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

lundi, décembre 31, 2007

Driving through Jolly Old England

After getting back from the Maldives, we were only in Geneva one day (for an ultrasound) before we were headed off again. This time we were going to England to visit with G’s cousin and his family and to see some of the sights in the UK.

Our first stop was the village of Burwell where G’s cousin lives. We had rented a car at the airport and it was the first time either G or I had ever driven a car with the steering wheel on the right side. I let G drive first. He got the hang of it pretty quickly and I was impressed, although it was a bit harrowing at first. We were staying at the same family run bed & breakfast we stayed at two years earlier when we came up to visit the family for Christmas 2005. The owner remembered us and gave us a warm welcome.

Our time in Burwell was great. It was so nice to catch up with G’s cousin and his wife and their two girls, J & H. We got to check out all the cool things the girls got for Christmas, hear all about their riding lessons and we learned how to play a Nintendo game where you take care of a puppy… I wasn’t too good at it! We were also one of the first people to dine in the new dining room, part of the new extension of their house that has been in the works for some time now. I was thrilled to see it first hand after all the pictures. We had such a nice time but the time flew by! Soon we were on our way to Bath.

Now I figured it would take us about 2-3 hours to reach Bath, and I was in no hurry to leave Burwell, so I kept stalling and trying to stay just a little bit longer. Well, I was very wrong! It took us over 6 hours to make the journey (not including a side trip into Oxford)! To my defense, there was a major accident that side tracked us for an hour, but still, I had grossly underestimated the trip! But we made it!

So what is the first thing we did in Bath? We headed out of town and drove to Stonehenge! I had visited Stonehenge with Chica and Fi last summer, but I wanted G to see the world famous prehistoric monument for himself. I didn’t mind going back at all; my only complaint was it was bitterly cold!! But that didn’t stop the hordes of tourists (including us) who were there and we still had fun!

Back in Bath, we were ready to take in all that this charming, beautiful city had to offer, with its Georgian style and aristocratic charms. The city was founded by the Romans who built baths and a temple around naturally-occurring hot springs that still bubble up from the earth today.

The Roman Baths were our first stop, which turned out to be a fascinating tour back in time. Now-a-days you can’t actually go in the water (a new modern spa just opened this year for relaxing in), but at the end of the tour you can drink the warm, awfully curative Bath water from an elegant fountain… it’s pretty awful tasting, but we had to try it! We spent the rest of our time on a city tour, shopping, and wandering around the city. I even made G go into "Jollys", which claims to be one of the world’s oldest department stores.

From our home base in Bath we headed to Wales for a quick visit to Cardiff. We took a walk around Cardiff Castle and stopped in for coffee and a bite to eat at a trendy little café. Now when I say quick, I mean it, because no sooner had we finished our food we were headed back to England. We were headed back to London and we really wanted to see Windsor Castle before we were to fly back to Geneva the next day.

We made it to Windsor in great time (compared to our drive to Bath) and by now we were both masters of the right hand driving! We toured Windsor Castle, which we both really liked… It is the largest inhabited castle in the world and is the oldest in continuous occupation. Needless to say, it took a while to get through! For dinner we ate at a traditional English pub (something we had been trying to do for several nights but couldn’t seem to find a good one). It was delicious and the perfect way to end our tour through southern England.

Family picture

Freezing at Stonehenge

At the Roman Baths

Reflection off the water

So many things to see and do in Bath!

Coffee in Wales

One of the Cardiff Castle animal sculptures that guard the castle walls

Windsor Castle

Another shot of Windsor Castle

Dinner at a traditional English pub in Windsor

Our favorite airline!

mercredi, décembre 26, 2007

Paradise found!

Sun, sand, and sea… that’s what the Maldives are all about. We wanted to go somewhere a little different (and warm) for our last “big” trip of our stay here in Europe, and the Maldives sounded perfect! It is the "European Hawaii” and it is an absolute paradise. The Maldives are made up of over 1000 pristine, tranquil, tropical islands with white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and brilliant turquoise lagoons.

The Maldives are truly unique. 99% of the country is covered by the sea and it holds the record for being the flattest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.3 m (7½ ft). Situated in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka, it’s a major destination for scuba divers, who come for the fabulous reefs and the wealth of marine life.

I couldn’t scuba dive on this trip (although G could), but I could snorkel. We decided to stay on the small, rustic island of Vilamendhoo (which only measures 900m or ½ mile long by 250m wide), based on its house reef which is one of the best for snorkeling and we weren’t disappointed! There are over 1200 species of fish in the Maldives, and the snorkeling was about the best I had ever experienced… but before we could do that we had to get there first.

We flew through London (surprise, our luggage didn’t get lost this time). From there we had a ten hour flight to the capital city of Malé (pronounced: "Maa-lay"). We had given up our two seats together for a family, thinking this would bring us good karma on the trip… no such luck. I got stuck next to a couple who made-out for most of the flight and my headset was completely broken. We didn’t even get a complimentary drink for our troubles (I would have given mine to G)… oh well, we were headed to paradise!

Once there, we flew to Vilamendhoo by sea plane, which was very cool. Unfortunately we landed in what seemed to be the middle of a monsoon! But the staff welcomed us with flower leighs, welcome drinks, and a giant pink umbrella that we got to keep all week (but hoped we wouldn’t need too much). We were exhausted after all the traveling, so we just settled into our beachfront bungalow and relaxed for the rest of the day, thrilled we were finally here.

At dinner we were shown our assigned table we would have for the rest of the week. Good thing; it was a table for two. Bad thing; it was smack in the middle of the buffet line! No joke… it was the ONLY table in the area where people were getting their food. Now I normally don’t complain about anything, but this was ridiculous! Thankfully we were reassigned to a 4-person table and ended up meeting a really nice couple from South Africa who G dove with most of the week.

The next day was fantastic, the sun was out and it seemed that all of our troubles were behind us. In the morning, G did his check dive and I got the lay of the land (it only takes about 20 minutes to walk all the way around the island). After, we had a nice lunch out at the beach bar and we met our neighbors, a really nice couple from London. We spent the afternoon snorkeling and lounging around, which was very nice.

But the day still had a couple surprises for us. First we somehow managed to lock our key in our bungalow and then we found out that at the “Adventure Center” the only speedboat on the island (as well as the only jet ski) were both broken and would not be fixed for at least a week. I was bummed because the speed boat was the only way to go on further a field snorkeling trips to see the manta rays and whale sharks (which is what I was most looking forward to doing). It turned out that we weren’t really in the manta ray or whale shark season anyway, so in the end it didn’t really matter.

Wednesday was here already, so we took advantage of the good weather and snorkeled for most of the morning. The conditions were great; we saw so many amazing fish and even a sea turtle! But our bad luck was still with us…. We thought we had lost our bungalow key altogether on out outing and we searched the water to see if we could locate it (there is a $100 fee for lost keys). No luck. G decided to head to reception to tell them the news. , Unbeknownst to him, he had cut his foot pretty badly on the coral and only realized it when a woman in reception pointed out the huge puddle of blood he was standing in!! Meanwhile, back at the bungalow, I discovered that the key had been sitting on our front porch all morning! We didn’t have to pay for a new key, but after that the entire staff knew exactly who we were! Thankfully the rest of the afternoon was mellow. I did some more snorkeling and hanging out on the beach and G went out on his first dive.

The next day we went on our first “excursion” which was a snorkeling trip away from the island. Our London neighbor was there too along with a couple of Turkish girls. Again, the snorkeling was fantastic with more fish and we even saw a couple of good sized eels. G went diving in the afternoon and I lounged on the beach with our London neighbors where we met a couple of guys from Lausanne (which is only ½ hour from Geneva). When G got back at dusk, we saw baby sharks swimming around just off our beach! We ended up seeing them a few more times at dusk and early in the morning. They were really cool to see.

That night we had planned a romantic dinner on the beach which we had to reserve in advance. As we walked to dinner, not 10 minutes before our reservation the skies opened up and it began to rain!! Our table was moved inside (where some kind of construction work was going on) and we were treated to some very loud 80’s rap music (I think it was to cover up the noise form the construction). Not exactly the most romantic evening, but we took it all in stride and reserved a beach table for the following night.

The next day the rain cleared up and we did our usual; a little snorkeling, lunch at the beach bar, and relaxing on the beach near our bungalow. I was really looking forward to dinner, but while we were getting ready I somehow managed to give myself a 220 volt shock from the curling iron. I felt it all the way up to my shoulder! Because I was 20 weeks pregnant we ended up on the phone with our insurance company and paying a visit to the island doctor. What a fiasco!

Turns out I was just fine, so it was off for a second try at a romantic candlelight beach dinner. Some things are just not meant to be. Because the winds had kicked up quite fiercely, they put our table in the bushes outside the restaurant (not exactly on the beach, but in the sand nonetheless). The poor waiter re-lit our candles about 8 times and by the time desert arrived, it was pouring rain again! The saving grace of the night (at least for me) was it was disco night on the island, so after dinner we sat in the bar, laughed our bad luck away and did a little dancing!

The next day there was a dive trip planned to where you supposedly could see whale sharks and manta rays. I was going to go along too, but just snorkel while everyone else dove. But because of weather it was canceled at the last minute and instead the dive boat was headed somewhere else. G still went diving but I literally jumped onto another boat that was leaving at the same time, but headed for an excursion to a local island.

They let me join the excursion, which turned out to be a very interesting look into Maldivian culture. But because I thought I was going diving, I didn’t have a dime on me! About 2 hours of the afternoon was set aside for shopping and since it was drizzling, I couldn’t even sit outside and wait for everyone else to shop. The village people were really hawking their wears and I felt so bad perusing their shops and not buying anything. Our German tour guide took pity on me and lent me $20, so I could at least buy a few trinkets here and there. It turned out G had a better afternoon than I did; he said the diving was good and that he actually got a fleeting glimpse of a manta ray! I was thrilled for him!

On our last day we got in some more snorkeling and beach time. It was the 23rd of December, and since it was the eve of Christmas Eve, that night the resort decided to turn on their Christmas lights early. What a spectacle! It was like the Griswold Christmas had hit the tropics… there were literally lights everywhere, covering almost any surface that didn’t move!! Some of the lights even played music (which was super cheesy, but funny). I honestly have never seen so many lights up anywhere in my life. Thank goodness the overwhelming Christmas cheer was limited to the main reception and restaurant area… our little bungalow was quiet and dark, just the way we wanted it!

The next morning greeted us with glorious blue skies and lots of sun, but it was time for us to leave. All in all we had a fantastic trip, despite all of our misadventures! I was sad to leave… I had really grown to love our little island and I had grown happily accustomd to not wearing shoes. It had been just what I needed, lots of beach time, warm weather and so relaxing… and we came home with some pretty good stories… priceless!

Malé airport from our sea plane

20 week belly picture on beach with G

Swaying palm trees

Our bungalow

Lunching at the beach bar

Wading in the water

The view from our bungalow

On the snorkeling boat

Our beach

Snorkeling gear

Sea turtles

At the bar with our London neighbors

White sandy beaches

The stork who hung out at our beach everyday

Local boats

Absolute paradise

On the beach

More palms

A sea plane landing near our beach

Walking the island

The neighborhood rooster

Enjoying dinner

Another beautiful sunset

The boat ride out to the sea plane

Our sea plane back to Malé

dimanche, décembre 16, 2007

Joyeux Noël - It's time to celebrate!

This holiday season was a whirlwind of celebrations and merry making... just as it should be! We had a blast, but there was no rest for the weary. In addition to the normal dinner and lunch dates, we had some special events to help ring in the holiday season.

First up was the big GenevaOnLine (Glocals) holiday party that took place in a giant tent on the grounds of the Geneva Welcome Center. So we were well protected from the cold and rain that was pelting us outside. There were all the usual party folks there and I was thrilled to see a few friends who I rarely see out and about on the Geneva social scene. We drank (well, I stuck to my current favorite, jus de pomme, or apple juice) and danced until it was time to go. Unfortunately that was well after the busses had stopped running (even after the special "Noctambus" late night hour busses had stopped running). So we shared a taxi home with our friends J & G - a wonderfully sweet couple I met when I joined the GoL "mastermind" group last summer. What a great night!!

The next day we decided it was high time we visited Lyon's old town. We have both been to Lyon before, but really only to shop at the huge American-style mall (a rarity in Europe) or to change trains. We had never been to the old town or tried the world famous culinary delights that the town boasts! It was still a bit gloomy outside, but that didn't stop us from a nice tour around the city and a very traditional 2 1/2 hour lunch! No one can do a meal like the French! :)

The next week there were three holiday dinners on the schedule; G's office holiday dinner, my netball holiday dinner, and our annual Toastmasters holiday dinner. G's office party was held at a local Genevoise restaurant with fantastic food and was just around the corner from our flat which made it even better. After dinner we split up into groups of 5 and were given 3 eggs to protect. Yes, you heard me right. There was an "auction" where we spent play Euros on various types of packaging to protect our eggs and after constructing a protective package we had to throw the eggs off the second floor landing to the restaurant floor below. Unfortunately only one of our eggs survived. But out of about 7 teams our team came in second, which wasn't so bad.

To top off all the festivities, the city of Geneva was hosting the annual Fête de luminaires à Genève, which is a light festival throughout the city that lasts for most of December.

Next we are off to the Maldives for a week of fun in the sun. We won't be back until after Christmas, so happy holidays and Joyeux Noël!

Having fun at the GenevaOnLine (Glocals) holiday party

The (almost) winning egg team at the Brocade holiday party

In front of the Geneva flag at the Brocade holiday party

The basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which overlooks the city of Lyon

G by the banks of the Rhône in Lyon

Keeping warm in Lyon

The narrow streets of Lyon

Fête de luminaires in Geneva - The Jet d’Eau fountain in red

Fête de luminaires - This shot is of Rousseau Island, just up the street from our flat!

mercredi, décembre 12, 2007

Serching for G's Swiss roots

One of my big passions is genealogy. Between G & my families I have compiled over 300 names. Whenever I can I spend time working on verifying my sources and trying to find the links to our European ancestors. Now is the perfect time to do our European research, but it isn't always easy because the records are so old.

We finally had time to investigate one of our best leads in Europe - G's great-grandmother was actually Swiss and lived in a small village called Vinelz before immigrating to the US. Unfortunately, G is two generations too far away to get a Swiss passport.

Vinelz is not far from the capital of Bern and is only a couple of hours away from Geneva. G took the day off and we finally made our way to the official village record keeper's office to see what they knew about her. Our Swiss-German speaking friend, Mrs. Kofi (and baby Els) was nice enough to come along as our interpreter.

The record keeper was really nice and so helpful. He actually had the hand written documents in a big book that recorded G's great-grandmother, her parents, and even her grandparents, as well as all the siblings of all those folks. In true Swiss style, the book was very well organized with the dates for birth, baptism, confirmation, "copulation" (or marriage), and death that dated back to the mid-1800's. It was really fantastic to see the original handwritten documents. We were even given a paper that translated the old Swiss German Alphabet into modern text which is really helpful in deciphering some of the writing.

After getting copies of all the documents we drove around the village (which took all of 3 minutes), took some pictures, and grabbed a snack from a local restaurant. It was a great day! Now we have one more link to the past and have discovered a wonderful little village in the heart of Switzerland.

Vinelz town crest

The village church which was there when G's great-grandmother lived in Vinelz

The bear of Bern (which is in the same canton or state)

Typical house in Vinelz