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

samedi, décembre 30, 2006

Holiday in Tuscany

G had the whole week off and we had no plans to do anything. So, between Christmas and New Years we made a last minute decision to take the train down to Italy and see some towns we hadn't been to yet. We spent four relaxing days in Pisa, Siena and Florence (I've been to Florence with my mom and also with J last summer, but I was anxious for G to see this wonderful city.)

We started in Pisa, which was more of a stop off on the way to Siena since we only spent a couple of hours there. But, it was really amazing to see the Leaning Tower (or the Bell Tower) and the Field of Miracles (the square in which the Cathedral, Baptistery, and the tower are in). The Leaning Tower was recently reopened after a decade of work done to try to keep it standing, so of course we had to climb to the top. It was the coolest spiral staircase I had ever been up, because you can really feel the lean, especially on the lower side. It was pretty wild! After watching the sunset we headed down and I am happy to say there was no major collapse while we were there!

An hour later our train rolled into Siena and we really only had time to check in and head into the old town for dinner. We ended up at a little hole in the wall place with only one other couple dining, but it turned out to be one of the best meals we have had in Europe! Even G spilling an entire glass of red wine in my lap didn't deter from our evening! ;) We ended up staying almost a half hour after the restaurant closed to chat with the owner and play with his golden retriever puppy, Diva.

We spent the next day toodling around town, trying to stay out of the drizzling rain that was with us on and off. We were so happy just to sit at the cafes that line the old square and wander around town to take in the charm of the city. After dinner I was bound and determined to visit The Enoteca Italiana, an old wine bar in a cellar on the edge of town. After a 45 minute walk in the dark to find the place we discovered that it is only open in the summer! Oh well, that's the trade off for no crowds or lines all winter. :)

The next morning we hopped on another train to Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance. Despite G being "museumed-out" we did visit the Uffizi Gallery (with the greatest collection of Italian paintings anywhere) and the Accademia, (home of Michelangelo's David). We wandered around, ate some wonderful gelato (despite the cold), and I even discovered some parts of town I hadn't seen yet.

Overall it was a great trip. It was a nice way to round out 2006. The ride home was long, especially when our train broke down and they had to repair it while we sat at the station. But we did see some snow near Milan, so I have hope that soon we will see it in Switzerland. My fingers are crossed for 2007!

Happy 2007 everyone!

Holding up the Leaning Tower

At the top of Leaning Tower

G in the staircase of the Leaning Tower

Siena's Il Campo square, the heart of the city

The trees around town were a bit sad, it reminded us of a Dr. Seuss Christmas

Watch your kids!

Florence views

On the Ponte Vecchio Bridge overlooking the Arno River in Florence

lundi, décembre 25, 2006

Joyeux Noël

Merry Christmas from Switzerland!

I've been a bit behind with the blogging, but here is an update to what we have been up to these last couple of weeks:

Return of the Humungous Trees:
A couple of weeks ago about ten 30 foot trees miraculously sprouted from the sidewalk on our block. Our sidewalks are pretty big, but these trees are so wide, that they block about 75% of the sidewalk. It has made it tough when I'm running for the bus to French class in the mornings, but they are actually really cool and all lit up at night they are quite a sight! No repeat of the giant snowmen or giant snowballs from last year, I guess they are out of fashion! ;)

One sandwich short of a picnic:
On the last day of French class we spent an hour teaching the class English idioms. There were two of us from California and one guy from New Zealand, Ben. Ben did the formal teaching while we were in the background for clarifying comments and moral support. By far the favorite one was "Do you have ants in your pants?" It was a hit with the Japanese girls. Personally, my favorite is "It's like herding cats."

The Secret:
Recently I decided to test out a second book club that focuses on personal development, motivation, health, and spirituality. I like the gal who started the club, so I though I would give it a try. At our first meeting we watched a movie called "The Secret" instead of reading (a bit different I know). It was pretty good, it focuses a lot on the power of positive thinking and I think we all took something away from it, but it was also a bit overdone. For next month we are reading "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. I will let you know how that goes!

Holiday festivities:
Despite having no plans last week, we have since been invited to three holiday dinners (one with a group from the GoL gang, one with Mr. & Mrs. Kofi and friends, and a Christmas Eve dinner with 6 other friends of ours). They were all fun and I was really happy we decided to stick around for the holidays.

Where is the snow?!?
On Christmas day we went snow boarding with another couple from GoL. The company was great, but the snow was terrible!!! This has been the warmest winter in Europe for the last 450 years or something crazy like that. It rained all November and now that it's colder, we haven't had a drop of precipitation in about four weeks. The ski resort we went to is one of the few that are open (by making their own snow) and only one run was open. But we were there!!! It was a fun day, but I think we will wait for the natural stuff to fall before we go again. (we forgot the camera, so no pics...)

That's it for now. G has the week off so tomorrow we are heading to Florence for a couple days. We'll be back in town for New Years, although we have no solid plans yet... but I have a feeling things will come together! :)

Hope all is well with everyone. We miss you all, especially this time of year!

Cheers to a wonderful holiday season!

My fiction book club meeting (not the new club) where we celebrated the holidays with English "poppers" (is that the correct term?!?) filled with a toy surprise and a lovely golden crown!

The giant trees on our block... so pretty at night!

This is part of the somewhat strange display for the Fete de Lumières (Festival of lights). These are wire mesh people floating about 20 feet up in the air and they light up at night. There are about 15 near our apartment. These are just outside our neighborhood Starbucks.

The first of the holiday parties with some of my GoL friends (we all got t-shirts with our names on the back!) G couldn't make it to this one... and we have no pics from any of our other parties OR from snowboarding!

samedi, décembre 16, 2006

To the other end of Europe

Two weeks ago we were in Istanbul, which sits on the Eastern edge of Europe. Now we have traveled as far West as you can go in Europe, to the Portuguese city of Lisbon (or Lisboa in Portuguese). We actually didn't know a whole lot about Portugal, but it has been on our list of places to visit and it makes a good winter trip since it is a bit warmer there than most of the rest of Europe.

Portugal is quite small (about the size of Indiana) and is the least visited and poorest of the EU countries. This means it's less touristy and the prices can't be beat! The pace of life here is a bit slower and they still keep their traditional economy of fishing, cork and wine production. People here also speak less English than most other places we have visited, so I brushed up on Portuguese during the flight over. We started our weekend in the port city of Lisbon, Portugal's capital.

The city is quite beautiful with three distinct neighborhoods, which we started exploring as soon as we landed at about 8am. We started in the Bairro Alto neighborhood where the Port Wine Institute is located (it was too early to sample) and then, thanks to Rick Steve's, we stumbled upon the Convento do Carmo. It was once the largest church in the city, but was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1755, now the ruins are an open air museum with most of the arches still standing. It was one of the coolest sights I have ever seen. Inside, there is a little museum with some odd South American relics, including two shrunken humans. Strange.

We continued on to the sailor's quarter of the city, Alfama. Overlooking the Tejo River, this was the only part of the city to survive the quake of 1755. It still has the Old World feel, with skinny cobblestone streets that lead up to the São Jorge Castle, the highest point in town. It was from here that we first saw the 25th of April Bridge. The bridge is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, and looks EXACTLY like the Golden Gate Bridge. (It was built by the same architect and painted the same color.) I couldn't take enough pictures of it! Every time I saw it I felt like I was in SF!!!! I loved it.

Once I pulled myself away from the view of the bridge, we toured the Chiado & Baixa districts (the main shopping areas in town) before heading a couple miles away to Belém, which is full of sights from Portugal's Golden Age. By now we were tired and hungry. We grabbed dinner and headed back into town to check into the hotel. We stayed in a lively neighborhood on a pedestrian road with a circus across from us and a theater next door, which was putting on a Portuguese rendition of The Sound of Music.

The next day we headed to the enchanted little town of Sintra, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. For centuries it was the summer escape for Portugal's Kings. It's magnificent, with picturesque castles and palaces perched on the Western edge of the country. We visited the National Palace, the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. Our favorite was the Pena Palace, the magical hilltop palace that looks like it came right out of a Disney movie. (The prince that built it was the cousin of "Mad" King Ludwig of Bavaria that built the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle.)

We also loved the thousand year old Moorish Castle, which is now little more than ruins, but is embedded in an enchanted forest and is absolutely beautiful. It's a two mile hike through the woods to get there. We then scaled the castle walls for an amazing view of the Atlantic and the countryside below. I would have liked to stay longer, but we had to get back to Lisbon for our flight home.

Once back in town, we had a little time to kill. As we walked around we discovered these funky little shops that sold nothing but ginjinha, a favorite Lisbon drink made from the sour cherry-like ginja berry, sugar and schnapps. It was SO sweet, but tasty! As we drank we were entertained by all the festivities in the streets around us, singing Native American bands (G's favorite... we have seen them all over Europe), smoking roasted chestnut stands, and accordion players with little dogs perched atop their instruments. All very entertaining. Overall it was a fantastic weekend and we are happy to have finally explored this little corner of Europe. Hopefully we can return to relax on the beach and visit the city of Port, where the famous sweet wine comes from.

Overlooking the port from the Alfama quarter

The ruins of the Convento do Carmo, once Lisbon's largest church

Is that Santa driving the trolley?!? Christmas spirit is alive and well in Lisbon.

Our first view of The 25th of April Bridge (sister bridge of the Golden Gate Bridge). For a better picture, click here.

At Praça do Comércio in the Baixa district of Lisbon

The Sound of Music musical playing next to our hotel

Overlooking the countryside from Pena Palace

At the Pena Palace

The thousand year old Moorish Castle wall

A shot of traffic with The 25th of April Bridge in the background. Couldn't this have been taken in SF?!? Okay, I was a bit obsessed with the bridge, but it made me feel like I was back home! :)

jeudi, décembre 07, 2006

Escape to the country

Last Sunday our Swiss friends Mr. & Mrs. Kofi were nice enough to invite us along on a trip to Bern to visit with her grandmother and also with a family friend who lives on a beautiful farm just outside of the city. The farm was stunning, with amazing old barns, cows, tons of wide open space, and sweeping views of the Alps. It reminded me so much of my grandparent’s farm north of Seattle.

On the Swiss farm they also a Tibetan yurt, which is very cozy and comfortable traditional building made of a wooden frame covered with felt and held together with ropes. It's warm and dry and it can comfortably fit 10-15 people and is more like a little colorful one room house than a tent. Mr. & Mrs. Kofi actually had it at their house last year for out of town guests that were in for their wedding. G had a chance to see it, but it was taken down before I arrived in Switzerland. But on this day I had my chance to hang out in it for a while. I loved it! What a great day! :)

The view from the farm (those are the Berner Oberland Alps in the background)

More of the farm

In front of the yurt

Mr. & Mrs. Kofi with little Els inside the yurt

Another view of the yurt

The end of the day

mercredi, décembre 06, 2006

Course de L'Escalade

It's that time of year again, time for the Fête de l’Escalade -- Geneva’s independence celebration, which commemorates the city’s victory over the Duke of Savoy’s troops in 1602.

A big part of the festivities is the huge foot race, called the Course de L'Escalade, through Geneva's Old Town. It's a bit like the Bay to Breakers, there are lots of serious runners, but lots of people dress up too. We were crazy enough to sign up and joined over 18,000 other enthusiastic runners for the big race.

We wound our way through the narrow streets of the Old Town (which is full of VERY steep hills by the way) and I'm happy to say we both finished with a respectable time. We ran in separate races (my race was 5km and his was 7.25km) and poor G had to run in the dark and then it started to rain! The streets in the Old Town are cobble stone, so it got pretty slippery for the runners (one guy slid right into me as I was waiting for G to come down the final hill). It was freezing, but I stayed and cheered him on until the very end!

My favorite l’Escalade tradition is eating Swiss chocolate pots (Marmite d’Escalade) bearing the city’s coat of arms in red and gold and adorned with marzipan ‘vegetables’. These represent sweet reminders of the cauldron of boiling vegetable soup that Mère Royaume poured over the city wall to keep the French at bay and bring victory to Geneva. The festival is a colorful affair. People celebrate with a big parade, dressing up in 17th-century dress, and eating big feasts with plenty of vegetable soup.

The official car of the Course de L'Escalade

Getting ready for my race

G before his big race

G's race