28 December 2007

Alright, Let's Go

Whenever we bring out the suitcases, the cats begin to act strangely. They know we are going away and they would really prefer we didn't do that.

Generally Max will park himself on the mat in front of the door. Because obviously he is so large he will prevent us from going. Unfortunately for Max, it hasn't worked yet.

This time he decided to try a different tactic. He's coming with us.


Doesn't he look comfortable?

We're off to the US! See ya in 2008.

Wer? Was? Wo? Wann?

At last we can sigh with relief. Our 2008 Offiziellem Abfallkalander has arrived.

For non-German speakers, that means "Official Garbage Calendar."

It is the booklet that gives us all of the information about what days to expect garbage collection, what days will be recycling days and when you can leave out your Christmas trees or garden clippings or even large items.

Without it we would be lost and our neighbors would look upon us with disgust when we put the wrong things out on the wrong days. (Not that it has ever happened to us, of course!)

Or, as we discovered when I misplaced our 2007 calendar for about a month, we would have to look outside to see what, if anything, is being left out at the curb in the morning and then stick our stuff out there too.

Ya gotta love the Swiss!

27 December 2007

Family Mystery

Can you help us solve a family mystery?

When I was growing up, my mother would occasionally make a very special dish for us: Stats

She had learned to make stats from her mother, who learned it from her mother and so on. The only thing we know for certain is that it is an Austrian peasant dish. Essentially stats is an extra egg-y pancake batter than is then fried in a bit of oil. Sometimes it would have chunks of apple in it. We would serve it for lunch or dinner, sprinkled with powder sugar and always with a side of dill pickles. (To cut the sweet, of course!)

Here is a photo of stats (with raisins and roasted almonds added):


It is a very important dish in my family. Mostly because there is little remaining from my maternal grandmother. (Pictured below with my grandfather from an undated photo taken while on vacation in New York City.)

Grandma Rausch was the daughter of immigrants from Vienna, Austria. Although she was born in the United States, most of her cooking was Austrian in nature. She learned the recipes from her mother and she kept all of them in her head. Few were ever written down.

She always meant to write down these family recipes, but she just never got around to it. Unfortunately, she died unexpectedly when she was 54 years old. When she died, many of the family recipes were lost with her.

Some of the recipes, such as stats or Sauerbraten or Apfel Strudel were learned by my mother and her sisters, cooking side by side with my grandmother while they were young and living at home. But none of them learned more than a few.

Since my grandmother's death in the 1960's, they have tried to recreate many of the recipes that are now gone. They have poured through German & Austrian cookbooks, trying out recipes and making small changes to recreate the taste and smell of their childhood. In some cases, they were successful. But in many cases, no information could be found.

Part of the issue is that although my grandmother was fluent in German, she never taught the language to any of her children. Primarily because German was the language the adults used when they didn't want the children to understand what they were saying. But perhaps also because during that time period (between the 2 World Wars), you didn't really want to advertise that you spoke German.

So in many cases, we do not even know what the dishes are really called. Because my mother and her siblings did not speak German, the German names of the recipes have been warped or lost completely. For example, there is one dish that the family calls "baby fingers" because they are small noodles served with gravy that are about the size of a baby's fingers. But not spaetzle!

Stats is one of those dishes. Over the years we have repeatedly tried to find the history and origins of this dish. We have done countless searches in cookbooks, asked virtually every Austrian we came into contact with and researched it on the internet.

The first break-through came a few years ago on a visit to Münich. I described the dish in detail to Laurie, an American who lived in Münich for nearly 20 years. She thought it sounded like Kaiserschmarrn. It is very close. Indeed, the closest we have ever come.

While my parents were visiting earlier this month, we took the opportunity to taste Kaiserschmarrn in Münich, Nuremburg and Salzburg. My mother was thrilled to have gotten so close. But we both agreed it is not quite right. And we couldn't figure out where the name "stats" had come from. Obviously it is the wrong name, but could it really have warped so much from Kaiserschmarrn to stats? In just a generation?

After we returned from the Christmas Market (and Kaiserschmarrn) Marathon, GLH happened to mention it to an Austrian co-worker.

"Ah," the co-worker said, "Stats actually sounds more like Sterz. Also called Mehlsterz." So I immediately did some research. Sterz is fried flour with no eggs, milk or sugar. So not the correct recipe, but perhaps where the name originates?

Further research revealed a recipe called Mehlschmarrn, which is almost identical to the recipe my mother remembers. It is an Austrian peasant dish that is intended to be eaten as a meal, not dessert as Kaiserschmarrn is. Generally, it was eaten when times were hard and there was little money for meat and other, more expensive, ingredients.

Being a librarian, I took the research further still.

Apparently Sterz refers to a recipe specific to the Styrian region of Austria. It has been around for quite literally centuries. There are variations of it all over the country. Perhaps the Viennese version included the eggs, milk and sugar?

Also, I may have found a connection to Kaiserschmarrn. The chef who originally made the recipe based it upon an Austrian peasant dish that he learned from his mother and grandmother. Definitely getting closer...

So now I would like your input -- especially the input of Austrians who may remember variations of this dish from their childhood.

Anyone out there in the Blogosphere?

26 December 2007

10 Best of 2007

Here are our favorite cities visited in 2007...

10. Copenhagen, Denmark: A sparkling jewel surrounded by nature, this one time capital of Scandinavian is worth a closer look. And don't miss going to the nearby Viking Museum and royal palaces!

9. Oslo, Norway: Our favorite sight was the open air museum, but this city has far more to offer. I also loved being reminded of things from my home, the Norway of the Western Hemisphere (Minnesota).

8. Stockholm, Sweden: A laid-back city closely connected with water and nature. Our time in Stockholm was far too short, but more than enough time to know we must come back.

7. Nuremberg, Germany: We went for the Christmas Market and are very happy we did. Reputed to be the largest Christmas Market in Germany, it is chocked full of traditional stands selling handmade ornaments, toys and Bavarian specialties of all kinds. If you can only go to one Christmas Market, go to this one!

6. Munich, Germany: We went for Oktoberfest and then returned for the Christmas Market. And it doesn't hurt that it is now a great place for me to practice German!

5. Venice, Italy: Few cities can live up to the charm and friendliness of Venice. Give up trying to navigate your way to a specific location - even the locals sometimes get lost in the labyrinth that is Venice. Just meander aimlessly and you will be amazed at what you find.

4. London, England: London is a modern, international city steeped in history. Although the current exchange rate makes it even more outrageously expensive than usual, it is a city that "has it all." And it doesn't hurt that occasionally we just have to go someplace where we are able to hear English spoken all around us.

3. Paris, France: There is no denying that Paris is the City of Love. And we loved to walk endlessly along its streets, holding hands and just soaking in the atmosphere. Paris is a perennial favorite destination for people all over the world. And it is no wonder.

2. St. Petersburg, Russia Although we had a very short time here and were restricted due to the type of visa, we both loved this charming city and the nearby former palaces of the czars. We have plans to go back for a longer visit and a more flexible visa.

1. Rome, Italy: No hesitation or discussion here. We both immediately said "Rome." It has it all. Fascinating history, cosmopolitan atmosphere, spectacular art and even our favorite restaurant of the past year! We will go back again and again. In our opinion, if you can only go to one place in Europe, go to Rome. You will not be sorry.


25 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

Enjoy this clip from The Boss...


24 December 2007

All Done

And wasn't that fun?

By the way, for those who were wondering, GLH's gift was an antique map of Zurich dating from the 16th century. And, because the Altstadt has changed little in all that time, you can still use it to navigate through the central city.

He loved it, just like I knew he would!

Christmas Toy!

Our gift exchanges have continued. I've decided that it's nice to give one gift at a time. Then you have time to enjoy each gift individually before getting another. New holiday tradition?

GLH has been eyeing sports cars since we moved here. So I decided to get him a Ferrari. It's even remote controlled!

The cats are not yet certain what they think of it...

23 December 2007

Tiny Turkey

Even though I am a vegetarian now, GLH had his heart set on a Christmas Turkey.

So a week ago I went down to the butchers and ordered a fresh turkey. They asked how many people we would be serving and I said "4." But added that we would like leftovers. Our guests just had a baby and I wanted to send them home with lots of leftovers so they wouldn't have to do so much cooking for the next week.

Today GLH went down to pick up the fresh turkey.

It is the smallest turkey we have ever seen. We did not even know that a turkey could be that small. The turkey is a bit more than 3 kilograms (about 7 pounds). I was expecting at least 10-12 pounds. It is half the weight of our cat, Max! If our cats lived in the wild, they would hunt and kill it.

So much for leftovers...

Perhaps in the future I should order a turkey to feed 6-8 people?

22 December 2007

Mountains of Junk!

When we first moved here, we bought a whole bunch of junk from the people who lived here before us.

Mostly because we thought if we didn't, we wouldn't get the apartment. We had found the place by "meeting" them on an Expats in Zürich listserv. They had implied that they could take the apartment away from us again, if things didn't go the way they liked.

It really is a Dream Apartment and we didn't want to risk not getting it. Of course, we later found out that they had no say in the matter. But by then we already had all of their junk.

So for nearly a year their junk has been taking up the bulk of our storage space down in the basement. We had no idea what to do with it. After all, throwing stuff away is not exactly easy to do in Switzerland. There are many rules regarding garbage (and everything else, of course!)

In fact, it is so hard that I've heard of people actually moving their junk back to the US when they leave Switzerland. Because in the US you can stick most anything out on the curb on garbage day and it will magically disappear.

But in Switzerland, it is just plain not that easy. So we were storing it.

And then we heard about a magical place. A place where you can take anything and they will dispose of it for you. A place where all of your junk goes up in a poof of smoke and you can wipe your hands of it forever.

After some research we discovered the magical place is called the Abfallverwertung Horgan. And they will take pretty much anything short of nuclear weapons. They even take dead bodies! Well, dead house pets anyway.

And they took all of our junk! See how much we had? It took up nearly half of a dumpster!


How it works is that when you drive in, they weigh your vehicle with you and all your junk in it. When you leave, they weigh your car and you again. Then they figure out the difference and charge you according to the weight of your junk. (Getting rid of all of our junk cost us 54.30 chf. And it was worth every rappen!)

Here's a line of vehicles waiting to be weighed:


What do they do with all the mountains of junk they collect? Depending upon what the item is, they either incinerate it or recycle it. Here is a pile of metal and some old appliances, waiting to be recycled:


Now we have our storage room all to ourselves. Such a relief. We won't even need to bring it all back to the US when we eventually move again. Because we are not going to be Terrible Expats who sell our junk to unsuspecting newbies.

21 December 2007

And So It Begins...

I talked GLH into opening one stocking-stuffer present this evening. (I gave him a mystery/suspense novel. He gave me a Sudoku puzzle book.)

Let's see what else we can manage, eh?

Legal Again

My new Swiss driver's license just arrived.

Whew! I am legal to drive again.

Didn't receive the US driver's license yet, but GLH's was sent in a separate envelope. Perhaps it will come tomorrow...

*********************************************************

UPDATE: Saturday Afternoon
Old US Driver's License just arrived. Thank goodness that's all done!

20 December 2007

No Need for Forgery

I just got off the telephone with the Strassenverkehrsamt.

I cannot be absolutely certain, because the entire conversation was in German and German is not my strength, but I believe they accepted the document from the Minnesota DMV and I should receive my Swiss Driver's License as well as my US Driver's License soon.

Either that or I am being deported. It's kind of difficult to say, what with me not speaking much German and all.

Thank you for everyone's advice and support. And, of course, my parents' emergency visit to the MN DMV office plus my brother-in-law scanning and e-mailing me the document.

19 December 2007

Secretly Challenged

I am so not good at keeping surprises a secret.

Earlier today I bought GLH's Christmas present. It is now hidden in the apartment, all wrapped up and ready to go. I have doubts about whether it will actually remain wrapped until Christmas Eve.

I have already given him two hints because I really, really want him to see it. Because I am certain he will totally love it!

If the present does manage to stay safely wrapped until Christmas Eve, it will be because of GLH. I must have asked him at least 20 times tonight if he wanted his present now instead of waiting. He was the one who kept saying he wanted to wait.

By the way, here are the hints:
1. It is nearly 500 years old.
2. It was intended for regular use and does still work. (But it is NOT a mantle clock.)

When I told him the hints, I was practically doing the Happy Dance.

(I admit it, I am worse than a 4 year old when it comes to presents.)

And he won't give me any hints at all about what he is getting for me. It is so unfair! If he has already purchased it, he must be hiding it at work.

Because it isn't here. I know. I would have found it.

18 December 2007

Dealing with Government Agencies

Well, Samantha was right.

The State of Minnesota does only keep the exam records for seven years. We were mistaken in what they could provide us.

But they did still have the record of the last time I renewed my license back in 1997. My parents scanned it and sent it to me. My German tutor this morning was kind enough to call and ask if this would be acceptable. The person who makes these decisions was gone, and the others did not know if it would work or not. However, they were pretty certain that I have to provide proof that I passed the test.

This is all so ridiculous. Why would Minnesota have issued me a driver's license originally if I hadn't passed the damn test?

So I sent it off and now am just waiting to see what happens.

Worse case scenario, I cannot drive in Switzerland. But at the earliest chance I go back to Minnesota and get a new license so that I can drive everywhere else.

Meanwhile, GLH has been told he needs to come home early from work. I have to go to the store to get some things that are too heavy to carry up the hill. And he needs to drive me.

This sucks.

Plan B

Usually GLH and I do not buy each other gifts. Instead, we travel somewhere together.



However, we have decided to stay home for Christmas. And since we have a Christmas tree, we need to put something underneath it, don't we?



For the last two years, GLH has been staring longingly into antique stores, gazing at mantel clocks. He has a strong preference for clocks such as the one pictured below...



I have to admit, I am not as enthused by them. But I decided for Christmas I would purchase him an antique mantel clock. Mostly so that I could get one that is not too over-the-top and rococo-esque!



So off I set, tramping up and down the streets of downtown Zürich.



I first went to an antique store that GLH has stood outside on several occasions, pointing at the various clocks on display. The store has numerous clocks available. All of them quite lovely. And the least expensive clock in the store was...35,000 CHF.



Yep. I nearly collapsed. Didn't stay there long.



But perhaps that one is just outrageously expensive? Perhaps there are better, less extravagant options out there?



So on I went. In all, I visited 4 antique stores that carry antique mantel clocks. And the cheapest, or rather, least expensive one I found was 27,000 CHF.



Yikes! Time for Plan B. GLH will be getting something other than an antique mantel clock for Christmas this year. Still determining what that will be. (Any ideas? Besides more gadgets?)



By the way, out of curiosity I did some research on the internet. Apparently if one is in the market for an antiques, one should steer clear of Zürich. I found similar mantel clocks to the ones I saw in Zürich, and by the same clockmakers, in reputable antique shops in London for 500 - 2000 British Pounds. They are also available in Paris in a similar price range.



Why in God's name is the cost 10-20 times more here in Zürich.



It's a mystery to me!

17 December 2007

Revoked!

Today they answered the telephone at the Strassenverkehsamt in Zürich.

Typically, nobody working in the department which issues driver's licenses to foreigners spoke English. And my case ended up being a bit complicated for me to understand in German.

So I asked a Swiss person I know to please make the call for me. He kindly translated for me and this is what I found out...

My driving privileges have been revoked!

Yes, you read that correctly.

REVOKED!

Switzerland has confiscated my US driver's license and refuses to issue me a Swiss driver's license!

Why would they do this?

See, two years ago I got married, moved 10 miles across a state line from Missouri to Kansas, changed my name and got a new driver's license in the State of Kansas.

Which means that my Kansas State driver's license is valid from January 2006 onwards.

Switzerland looked at that and decided I am an "inexperienced driver."

In Switzerland, if an individual moves from another country with less than 3 years of experience driving, the government will not issue them a Swiss license. (Due to a new law implemented in 2005.) Instead, I am required to pay around 1000 CHF for driving lessons and pass the Swiss driving test. Then I would be required to drive around with an "L" sticker in the back window, declaring me a new driver, and drive 10 kilometers slower on the highway than the posted speed limit. For three years!

My only hope is to get a letter from the State of Minnesota (my home state) verifying that I passed my original driving test in May 1986.

The parents have been called. They are going down to the Minnesota License Bureau as soon as it opens.

Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, until I get this mess straightened out, it is not legal for me to drive in Switzerland. And because they have confiscated my US driver's license, it is also not legal for me to drive ANYWHERE ELSE!

I am having a really, really bad Switzerland week.


UPDATE: 5:00 pm
Dad just called. The State of Minnesota has the record of my original driving test (written test and road test), taken 21 years ago. The office in my hometown is working on getting a copy sent from St. Paul.

On a related topic: we discovered that Swiss insurance companies base your car insurance rates upon your years of driving experience. New drivers get charged a much higher rate. It is possible we are being charged more than we ought to be based upon the fact that my license was issued 2 years ago and GLH's license was issued 3 1/2 years ago. Since we both have more than 20 years of driving experience, perhaps our rates should be a lot less? We need to call our insurance company!

15 December 2007

What I've Learned from Watching First 48

GLH and I love to watch police shows. Reality, drama or comedy: it doesn't matter. We love them all.

One we regularly watch is First 48. The series follows police detectives in the first 48 hours after a murder has been committed.

Here are some tips we've learned.

If you are ever brought to a police station for questioning...
  1. Never talk to the cops.
  2. The cops don't know anything.
  3. If the cops are talking to you, they suspect you did it.
  4. If they had proof you did it, they wouldn't bother talking to you.
  5. If they say they just want to help, they are lying. They just want a confession.
  6. They only thing you should ever say to the cops is "I want a lawyer."

Not Too Sick to Whine

The bad case of the flu I had weakened my immune system enough to catch a bad cold, which I have been fighting off all week.

Here is a conversation about it I had with GLH last night...

******************************************************************
Me: I feel like crap. My head is about to explode and I would rather my nose just fall off than have to blow it any more. It's not like I can breathe through it anyway. I just want to curl up somewhere and sleep until I get better.

GLH: Wow. You really are sick. I can't remember the last time you were this sick.

Me: I was way sicker with the flu two weeks ago!

GLH: Were you? You didn't whine much, so I figured it wasn't too bad.

Me: I was too sick to have the energy to whine.

GLH: Oh.

*******************************************************************

Note: If you want to get any sympathy from a man, make certain you whine. A lot. Otherwise they may not recognize there is a reason to offer sympathy.

14 December 2007

What Happened?

When you move to Switzerland, you have one year to prove you have a valid license in another country and get a Swiss Driver's License. If you miss the deadline, you have to take the written test (in German, French or Italian) and take a road test in order to get a license and drive in Switzerland.

With the deadline/anniversary looming on 4 January, GLH and I went down to the Gemeinde Haus (Town Hall) last Friday. We filled out the forms, got a quick (and expensive!) eye test at a local optician and had really bad id photos taken at an automatic photo booth at the local train station. We then went and turned in all that stuff, paid more money and made certain they knew we needed our US driver's licenses returned.

Today GLH received two envelopes. The first envelope contained his new Swiss driver's license. The second contained his old US driver's license with a sticker that states "Not Valid in Switzerland."

I received one envelope. It contained a very short note that stated I should call Frau X (not her real name) with the Strassenverkehsamt des Kantons Zürich (Driver's License Department of Canton Zürich).

No explanation of what went wrong. No new Swiss driver's license. No old US driver's license. Nada. Zip. Nilch.

Just an order to make a telephone call as soon as possible.

To someone who is not answering her telephone.

Fabulous.

Now I get to worry about it all weekend long.

I just hope the Mysterious Frau X is answering her telephone on Monday...

Lost Luggage

My father sent this to me. Can anyone else identify with it?


video

Note: It takes a bit to load and your computer needs to be pretty fast. If it doesn't work right, try going to http://www.youtube.com/ and search for the keywords: lost luggage australia

Trust me, it's worth viewing!

13 December 2007

Playground Games

In a surprise move yesterday, Christoph Blocher was voted off of the Bundesrat Cabinet (Executive Council of the Swiss Parliament). The whole situation is explained much better in this post by Swiss Miss.

Essentially, Blocher is the bully on the playground and has grown increasingly controversial over the last several years. He has become the voice and face of the SVP (Swiss People's Party), currently the party in power.

However, many Swiss have become upset with the xenophobic hysteria this party has incited. They have also become upset with the unflattering, but alarmingly accurate, comparisons in the international press between Switzerland and 1930's era Germany.

Apparently, the other political parties in Switzerland have also become upset by SVP's tactics and by Blocher's increasing political power in a world where individual power is meant to be superseded by consensus building and collegial relationships. Even the position of Swiss president is something that members of the Bundesrat Cabinet "take turns" filling.

So when the parliament met to vote and voted Blocher off of the Cabinet in favor of a more moderate SVP member, it sent a clear message to the SVP. And everyone waited with baited breath to see the reaction.

Today Blocher and his SVP "Good Ole Boys" have packed up their toys and stormed away from the political playground, vowing not to return until everyone follows their rules. They have even disavowed the two members of the SVP who are sitting on the Cabinet.

I cannot wait to see what happens next...

Un-European Travel

Since our arrival I have suspected that GLH and I approach travel in a very un-European way.

Likely it is because we are from the Midwest, where distances are so far apart that people think nothing of driving for two hours to meet someone for dinner. And then turning around and driving back home. This was especially true in Minnesota, which has a population density of 23 people per square kilometer. Compare that with Switzerland at 183 people per square kilometer. Or Germany with 234 people per square kilometer. (Side Note: that also helps to explain why public transportation is so much harder to support in the Midwest...)

The typical European I have spoken with believes that any distance of 2 hours generally requires at least an overnight visit, if not longer. Further and it tends to be a week long trip.

Another factor may be the fact that the typical American has far less annual vacation than the typical European. Although GLH and I were fortunate enough to have 5 weeks of vacation per year while living in the US, we came from a culture where you eke out long weekends wherever you can. That way we can travel to far more places during the year as opposed to selecting only 5 places and spending a week at each.

In the past year I have had many of the Europeans I meet react with shock when they hear we went to Spain for three nights. Or London for two nights. I can only imagine how they will react after our planned trip in February -- a four day weekend trip to Cairo, Egypt.

But until our experience on the train, I really had no idea of just how foreign our travel habits are to them.

We had taken the train from Zurich to Munich and spent 2 nights. Then we traveled from Munich to Nuremberg for one night before traveling to Salzburg.

As we were sitting on the train on the way to Salzburg, a Deutsche Bahn employee worked his way down the aisle surveying travelers. He needed to know whether the trip was business or pleasure, the destination and the approximated demographics of the travelers.

When it was our turn he asked to see our tickets. He then became excessively confused and full of questions. "Where are you coming from?" "How long did you stay in Munich?" "In Nuremberg?"

Finally I handed him the travel itinerary I had printed up for us that listed dates, train schedules and hotel address. After much head scratching, he shrugged, wrote something down on his clipboard and moved on to the other, less confusing, passengers.

We are definitely un-European travelers...

10 December 2007

Learning German in Switzerland

Last week we spent 4 days in Germany and 2 days in Austria.

I was astounded to discover that not only did I understand the bulk of what people were saying to me, but they also understood what I was saying. The majority of my transactions at the Christmas markets or the restaurants or other places we went were in German. Indeed, at one stage while negotiating with a merchant at a Christmas booth I made a joke, in German. She not only got the joke, but actually laughed!

So why is this so surprising to me? After all, I have been studying German for the last 11 months. You would expect me to understand some of it, wouldn't you?

However, when I am in Switzerland I understand virtually nothing of what people are saying to me, even when they are trying to speak Hoch Deutsch (High German). And when I speak German to them, they don't understand anything I am saying. If they speak English, they immediately switch to that language. If they don't speak English, they generally just give up, leaving me without any recourse for communicating.

My German tutor has been telling me that I am really doing quite well and I should feel proud of my progress. But when I get no indication of improvement in my day to day life, it is difficult to believe I am moving forward. However, while in Germany and Austria I was thrilled that my ability to communicate was so obvious. I found myself seeking out even more opportunities to speak to people. While in Switzerland, I dread it.

I understand that my grammar is pretty bad and that my vocabulary can be limited. And people do need to speak slowly or I miss what they are saying. But the Germans and Austrians could understand me. Why can't the Swiss?

Will I ever learn German while living in Switzerland?

Sometimes it seems impossible.

********************************************************
Updated Later the Same Day

Shortly after posting this I left to do some errands. As I was walking away from my house, an older woman walking her dog said, "Entschuldigung Sie, Schweizer Deutsch Schweizer Deutsch..."

I replied , "Ich lerne Deutsch. Sprechen Sie langsamer, bitte?" (I am learning German. Could you speak slower please?")

She said, "English?"

When I replied that I did indeed speak English, she immediately launched into a rant about how nobody in Switzerland knows how to speak German any more. She went on and on and on.

I felt like saying, "Well, it's not like you speak German anyway." But just nodded politely until she had ranted herself out and walked away.

Periodically I start to feel a bit homesick and negative about Switzerland. Inevitably I will have a very positive interaction with a Swiss person who is a complete stranger and then I will feel much more positive about being here.

I really need a positive interaction now.

09 December 2007

Something Old, Something New

Marriage is about compromise and negotiation. Especially at Christmas Time when you begin the delicate process of combining traditions from both families as well as creating a few of your own.

So we started the process early.

Back in November GLH and I set out one day to have a look at artificial trees. After much debate, we had decided to go artificial for two reasons: Max and Tilly. After all, there is a reason why we do not have any live plants in the house. Max and Tilly love to eat them. We thought artificial would be less tempting.

The first place we went to purchase a tree had a perfect one on display, but none in stock. Keep in mind, it was the middle of November. Almost 6 weeks left before Christmas. We asked when a new shipment would arrive. Not until next September. Could we purchase the one on display? Certainly not. Second place, the same story. Finally at the third place we found a very nice tree, although as it is only 6 1/2 feet tall GLH was slightly disappointed.

Then it was time for us to negotiate. I do not care for colored lights and strongly prefer only white lights on a tree. However, GLH wanted bright, multicolored blinking lights. Compromise? Colored lights, but absolutely no blinking. (Hey, when you have a tendency for light-induced migraines, blinking lights is a very bad idea.)

Next up are the decorations. I have a fair number of ornaments. Some are from my childhood tree, including a few made by my grandmother who died before I was even born. Other ornaments are from my adult years, pre-GLH. Including the admittedly unattractive ornaments I made one year when I had no money and could not afford a trip home to visit my family. So about 1/2 of our total ornaments are from my past.

Unfortunately, GLH has only one ornament from his family, a beautiful antique paper doll that once belonged to his grandmother. As the single representation of GLH's pre-GL Christmases, it is featured prominently on the tree.


The remainder of our ornaments are ones we purchased together when we happened to see one that "spoke to us." And we have one ornament that has the year on it for each of the years we have been together. That collection will continue to grow.

Our next negotiation involved the Christmas Angel for the tree top. We had decided to purchase a Rauschgeldengel at the Nuremberg Christmas Market as they are best known for this decoration. I would have preferred the more traditional gold foil angel as that is what the first Nuremberg Angels looked like. However, GLH felt it very important to go with the more Victorian doll, also handmade in Nuremberg, because it reminded him of the one they had on their childhood tree when he was growing up.

Compromise? We purchased a gold foil angel ornament...



But went with the Victorian angel for the tree top.



And the final negotiation? I cannot abide tinsel. Just do not like it. Never have and never will. GLH loves it. The more the better. Compromise? A gold foil garland, but no individual strands of tinsel.

And here is the finished product:



With a close-up on our Nativity set purchased in Münich as well as the creche handmade by my parents:


And yes, we did get a Christmas pickle. Even though it's actually a German American traditional, not a German one. It was obvious that the German Christmas Markets stock them because the American tourists want them, given how many of them said "Merry Christmas" and none of them said "Frohe Weihnachten."

However, we went with one that said nothing. Just seemed nicer that way.

08 December 2007

Christmas Markets Galore!

We began our journey by getting up really, really early to catch a 7:00 am train. But it was all worth it because we were starting on our Christmas Market Tour.

Our first destination was Münich, where I visited my first Christmas Market two years ago.




Our goal was to add to our Nativity Set by visiting the same stall at the Kripperlmarkt. And they were exactly where they were two years ago! Our selections made, we could then relax and enjoy Münich and the market. Including my parents very first taste of Glühwein (mulled wine.)


I am sorry to report they were not terribly impressed and ended up pouring most of their shared cup into a neary bush. Much to the dismay of an older German woman who watched with horror at the waste. Or at the killing of the shrubbery. Hard to say which...

It was also in Münich that my parents got their first taste of Kaiserschmarrn.

My mother's grandmother was from Austria. When my mother was growing up a special Austrian treat was what my mother's family called "stats." On a previous trip, and with the help of a friend, I identified the dish as Kaiserschmarrn and was anxious for my mother to give her opinion. After one bite she agreed that this is the treat from her childhood (and mine as well!) Although we have no idea why her family called it "stats!" For the rest of the trip we made a point of tasting the varying forms of Kaiserschmarrn whenever possible.

After a couple of days in Münich we continued on to Nuremberg.

Our mission here? Purchase a Rauschgeldengel. I am happy to report that it was Mission Success as we walked away from the market proudly carrying our own Angel Tree Topper, as well as many packages of gifts for family back home.

Then the rain began, so the morning before our train departed for Salzburg was spent at the Germanisches National Museum, a place definitely worth a visit. Our favorite exhibits were the Stone Age and the Medieval Periods. Although we were disappointed they had nothing on World War II or the Nuremberg Trials.

Our final Christmas Market stop was Salzburg.

I have to admit, the Christmas Market here was a disappointment. Whereas Münich and Nuremberg had a plethora of stalls featuring the handmade, traditional items, Salzburg's market was small and featured mostly mass-produced items, many of them with stickers stating "Made in China."

Fortunately, Salzburg also has several year-round Christmas stores with those elusive handmade items we sought. And as it was down-pouring rain most of the time we were there, we did not mind the indoor aspect one bit!

And of course we were happy to be in Salzburg, one of our favorite cities simply for its beautiful and relaxed atmosphere.

We were also fortunate to be there to witness the St. Nicholas parade through the Altstadt. St. Nicholas was escorted by a large number of demons who identify the bad children and replace their gifts with lumps of coal. The very bad children get carried away in a sack. (Yep, you read that correctly!)

I apologize for the terrible picture. But it is rather difficult to take a photo when one is being attacked.

Yes, I said "attacked."

As we stood and watched the parade, one of the demons started towards us. I quickly stepped behind GLH. GLH just as quickly stepped aside and then laughed when the demon grabbed me. Of course, all he could see was the demon snatch my hat off and rub my head. What he couldn't see was the demon's other hand grabbing me in places where the hand should not have been! Otherwise I am quite certain GLH would have saved me instead of standing there laughing. Right, GLH?

The molestation aside, it was a very successful trip and we all had a great time.

Although GLH was exhausted enough by six straight days of marketing that his eyes glazed over when I mentioned the possibilty of a trip next year to Vienna and Prague for their markets!

But I have a year to work on him...