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

vendredi, mars 30, 2007

Car shopping?!?

It's that time of year again boys & girls... time for every hotel room in the city to be booked, for the army of street sweepers to work extra hard to make Geneva shine (more that it already does), for all the flags in town to go up, and the time when you can see beautiful people driving beautiful cars all over town... that's right, it's time for the Geneva International Auto Show!

Even with all the hoopla and crowds, it was actually pretty cool. It was even better for me because we managed to accidentally (really!) sneak in for free (saved us about $25) and we met up with some (paying) friends inside who we went out for beers with after. G was more into the cars than I was, but I did get a kick out of some of the more unusual gems:

I think G had his eye on the little leopard-striped, electric Smartcar named "Greeny" ;)

mardi, mars 27, 2007

Dining with a French pastry chef

Last year when, with a heavy heart, I left my wonderful job to come out to Europe I discovered that two of my colleagues were also leaving at about the same time to take up residence across the Atlantic too. One went to our parent company in Basel and my friend, Chef, went to Paris to attend culinary school. Her story was particularly remarkable, because both her and her husband left good paying jobs at our company (at the time ranked the #1 company to work for in the US) to head to a country where they not only knew no one, but also had no jobs, and did not speak the language of the school she would be attending. Very brave indeed.

We were in contact in the beginning, but as these things go, several months went by and I realized I hadn't talked to them in a while. So I sent an e-mail and found out that she had completed the program and her stage (internship) and was now a full fledged French pastry chef! The bad news was they were planning on moving back to California in less than two weeks!!!

We made plans and I hopped a train for Paris. I got to tour their cute little Parisian flat and the three of us ate at a scrumptious neighborhood restaurant. We were chatting, laughing and swapping stories until we noticed that we were the last customers in the place. We had no idea it was after 1:00 in the morning! We had been there for almost 5 hours! It was one of the best meals I have ever had... there is nothing like catching up with old friends! :)

dimanche, mars 25, 2007

Do you need a bus ticket for a cat?!?

Well, it has been a little over a year since Scout has moved to Switzerland and she has finally run out of the many pounds of prescription cat food we hauled here for her. So, it was time to find a vet (and restock her food supply). We got a recommendation for an English speaking vet and we made an appointment. We actually had to go twice, once for a blood test and once for an exam and consultation.

Now all this wouldn't be big news, except that we don't have a car and we had to take the bus. It was Scout's first ride on the bus, (planes, trains, and automobiles are all she has experienced so far) and from all the racket she was making, I can safely assume she didn't like it. She was meowing and howling so loud... I think the other passengers must have thought I was torturing the poor dear. It was a bit of a hike home, but I decided to walk, which she seemed to like more than the bus.

Oh, and the health report was good, except that little weight problem.... 7.5 kilos! She was prescribed the same food, but now she is on an even stricter diet. I'm bound and determined to get her slim and trim, no more fat cats in this house! :)

jeudi, mars 15, 2007

Marrakech... Jewel of the South

I doubt that anywhere is quite as fascinating and bewildering as Morocco... It is a place full of interesting people, colorful sights, strange smells, exotic experiences, lively music, and the chattering of Arabic & French. We were in Marrakech (مراكش), the 1,000 year old red mud-baked city that lies at the base of the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains that dominate the skyline. It is one of the most unique places I have ever been.

Marrakesh is not a place you can easily glide through with a minimum of fuss. Part Berber, part Arab, part African, it confronts and confounds even the most seasoned of travelers. We didn't really know what we were in for, but we took a deep breath and dove right in!

After a flight delay we arrived in Marrakesh around midnight. We had hired a driver in advance (required if you book a hotel through Expedia). The driver never smiled and barely uttered a word. He drove to a desolate location on the outside of the Medina (the old town, virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages) wall and got out. "Where the heck were we... was this the end of us?!?" we were both thinking... but we grabbed our backpacks and followed him through the narrow and winding streets to a plain and unassuming door. He rung the buzzer and a sleepy lady let us in. This was our hotel?!? Either that or we were being kidnapped... thankfully it was the former. After filling out some forms, surrendering our passports, and swigging down some mint tea, we were off to bed.

We were staying in a classic Riad (رياض‎), which is a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden that has been converted into a hotel. The only other guests were an English couple that we met at breakfast. They told us all about their horror stories of trying to navigate the confusing city streets and how they were very upset that we were quite far from the main area of the Medina. This did not help our confidence any and to be honest, I was quite scared to leave the hotel! We were armed with a couple maps, directions back to the hotel written in Arabic, and a "good luck!" from the gal who checked us in. When stepping out the door, we asked, "Which way should we go?" The gal just shook her head and said it really didn't matter... Oh my.

To us, all the streets looked the same. Soon we were completely lost. The one thing we wish we had was a compass. We knew that the area we wanted to end up at was to the South of us, so we used the sun to help navigate. We quickly realized that if you look lost, you will get lots of attention and people wanting to guide you around… for a price – either from direct payment and/or from buying things at a friend’s shop (where your guide will get a commission).

But nothing is straightforward. It took us over four hours to find the main square, Djemaa el Fna (جامع الفناء jâmi’al-fanâ’), the biggest square on the African continent. By the time we had gotten there, we had had three guides and purchased some ceramics and a carpet. At the carpet shop, G wanted to get some cash from a machine down the street first. Next thing I know he is hopping on the back of some guys scooter while I was kept in the shop for collateral. They were bound and determined to sell us that carpet. Reunited, we spent the rest of the day checking out the shops and different neighborhoods in the Medina. We had dinner in a converted 18th century palace and were served enough food for about 6 people! The plates kept coming and coming!

Although we were loving Marrakesh, we decided to escape the dusty, noisy, jostling city for a day-trip to the lush green valleys to the East. We joined a group of about 15 to visit the Cascades d'Ouzoud (Morocco’s largest waterfalls). We hiked down the edge of the river valley through olive orchards and small farms. Once at the bottom, we were able to walk along the river, stop for tea at a great little outdoor bar, and some folks even swam in the clear pools. There were even wild monkeys that lived in the tree tops. But the main event was definitely the three-tiered falls. They were breathtaking. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them!

We were back in Marrakesh by dusk. On the tour we met a really nice solo British traveler who we ended up sharing a carriage ride with and dinner in the main square, Djemaa el Fna. The outdoor eating area was amazing, we were right in the middle of one of the world’s greatest squares, full of snake charmers, water sellers, henna artists, storytellers, and small bands that filled the square with music. It really was magical. Unfortunately, I had a bad case traveler’s sickness that was not getting better, so we had to cut our evening short and get back to the hotel. Even more unfortunate, the taxi driver became seriously lost and we ended up running through the streets following a 12 year old kid who we weren’t sure knew where he was going either. I’m happy to report we did make it and by morning I was feeling a bit better.

On our last day we felt a little more familiar with the city and were ready to see some of the sights (which we had no hope of finding on our first day). The highlights of the day were the El Badi Palace ( قصر البديع‎), or more exactly, the remnants of the magnificent palace built in 1578 (and home to a colony of storks), the Saadian Tombs, Bin Yousuf Mosque, and the Souqs, the great labyrinth of markets whose streets are packed with donkey carts, mopeds and pedestrians and sells everything from ingredients for magical potions to textiles to souvenirs. We had just enough time for one more fresh squeezed orange juice before heading out to the airport.

We had an amazing time. It was so different from anywhere we had ever been. I came home with henna on my hands, a few words of Berber in my head, and I now know that even in quite warm weather, I can survive in long pants and long sleeved shirts. Those of you who share my love of capri pants and tank tops can feel my pain! But it was a great trip and I hope to return someday, I would love to check out the coast and ride a camel through the Atlas Mountains…. Next time! ;)

Local transportation

Sipping mint tea at our riad (hotel)

With the Berber carpet salesman


The snake guy who, before I knew what was happening, wrapped this snake around my neck and reassured me, "No problem, it's a water snake!"

All the world loves a Coke!

Cascades d'Ouzoud waterfalls

Eating at the open-air market in the Djemaa el Fna square

G at the Saadian Tombs

One last stop at the orange juice stand before heading to the airport...

dimanche, mars 11, 2007


The last time I had gone snow boarding was Christmas Day, which was quite a while ago. I decided last week that I wasn't going to let another day of winter go by without doing a little more snow boarding... no matter how miserable the conditions are! I told myself that it cannot possibly be as bad as everyone says it is and that I just need to get out there. Boy was I wrong... but in a most unexpected way.

I should have known there was going to be trouble when it took my friend Mr. S and I almost the whole day to get to the slopes. We were supposed to meet at the train station at 9:00... of course I was a few minutes late, and we discovered that we missed the 9:05 train and we would have to wait until 10:30 for the next one! We grabbed breakfast and waited it out. On our journey there is a transfer to another train about an hour from Geneva. We got off the first train and waited. And waited. And waited. Our transfer was only supposed to be 12 minutes, but then 20 minutes later, we thought there must be something amiss. Low and behold, we were on the wrong track!! Another hour plus wait until the next train. Unbelievable!!!

But we did make it to Verbier (a very big and pretty nice resort), it was almost 2:30, but we were there. we popped our stuff in a locker, jumped on the gondola and were on our way to the top. The snow on the bottom was really, really bad. The runs were literally brown from all the dirt under the snow, and you could see the huge amount of rocks poking through the runs. But we were on our way to the top, so we didn't worry about that. Our only care was the quite foggy conditions, but it was clearing up... or so we thought.

So, what's the big deal about a little fog? After all, I did grow up in Daly City, which is just about the foggiest place on the planet. We hopped of the gondola and onto a high speed 6-person lift, which was all but deserted. This should have been a sign, but we continued on. The fog got thicker and brighter the higher we got. We MUST be on the verge of breaking through this, we kept thinking. But the lift ended and by now the fog was so thick that we almost missed the part where we had to disembark!

The fog was thick - so thick that we didn't even know which direction to go once we got off the lift. You literally could not see five feet in front of you! We inched our way in the direction of the tracks in the snow and came across a couple of other people that looked just as dazed and confused as we were. We decided on a plan of action and started snowboarding, VERY SLOWLY, down the hill - totally blind.

The complete whiteout conditions were messing with our eyes and sense of balance. I was getting vertigo and I could see little black flecks swimming in my vision. There were no trees for reference and it was extremely hard to stay on the run. One time we strayed off the run and we had to listen for people to find it again, even though we were only 20 feet from the run! At times it was even hard to tell how fast I was moving, although it wasn't very fast at all. I felt that at any moment I would go careening off the edge and never be found again. It is always a bad sign when half the people are walking down the hill, skis and snowboards in hand. The rest of us were inching along, trying to keep our bearings straight.

Finally, finally we made it back to the bottom of the lift. A run that should have taken 7-8 minutes took well over an hour to get down. We both looked at each other and were thinking the exact same thing... Let's get a drink!! The gal at the information booth told us that the conditions were "extraordinary". You could say that again! We had survived our death-defying run and were just happy to be going home in one piece. It certainly was an extraordinary day.

samedi, mars 10, 2007

The need for speed

What do you do to get over an all-too-warm winter in Geneva? Well, we went to France. Not that France is much colder, or that they have more snow than we do here, but there is an Ice Track and it hadn't quite melted yet!

A good friend of ours here in Geneva (who is actually from Northern California) is in the GoL motorcycle club and they advertised an outing to go Ice Quading & Ice Karting in the little town of Flaine. Gary and I were all over it! We piled in cars and drove about an hour and a half into France to the 'circuit de glace' for a little high-speed fun. There were 9 of us, and we were each issued a four-wheeler and given some brief instructions (in broken English, thank goodness). Then we were off. We raced around two different ice tracks, always feeling on the brink of spinning out... it was so much fun! The hour went by SO FAST! We opted for an extra half hour, but that flew by too.

After, we ate a traditional French Savoy lunch and spent the afternoon reminiscing about our fantastic morning. We had a great day, hanging out with some really nice folks and flying across the ice. Winter is still alive and well here! :)

G ready to go!

That's me... pushing the speed barrier...

lundi, mars 05, 2007

Carnival in Switzerland


It's that time of year again... time for carnival! We decided to stay local this year to see how the Swiss celebrate this wild holiday season and I have to say, we weren’t disappointed! The festivities started the day after Ash Wednesday. On Saturday we braved the rain and watched the Carnival De Genève parade that winded it's way through town. But the big event was yet to come...


On Sunday night at about 9:00 we met up with some other GoLers and caught the train to the Swiss German city of Basel, home of the biggest carnival in Switzerland - The Basler Fasnacht. We arrived around midnight, got a bite to eat, had a few drinks, and boogied down at a local disco waiting for the festivities to begin.

We made our way to the center of town with thousands of other spectators, and at exactly 4am the whole city went dark. Soon the town was filled with the sound of piccolo flutes and basler drums. It was coming from the parade that was made up of over 18,000 participants! All of which were wearing colorful costumes, crazy masks, and lanterns on their heads. In addition to playing music, some Fasnächtlers (the folks in the parade) were carrying lanterns on poles or pulling big, brightly illuminated lanterns, called Zugslaterne, which are pulled by several people.

The craziest thing was, this giant parade (made up of formations of a couple hundred people called Cliques) did not follow a fixed route, and the marchers were coming from all different directions. If one Clique crossed the route of another Clique, one will stop and let the other group pass. Spectators on the other hand are politely guided off the route by the Vortrab (or the leader of the Clique). It was a wonderful chaos!

We were there for almost two hours and when we left, it was still going strong! We stopped in a restaurant for some flour soup and onion pastry that is traditionally eaten after the parade. The Basler Fasnacht lasts for 72 hours. We weren’t going to stay quite that long... we were soon on a train back to Geneva, full of sleepy people. We were all tired, but the loss of a little shut eye was worth being a part of this amazing festival!

dimanche, mars 04, 2007

Game on!

For the past few months, I've been looking for a team to join here in Geneva, but I wasn't having much luck. There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of women's teams here, French speaking or otherwise. I found a women's rugby team I was eager to try out, but they only play on Saturdays and we are gone most weekends, so that was out. A friend of mine in Toastmasters recently mentioned that she plays netball on Tuesday nights and I was welcome to come and check the team out. Sounds great! But I had only one question... What is netball?!?

Netball is actually a team sport similar to and derived from basketball (but very different). The game is played with a ball resembling a basketball, on a hard court with baskets on both ends, although the hoops do not have a backboard. The court is divided into thirds which regulate where individuals on each team are allowed to move. There are 7 players per team, and each player wears a bib with the player's position written on it, so the ref can keep track of everyone and be sure you don't leave your area. The biggest difference (from basketball) for me is that you can only take one step once you have the ball, you can't dribble it, there are only 2 people that are allowed to shoot, and the ball can't travel over more than one third of the court without someone touching it. Oh, and you can't get closer than 3 feet to the person with the ball and you cannot hold the ball for more than 6 seconds. Got all that?!?

My first night I didn't know ANY of this. I showed up and figured I would be watching instead of playing, but the captain threw me in (despite not knowing a single rule) and told me I will be playing the position of "Goal Keeper". "Um, isn't that an important position?" I asked. But she reassured me I would be fine. We played four 15 minute quarters and I picked up the game fast, despite getting a few penalty whistles that were waved off due to my lack of experience. Nothing like learning as you go!

The gals on the team are really nice. They are almost all from England, Australia, and New Zealand, where netball is played. So, unfortunately I won't be practicing my French while I'm there, but I am meeting some really nice people and learning a new sport. I was told I'm the first American to join the team, so I guess I'm representing the good old U S of A too. Maybe when we move back I can start up a team in San Francisco... if I can find anyone who has heard of it! :)