Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cairo

We took a day trip to Cairo. This involved paying large sums of money, in cash (euros, to be precise) to some sketchy people, with the promise that a bus would pick us up at 4:30 a.m. Okay, they operated out of the hotel, so it couldn't have been that sketchy, but still.

The van did come at 4:45, so we had started to get a bit panicky. We drove to the airport, presented our passports and boarded a plane. Jason, helpfully, informed us that this very plane had crashed previously in Darfur. Way to instill confidence!

Surprisingly, we did not crash and nobody attempted to hijack us, even though (and this is true) almost everyone on the plane brought liquid. That's right. Water bottles, juice boxes, you know those things terrorist use. See, since the flight had nothing to do with the US, they used more sensible security measures, like multiple luggage screening and scary looking dogs. Everybody had boxed breakfasts from their hotels, so we all had liquid.

We arrived in Cairo and went to meet our tour guide. He was late, so we were a bit nervous, given the sketchiness of the whole deal. Fortunately, he arrived and it turned out to be just 7 of us in our group, along with Ibrahim, our tour guide.

Ibrahim was in his mid 20s and announced he was looking for a British wife. He also liked Russian women because they were easy, but he really wanted to marry a British girl and did we know any?



Our first stop was the Cairo museum. We look nice and well put together, which changed throughout the day. The Cairo museum was fascinating. We learned all about King Tut and had a great time.

Then we went to lunch at a boat on the Nile. It was billed as 5 stars, and I'm sure this is true if your rating system consists of 1 to 25 stars. We had a choice of chicken, fish or "meat." Our fellow group members and we decided that the "meat" was most likely camel. Yum.

After a brief stop at a papyrus museum (gift shop) we headed to the...


Pyramids! This was so awesome. We got to climb up on the great pyramid and then go down into one of the smaller ones. The way down was too steep for Daniel, so Sarah and Jason went down, and then when they came up, I was going to go down alone, but Sarah volunteered to come with me. The others in our group called her Indiana Jones because she could scamper up and down the steep ladders. She had the distinct advantage of being short enough to stand upright on the paths.

We then got to go on a camel ride.



Daniel was pretty unsure about this, crying, "Cow, cow!" But once on the camel, he did pretty well. Our helpful bedouin guide said, "happy baby!" The ride was about 30 minutes long and the most awesome thing ever. It was so cool to ride up behind the pyramids on camels.



We then visited the Sphinx. We told Sarah that they had just met and she should not be kissing anyone, but you know how kids are these days.

After the Sphinx we got dragged to a "fragrance" factory, which was another blatant attempt to sell us things. But, they had clean bathrooms and drinks, so who could really complain?

We headed back to Sharm El Sheik on the same plane, which (incidentally) was so filthy you couldn't see out the windows. Since everyone on the flight had up since about 3:30, there was some serious cranky pants going on. Our children performed admirably.

I did learn, while waiting to get off the plane, that if there is one thing people hate, it's waiting to get off a plane. I think we if we were trying to get off the plane to meet a firing squad people would still be groaning about how long it was taking.

All in all, a fabulous day!
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Christmas in Egypt






What I don't have pictures of is our actual Christmas morning. We spent it at the beach, snorkling in the Red Sea. We brought a couple of rolls from breakfast and fed the tropical fishes. 20 or so fishes swarmed around us--it was like standing in the middle of an aquarium. We honestly didn't see the "don't feed the fishes" sign until after we got out of the water. Honest.

The hotel held a big Christmas Eve celebration, complete with live nativity. This included camel rides. The food looked spectacular, but honestly, pate is gross no matter how it is displayed.
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Temporarily 7 Hours Ahead

We flew on a plane for our vacation. We meant to end up in Egypt, but it looks like we might have ended up in St. George after all.

Oh wait, even in St. George, Santa doesn't come on a Camel. On Christmas morning, Santa really did come up on a live camel. Of course, Santa was the head of the Kid's Club, a man named El Sayed. It was a very multi-cultural Christmas.


Jason really got into the spirit of things. Too bad he didn't collect some additional wives while there. I could really use some help with the post vacation laundry.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Random Newspaper

 


Friends of ours bought a very old house/restaurant/dance hall. Jason has been helping them with the remodel. This newspaper was behind the walls. The name is Der Kleine Nazi, which means "The Little Nazi." You don't find these things in the walls when you remodel in the US.
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Random Sausage

 


So much for the separation of Church and Dinner.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Primary Program

Yesterday was the annual "Primary Program" at church. Once a year the children put on a presentation where they show the congregation what they have learned this year. They sing songs and say short parts.

This year's theme was "Meine Ewige Familie." I know this is not helpful. In English, that would be "My Eternal Family."

Sarah had 3 different lines she had to say, which she did very loudly, and clearly--in German. She also knew most of the words to the songs, which is impressive.

We are very proud of her. It's scary to get up in front of an entire congregation and speak in your native language, let alone a foreign one.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

St. Nicholas Day

 


Tomorrow is St. Nicholas day. This is a big deal here in Switzerland. St. Nicholas comes and puts nuts, fruit and candy in shoes. He comes with his friend, Schmutzli. Schmutzli is a black man who kidnaps the naughty children and takes them out to the woods. To do what with them, I don't know. Draw your own conclusion.

One of the requirements is that you write a letter to St. Nicholas saying why you are good. We all wrote letters. Sarah's is above. I'll translate for those of you who aren't adept at reading First Grade:

Dear St. Nicholas

I have bin good. Because I have not had any screaming fits. Diig was bad. Because he pulled hair. But he is cute. (Then on the side, in case St. Nicholas doesn't know): Diig is a baby.

Isn't that awesome? I'm not sure where she picked up spelling Diig, when his name is properly spelled Diggas (poor kid, he's doomed, doomed, I tell you). All of it is true, by the way. Sarah was having major melt downs at least twice a week. She got promised a china doll if she could go two weeks without a melt down. She did it in October and hasn't had a melt down since.

I wish we could say the same thing for Daniel's hair pulling. Ouch.

So, our shoes are out on the back porch, with our letters to St. Nicholas in them. Sarah is convinced that St. Nicholas is real, but that Schmutzli is just a story. We told her to clean her room just in case.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why I haven't been blogging much

 


Because this is what happens when I do.
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Monday, November 9, 2009

For Mark

A good friend, Mark Forsyth, was killed in a motorcycle accident last week. The hardest part of being so far away is not being able to personally mourn with those that mourn.

Since I got the news, I've been thinking about the Forsyth family a lot. One "Mark" story comes to mind. Well, it's really a Mark and Liz story.

We were at their house for a party of some sort. (I think it was probably for one of the YSA that we both had the privilege of "parenting.") My Daniel was 4 months old. I was chatting with Liz and some other women and the topic turned to children (of course).

Liz said, "Isn't it so fantastic to see their little faces on their first birthday when they get their first taste of sugar?" At this very moment, Mark was feeding my four month old pumpkin roll cake.

I smile every time I think of that, because I seriously doubt the Forsyth children first tasted sugar on their 1st birthdays. I think they just tasted sugar in front of their mother on their first birthday.

We miss Mark. We love all the Forsyths, and wish we could be there.

(And for the record, I told Mark to stop feeding my baby dessert.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Luxembourg

We spent 3 days in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. You didn't even know it was a Grand Duchy, did you? Well, you do now. There were castles, of course, and cool tunnels under Luxembourg City, but this post is about sin.

That's right. Sin. This is a picture of one of the vending machines in our hotel. See if you can spot the "interesting items" it offers. Oh, and in case you were worried about corrupting minors, there was a sign on the top that said you had to be 16 to purchase things other than the candy.

If you get all three bad items correctly, then you win a prize! Of course, the prize is the knowledge that you purposely seek out wickedness. Sinner.

 


Did you spot them? I'll help. We have, right next to the "kinder" treats (really), a dirty magazine, c0ndoms, and cigarettes! Awesome, and what a great cover story. "Honey, I meant to get the M&Ms, but I hit the wrong number and got these instead! No use wasting money. Lock the kids in the bathroom!" But, I digress.

So, what if one of these isn't the vice of your choice? (The M&Ms, I mean. Not everyone likes chocolate, but cigarettes--those meet everyone's desires.) Never fear, next to vending machine number 1 was the beer vending machine!

 


If you never have good luck with vending machines, you can still have convenient shopping. In Northern Luxembourg, we ran into a store that definitely would be helpful around Christmas time. It specialized in two types of products:

 


That's right! Alcohol and toys. Hard liquor and puzzles. It had three or four big window displays and everyone one of them showcased both children's items and alcohol. Some of the alcohol was in delightful animal shaped bottles, in case you were torn between indulging your alcoholism and buying your child a present. Go ahead and buy the scotch in the glass duck and then when you've finished, the duck can be a present for Junior.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why You Should Visit Us

video

Because you get to see this live.

Sunday Afternoon Nap

 
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Monday, September 14, 2009

The most important thing

I bought Root Beer today.

I realize that for most of you, this is the sort of news that makes you yawn. But to us expat types this is something to be shouted from the rooftops. Plus it was only 1.40chf per can. Yippee!

I found it at an Asian Market that I've passed a zillion times and never been in. It's on the tram line we take for Sarah's school, so I'm usually coming or going with other things to do so I don't stop.

Today, however, Sarah started her after school cooking class. The school requires that a parent pick up the child and then deliver the child to the class. This is ridiculous, seeing how school gets out at 3:15 and the class starts at 3:30, but I'm a rule follower, so Daniel and I went, saw Sarah for about 5 minutes, then sent her off the class.

Since it is 45 minutes to home and class was 70 minutes, Daniel and I went for a walk to this Asian market. It's A&W rootbeer, so no caffeine either. I'm thrilled.

In my German class, we started learning about food and how to order in a restaurant. Our teacher has been surprised by how important we think this topic is. The discussion drifted into cupcakes and he didn't know a German word for them, because he's never seen them around, but then he mentioned that he had seen bagels.

Well then. Bagels. None of the students (3 Americans, 1 Argentinian and 1 Japanese) had seen bagels since our planes touched down in der Schweiz. We all wanted to know where he had seen these supposed bagels. (Well, the woman from NYC declared, presumptively, that they would be lousy. Bagel snob.) He couldn't remember, and I bet he saw them in Germany. (He's German. The language schools like to have German teachers because Swiss German creeps in too much with a Swiss teacher.)

We think food is important. Now that I have a source for rootbeer, I may have to buy some $12 ice cream (900 ml!) and make a rootbeer float.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Things that are just wrong

Mostly, things in Switzerland are wonderful. But there are a few things that are just w-r-o-n-g.
  • If there are two elevators side by side, pushing a call button will, more often than not, only summon one of the elevators. You have to guess which elevator in the bank is closer to you!
  • No life guards at public swimming pools.
  • Speaking of pools, Speedos are just wrong. Okay, I'll allow them for a swim team (although the Olympic athletes don't even wear them any more). But you, paunchy Swiss man, put some regular swim trunks on.
  • And put the swim trunks on your 7 year old as well. No speedos for kids!
  • And let's not talk about bikinis, grooming and all the areas in which a female grows hair. I know it's sexist, but you are only allowed to show the hair on your head. Any other hair should be covered or removed.
  • Air conditioning is a fundamental human right. Why have the Swiss not realized this?
  • Men who wear more jewelry than Zsa Zsa Gabor.
  • 14 year olds drinking beer on the tram. (Legal drinking age is 16.)
  • Brown sugar? Doesn't exist.
  • Slugs.
Thanks. Now I feel better.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Random Photos

Daniel the headless baby.
Sarah, cheating death again.

The petting zoo part of the zoo.


Sarah's first pony ride.
At a castle in France.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm slowing becoming Swiss

The Swiss National Holiday is August 1. To celebrate, the city of Basel holds a fantastic fireworks display. And when I say fantastic, I mean it puts Stadium of Fire to shame. The Rhein river runs directly through the middle of town, so they bring two barges loaded with explosives into the river. We were on a bridge between the two barges.

The fireworks were utterly spectacular and Daniel slept through the whole thing, which is amazing in and of itself. Sarah fell asleep in the last half. Although children that are woken up by merely breathing near them who can sleep through explosions is a topic for one of those mysteries of the world post, that is not what we are talking about here.

No, we're talking about me becoming Swiss. As the sun started to go down, it started to cool down a bit. All the Swiss people around me were pullng on jackets. Their children bundled. My family is all in shorts and short sleeves. I start to be concerned that I'm freezing the children. Especially Daniel.

I, myself, begin to feel a chill and wonder if we should just go home so we don't freeze to death. Sarah starts complaining about her lack of jacket. I find a long sleeved shirt in the diaper bag and put it on my perfectly happy--yet must be freezing--baby. I mean, everyone around us is wearing jackets. It must be cold.

Then Sarah and I go for a walk. On our walk there is a sign with time and temperature. Temperature? 23 degrees. Celsius. That's 73.4 degrees farhenheit. Umm, the cold was all due to peer pressure.

I wonder what these people are going to wear when it's actually cold out.

(And just a note--the Swiss may love their jackets, but they are brilliant about celebrations. They hold the fireworks on July 31st so you can stay out watching them and because the 1st is the actual holiday you get that day off work. Brilliant, eh?)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ethics

Our freezer has three drawers. Since we moved here we've always kept ice cream in the top drawer. There has never been a discussion about this; it is just where the ice cream lives.

Today I bought expensive (aren't they all?) chocolate ice cream. Jason, Sarah and Jason's father went out to dinnner while I stayed home with Daniel, so I felt justified.

Is it unethical if I put the remaining ice cream in a different drawer and not mention that I bought it? Say, the drawer that usually houses frozen vegetables? And for the record, Jason doesn't read this blog.

A strange situation

On Monday I wanted to take the garbage out. The bag was full and it seemed like a good thing to do. But, I couldn't. Not because of any physical inability or an exceptional clingy baby who wouldn't let me out of his sight (well, maybe that one...). No, it was because I lacked stickers.

Here in Switzerland, recycling is free. Some things you take back to the store; some things you take to recycling bins and some things you put out with the garbage. But, recycle all you want, it's free!

Not so with garbage. Each garbage bag must have the appropriate sticker on it. A standard kitchen sized garbage bag is 35 liters and costs CHF2.40. ($2.25) If you put a non-stickered bag in the bin or on the curb they either won't pick it up, or the garbage police will go through it to find out who the culprit is.

I bought stickers, so my garbage has been taken out. Jason and I were discussing this and he was shocked (shocked, I tell you, shocked!) that I totally approve of this system. He thought that since I was all libertarian like and anti recycling (really), I would want a system where I can throw away all the garbage I wanted to.

Well, I do have a system where I can throw away all the garbage I want to. I just have to pay for it. I think this is a tremendously fair system. Switzerland is a small country and they are concerned about waste. Rather than limiting the amount of garbage, or shaming people into compliance, they just charge for garbage disposal, by the bag.

Now, before you get your knickers twisted, you pay for garbage disposal as well. You either pay for it directly, or through your taxes. In Doylestown, the garbage men would collect an unlimited amount of garbage from us and they came twice a week. We threw away a lot more there then we do now. Why? Because whether I threw away one melon rind or an entire bedroom set, the cost was the same. (Not that I ever threw away a bedroom set, but I could have.)

Granted, as long as I put my melon rind or my bedroom set in the garbage can, it took the garbage men the same amount of time to take it away, but I could leave it by the curb, and make them pick up each piece and crunch it in their cool truck. Same cost.

I think it makes sense to charge the users. I also like toll roads. So there.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Another Potty Post

This is a story about the public toilet pictured above. Please note, this is the actual potty in the story. We aim for accuracy in reporting. Please also note that this story happened to Sarah and Sarah has given me permission to share it with you all.

A few months ago, Sarah and Jason were in Basel without me and Daniel. Sarah needed to go potty, so they headed to these lovely public toilets at a very busy tram stop called Barfussserplatz.

For the unitiated, some of these toilets don't have normal flush mechanisms. They have buttons on the wall labeled "WC." They also have similar buttons labeled "SOS." Sarah, being new to the high tech bathroom scene was sitting on the throne, wondering what the "SOS" button did.

So, being highly inquisitive, she pushed it. Oops.

A siren sounded, lights flashed and the door opened. Yikes! Sarah, aware that she was now exposed to a line of people waiting for their turn, leapt off the toilet and ran to the corner and started screaming. Jason ran in and was able to stop the sirens and close the door.

All in all, a very embarrassing experience. But, now that it is several months in the past, it's a hilarious story.

So, when you come visit us, you don't need to find out for yourself what the SOS button does. Just try to stick to the WC one.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

For Dom

In the town next door, there is a large cathedral, known as "The Dom." The above is a picture of it. We figure it must belong to the one and only Dom, also known as the best home teacher ever.



This is Dom's bus stop. We've never actually ridden a bus to it, but we should. We always take the tram, which, unfortunately, is not named after Dom. It should be.


This is the street sign--translated it means "Dom's Street." Isn't Sarah cute?

This is Dom's pipe organ. Apparently it is quite famous. We should go hear a concert.

This is Dom's donation box. We, of course, donated.


This is Dom's fountain. Most fountains in Switzerland have drinking water in them, so you can fill your water bottles. Not Dom. Strictly for beauty. Curses, Dom. Be generous with the water!


This area is known as Domplatz--or Dom's place. The buildings on the side are actually government offices.


This means there is no driving on all of Dom's property.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Random Swiss Thoughts

You bring your own bags and bag your own groceries at the grocery stores. If there is nobody in line behind you, the cashier will sit (all cashiers sit, rather than stand--makes sense to me!) and stare off into space while you bag your groceries. Not a finger will be lifted to help. It's just not part of their job.

Swiss German is a bizarre language. Really. It's not written. It's not formally taught in schools. You can write it, I suppose, but it's not. Formal communication is done in high German. Books, newspapers and television shows are in high German (because the latter require a script and so can't be done in Swiss German, because it's not written). Radio is sometimes in Swiss German--more ad lib, I guess.

And speaking of language, there are huge amounts of snails and slugs around her. When it rains, the sidewalks are full of them. (No worms, incidentally.) The German word for slug is translated literally as "naked snail." I find this highly amusing.

I did not find it highly amusing when--several weeks ago--we came home late at night find a bat in our apartment. He had flown in through an open window (no air conditioning=open windows) and brought his dinner with him--a naked snail. Fortunately for us (but not for him), I whacked him with the door when I came in, injuring him. This enabled me to catch him in a bucket. He got flung over the balcony and undoubtedly became snack food for a local cat. It totally creeped me out, though.

Jason and Sarah have now been to every tram stop in the Basel metro region. I have not. It doesn't really bother me that I haven't done this.

Everybody proclaims that they don't like pretzels, but when I hand them out on a long trip, boy does everyone love them.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shoes

We walk. A lot. In fact, we have no car. We keep talking about buying a car, but we haven't done it. So we walk.

And I've worn out shoes. These two have been thoroughly destroyed. And now I need new shoes. And Megan isn't around to take me shopping.

Sob.

Plus, in European sizes I wear a 42! Doesn't that sound monstrously huge? It's so traumatic.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Just for Zoey


Zoey, come and visit us and we'll let you do this. We just won't let your mother watch.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Murren

This is the post where, upon reading it, you book your vacation to Switzerland.

Jason took Tuesday off work and we decided on an adventure. We headed to the town of Murren. In order to get there we used the following public transportation:

Tram from our stop to the train station
Train from Basel to Spiez (SBB train)
Transfer to a new train to Interlaken Ost (BLS train)
Transfer to a new train to Lautenbrunner (Berner Oberland-Bahn)
Cable car
Transfer to another train to Murren
Ride a Furnicular up the mountain.

Then we did everything in reverse to get home (except for the Furnicular--we hiked down).

I know this doesn't sound thrilling to you, but it was. Largely because we sprung for FIRST CLASS train tickets. Lest you think these are like airline first class tickets, let me explain. The seats are nicer, and there are fewer people there, but otherwise, they are pretty much the same. Sarah, however, who is terribly susceptible to marketing, thought this was the best.thing.ever.



This is Sarh in her luxurious first class seat

Daniel decided to spread out and take a nap in his. We are grateful for this.





There was a children's adventure trail, which Sarah found (after much whining). It was awesome. However, this did not sooth her mother's nerves which were still on edge after all the whining. I spoke with a friend today who said, "Oh, you are just like the Von Trapp Family, hiking in the alps." I agreed, but with the caveat that if we were the Von Trapps we would have been captured by the Nazis because they would have been able to hear the whining all the way from Salzburg.




The cows are kept in with electric fences. The electricity isn't that strong. I know this because I forgot it was electric and grabbed at a fence to catch my balance. It felt kind of like stinging nettle. Unpleasant, but not deadly. Thankfully.
I hate to admit it, but this was actually the second time I've done this. Not on the same trip, though. I'm only stupid enough to do it once per hike.



This is Jason on the trail.






This is a close up of Jason on the trail. Notice his Nordic Walking Sticks. We rented those. This resulted in people thinking we were actually Swiss and speaking in Swiss German to us. Heh.


This is on one of the train rides home, but it's of Daniel's favorite hiking activity: Drinking from the camel back. He loves it. Loves, loves, loves it. In fact, he have to forcibly stop him from drinking--or chewing. Unfortunately, my mouth piece currently has a big bite mark in it.



This is Daniel in his backpack. It's all kind of high tech. The only problem is when he goes to sleep, he kind of slumps down and it looks like we're hiking with the headless baby.
My camera is lousy, so I don't have good quality photos of the Alpine meadows, but they are amazing. It is so stunningly beautiful, we can hardly stand it. We did ask ourselves why anyone ever leaves Switzerland.

We'll probably be able to answer that once winter comes.