular and have a waiting list. But it is still relatively rare.

In Switzerland you cannot go to a dealership and have a selection of several new cars available to drive home that day. The car lots are much smaller and they do not have the space for the inventory. Instead, you drive a demonstration car. Once you have decided which car you want, you select the specific options you would like and order it. You generally receive your car within 1-2 months. The demonstration cars are sold as used cars at the end of the year when the next year's models are available. So our new car is a 2006 demonstration car in perfect condition with few kilometers on it.

Yesterday we went to pick up the car. This gave the dealership time to take care of all the details. We first contacted our insurance company to tell them we needed car insurance and what level of coverage we wanted. The insurance company then contacted the car salesman directly and arranged the specifics.

In addition, Switzerland is still very much a cash-based society. Most people pay with either cash or debit cards in their daily purchases. Checks and credit cards are not accepted in many stores and businesses. A fact we discovered only after standing in a long line our first weekend here to replace the computer equipment that wouldn't work on 220 voltage.

Checks and credit cards are never accepted when purchasing a car. Even if you arrange financing, which many people do because the interest rates are so low here, you still need a substantial down payment. The salesman told us that most Swiss bring in cash. However, we arranged to do an electronic transfer of funds because walking around with a large sum of cash just didn't seem safe.

When we arrived yesterday, the car salesman gave us our insurance papers, our registration papers, our highway tax permit and everything else we need. The license plates were already installed on the car. There is no need for us to do all the legwork and stand in a long line at the Swiss equivalent of a Dept of Motor Vehicles. Or trying to figure out all the paperwork in German. Very nice!

And finally, we were given a tour of our new car that included more details than I have ever received before. All the way down to how to use the windshield wipers, set the radio buttons and where to check the oil. We are actually not certain if this is standard for everyone or if we got an extra tutorial because they weren't able to get the manual in English before we arrived to pick it up. (The English manual will be sent to us in a couple of weeks.)

One last note: a US driver's license is acceptable for one year from date of entry. By the end of year we will need to arrange for Swiss driver's license. We can do this simply by showing them our US licenses and residence permit plus providing two passport-sized photos. If we don't do it by the time the year is up, we have to do the written and road test. In German, French or Italian. Now that's a scary thought!

We can keep our US driver's license, but a sticker stating "Not Valid in Switzerland" will be added to it.

20 February 2007


Today I received our first telemarketer call in Switzerland. I speak just enough German to know that is why he was calling. Plus, the tone of voice for telemarketers seems to be the same worldwide despite the language and accent. An annoyingly cheerful blast of words that allows for no polite interruption.

Using the broadest American accent I could muster, I interrupted his spiel with "Ich verstehe Deutsch nicht. Verstehen Sie Englisch?"


Then he replied "Nein. Guten Tag." Click.

Wow! What an easy way to end a conversation that would likely have been an insistent sales pitch otherwise. It's also the first time a telemarketer has hung up on me instead of the other way round.

I believe that even when I am more comfortable with German I will continue to use that line with telemarketers.

Photos That Do Not Suck

Taking a good photograph is not that hard. You just have to stop and think for about 2-3 seconds before you snap the picture.

I am no photography expert, but I enjoy photography a great deal. I like to believe that I take pretty good shots. If that is true, it is due solely to the fact I have spent a fair amount of time reading books, googling websites and looking at the photographs of people who are expert photographers. All with the aim of improving my own efforts.

It only takes is a bit of time and practice.

Which is why I become so annoyed when I see hordes of tourists wasting their time taking gazillions of photographs that anyone who has ever googled "how to take better photographs" could tell you are going to be crap.

Especially when those hordes of tourists taking bad photographs are standing in the way of someone else (i.e. me!) taking a decent shot!

So here it is...

Global Librarian's
Quick Guide to Travel Photography
Subtitle: Taking Photos That Do Not Suck

Tip 1
READ THE MANUAL! Your camera's manual will explain to you the abilities of your camera and how to use it to get the best photos. Each camera brand and model works slightly differently. You will not be using the camera to its fullest abilities if you have no idea what those abilities are. If you have lost the manual or you need a bit more information about a specific feature, go to the manufacturer's website. The website usually has lots of useful guides and tips.

When taking a photograph of a person standing in front of a landmark, let perspective work in your favor. First line up the landmark so that it fills your viewfinder. Then have the person stand in front of you. Ask them step forward or back until you can clearly see them, but the landmark is still visible behind them.

If you put the person you wish to photograph next to an enormous structure, you won't be able to see them in the final photograph.

Tip 3
The built-in flash on your camera will only work if the object you are photographing is about 10-20 feet in front of you. Exactly how far the flash works depends upon your specific camera and what ISO you are using. If the flash is too close, the subject of the photograph appears bleached and the background is dark. If the flash is too far away, your subject will disappear into the murky darkness. Read your camera's manual to find out what the flash recommendations are for your camera.

Another flash tip: on a very bright day there may be sharp contrasts and shadows on your subject. To remove those shadows, use the flash as a "fill-in."

Tip 4
Do not be afraid to get close to your subject. What you are photographing should fill the frame. If you are too far away, too many other things will end up in the picture and others may wonder what you were taking a picture of.

Tip 5
How many photographs of yourself and your traveling companions do you really need? On Saturday afternoon GLH and I sat in the garden in back of Notre Dame and watched a group of tourists spend at least 30 minutes taking virtually the exact same shot over and over again. Meanwhile, some other people were waiting to take their own pictures. Most of them gave up and walked away. It was excessively rude.

Which leads me to my final tip...

Tip 6
This may come as a surprise to some people, but you are not the only person in the world. There are other people who have spent hard-earned money to vacation in the same place and at the same time as you. They would also like good photographs to remember their trip. When taking a photograph from a prime spot, take it quickly and move out of the way. If you see someone else taking a photograph, try not to get in their way.

It's called "courtesy." It's a two-way street, folks!

For a good online guide to basic photography, go to About: Photography.

You can also google the photography topic of your choice or check out the books in your local library or bookstore.

19 February 2007

Paris: A Photographic Experience

Ah, Paris...

The weather was perfect. There were few crowds. GLH and I had no plan, no itinerary. We just wandered about Paris. There was no rush to see everything and do all. We know we will be back. Likely many times...

We began Saturday by going to Musee d'Orsay, just across Jardin des Tuileries from our hotel. And GLH's favorite Paris museum.

The Main Paris train station from 1900-1939, it fell into disuse because it's tracks and platforms were not able enough to handle the new, modern trains. In danger of being torn down and replaced with a modern hotel in the mid-70's, it was saved and designated a National Historic site. It opened as a museum in 1986 and houses art of the Western world from 1848 - 1914.

But the original clock remains...

Here is the obligatory photograph of the Eiffel Tower.

We chose not to stand in the line to go up it. Perhaps another time?

And, of course, the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile...

Strolling along the Champs Elysées..

To the Obélisque du Luxor in the Place de la Concorde, standing between the end of the Champs Elysées and the beginning of the Jardin des Tuileries.

Getting across the street here is a challenge. I do not envy the job of this police officer, who must force order upon the chaos!

Originally the site of a royal palace, the Jardin des Tuileries is now a 25-hectare park.

At the far end of the Jardins des Tuileries is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel...

Because, of course, when you have a Napoleon Complex, you can never have too many tributes to yourself. This is especially true when you are actually Napoleon, who had many things built in his honor...

Walking through the Arc, you come upon the Musee de Louvre...

...with the glass pyramids designed by I.M. Pei in 1989. Love 'em or hate 'em, you cannot deny they are distinctive!

Not far past the Louvre is the center of Medieval Paris and the massive Notre Dame de Paris...

By the end of the day we were exhausted and our feet felt as if they were about to fall off. So instead of going out to find one of the restaurants recommended by others, we were lazy and went to the restaurant at the Westin Hotel, where we stayed. It was pretty good, but not fabulous.

On Sunday we woke early and went for a walk. We were pleased to discover that the Opéra National de Paris was open for exploring.

Now that's an Opera House!

Unfortunately, since it was one of the few places open on a Sunday morning, it was also packed. I waited for several minutes to get this shot without anyone in it. But the guy standing there would not move. I finally gave up and took the shot anyway.

Later I figured out how to incorporate the other photographers into the shots...

Our walk back to the hotel took us through Place Vendome.

What a surprise! It's another monument to Napoleon...

The Colonne de Vendome was made from the bronze of 1250 cannons seized from the Austrians and Russians during the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805.