Bonjour de la Suisse

Hello from Switzerland! ~~ The adventures of a California girl who got married to a great guy, G, and traded in her old life for the chance to live in a foreign land and live the expat life for a couple years. We live in Geneva, Switzerland with our globe-trotting cat, Scout.

Ma photo
Nom :
Lieu : California, United States

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." ~ G.K. Chesterton

mercredi, novembre 29, 2006

The Bern Onion Market

The onion market (or Zibelemärit) is a traditional folk festival held on the fourth Monday of every November in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. Farmers from the surrounding area bring more than 100 tons of onions, which are crafted into all kinds of different things.

People throw confetti all around, there are folks in costume, everyone is wearing strings of candy in brightly colored wrap, and kids go around hitting people with squeaky plastic hammers full of more confetti, which all melds with the lively market scene. There is music in the air, the wonderful smells of all kinds of foods, and hot wine being served. Gary & I stopped by on our way back from the Basel airport.

mardi, novembre 28, 2006

Take me back to Constantinople

I hadn't thought about the song Istanbul (not Constantinople) by They Might be Giants in years, but last weekend, I could not get that song out of my head!

Istanbul had been on our list of places to visit for quite some time and Newsweek magazine recently named it the "hippest city of Europe". But the recent bombing (Feb. 2006) and the crazy flights (we landed at 2:30 am and our outbound flight was at 3:30 am) into a country we were somewhat apprehensive about in the first place made us a tad bit nervous (especially since Rick Steve's doesn’t have a guide book for Istanbul). But, I'm so happy we went! We found the city to be safe, clean, hospitable, and loaded with amazing sights.

Istanbul is Turkey’s historic, cultural and religious center and the gateway to the Middle East and Asia. The city straddles two continents; part of it lies in Europe and part in Asia. We actually landed on the Asian side, but spent most of our time on the European side, in Sultanamet, the heart of the old part of the city. That first day we were exhausted. This was because we landed at 2:30 a.m. and then, after a 45 minute taxi ride to the city, our driver was totally lost! We stopped twice to ask directions and I didn't actually think we would get to the hotel. But at 3:30 we finally arrived and were soon fast asleep.

We started the day at the Blue Mosque (or Sultan Ahmet Mosque), called this because of the 20,000 blue tiles it’s decorated with. This is where the word Turquoise comes from, what early French travelers regarded as "the color of the Turks". We then met a Turkish couple who showed us around, taught us a little history, and were generally very nice to us. They showed us some other sights near the mosque and soon we were lead to their family’s tapis (carpet) store for some tea and quite a good sales job. Next thing we know we're walking out with a carpet!

We then visited the Hagia Sophia (or The Church of Holy Wisdom or Ayasofya), which was originally a Christian church, then a mosque, now a museum. Built in the year 563, it is enormous, able to hold over 6,000 worshipers, and is considered the eighth wonder of the world. We then saw the underground Basilica Cistern (or Yerebatan Saray) which was built in 532. It's a huge underground cistern that once held over 80,000 cubic meters of water. The vaulted brick roof is supported by 336 columns. It is cool and damp, but it was very beautiful with lights reflecting off the columns and the fish swimming in the darkness.

The Grand Bazaar, with over 4,000 shops, is a tote bag of Turkish delights. Everything here is traded and bartered, so you have to be prepared to work to get the price you want. We had a late lunch, bought a few things and then decided to head over the Spice Bazaar. Walking over there, we accidentally stumbled upon the Egyptian Bazaar. This is an authentic street bazaar, frequented not by tourists, but by everyday Turkish people. The stroll through the narrow and noisy streets was an opportunity for immersion into Istanbul life.

We discovered that next door to our hotel was an "authentic" Turkish dinner show complete with belly dancers. We figured it was a good way to relax, and we laughed at all the other people hopping on big tourist busses after the show while we walked all of 30 feet back to our hotel.

On day two we started at the Topkapı Palace. The highlight being the imperial Harem, where the Great Sultan typically housed several hundred, at times over a thousand, women including his many wives. Waiting to get in the palace, we met a gal from San Francisco, and after the three of us visited the Archeology Museum. We split ways and then headed over to the waterfront and crossed the Galata Bridge. After visiting the New Mosque, we did a little more shopping before trying to get a little sleep, since we had to leave for the airport at 1 a.m.

Nothing reminded us more that we were in a Muslim country than the call to prayer. The call is broadcast simultaneously from every mosque in the city five times a day, at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk, and after dark. The hauntingly beautiful sound echoed from every direction and made the otherwise secular streets feel holy. We learned that the call is always read live, which made it even more amazing to us.

Some of my favorite things were the call to prayer drifting through the streets, learning a little Turkish (thank you is tesekkür ederim and pronounced tea-shaker-dream), bargaining with the locals, making friends with the owner of a donner-kabab stand, and savoring in freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, rose jam, and Turkish delight (gelled fruit candies covered in powdered sugar).

There was some political uprising while we were there, it seems that the Pope is planning a trip (he actually arrived yesterday), and that is causing some civil unrest. But we never saw a thing and never felt the least bit unsafe.

Our trip lasted only two days, which we didn't feel was enough. Looking back we would have stayed at least three, to fit in a ferry trip up the Bosporus to the beaches of the Black Sea and maybe indulging in a Turkish bath. We want to return to Turkey, to visit the coast, Ephesus, and Troy. I would tell anyone who is thinking of taking a trip to Turkey to GO! The history, people and culture will amaze you. It is a wonderful dose of culture shock, and a vastly rewarding experience.

Blue Mosque

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque

Me and my head scarf... I have to figure out how to keep it on in the wind!

Hagia Sophia

Inside the Hagia Sophia

In front of the Blue Mosque

Basilica Cistern (there are fish swimming down there too!)

Grand Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Traditional Turkish dancing

At the Topkapı Palace (the tile work there was amazing!)

Cat are everywhere in Istanbul... this one is at the Archeological Museum

We made friends with the owner of a Donner Kebab stand

Hundreds of fisherman lined the Galata Bridge, next to the busy ferry harbor

vendredi, novembre 24, 2006

Here, there & everywhere

This blog is much overdue, but way back in October, before our trip to the US, G's mom & Mrs. Floss (or "The Moms") came to visit us in Switzerland! It was a whirlwind 10 day trip that spanned four countries. While we didn't get much sleep, we had a lot of laughs and some grand adventures! And they were so sweet to bring us a whole suitcase full of food (even though they went over their weight allowance on the plane!)

They landed in Zurich on Monday, Oct. 10th and I caught the 4:30 (that's a.m.) train to meet them when they landed. On our way back to Geneva, we stopped off in Bern, the charming, unassuming capital of Switzerland founded in 1191. We saw the bears, the flowers, ate some Rosti, and awed at the ogre fountain (who happens to be eating small children). We made it back to Geneva, tired from hauling heavy luggage up and down the train stairs, but after some drinks and Thai food, we were soon laughing about the day!

The next morning we were off to Barcelona. The weather was a bit drizzly, but that did not stop us from touring the city and visiting The Temple of the Sagrada Familia. We all loved the Sagrada Familia (even though it was my third visit) and we were practically kicked out we stayed so long! The Moms checked out the Picasso Museum while I wandered around and checked out the shops. After a fantastic dinner in a lively square we decided to head to the wharf and watch the lightning that was moving in. It was a beautiful night, but just as we were thinking, "Where's the rain?!?" it started to pour and pour! Even with umbrellas we were soaked! We met a nice couple from Ireland while we were undercover hiding from the downpour. It was one of the worst rain storms I have ever been in and it poured all night!

The next day we visited some more Gaudi sites, including the Casa Batllo. Since it was Sunday, there was no shopping, so we roamed around the Gothic Quarter and visited the Barcelona Cathedral (which, by the way, has a terrible WC). Mrs. Floss was the unfortunate victim of an attempted robbery, but it seems the hoodlums didn't want her dirty laundry... so no harm done! We returned to Geneva and had a scrumptious Italian dinner.

Since The Moms were still getting over their just lag, we took it easy on Thursday and stayed in Geneva. We scaled to the top of the Cathedral de St. Pierre, walked around the old town, visited Park des Bastions (and saw the longest bench in the world), and finally toured around the lake on a boat cruise with great views of the Jet d’Eau. We also toured our local haunts, including our grocery store/department store, Manor.

On Friday Gary joined us and we all hopped the overnight train to Vienna, the capital of the once-grand Hapsburg Empire on the Danube River. The four of us had our own couchee (sleeping compartment) with two double bunks. We got into town very early and found our hotel in the old city center. It was too early to check in so we started our non-stop weekend of sightseeing. We started with a self-guided tour of the city and then we were off to the Hofburg (the Hapsburg's city palace) & Treasury. We were in for a treat, because there was a live performance of Vienna classical music at the palace and Mrs. Floss was thrilled! We enjoyed the music very much, but our hunger got the best of us and we were soon in search of lunch. We ate at the Naschmarkt before touring the world-famous Vienna Opera House (Staatsoper). We then treated ourselves to ice cream on the Karntner Strasse (the lively pedestrian street) and scaled St. Stephens’s Cathedral.

For dinner we ventured out of town to Heurigen in Grinzing to experience a traditional Vienna wine garden. It was an interesting experience to be sure. Traditionally, the restaurant sits above the wine cellars, and there are these little gnats that are attracted to the wine in the cellar. Well, they are also attracted to the wine on the tables, so we had to keep a coaster on top of our glasses to keep them out. Unfortunately, that didn't work all that well, so we spent quite a bit of time picking out the gnats from our wine! Like I said, it was quite the experience!

The next day we headed to the Schonbrunn Palace & Gardens. The tour was nice and we even took a little train all around the beautiful gardens. Gary & I took a quick detour to the Belvedere Gallery to see the famous painting, "The Kiss" by Gustav Klimt. We then met The Moms at the huge Kunsthistorisches Art Museum. Before catching the overnight train back to Switzerland, we had dinner at the Cafe Restaurant Palmenhaus, which is in a converted greenhouse, overlooking the palace garden (Burggarten). Scrumptious!

On the way back to Geneva, the four of us spent a misty day in Luzerne in central Switzerland. The town sits on the edge of Lake Luzerne and has a charming old town. We visited the Lowenplatz, the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke) & Mill Bridge that both span the Reuss River and we finished off our sightseeing with a walk along the Old Town Wall, which had about a gazillion steps!

On their last full day, we decided to rent a Mobility car and head into France to visit the quaint lake side town of Annecy, a postcard-perfect town, and one of my favorite in Europe. We strolled through Les Jardins de Europe and the old town. We ate crepes and did a little shopping. We tried to get into the Chateau, but it was only open to school groups that day, so we were out of luck (I'm 0 for 3 to get in!!) We also tried to go on a boat cruise, but it seems that wasn't meant to be either... we just missed TWO tours, so we figured it must be fate! But the day was still wonderful, and it was a great way to finish the trip!

In the morning we saw them off at the train station, and soon they were on their way back to the Zurich airport. We heard they had a bit of trouble with security, but eventually they made it back okay, their suitcases a little lighter, with a CD full of pictures, and hopefully with some happy memories. We certainly do! :)

Getting ready for fall in the city of Bern

Taking shelter from the rain in Spain

On the roof of Casa Batllo, the house of Gaudi

On the boat tour around Lake Geneva

The view from the Cathedral de St. Pierre in Geneva

On the overnight train to Vienna

The man of Vienna... Mozart

In Heroes Square in front of the Hofburg in Vienna

All four of us in the gardens of Schonbrunn Palace

G scaling St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna

At the Lowenplatz monument in Luzerne

Lake Annecy

In the old town of Annecy, France

jeudi, novembre 23, 2006

Heureux jour de l'action de grâce

Or... Happy Thanksgiving Day!

I started my French lessons again this week, and I'm always looking for opportunities to learn new words. Last night playing pool I learned that we share the word catastrophe; the French just say it a little more passionately than we do. Now I've learned how to say Thanksgiving. I'm not sure how often either of these words will come up in conversation, but I guess they're more useful than sea monster (monstre de mer) or hyperbolic chamber (chambre hyperbolique)... at least I hope so.

Tonight we are celebrating with a couple other transplanted Americans at a local hotel that is putting on a little Thanksgiving faire. The option of cooking at home is out, since our local stores don't carry turkey, cranberries, or much of anything else for a proper meal, except maybe sweet potatoes. I got a tip that there's a place in France you can get turkey, but they are like 20 Euros a pound... I don't need to cook that badly!

We miss you all back home! Have a great day watching football and filling up on all that delicious grub. We will be thinking of you! :)

dimanche, novembre 19, 2006

Happy anniversary to me!

I can hardly believe it, but I have officially been in Geneva for one year now! I arrived on November 18, 2005 bright eyed and bushy tailed. A year later I've made some great friends, seen some pretty cool places, learned some French, adjusted to a slower pace of life, realized having a not having a car is fantastic, learned to cook, risked my life canyoning, tried cross-country skiing, and the list goes on and on...

I also realized I've been blogging for almost a whole year too... my first blog was posted on Novemeber 23, 2005. This past year is like a blur, I cannot believe how fast it has gone by! I'm going to try to make the rest of our time here go slower, but I'm not sure how I'll manage that... if anyone has any ideas, please let me know! ;)

samedi, novembre 18, 2006

Does someone need a hug?

The Swiss have a reputation of being a bit stand offish and distant when it comes to any sort of public affection, especially when it comes to hugging. The Swiss aren’t uptight, it just isn’t in their culture. (Although, I think the three-kiss thing is a more personal greeting than most hugs). But I digress…

Today the infamous GoL people decided to liven things up a little, make Geneva a little more friendly, and spread some love. Today was the day of the official “Free Hugs Campaign”! I swung by to support the cause (I didn’t officially sign up because I was volunteering at a “Feed the Hungry” event at a nearby soup kitchen). But I was there none-the-less, dishing out hugs. Most people were very receptive, although we did get a lot of strange looks. The event was a hit and we were the talk around town! Like I said before, “Who says Geneva is boring?!?” ;)

Here is the video that inspired it all:

vendredi, novembre 17, 2006

Blue ribbon speech

I finally got up the nerve to go ahead with my second speech in Toastmasters. I really like Toastmasters, but I've realized that I'm much more scared of public speaking than I thought I was. Back at my old job I was a trainer, ran meetings, gave presentations, and did all kinds of public speaking without even the slightest tinge of nerves. Now, I'm so nervous I shake like a leaf every time I have to say something at our meetings.

I figured it was time to stop procrastinating and get on with my prepared speeches (we have to complete 10), even though I wasn't thrilled about it. I wrote most of my second speech when I was home in California, but I still had to work out the bugs, get the timing right, and practice, practice, practice. I finished the final draft the day before and spent every waking hour going over it. Still, I didn't think that I was really ready.

On Wednesday I gave my five to seven minute speech on genealogy. I was calmer and more relaxed than I thought I would be and was well within my time limit. My evaluation was good, the only thing I was dinged on was that I talk a bit fast and that I have a thick accent "from your part of the US".

Why am I telling you all this?!? Because I got the award for Best Speech of the evening! I hate to gloat, but I was walking on air when I got home. It has even inspired me to start working on my next speech that I will be giving on February 7th (the next slot open to speak). So, I think Toastmasters is working. I'm less nervous and now have a ton of confidence for the next time around. I can't wait!

mercredi, novembre 15, 2006

I tell you, there's no place like home

Another trip back home and I was busy as usual. Last time I was only back for a week and ended up running all around and felt very rushed. So this time I figured I would stay for 2 1/2 weeks and take it easy (it IS a vacation after all!) I now realize that it doesn't matter how much time I allocate for my trip, I inevitably fill all my days somehow. But I'm certainly not complaining. I had the BEST time and wish now I had stayed a few more days!

Here's a quick run-down of my time:

I started off in Florida and got to see my relatives and get a little shopping and sun in too. It was great to see my grandparents, I really miss them, so I try to see them every chance I get. Much to my aunt & uncle's surprise (and mine too), my flight to SFO was so late on Friday that I had to wait until the next morning to leave (many thanks again to them for coming all the way back to the airport to get me!)

Saturday I was airborne and landed just in time to attend my Chinese-side-of-the-family reunion. People came from all over the world to be there and it was great to meet some of the relatives I've never met before. My little brother and his fiancée were up from San Diego, so it was extra nice to get to see them!

Sunday was the baby shower for my sister-in-law, which I was thrilled to be attending (since I've missed most of the baby showers this year). Her girls were there too and I always love hanging out with the nieces. Sunday was lunch with my dad and I got to see our family bible that dates back to the 1800's (it had been tucked away in my grandparent's attic until recently). It was so amazing!

During the week I was running all over seeing folks (including my sac-town friends) and getting some much needed errands done (most importantly was a cut and mani/pedi - they are SO expensive in Geneva!) I thought about throwing together a dinner in the city on Friday, but didn't actually get it going until Thursday! Thanks to Chica & Mingle it was a raging success. Lots of people came and I really can't tell you how happy that made me. We brought along G's Swiss guy (who works for him) Raph, and he had a great time too. I was worried that everyone's English would be too fast for him, but he fit right in and the next day told us what a great "team" of friends we have! :)

The weekend was packed as well. Saturday I took a walk along the beach with the new Hansen parents (Rona in tow) and that night G's mom threw us a big pre-holiday party! Another incredible night surrounded by fun people! Raph was there too, looking a little overwhelmed at times, but having a ball.

The rest of the week I had lunch and dinner plans every day up until I had to leave on Friday. I met little Eden for the first time, I drove up to Davis for some Dos Coyotes and good conversation with Sactownkid, shopped the Nordstrom’s half-yearly sale, and even caught a San Jose Sharks game. Then, on Thursday when we were at dinner at D & C's place, we got the call that B was going into labor. Not two hours later we had a new nice. We rushed to the hospital to meet her.

A few hours later I was on my flight back to Geneva. I was tired but so happy. I realize just how lucky I am to have great friends I can always come home to! :)

Good times in Florida

At the family reunion (just a few of the many people who were there)

Ally's baby shower

Friday night dinner and drinks at a rooftop bar

At the beach

The pre-holiday festivities

Go Sharks!

G and Ally

vendredi, novembre 10, 2006

Welcome little Ally

I want to officially welcome Allyson Rebecca to the family (and the world)! She was born just a few hours before I flew back to Geneva and I'm SO happy I got to meet her before I had to leave.

Four of my friends have also had little ones in the past few months and it was great to see Grace, Rona, and Eden when I was home (little Els lives in Switzerland). What a happy time! :)