Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ten weeks.

Betti is now starting to try to grab at things. And, much to the delight of her mother, is starting to settle in to a sleep schedule that includes only one feeding in the span of 10-12 hours.

She still smiles, occasionally. But boy does she make you work for those smiles!

She's been great on this whole trip. And now I can understand what people are saying to me when they look at her and then smile and talk to me. It's nice being able to communicate with people. Blogger is even in English again. So very odd to see that after a year.

Marion got her hair cut and thoroughly enjoyed having them shampoo her hair. Brian stood there, worried about a future of spa visits. I welcome a spa partner.

She looks so much older with her shorter hair. It scares me.

We've been enjoying our time here keeping Marion busy, eating and drinking our way through Baltimore, and seeing family and friends. And we have another week and a half of vacation left! If we haven't seen you yet, I'm sure we will soon!

While we've been enjoying our time here, I have noticed that I am referring to Switzerland as home now. As in, "It isn't as humid back at home." Weird how that happens. Wonder if it will switch again once we return to Switzerland...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My first speeding ticket

I knew I was in for it on our trip back from Grindelwald when a camera in Luzern flashed me. I didn't know how fast I was going since I was, sadly, accelerating at the time to keep up with traffic. I was certain the ticket would be a big one.

Well, last Friday I received my ticket. And I think our car's speedometer may be off because it wasn't that bad!

According to the ticket I was going 88 in an 80. Subtracting the 5 km/h cushion allowed by the Swiss, I was only 3 km/h over the speed limit. This equaled a 20 CHF fine.

So definitely not the huge fine we were expecting. And I still only have one ticket to Brian's two. Yay!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Culture shock

Honestly, I didn't expect the culture shock to be noticeable. But it has been and it's only been a day.

We arrived late Saturday night. Marion and Betti were angels on both plane rides, I couldn't have asked for better.

Yesterday we went to our favorite farmer's market. There were a ton of people. And yet people were respecting each others personal space and saying excuse me. My experience in Switzerland has been the opposite. Fo example, on our way back from Rhine Falls, a woman chose to stand right next to my stroller on a fairly open train platform. I'll never undersyand why Swiss do that. I will say though that people in Switzerland often help me and my stroller onto buses and trains. So please don't yell at me :-)

On the way to the market I marveled at the houses and the land each one had. The difference in how Americans and Europeans live didn't really strike me until yesterday. I mean, I have thought about it. Europeans make do with less space and less land. They are so efficient. Being back and seeing all of these houses really put it into perspective for me.

Brian marveled at the difference in cars. We pulled up to a traffic light and looked around us. Two F150 pick-ups, one Suburban, one large SUV, one midsive SUV, two crossovers. And one large sedan. All of this next to a gas station selling 87 octane for $2.37/gallon. When we left Switzerland the cheapest gas available was 95 octane at around 1.48CHF/liter ($5.16/gallon).

Then we went to Target. Cheap shopping on a Sunday. I bought a packet of 300 stickers for a dollar. A dollar!!!! I love me some cheap shopping.

Next we went to the pool. We had a great time. Marion loves being in the water no matter what country we are in. I didn't even notice the lifeguards at first. It was weird to see them watching over the water instead of just a flotation device hanging on a wall near the pool.

Later Brian and I went to a grocery store, Wegmans. On a Sunday!!!! Wegmans' tend to be very very large. I needed to pick up some pink lemonade mix for my parents. I walked into the aisle and saw 30 kinds of drink mixes. I stood there for a moment, completely overwhelmed by the selection and possibilities. I found the pink lemonade and made my way to the cashier who bagged my groceries in a plastic bag. I looked around- no one was using reusable bags. They were selling them, but they were so tiny compared to the ones in Switzerland. I left the store in a quiet state of shock. Too much, just too. much. stuff!

By the end of the day Brian and I were exhausted from the time difference and struck by the differences and how noticeable they were. I wonder what else is here to surprise us and if we'll experience reverse culture shock when we go back to Switzerland in 2.5 weeks...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane

Well, after almost a year abroad, we are finally sujecting ourselves to culture shock. Time for a trip home!

I've gotten a lot of advice from other expats about trips home and am looking forward to it. I'll be sure to post about our return to 24 hour and sunday shopping, processed food, driving everywhere, Target, and sandwiches, among other things.

In the meantime, off to the airport so that we can "touch the clouds" according to Marion.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rhine Falls

Yesterday was a holiday here so we took advantage of Brian's day off and went to a popular tourist destination in Switzerland: the Rhine Falls.

We had to take the train as our car had some problems and needed an immediate trip to the garage. More on that later...

Train ride wasn't so bad, only an hour and a half. I'm getting better at dodging the mass amounts of people in Zurich's Hauptbahnhof. And yesterday there were a ton of people. Everyone was taking advantage of the holiday.

Once we arrived, we walked down to the waters edge to see the falls.
They are pretty impressive. Not because they huge but because the massive quantity of water flowing down them. Brian immediately started debating the probability of surviving a trip down the falls in a kayak. I think he determined they would be survivable, given the right path and equipment. Based on what you ask? Who knows. You'll have to ask him.

We were meeting some friends so, while we waited, we enjoyed the playground in the park next to the water.

Then Marion had to ride the mechanical horse.

Who, oddly enough, was carrying a barrel full of tequila with him. Naturally.
We also watched some kids fish nearby; they ended up catching one but threw it back.
Our friends arrived and the guys, plus one blonde toddler, took a trip on the boat that takes you to the center of the falls.
I managed to snap a picture of them at the top of the rock in the middle of the falls. Can you find Brian and Marion? Hint: Marion is on Brian's shoulders.

They enjoyed the boat ride. Marion came back talking about how the waterfall had gotten her wet with a huge smile on her face.

For lunch we went to this fantastic restaurant right near where the boat access was, Schössi Wörth. It was awesome and kid friendly! If you want to go, make a reservation ahead of time. They get fully booked fairly quickly!

After lunch we fought the crowds and posed for family pictures.
My cousin joined us for one (we were helping him with a school project).
Sadly, after pictures, it was time for goodbyes. Some of our friends that joined us are moving back to the States on Monday. We realized when we moved here that goodbyes are a natural part of the expat experience, but they are sad nonetheless.

Rhine Falls, while touristy, was a good time. I suggest going on a day when there aren't as many people- think an overcast weekday in the low travel season. Or brave the crowds! Just carving out some space on a bench in front of the falls is enjoyable and doable with the many tourists around you. Plus, this way you can get some high quality people watching in. :-)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Knie's Kinderzoo

I've been meaning to take Marion to the Knie's Kinderzoo in Rapperswil ever since I heard about it last summer. Unfortunately that pesky pregnancy got in the way...

The zoo opened in March for the 2009 season and I took Marion and Betti there on Monday.

Word of advice: definitely go to the zoo on an overcast weekday! No one was there and it was fabulous. We didn't have to wait for anything!

And there is plenty to wait for at the zoo. There are pony rides, camel rides, and elephant rides. You can feed the elephants and the camels. And there is a seal show!

Within our first half hour Marion had already ridden a pony, a camel, and an elephant. She loved every minute of it.

The elephant area was interesting in that you had to enter the ring through a narrow dorr and then climb onto a platform to get on the elephant. Unfortunately I couldn't go in there because Betti and her stroller were with us. So I let her go into the elephant area by herself. She did really well and listened to the man running the rides. However, right before she was to get on the elephant I noticed, with horror, that she was doing what looked like a pee-pee dance. Luckily she didn't pee all over the elephant but I was pretty sure she was going to for awhile and visions of being escorted out of the zoo flashed through my head.

After the elephant ride we rode the horse drawn train to kill some time before the event Marion had talked about all morning- the seal show. Apparently it made quite an impression when my mother brought Marion to the zoo back in April.

The show did not disappoint. The seals do all sorts of tricks, including climbing stairs, jumping off platforms, and sliding down slides. Marion wouldn't clap for them for some reason, although she did boogy to the show music.

Afterwards we got a souvenir- a picture with one of the seals.

The woman directing everyone who was getting a picture gave instructions beforehand in German. She also spoke English so she translated- "Do not touch the seal, she is a naughty girl." Don't have to tell me twice!

It was a great day. Marion was well behaved and listened. It helped to have an abundance of things to bribe her with. We'll definitely go back, on a cloudy weekday!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Can you guess the price?

Let's play guess the price of this item!!!!

A single can of A&W root beer costs how much (in Swiss francs)?

Any guesses?

And the answer is....
(highlight the text in between the arrows)

----> 3.90 CHF! <----

I can only imagine the taxes that would make this little can cost so much. After a year, I continue to be shocked by some of the prices here. But then again, when you want a root beer float, nothing will stand in your way!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bernese Oberland Trip: May 2

After some late night googling I was able to find several alternative sights for us to visit since our Jungfraujoch plans were shot to hell. So, at 10:30 pm, I rolled down to the hotel desk and told them we would be checking out a day early. Then it was time to try to get some sleep since Betti would be up soon for a bottle.

We woke up Saturday morning, packed up our things, had breakfast, and left Grindelwald. First stop on our new agenda: St. Beatus Hoehlen.
We weren't sure what to expect exactly since the information we had on this place was limited. However, we were not disappointed.

We parked on the road in front of the caves and immediately saw the very long walk required to get to the cave entrance. There was a gorgeous waterfall at the center of the walk which kept Marion going. She managed to walk the entire way up to the entrance. Brian and I were shocked.

Some gnomes and other statues met us along the way.
Let's play find the toddler!

Gorgeous entrance, high above the street. This was taken on one of the many bridges crossing the waterfall on the hike up.

Marion was going strong but Mommy needed some help towards the end.

Luckily there were some benches nearby for a short rest.

The entrance to the caves. Really picturesque and with a lovely view over the Lake Thun (Thunsee).

Dogs get free water after their walk. Humans are expected to buy a bottle of water if needed.

St Beatus' grave and a model of how he lived in the cave are at the beginning of the tour. Then you enter the cave. Pictures were not allowed inside the cave. But rest assured it was gorgeous- another highly recommended spot. The tour of the cave consists of a one kilometer walk into the cave with three stops for some history. After the tour is over, you walk the one kilometer back out.

We had a quick lunch at the cafe outside the exit to the cave. There is also a restaurant near the entrance of the cave. Afterwards, we walked down the mountain, pausing for a family picture before going back to our car.

Our next stop was the Ballenberg Museum. However, Marion fell asleep on the way there so we took a detour through the town of Brienz, stopping briefly to get a picture of the Brienzersee.

We finally arrived at the museum's west entrance.
Note: there are two entrances to this museum. I did not realize this and so we just went to the closest entry that Garmin listed. However, the things I wanted to see were closest to the east entrance so we will definitely be going back. So the lesson here is to know that Ballenberg has two entrances and to plan your trip ahead of time by looking at the map. However, this place is fantastic and you really can't go wrong either way.

Ballenberg reminded me of a working Williamsburg. The open air museum consists of buildings taken from around Switzerland and rebuilt at the museum. There are homes, farms, you name it, from various centuries. The interiors are set up to show how life for the people that would have lived in the home during that time period. In addition to that there are animals all over the place,

a building where meat is steamed, and a large herb garden among other things.

The herbs from the garden are used for making teas, soaps, etc that are sold in one of the buildings.
A chocolate factory is also on site (that is on the list of must sees for our next visit!).

We spent a lot of time at a hands on building for the kids. Marion tried her hand at hammering there.

She also tried on some hats and played the piano.

Afterwards, she met a bull.

I noticed something interesting in one house we went into. Remember the interiors were set up to demonstrate life in that building and during that time period? Well, in one kitchen a large serated knife sat on the kitchen table.

Nothing was in the way to prevent someone from touching this knife. Nothing to prevent children from picking it up.

I love the sense of personal responsibility here. This would never, ever happen in the States. And if it did and someone got hurt, the museum would promptly get sued and put out of business. Ahhh, home sweet home.

We spent the rest of our time there walking around the museum. It turned out to be a very nice day and the museum is a great place to walk around and enjoy the weather and scenery.

Towards the end of our walk we found a store selling all things made at Ballenberg. We walked in and immediately noticed the sweet smell of smoked meats. Oh it was good. So good that Brian walked over the counter and said to the woman behind it, "What smells so good? I want whatever smells so good."

We walked out with some sausage with garlic in it. And it was goooooooooood. Really really good.

After we finished off our snacks, it was time to head home. It was a fun day. Thank goodness for wireless internet and Google!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Eight weeks.

Houston, we have a smile.
And a smirk.
And a thoughtful look.
And just general baby scrumptiousness.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Baby powered rocker

Betti's been playing with her toys for a good 20 minutes now. She's figured out that if she kicks her legs, the rocker (and her toys attached to it), will move.

Feel free to watch her in action if you've got three and a half minutes. Special bonus: a smile around the 2:35 point.

Turns out this is a great work out. Betti crashed soon after I finished this post.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bernese Oberland Trip: May 1

May 1 was a holiday here so we took advantage of Brian's time off and hit the road. Destination: Grindelwald.

On our way there, we stopped in the Lauterbrunnen Valley to go see Truemmelbach Falls.
Betti needed to eat when we arrived so I sat down with her while Marion and Brian ran around. We quickly became part of the tourist attraction. People stared at me feeding Betti and took pictures with Marion. I've never experienced this before; next time we will take a hat for donations.

After Betti ate we made our way to the entrance of the falls, bought our tickets, and got on the lift to take us up to most of the chutes.
When we left the lift I was stopped by the lift operator who informed me that I shouldn't take Betti up to the chutes at the top because it was "too cold and loud, just like you shouldn't take a baby that small to Jungfraujoch."

Uhhh, what? I thanked him and then quietly panicked. Our plans for the following day included Jungfraujoch.

So Brian and Marion continued up the mountain to see the chutes above us. They didn't last very long. Apparently it was so cold and loud that Brian couldn't hear Marion crying hysterically while looking at the waterfalls. I never guessed she would have reacted that way. Luckily, the chutes below us (numbers 1-5 I believe), were all accessible from the outside of the mountain.

We walked down the mountain enjoying all of the views of the falls. It really was amazing- the melting snow water from the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks cuts through the rock and has created beautiful formations.

The walk down the mountain was neat too- Marion enjoyed going through the "tunnels".

Marion grew tired quickly of the walk so we used one of our many disciplinary tactics: bribery. We told her if she walked all the way to the entrance, we'd buy her a special treat.

It worked. She ran to the entrance and the souvenir store.

Once we caught up, we got her a little cowbell with her name on it. We also found one with Bettina's name on it. It helps to have daughters with German names.

We then drove a couple of minutes into Lauterbrunnen to have lunch outside in the beautiful weather. The view was amazing; we quickly lost count of the water falls in the valley. However, there was no way we could miss Staubbach Falls.
After lunch we drive a half hour to our destination for the night, Grindelwald. Marion fell asleep in the car for a bit and we tried to keep her up, hoping that she'd take a nap once we arrived and settled in at our hotel. Didn't happen that way. As soon as the car stopped at our hotel, Hotel Spinne, she was up and ready to go.

We decided to explore Grindelwald a little bit instead of forcing a nap that wasn't going to happen. It was a cute town with small playground near our hotel. Not much to do though. We weren't prepared or up for a hike and we couldn't take Betti up the mountain. Also, we were there during a downtime between seasons so some shops and the sports center were closed. So we spent our time at the playground and then went to the terrace at our hotel. It was a relaxing afternoon, as long as we focused on the view and ignored the overtired toddler with us. Focusing on the view wasn't hard at all...

Bedtime came early for us that night. We settled in and tried to ignore the incredibly loud tourists in the hotel who insisted on partying with each other with their hotel room doors open. Despite the noise, Brian and Marion quickly fell asleep. I hopped on the computer and started searching for something to do that Saturday since the lift operator (and some googling) had killed our plans to explore Jungfraujoch.

To be continued...