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

dimanche, juillet 22, 2007

Storm of the Century!

This storm woke us up out of a sound sleep. The thunder was so loud that it was practically shaking the building. I've never seen anything like it and these pictures made the front page of the local paper. Our flat is on the far left side of the pictures below, right in the heart of the storm. Wild!

samedi, juillet 21, 2007

Travels with The Gnome

Not two weeks earlier I was helping my friend "Aer" buy her ticket to Geneva and now she was here! This was Aer's first trip to Europe and she was eager to see as much as possible. We had a packed itinerary for the week she was in town and we certainly didn't waste any time. By lunch on that first day, we were already headed up to the picturesque town of Gruyères.

We went to Gruyères (famous for its cheese) with a Geneva friend of mine who is also originally from California. The weather was fantastic as we zipped through the countryside. Once there, we headed straight for the castle that sits on the hilltop above the medieval town. But the real treat is the town itself. It was a perfect place for lunch and a great way to introduce Aer to traditional Swiss cuisine and drink. We all had "Cheese on Toast" of different varieties. This is basically a deep dish with a piece of French bread at the bottom covered with things like ham, eggs, and LOTS of Gruyeres cheese. To accompany such a heavy meal we all ordered Panaché, a drink of half lemonade and half beer. Aer was a little hesitant, but after just one she was hooked... it became her favorite drink of the week. :)

The next day we were off to see a bit of France and the Alps. Aer had seen the Alps from the plane and wanted to get a closer look. From Geneva the best place to go is the French town of Chamonix, which sits on the Italian boarder. We ascended by cable car to the Aiguille du Midi, a rocky outcrop that sits 12,605 feet above sea level. We had a great view of the Mont-Blanc (which you can see from our street in Geneva - on a clear day).

It was here that I was introduced to "The Gnome". It seems that Aer's husband is very attached to this little garden gnome that used to live inside the house (much to the chagrin of Aer). So one day the gnome decided to take a vacation and he began to tour the world. Aer's husband gets random pictures in the mail from the gnome from all the great places he's been visiting. So, here we were at the top of the French Alps and the gnome came out of Aer's bag and we started snapping pictures. We got a few strange looks and had to explain to a couple of bewildered tourists, but I really got a kick out of it!

We came down off the mountain just in time... the weather was taking a turn for the worst. We had the whole afternoon so we decided to head over to my favorite place to take out-of-towners... Annecy. This postcard-perfect lakefront town is the perfect setting for a relaxing stroll and leisurely dinner. And to make things even better we managed to outrun the bad weather and were able to enjoy this cute town basking in the sunshine.

We didn't realize how lucky we were with the weather until we were returning to Geneva where it began to pour and one of the most amazing thunder storms I had ever seen set in for the night. The thunder was so loud that it woke me up out of a dead sleep and gave little Scout quite a scare. The next morning we were on a train to Paris and the rain was still coming down in buckets. It was like nothing I had ever seen. I realized that morning that I didn't know what happens when lightning hits a train. Are we grounded to something? It was a little unnerving.

Thankfully we made it to Paris without getting electrocuted and we had also, once again, outrun the bad weather. It was another busy day as we tried to fit in all the usual tourist stops. We dashed to the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe (with more pictures of the gnome), and the Champs-Elysees. The last time I had had a drink near the Champs-Elysees was on New Years 2006 with P & K, four drinks that night costs us 94 Euros! This time we each got a beer at McDonalds (hey, I had never had a beer from McDonalds before!) and it was quite a bit cheaper! :)

We were in Paris during the Fête de la Musique which was great because we were able to hear a little music before (and during) our typical 3 hour Parisian dinner. The best part about dinner for me was the atypical good service from the Parisian waiters. They were so sweet to us, even discouraging me from ordering the stew which turned out to be a big bowl of bones and fat (not good at all... I should have listened!)

We also got great service from our waiter at breakfast the next morning. "Welcome to Paris" he beamed. We had stopped for breakfast on our way to the Louvre (after a somewhat disappointing jaunt over to the Moulin Rouge). We only had four hours to wander Europe's oldest and greatest museum before we were to catch our train back to Geneva. Once again the weather had caught up with us and it was pouring again, but it didn't matter because we were undercover the rest of our time and soon we were back in sunny Geneva.

It was time for the Fête de la Musique in Geneva and despite all my raving about how good it had been the year before, everything we saw (and heard) was pretty dismal. There was a small group of us and despite the multitude of stages and venues we came across, nothing was really that good. Aer summed it up best when she said, "Like my mama always says, there ain't no such thing as a free music festival!"

After an afternoon wandering the town of Yvoire on the French side of Lake Geneva, we were back at the Fête for one more try. We had almost given up when we discovered a great French band called "Par la Lumière de la Lune" (or "By the Light of the Moon"), but unfortunately they had no CD to sell and no web site. At least we finally heard some decent music!

On Aer's last day we zipped down to Milan with G to give her a little taste of Italy. One again we were blessed with sunshine and warm weather. Besides getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, we had a fantastic day climbing to the roof of the Duomo and eating gelato. I always love a good gelato!

Although it was a hectic week we had a fantastic time, Aer is a great travel companion and we just had so much fun! I was truly amazed at Aer's ability to be totally unaffected by jet lag (or she just hid it really well) and her gift of monkey calls (you will have to ask her about that one!) ;) I was also amazed that despite the worst week of weather we have had in quite a while, we somehow managed to dodge the worst of it and find the sun wherever we went. I'm convinced now that Aer is a good weather magnet, because the evening after she left it rained for almost two solid weeks... Hurry back soon! :)

Climbing the castle wall in Gruyères

Freezing at the top of the Aiguille du Midi, high above the town of Chamonix

Hanging out in Annecy - those are the shoes of these guys that were jumping off the bridge into the crystal clear waters below

At the Eiffel Tower

Having a beer on the Champs-Elysees (yes, at McDonalds)

Beautiful Paris at night

At the Fête de la Musique in Geneva

Overlooking Lake Geneva in the medieval town of Yvoire

"Par la Lumière de la Lune" at the Fête de la Musique in Geneva

On the roof of the Duomo in Milan

Shopping at Prada in Milan

vendredi, juillet 20, 2007

Thank you for flying Continental Airlines...

So after two great weeks in the US I was heading back home to Geneva on what I thought was going to be an easy flight. SFO to Newark to Geneva. One stop. Two hour layover. Easy peasy.

I left for the airport at 4:30am to catch my 7am flight. The flight was on time and everything was going great until we got over Ohio and the pilot came on the intercom. "We have a bit of a storm ahead of us and air traffic control is holding all flights into New York, so we are going to circle a bit and see what happens." Well, 20 minutes turned into an hour and soon we were landing in Cincinnati to refuel. At first the pilot told us to stay on board, it maybe only a few minutes before we would be able to leave. But after another hour we were allowed to get off the plane but had to check in every half hour incase we got the green light to take off again.

FOUR hours later we were airborne again. I had missed my connection to Geneva, but I felt lucky because there was talk about us staying the night in Cincinnati, but I had overheard the somewhat overwhelmed gate agent say that there were no rooms in the whole region due to some sporting tournament going on. New York had more flight options and more hotel rooms... or so I thought.

About 70% of the folks on my flight had had a connection to somewhere in Europe, but by the time we had finally landed at 9pm, only one family had a chance to make their connecting flight to Rome. We all got out of the way and cheered them on as they ran off the plane. The rest of us were told to head to the Continental Customer Service desk next to gate 90 inside the terminal. Little did we know that almost every passenger on every delayed flight into Newark was heading to the same place.

I rounded the corner and could not believe my eyes. A line of approximately 300 people were waiting to reschedule their flights with a grand total of 5 customer service agents. I instantly got on my cell phone to try to rebook, but I was told that the next flight to Geneva with a free seat was on Friday, FOUR days later! I tried to get a seat on another airline, but was told since the storm was an "act of God", Continental was not required to put me on another airline. The best they could do was to get me to Brussels the next day. "But how am I going to get to Geneva?" I asked. "I'm sorry but Continental does not fly internationally outside the US, you have to get there yourself.” My patients were beginning to grow a bit thin.

Within an hour of getting in line I had made friends with my fellow stranded passengers who were having just as much trouble with the Continental phone operators. Yet another troubling development had arisen in the front of the line. We noticed that those lucky folks at the front were leaving looking quite pissed off clutching an airline pillow and a thin blue blanket. Uuuuuhhhh... aren't we supposed to be put up in a hotel?

It was now 10pm and there were no more hotel rooms to be had (I got word that no one was given accommodations, even those in the front of the line) and the line had grown by more then 200 people. In our first hour we had moved maybe 10 feet toward the ever elusive customer service desk. Things were looking bleak. I was in for the long hall though and settled in and chatted with my newfound compatriots.

The folks in line were surprisingly well behaved, with only an occasional outburst from an angry passenger from the front of the line who had waited a long time to get no help once at the desk. It was now 3am, and we had been in line for five hours when a group of official looking Continental employees came to announce that the customer service desk would be closing in 15 minutes. WHAT?!? I honestly thought a riot was going to break out. What were we supposed to do? How were we going to reschedule our flights and where were we supposed to sleep?!? People were flipping out.

Someone at Continental realized that closing the desk was not a great idea, and they kept it open for a while. But then, at 4am they announced that the customer service crew currently at the desk were leaving and a "night crew" would be in to replace them in 20 minutes. We were all given a pillow and blanket and expected to sleep in line. By now I was only about 30 people from the front, but after a half hour of no one at the desk I gave up. I spent 7 1/2 hours in line for absolutely nothing. I had to sleep, so I wandered off to catch an hour of sleep on the floor of gate 87.

We were told to go down to collect our luggage at 6am, but I had no flight to send it on to. I was told I could pick it up myself and recheck in when I did get a flight, but it was a 2-3 hour wait. I was so tired I didn't even care. I found a flight reschedule desk upstairs and after only two hours in that line I had been rebooked for a flight that evening to Paris and then onto Geneva. I also had $16 worth of food vouchers for my trouble.

I now had 9 hours to kill before my flight and I did not want to spend one more minute in the airport, so I re-routed my luggage and caught a train into Manhattan. It was great to have a change of scenery. New York was wonderful, but I was bummed when I found that there was nowhere to leave my very heavy carry-on bag, so I had to lug it around while I roamed around the city. I was in a great mood though, I had a flight and soon my crazy journey would be over. It was good I didn't know what still lay in store.

On my flight to Paris I was instantly asleep, almost missing the meal. I was exhausted but looking forward to an uneventful flight. It was not meant to be... two and a half hours from Paris there was a medical emergency and the cabin crew requested help. I volunteered but hoped there were more qualified people to tend to the elderly man who had passed out and was now throwing up in the back of the plane. Turns out it was just me, and a doctor who did absolutely nothing! I ended up sitting with the very altered man for the remainder of the flight, giving him oxygen and monitoring his vital signs. So much for a relaxing flight.

I handed off the man to the French paramedics (that was a challenging report to give) and of course I missed my flight to Geneva! I had to get rescheduled again and then I almost missed that flight! I had to go through the slowest security line in history and then my gate was the very last one, so I was literally sprinting through the terminal, trying not to knock people over.

I was finally in Geneva and my luggage was no where to be found, which did not surprise me at all. After an hour wait to file a report I was on the train home. I got home almost exactly 48 hours after leaving for the airport in San Francisco (not including the time change). 48 hours to make what was supposed to be a 14 hour flight. Unbelievable.

The good news is that 3 weeks after all of this madness I received a nice letter from Continental thanking me for assisting with the medical emergency and offered to add 25,000 mileage points to my frequent flier card. Nice, but I think it will be a long time before I fly with them again!

jeudi, juillet 19, 2007

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

I know, I know... I've been way behind with the blog. Backdating entries, sporadic tales of our travels from months ago, weeks with no updates. Yes, the signs are all there... I've been a very bad blogger. It’s good because I've been on the go, almost constantly. But it's bad because I've had no time to keep up with things at home, like e-mails and such. But after a weekend of catching up with friends in Geneva and a spring cleaning of our flat, I'm now determined to catch up and get current with the blog by Thursday when Chica arrives from California.

So we kicked off our summer with a trip to the US. G had a business meeting and I hadn't been back for over 6 months, so I figured it was time to head home for a little visit. My first stop was Florida to see my grandparents and my aunt and uncle. The visit was short, but as always I had so much fun. I got to see my grandparent’s new place they had moved into a few months ago. I loved it and had a great time meeting the new neighbors, one of which knew Jimmy Carter growing up. I also had the chance to go on the maiden voyage of the new RV my aunt and uncle recently bought. The weather wasn't cooperating, but we didn't let the rain damper our jaunt down to Key Largo.

I flew into SF just in time to attend a surprise birthday party for our friend Lid (my apologies, I've never been great at giving pseudo names to folks in my blog). The party was a blast with so many of my friends there for the big celebration. But my trip wasn't all good times... the next day instead of wake boarding with G, Clarence, and Chica, I was in Woodland attending a CPR class. I made up for my long and boring 8 hours of class by getting together with a few of my Vacaville friends (now transplanted to SacTown). It was great to catch up. The great surprise of the evening was helping Ari (another attempt at a pseudo name) buy her ticket to Switzerland for two weeks later!

The rest of the week was split between lunch and dinner dates with friends and family and working to keep my EMT certification current. I took a three day EMT refresher course that was long, but surprisingly very good. The week ended with a big dinner with G's side of the family when we had a big "Christmas in June" dinner at Celia's, my favorite Mexican place. I actually ate here earlier in the week too, but I just can't get enough good Mexican food when I'm home.

The last hurrah was a big dinner in SF with some of our closest friends. Gary's guy from the Swiss office was also there. I was having such a good time I completely forgot to take a single picture!! I couldn't believe it! It was a great way to end a wonderful week back home.

I was out the door at 4:30am to catch my 7am flight to Newark and then on to Geneva. One stop. Easy, right? Well, this is where the good times ended and my nightmare began...

Go Pepperdine!

Happy Birthday you old pirate you!

Okay everyone... smile!

Hanging out with the Vacaville crowd

Christmas in June