25 April 2008

What Is Tilly Thinking?

"I bet she won't even notice I'm in here..."

By the way, please take note of the Expat Trick of packing your small suitcase inside your big suitcase thereby cleverly leaving room for purchases.

Oh yeah. The dollar is weak. We will be bringing things back.

See y'all later!

24 April 2008

Where Are the Oompa-Loompas?

Last week, at the invitation of Jill, we caught an exceptionally early morning train and rode out to Buchs in Canton Aargau in order to tour the Frey Chocolate Factory. (Note: we discovered it is pronounced "fray," not "fry" as I had thought.)

We arrived at the factory shortly before 9 am and were shown to the visitor lounge, where we were served croissants with your choice of coffee or hot chocolate. Astoundingly, everyone else in our group went with coffee. I know! It's not like it's a Coffee Factory! What were they thinking?

There were several groups gathered that morning for the tour. They brought us all into a small theater where they gave a welcoming speech in Schweizer Deutsch. (Of the close to 75 people in the room, only 11 were native English speakers. Only one of those 11 understood even a little Schweizer Deutsch, but such is life.)

Then they showed a comically hookey movie about a little girl visiting her grandfather, a retired chocolatier, and her discovery of the antique chocolate making equipment in the basement. Fortunately, this was subtitled in English! And the large group was separated after the movie so our tour was in English.

After the movie each group was taken through the locker room where we left our belongings and donned hair nets, lab coats and little booty things for our feet.

Modelling our attractive ensemble are Jill with her guests from Minnesota:

Cameras are not allowed into the factory itself, so that is the end of the photos!

I actually found the visit to the factory to be quite interesting. But I discovered a very sad thing. At the beginning of the chocolate making process, chocolate does not smell very good. In fact, it smells kind of disgusting. With my too-good sense of smell, combined with the nasty smell followed by the overwhelming smell of the chocolate later on the tour, I ended up a bit overwhelmed by the aroma and actually felt queasy.

Which was very bad. Because on the chocolate factory tour you can eat as much chocolate as you want. There are tasting stations placed along the route. And I felt so ill I could only eat 2 very small pieces of chocolate. They gave us samples to take home with us and I couldn't even look at them until the next day.

However, I still recommend a trip to the factory, especially if your sense of smell is not as well developed!

23 April 2008

Walking in the Footsteps of Ancient Romans

Our primary reason for going to Naples was to visit Pompeii...

An Ancient Roman city which has remained virtually the same since the 24th of August in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried both Pompeii and the nearby community of Herculean, and everyone in them, beneath several meters of ash and pumice.

There is evidence that in the first few years after the eruption people attempted to dig down and retrieve the treasures that were buried. But in time, the fact the city ever existed was virtually forgotten except for the occasional, obscure reference found in Roman documents.

The towns were accidentally rediscovered in 1599 by Domenico Fontana, an engineer in charge of a crew digging a new course for the Sarno River. However, serious excavations did not begin until 1748 when Charles of Bourbon, the King of Naples, started the process to excavate both cities.

What they found was the most complete view of every-day Ancient Roman life every discovered. What makes Pompeii different from all the other Roman sites is that it was preserved in its entirety -- from the grand public buildings to the homes of the people at all levels to the bakeries and the shops and even a brothel.

At the time of the eruption, Pompeii had a population of approximately 25,000 people. It was a thriving community. And it's excavation allows visitors to truly experience "walking in the footsteps of the Ancient Romans."

At the center of all Roman cities lies the Forum, the market place and gathering point for the citizens.

Looking past the Forum, we caught our first view of Mount Vesuvius from Pompeii. I have to admit, it gave me a bit of a shudder. Especially as shortly before our visit I watched a documentary on Pompeii which said the volcano was due for another massive eruption! Fortunately scientists are now able to predict when a volcanic eruption might be imminent.

The Forum Baths, one of a few different public baths in the city, stands nearby.

And we were charmed by the House of the Small Fountain.

So named, of course, due to the small fountain in its inner courtyard.

Near the arena is the Large Palaestra, where spectators could walk before, during and after arena events, enjoying the beauty of the gardens.

We were fortunate to visit Pompeii before the major tourist season arrived and on a rainy weekend in which the locals chose to stay home because the city was remarkably clear of masses of people.

The only exception was the long line of people eagerly waiting to pass through the brothel and view the "art" frescoed on the walls to "inspire" the clientele. We left it to our imagination, however, as we had no interest in joining the masses to shuffle slowly past pornography. Especially when we had already seen the originals in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

We also enjoyed seeing the other small slices of life. The "Beware of Dog" signs of today?

A dog mosaic on your doorstep would be a much "classier" version.

And the Ancient Romans must have had well-developed thighs and buttocks from all of the "step aerobics" they performed just crossing the street.

The curbs are much higher than the street and stepping stones are strategically placed to allow chariots and wagons to pass. Their purpose was so pedestrians could walk above the muck of the street. (Note: the streets, curbs and stepping stones WERE NOT designed for modern prams and strollers. If you take your young children, do yourselves a favor and use one of those backpack contraptions. You'll have an easier time as a result.)

However, the most haunting sights are the body casts seen throughout Pompeii. They are the reminders of the people who once lived here and how they died.

As workers excavated the city, they would periodically discover empty spaces in the ash. It wasn't until the 1860's that someone realized these holes were the spaces left by bodies, long since decomposed. From then on when one of these spaces was discovered, it would be filled with plaster to create a cast of the person who had died in that place so many centuries before.

Today Pompeii is the most visited site in Italy with an estimated 2.5 million visitors every year. However, all of those visitors, the years, the weather, air pollution and the early, clumsy, methods of excavation have all taken a toll. Although the volcanic ash almost perfectly preserved the buildings, mosaics and vibrant colors, the site is deteriorating rapidly. Approximately 1/3 of the city remains buried, but excavations have stopped until better methods of conservation can be found. Many of the buildings that were once opened to the public have been closed and there have even been discussion of reburying parts of the city in order to protect it.

It has been estimated that it would take $335 million (US dollars) to adequately conserve the site, but in cash-strapped Italy that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

We were just happy to have had the opportunity to see it. We hope to go back one day because the site is so enormous that we only had time to see a part of it. In our opinion, it is one of the top "Must See's" in all of Europe.

Ah, Naples

It's official. We love Naples!

Although we aren't surprised as thus far there isn't anyplace we have been in Italy we haven't loved. Even if every trip to Italy has involved being cheated by at least one taxi driver or, in the case of Naples, every taxi driver we encountered. Just the price of traveling in Italy, I guess. But I digress...

We checked into the hotel, opened the drapes, stepped out onto the balcony and were greeted with the sight of...

Castel d'Ovo. So called because apparently at some stage someone hid a magic egg which protects the fortress. Or something. Have to admit I wasn't really paying attention.

And Mount Vesuvius.

By the way, the beautiful sunny skies in the photos? Yep, that's the last we saw of that! Most of the weekend it rained and the winds were so strong at one stage I had to link my arm through GLH's just to avoid being blown over by the hurricane-force winds.

Didn't even matter, we loved Naples anyway!

Besides the fantabulous pizza, our favorite thing in Naples was the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which has an amazing collection of artifacts from Pompeii and Herculean. Including these...

Mosaics from a villa in Pompeii.

We also explored...

Castel Nuovo. Also known as Il Maschio Angioino.

Duomo di Napoli

San Francesco di Paolo

But what we loved the most about Naples was wandering the streets to see how the people lived.

Both the wealthy...

And the not so wealthy.

Just experiencing the charm that is Naples!


This afternoon I happened to notice the bottle of vegetable oil I purchased yesterday and had not yet opened was only 3/4 full.

With a sinking heart I picked it up and noticed a leak from a very small hole. Then I noticed the oil that had spread all over the inside of the cupboard and wicked up the sides of the other items that were now sitting in a large pool of oil.


Guess it's time to "Spring Clean" the kitchen cupboard...

16 April 2008

When Bears Do Not Follow the Rules...

...they will be shot.

Let this be a lesson to you all. The Swiss have many rules. I strongly suggest you follow them.

14 April 2008

Cool Summer Predicted

The Böögg has spoken.

Or rather, exploded at the end of a grueling, ritualistic trial by fire.

It took 26:02 minutes for the Böögg to loose its head, which predicts a cold and rainy summer for Zürich.

Frankly, I couldn't be happier!

A cooler summer means I do not need to hibernate to get away from the heat. It means I do not have to threaten to leave GLH and return to my parents' air-conditioned home during the heat waves. And perhaps, just perhaps, I do not have to deal with waves of nausea while taking public transportation with people who refuse to open windows in un-air-conditioned trams because obviously a cross breeze can KILL YOU.

'Cause I gotta tell y'all. The lack of deodorant can make Europe stink to high heaven during the summer time.

13 April 2008


As you may have noticed, the number of new posts to this blog has slowed down significantly. The reason is that we have been working on a massive project. Indeed, the most important project that either of us have ever undertaken.

I haven't wanted to blog about it before because it was so complex there was a possibility it would not happen. However, we have now worked through all of the legal implications, the logistics have been planned and we actually believe it will come to be.

So here it is: We are currently on the waiting list with an agency in the state of Texas to adopt a newborn infant.

We have been working towards this for the last year, but in the last few months the amount of focus required has risen tremendously.

Now that we are on the waiting list, we could receive a telephone call at any time. Or we could be waiting for months. However, we are taking this time to prepare ourselves for the eventuality of a baby. Which any parent can tell you is a significant amount of work in and of itself.

As a result, filling out stacks of forms, taking parenting classes, purchasing the essential baby-related items and reading an enormous stack of adoption and parenting books have left me a tad too busy to blog.

I do still have photos of Naples which I am determined to write about in the next few days, but please forgive my sporadic posts as we move into this new stage of our lives.

Because the specifics of adoption are private, I will not be posting much about it here. But we will let you know when we have a baby!

03 April 2008

Die Gretchenfrage: UPDATE

It is a badly kept secret that my first name is Gretchen.

I'm letting the secret completely out in order to ask a question.

Could someone please tell me why I receive so many letters addressed to Herr Gretchen LastName?

I'm pretty certain that Gretchen is only a girl's name. I have never met a man named Gretchen. And it shouldn't be a cultural confusion thing because Gretchen is Germanic. Indeed, Gretchen is a prominent character in Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the pre-eminent work by one of the most important German writers in history.

So what am I missing? Why do so many people think that someone named Gretchen should be addressed as Herr?


My German teacher came up with the most logical theory. Apparently our last name is confusing to some German speakers who assume it to be a man's first name. So they wonder if Gretchen might be my last name.

Nope, not going to post the last name. Enough disclosure.

01 April 2008

Prank or Reality?

If this isn't an April Fool's joke, I'm not certain I want to know: Swiss Cats Hunted for Pelts

Joke or not, our cats will remain indoor-only cats!