HAPPY NEW YEAR – Chamonix Style

I’ve been on a five month hiatus from blogging because, well,  I’ve been enjoying life instead of documenting it (mostly by eating cheese and bread). However, one of my goals of 2016 is to keep up to date with my blog so we don’t forget  any details of this amazing adventure that we are on (or lose any photos). So, what better way to start the new year by posting about our incredible New Years celebration.

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The view from our living room. 

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Taking a stroll through Les Houches

What do 6 kids, 5 Americans, 2 Swiss, 1 Finish and 1 Irish person have in common? A ski chalet in the French Alps at the base of the Mont Blanc Massif of course! For five days and four nights we focused on the FOUR F’s: Food, Fun, Fromage and Friends.

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A typical fromagerie

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Lincoln and Louie

 

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It’s amazing to think that in just one short year we have made so many wonderful friends here to celebrate with, and celebrate we did. We arrived on Wednesday night and did not stop eating and drinking until we left Sunday afternoon. It was a whirlwind of children, cooking, drinking, sledding and a lot of broken glasses.

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The mornings started off slow with lots of coffee and a huge breakfast, as the day progressed we divided into groups that went hiking, skiing, snowshoeing or walking through town.

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Typical mornings being lazy

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5 out of the 6 kids!

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Nothing starts your day like acrobatics

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Louie and Lincoln

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James loved the camera.

By the early evening we would regroup, put the kids to bed and begin our nightly ritual. Every night a gourmet meal was prepared, the fire lit and the adults would sit around and have some sort of incredible Apero (gingerbread cookies and blue cheese – who would have guessed that works?), then we would proceed to stuff our faces with Risotto, Raclette, or Chinese Hot Pot all while drinking beer, wine, champagne and Gluwein.

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The raging fire, perfect for roasting marshmallows!

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The Raclette cheese

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The table before the consumption

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Dirk, the eating machine

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Andre came in a close second to cheese consumption

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Bacon and Onions

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The complete Raclette Plate, Cornishon, Balsamic Onions, Curried Pickles, Raclette cheese over potatoes topped with onions, bacon and curried ketchup

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Homemade Lebane topped with salmon, capers and Zatar

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A Finnish culinary delight!

The Chalet had a huge yard, perfect for sledding. with unobstructed views of Mont Blanc. It was a quick walk into the town of Les Houche, or a quick drive to Chamonix. Both of which had quick access to the pistes, restaurants, great shopping and incredible scenery. The French don’t mess around when it comes to food and our trips to the local patisserie and fromagerie proved this to be so. We sampled every pastry, bread and cheese we could get our hands on. Sausage, smoked salmon and smoked duck were not forgotten either!

We rang in the new year by lighting sparklers, popping bottles of Veuve and setting off amazing hot air balloon lanterns into the night sky.

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Lilybelle in her New Years Gear

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Lincoln and his sparklers

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Lilybelle and her sparklers

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When all the glasses are broken, nothing to do but drink bubbly straight from the bottle.

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Andre preparing the balloon

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Andre and Lincoln setting off the balloon

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Ken getting ready to light his balloon

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Up up and away.

There is little justice my words can do to the photos that I took (all 785 of them), so without any further delay, I’ll stop talking and let you all enjoy some of them!

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Andre and Jon enjoying the view

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Jon and Ken enjoying the view

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Watching the fog roll out

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Hiking through Les Houches

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Just above the chimney you can see the glacier ice on the mountain

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The Aiguille du Midi is on the far left

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Daytime Balloon release

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Lots of paragliding

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Lincoln and Jon

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Emily and Jenn

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Aviva and Jenn

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Jenn, Anna and Andre

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Lilybelle and Josie

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She loves the camera 

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On the way to ski school. 

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Little James

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Emily and Louie

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They were quite the team.

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The three big kids.

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Lilybelle and Louie

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Lilybelle earned the crown by not whining through ski lessons.

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Andre and Lincoln

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Emily and Louie

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Jenni and Eliot

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Friends say goodbye by exchanging meat and wine.

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PJ’s for the drive home

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On the drive to Geneva

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Me, the photographer hard at work

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Snapshot of me snapshotting

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: France, Travels | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kimchi – It’s What Brings Us Together (aka how to make Kimchi with a white girl)

I was warned many times before I moved here that I would have a hard time making Swiss friends. The Swiss, I was told, are a very hard bunch to assimilate with and don’t let outsiders in very often. Putting our children in public school was one avenue we hoped would serve as an “in” into the community. Through our children’s friends we thought that we might slowly become friends with the parents. However, the language barrier  has made friend making slow for my kids and as a result, we haven’t had any play dates yet. It never occurred to me that teachers could be a source for the friendship that I was looking for as well.

I met Yangok in March when Lincoln started Kindergarten. She was one of the two teachers in charge of Hort – the Swiss word for after school care. As I’ve mentioned before, there is not a ton of diversity in Switzerland, especially in the small lakeside farm town that we live in. I was excited and surprised to find someone Asian working at the school and in all my excitement, put my foot in my mouth and asked her if she spoke Chinese. DOH, I of all people should have known better.

For those of you that don’t know me (or my husband) we are the Asian version of Rachel Dolezal (too soon?). Jon had a ton of asian friends in high school, his AOL screen name was WhiteRice and he speaks Mandarin. I joined an Asian Interest Sorority in college (aKDPHI) and was very active in the organization well past college graduation, I even had an AsianAvenue account to boot.

Let's play spot the white chick. Can you find me?

Let’s play spot the white chick. Can you find me? Hint, I’m on the far left and you can only see half my face.

Me with my pledge class in 1997.

Yangok, of course, as my blog title would imply was Korean. I was going to use my “Asianness” to my advantage in anyway to try and be her friend and to infiltrate the closed-off Swiss. Okay clearly she wasn’t truely “Swiss” but she was “in” and I was going to take what I could get. Plus I was hoping she would know all the secret Asian grocery stores and best Asian restaurants in town!

Yangok met her husband 30+ years ago in Korea when he was working for the Swiss embassy there. They fell in love and she moved with him to Switzerland 30 years ago. She has two grown children who are both lawyers and she works part time in the school.

Every Tuesday and Friday we would talk when I picked Lincoln up from Hort, she would tell me about her trips to the US and I would show her photos of me in Asian bridal parties and say inappropriate phrases to her in my limited Korean. As our weekly greetings went from handshakes to the three-cheek-Swiss-kiss, I realized we were becoming friends.

Luckily for me, Yangok also turned out to be an incredible cook. She would bring me kimchi or marinated Bulgogi and I would cook it for my family and receive high praises. But the summer was here and our meetings came to an end. Then one day a few weeks ago, out of the blue, I received a call from her. Would I like to come over to her house the next day and learn how to make Kimchi? Hell, yeah I would.

It turns out Yangok lives just down the street from me, which is a quite lovely surprise since we have promised to meet every few weeks on her day off for coffee. Kimchi was a staple in our fridge in the U.S., and I had never dreamed of making it as it was readily available at H- Mart. The lack of available Kimchi here made the prospect of having the homemade kind really exciting, especially when I would be the one doing the making.

It took us about two hours more or less to complete the process which was occasionally interrupted by story telling and wasp shooing (they were complete assholes this summer). Here is the recipe below which my Korean friends looked at and were like WHHAAAT? But then they tried the kimchi and were like Wassup!

4 heads of Napa Cabbage cut in quarters
2 Heads of Garlic Peeled
10-12 Long Red Peppers
1 Leek Sliced into Thin Strips
2 Medium Sized Potatoes boiled in just enough water to cover in a small pan – reserve about 1/2 of the water
1/2 Cup Red Pepper Powder
1/3 Cup Korean Powdered Beef Stock Bouillon
1/2 cup Oyster Sauce
1/3 cup Sesame Seeds
1/4 Cup Raw Sugar
1 Red Bell Pepper
Pair of latex gloves – unless you like your hands to be on fire for 2-3 days

Directions:

12-24 hours before Kimchi preparation cut each cabbage into quarters and soak in cool salt water. I don’t know the exact amount of salt, but Yangok had me taste the water so I knew how salty it needed to be. It was pretty salty. She also said the longer it soaks the more it preserves the Kimchi which will result in you being able to keep it in the fridge longer.

Soak the Kimchi in a large bowl of salty water

Soak the Kimchi in a large bowl of salty water

In a blender put the garlic, peppers, oyster sauce, Bell Pepper and potatoes (with the potato water) and blend until smooth.

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Dump all of the sauce into a large bowl and add the leeks, sesame seeds, sugar, beef bouillon, and red pepper powder. The sauce should be very flavorful and can be adjusted to your liking. She also likes to sometimes add other vegetables like carrots but we didn’t this time.

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Take the cabbage and dump out the salt water. Each piece will need to be rinsed to ensure that all the salt water is off and it should be put into a colander to make sure that all the water has properly drained from the cabbage. We let it drain while we were preparing the sauce.

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Once the sauce is flavored to your liking and fully mixed, take one section of cabbage and a time and gently pull back the leaves one at a time to ensure that each one is completely covered in the sauce.

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As you complete each section of cabbage, fold it in half and squeeze out the extra liquid and place it in a plastic or glass resealable container. Make sure it has a tight seal because kimchi, if you don’t already know, really stinks!

Here Yangok demonstrates here kimchi mastery

Here Yangok demonstrates here kimchi mastery

Categories: Cooking, Switzerland | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Badi days have come!!!

What is Badi you may ask? It is one of the most awesomest things Switzerland has to offer. By definition it is an outdoor or open air pool. It can either be man made or in many cases it is a private section of the shore along the lake, sometimes with a pool, sometimes without.

Nothing better than a Watermelon popsicle on the walk over to the Badi

Nothing better than a Watermelon popsicle on the walk over to the Badi

I knew we scored big time when we found our awesome apartment, but I didn’t realize just how much until I discovered we were literally across the street from an amazing one.

You can pay an entrance fee of 3CH, 10 pass for 25CH or buy a season pass for 40CH (about $42).  I opted for the latter since  I can see myself taking the kids here every sunny day after school.  Kids of course are free (score another point for Switzerland).

Each Badi is unique as to what it has to offer and there are more in the canton of Zurich than there are sunny days in a year here (see link above).  My Badi had a small soccer field with a goal, a play ground, huge grassy area dotted with large shade trees, a sand pit covered by a sun sail, changing rooms, lockers, showers, ping pong tables, football tables, chair and umbrella rental and best of all a diving board, floating platform and trampoline in the middle of the water to play on.  A large sign displays the temperature of the water at all times. My first time here it was a chilly 18C/64F but three days later it was 22C/72F and by mid July it should be closer to 24C/75F.

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I don’t know how Switzerland is such a wealthy country when it seems like no one ever works.  The Badi was packed on a Wednesday afternoon and the lack of air conditioning coupled with 88 degree weather this weekend meant the Badi was a madhouse.

Just as I was falling in love and thought I had found a serene place to “relax” with the kiddos, of course I get yelled at AGAIN. There is a small area with wading depth water that is roped off so it indicates where the water gets deep. Parents with young kids were playing in this area. Of course all the floating platforms and trampolines are in the deep zone. Lincoln is an okay swimmer and wanted to venture out into the open water. Lilybelle didn’t want to be left behind, so I strapped both kids into their puddle jumper floatation devices to be safe and swam out into the lake with them.

I hadn’t noticed a lifeguard on duty at all, which was not surprising to me given the haphazard way in which I’ve noticed the Swiss approach the concept of safety (much more on this in another post). So I was doubly surprised to see a guy in a bright orange shirt waving at me frantically from the shore while of course screaming in German. Completely unsure if he was a lifeguard or not (no red lifeguard attire – is this because it is identical to the Swiss flag?, no whistle and no flotation device).

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Again, I speak no German, he spoke no English yet he continued to lecture me for a good 10 minutes while I stood there dripping with water and shame. Fortunately, my father was there to help translate. He was telling me that where I was swimming was 4 meters deep and it was extremely dangerous for me to swim out into the open water with two small children who can’t swim. The rules are that it is one adult per child who cannot swim. I wanted to point out that from the shallow area to the platform we swam to was no more than 10 feet, that Lincoln is an excellent swimmer with the floaties and he CAN swim without them.

Sigh, I guess I better sign both kids up for swim lessons ASAP.  If anyone knows any place to sign them up or any other rules that I didn’t see/can’t read, please comment and let me know.

Categories: Switzerland | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s My Recycling and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Nothing gets me more excited than recycling and composting (or pisses me off more than people who don’t). Just ask my boss Steve how many times I went through his trashcan to remove Coke cans while simultaneously scolding him. Or our Denver tenants, who I’m sure are enjoying the smell of three defrosting and very full compost bins I left behind.

So, I was super excited to move here and find out that Switzerland recycles everything from cooking oil to clothing. Recycling here isn’t just environmentally friendly, it saves you money because unlike trash disposal, recycling and composting are free!  In true Swiss fashion, they have neat and organized places in which to recycle. Unfortunately, as I soon found out, the list of rules and regulations surrounding recycling could rival the US Tax Code.

While living in our temporary housing in Zurich proper, we had a cleaning service provided by the building. I would leave out my recyclables in one pile and throw trash in the bin. I thought they were handling the recycling of my goods until one day I came home while they were still cleaning and discovered they were taking my painstakingly sorted recyclables and chucking them into a massive garbage bag along with the garbage. Horrified, I started taking matters into my own hands.

Every few weeks I would notice neatly tied up bundles of paper that were left out on the curb, each tied in the exact same sized and colored twine. Got it, okay paper recycling check. For around $5, I purchased some of this Swiss-Regulation-Paper-Recycling twine. Easy enough. Then I noticed the self recycling center half way between my apartment and the tram. There were four bins and some strange looking receptacle I later found out was for recycling oil. You sort by white glass, green glass, brown glass and aluminum. Got that too. But where do plastic and milk cartons go? What about plastic bags?

Swiss Style Recycling - Neatly tied bundles of paper

Swiss Style Recycling – Neatly tied bundles of paper

While I was still trying to figure out the great plastic/milk box mystery, I started paying attention more to the glass/metal recycling station. I noticed without fail, at a minimum of once a week, someone had posted a sign. Was it about a missing dog, a stolen bicycle? Curiosity got the best of me and word by word I started to translate these notes. To my surprise, these were notes written by neighborhood residents complaining about the lack of recycling etiquete. Someone had made to much noise recycling, another person had dared to recycle on a Sunday. Gasp- the horror! Someone else was super pissed that a large glass bottle, too large to fit in the recycling hole was left next to it instead. Holy Shit, recycling is serious business for the Swiss.

Out of sheer paranoia, I started to google recycling rules in Switzerland and found page after page of do’s and dont’s. One Expat had even written about being given a hefty fine for recycling on Sunday and another had received a fine in the mail from the city. Their transgression? They hadn’t recycled their paper properly and the paper recycling dude dug through their pile of paper to find evidence of who the culprit was. The American Womens Club of Zurich even hosts a seminar on how to recycle here which is high on my to do list.

Someone is totally getting in trouble for leaving stuff next to the recycling bin- wasn't me!

Someone is totally getting in trouble for leaving stuff next to the recycling bin- wasn’t me!

I had done my due diligence and I thought, hey, I’m on top of this I TOTALLY know what I’m doing. I even figured out the plastic and milk carton thing (kind of). Naturally, they get recycled at the grocery stores. Then a few days later, it all went to shit.

We had just moved into our permanent home in Au and I discovered a recycling center right near the bus stop and in walking distance from our house. My only mission for the day was to recycle so I headed out to the recycling center armed with my stroller piled high in recycling bags, hand sanitizer and my two kids. It was bitter cold, sleeting and both kids were starting to meltdown. One sticky beer bottle at a time, I quickly placed each one in the appropriate bin and was feeling VERY accomplished. As I started to walk away, I noticed a dumpster that had a round hole that looked just like a plastic bag recycling container in America. I was so excited that not only did I not have to carry these gross sticky bags home, but I found a place to recycle plastic bags as well. I shoved the bags in the hole and was adjusting the rain cover on a the stroller of a screaming child when a man in a bright orange prison jump suit jumped out from between the bins and started screaming at me in German.

I should tell you my German totally sucks. Three months ago it was even worse. I hadn’t even managed to master the phrase “I don’t speak German” without looking at it written on paper. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to recall this phrase when put on the spot by a man screaming at me.  I managed to mutter “Nein Deutch” at which point he pulled out an official looking badge and pointed at it. I can only surmise he was granted a title such as “Master of the Trash Bins” or something equally impressive.

He clearly spoke no English, I no German, and so we continued on, pointing, gesturing all while he continued to scream at me. He asked me for ID, which of course I didn’t have, nor did I have my cell phone, purse or anything to hit him with. Lilybelle started crying profuselly while Lincoln screamed back at him in English trying to defend me. WTF had I done???? Was I going to be arrested by the recycling police? He motioned me over to the dumpster I had deposited my plastic bags in, my bags still peeking through the hole. Then he opened the entire top to the dumpster and pointed at what was inside. Inside was a mix of plastic bags and other garbage. The bin was clearly labeled “Plastik Sack”, but absent Google Translate, my deductive translating capabilities were clearly “kaputt”.

Here they take garbage very seriously too. It is expensive to dispose of garbage and can only be done so in city specific mandated garbage bags that of course you pay for and are all uniform in size and color. Disposing of garbage in any other kind of bag is strictly verboten and they will hunt you down and fine you.

City mandated garbage bags - nothing can be disposed of in anything else - or else.

City mandated garbage bags – nothing can be disposed of in anything else – or else.

He then proceeded to accuse me of being the one to throw all the garbage in the bin and even yelled at me for throwing so many plastic bags in the bin. Apparently the rule is one bag per person or something along those lines.  I guess the jump suit clad asshole didn’t appreciate just how many bags of recycling I had brought that day.

Lincoln was now crying, wet and shivering and clinging to my leg, Lilybelle was terrified and was cowering in her stroller. That’s when I lost it.  I started to bawl.  And that my friends was my ticket out of there.  If there is anything that I have learned about the Swiss (other than their analness surrounding trash disposal and their love of yelling at ex-pats), is that they do not like noise – unless it is bell related.  This man needed to shut down these three loud American hysterics and he needed to do it fast.

He extended his hand to me, a white flag if you will, and shook mine gently.  Through my tears I muttered “entschuldigung” (excuse me) which was the closest thing to sorry I knew.  He then walked me over to the recycling bins and slowly pointed to each one mouthing the German words for each – Grünes Glas etc…Recycling 101 for dumb foreigners.

What did I learn that day??? Stay the F away from that recycling center for the rest of my life.  Like a true environmentalist, I now drive to one that is in a field with no structures anywhere nearby in which a person could hide. I also do all my recycling in private; early in the morning or late at night when no one can see me and only after I have confirmed there is not a soul in sight.   So if you have any tips, tricks or insight,  please, for the love of God, comment here so that I know what I’m doing wrong (or right). 

Categories: Switzerland | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

You’re born naked, you die naked……

….and in Switzerland and Germany, apparently you are naked  frequently in between.

I remember a few years back while accidentally catching glimpses of body parts of my friends (I didn’t want or need to see) at a Korean spa in Queens, my sister shared her European experience with me. She lived in Israel at the time and frequented Europe for skiing trips. She mentioned in passing that some of the spas were co-ed, naked, you know, things swinging, dangling and hanging down and out for all to see. The concept seemed strange to me and made me cringe and clutch my towel close. I had friends that wouldn’t even strip down to their bra and underwear in front of me, let alone in a changing room full of women, no way would it happen in front of people of the opposite sex. I even had a friend scold me for posting a picture on Facebook that showed 1/18th of my 3 year old daughters nipple slipping out of a too-big costume.  Surely most Americans would not get on board with this co-ed concept. Unless, of course, it involves Lacrosse.

Naturally, it came as no surprise to me when I came across this article on CNN about being naked in Germany. I naively didn’t expect the same comfort level with nudity in Switzerland. Considering the small country shares a large border with Germany, the nakedness here really shouldn’t have been a surprise to me either. My first encounter with such openness was at the gym in my town.

You enter the locker room right from the center of the weight room and the door gives you a front and center view of the first two rows of lockers and changing areas. Essentially, anyone looking up at the locker room door when it is opened has an unobstructed view of anything and everything in those two rows. Around the corner is a shower room, a big huge room with 6 showers, no curtains and no privacy. Moving past the locker room area is the co-ed sauna. There is a large sign as you enter letting you know it is co-ed and clothes and cell phones are prohibited. Coincidentally, people appreciate full privacy when pooping, the stalls go floor to ceiling with no gaps.

Then this past weekend we stayed at a very upscale hotel in Interlaken. I took the kids to the pool and went into the dressing room to change. As I entered the room and saw nothing but naked men, I quickly exited, red faced hoping no one had noticed my mistake. Upon further examination I realized there was only one room and I had apparently missed this sign upon entry.

Trust me, none of the men looked this good.

Trust me, none of the men looked this good.

So far this is one of the huge cultural differences that I have come across (cleanliness to come in a later post)  and I find it absolutely fascinating. What is eye contact protocol? How do men hide being turned on and if they are, is that considered rude, flattering, gross etc? Is there a certain level of waxing, manscaping that is required/expected?

I’m fortunate to come at a time in my children’s lives where nudity is still part of every day life so they haven’t formed any opinions either way. Jon and I are still naked in front of the kids, they both still bathe together and discussing the Penis and Vaginey (as Lilybelle likes to call it) are still mildly acceptance dinner table topics.

Only time will tell what is to come of the nudity this summer as we live directly across from a Lake Zurich swim club. Stay tuned…….

Categories: Switzerland, Travels | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interlaken – the new Middle East/Asia

I’m very lucky to have in-laws that I like and enjoy spending time with. Even better, they like to travel and have a great sense of adventure to boot. Switzerland is one of my mother in-laws favorite places in the world, so on their first visit to see us in Switzerland, she suggested we take a trip to Interlaken where they honeymooned some 23 years ago. Of course it was yet another holiday called Whit Monday (Monday of the Holy Spirit) so we booked a three day weekend at the Lindler hotel for the six of us and we headed out on the hour and a half long journey, in a car this time.

I had not bothered to read up on the area, and instead preferred to be surprised by what the town had to offer (or let’s be honest, I was lazy). I was pleasantly surprised to find a quiet breathtaking small town at the foot of the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps with the Aare river running through it.

The view from our room at the Lindner Hotel.

The view from our room at the Lindner Hotel.

The in-laws Gama Carol and Poppa Sauce

The in-laws Gama Carol and Poppa Sauce

Looks like I photoshopped us onto a post card (you know I'm not tech savvy enough for that).

Looks like I photoshopped us onto a post card (you know I’m not tech savvy enough for that).

Switzerland in general, tends to be a fairly homogeneous country with very small pockets of ethnic groups sprinkled here and there. Even in big towns such as Zurich I’m surprised by the lack of diversity, even among people who I assume to be tourists. So, I was really surprised when I arrived at our hotel to find a lobby full of Middle East and Chinese patrons. As we walked through the town, our hotel, as it turns out, was no exception. I saw more Hijab’s and selfie sticks in one day than I had seen in four months in all of Switzerland. Tourist information, restaurant menus and various signs were written in Arabic and Chinese. Stepping into the Swatch store, I was even accidentally greeted with “ni-hao” by an employee.

Strolling down the main drag, Hoheweg.

Strolling down the main drag, Hoheweg.

She growled like a bear the entire time I took these photos of her

She growled like a bear the entire time I took these photos of her

As we began to explore the town and search for our next meal, we happened upon a gorgeous Japanese garden with a Koi pond. We soon learned that a Japanese city by the name of Otsu is one of five sister cities with Interlaken and has been so since 1978. As a sign of mutual respect for one another, Otsu has two ships named Interlaken I and Interlaken II that operate on Lake Biwa it Otsu, and one of the trains operated by the railway in Interlaken is named Otsu.

A rare full family shot in front of the Japanese gardens and Koi pond.

A rare full family shot in front of the Japanese gardens and Koi pond.

One of the most exciting things for the kids to see was the constant stream of para gliders and hang gliders coming down from the mountain range and landing in a field smack in the center of Interlaken. It was incredible to watch and to imagine the views they had on their way down. We even saw one Chinese tourist land while snapping away on her selfie stick. Of course over the next 3 days, the kids constantly asked when they could do it. We shall see how adventures Grandma and Grandpa really are next time they come visit!

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The kids chasing the para gliders.

The kids chasing the para gliders.

The center of town was a bit touristy, filled with shops, restaurants and casinos, but the visuals were great for kids and adults alike.

Hey..... how did that get there.

Hey….. how did that get there.

Gets a little awkward when someone reads the sign out loud.

Gets a little awkward when someone reads the sign out loud.

These guys look like a good time. I was tempted to call for whatever Tanzmusik is.

These guys look like a good time. I was tempted to call for whatever Tanzmusik is.

Ain't that the truth.

Ain’t that the truth.

Heading off the beaten path a bit, we found the residential part of town that was breathtakingly beautiful, quiet and serene. We took photos galore and fed a lot of ducks and swans along the way!

This house was built in 1807

This house was built in 1807

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Brother Sister duck feeding team

Brother Sister duck feeding team

Fancy duck feeding ensemble.

Fancy duck feeding ensemble.

We found a lovely Thai Restaurant  by the name of TukTuk Thai that served delicious food and provided entertainment for our children in the form of the restaurant owner’s son, Orlando. Lincoln unsure of which language to communicate in tried out Mandarin and was mildly successful. The switched off between Chinese, German and English while watching iphone videos and running in the streets.

Our new Thai friend Orlando

Our new Thai friend Orlando

We ended our first night by heading to Husi Bierhaus for a nightcap and desert (much better option than the Hooters in town). The beer list was extensive and the desert delicious (Guinness chocolate cake and Captain Morgans spiced ice cream). We vowed to come back for dinner the following night, which of course we did after a long day in Lauterbrunnen and Wengen. Our last meal was at a lovely restaurant on Monday for lunch before we headed home. Anyone heading to this part of town should check it out as well, Ox Restaurant!

Desert from Husi Bierhaus Interlaken... well what was left of it

Desert from Husi Bierhaus Interlaken… well what was left of it

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More cowbell

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If you look closely under the cows mouth you can see her bell.

I was warned when I moved here to pay attention to bells when apartment hunting. Cow bells, church bells, bicycle bells and sheep bells.  The possibilities of exposure to bells was vast and could drive one mad.

Fortunately we landed on a quiet street with double glass windows and not a church or cow in sight. That is until the sheep moved in. They were on loan from a sheep farmer to our neighbors.  It was a win win.  Sheep get fed for free, grass and weeds get munched for free and no lawnmower needed. Fortunately these sheep were not “belled” and they have now been relocated to the local tennis club.

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This is not a novel concept. A few weeks ago I read an article about 40 goats and a llama on loan to a the Portland Airport to keep weeds at bay.  Our friends Emily and Andre have sheep on loan at their home (bells included) under a similar arrangement.

However, this still doesn’t make it any less strange that I picked up Lincoln today from school to discover a cow grazing in the field across from his school. The poor cow was taunted and chased by the passing students.  Lincoln asked for a photo with the cow – I couldn’t resist.  When I noted it was strange an old bathtub appeared at the same time as the cow, Lincoln, without missing a beat informed me that was her drinking trough.

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A Swiss Birthday Experience

Lincoln turned 5 while we were in Italy on April 20th. Since the kids were on one of 5 million vacations during this time, his birthday party was scheduled for May 13th. I had absolutely no idea what to expect or what I was permitted to do. The cultural and language barriers has made navigating the world of children a bit challenging for me. However, to my delight (sort of), I could bring in bake goods from home. Lincoln requested robot and Frozen themed cake pops (obviously).

The Cakepops

The Cakepops

Just for a bit of background on Lincoln’s class, there are 22 students ranging in age from 4-7 (he was one of the youngest) and one teacher. Here, kindergarten starts when the children are as young as 4.5 and is for two years before they transition to 1st grade. School is from 8am-11:50am. For the children in their second year of Kindergarten, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they go home for lunch, and then school resumes at 1:30 and goes until 3:30.

The spoken language in our Kanton (think State or Region) is Swiss German and High German (regular old German). In schools Swiss German is spoken until they reach 1st grade where the mandatory language becomes High German. As a result, a High German speaking teachers is brought in on Wednesdays to teach the Kindergartener’s so they are prepared for 1st grade which is when formal learning begins.

Every morning the children have free play time from 8-8:30am, then they gather around for circle time. This is when the hour long birthday ritual is commenced. I am told it is a Swiss tradition that each classroom have some sort of structured ritual for birthdays, but that the ritual itself its completely up to the teacher. For Lincoln’s class, the theme is centered around an underwater German story called Der Kleine Wassermann – The Small Waterman.

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The birthday boy is asked to chose a helper, and they leave the room to get the birthday child dressed as the main character in the story. Meanwhile, the teacher gets out a large seashell, a table with floating candles, a large box of matches (and I mean like a foot long), a container of gold fish, a box of pearls and opens a large plastic clam shell and puts pillows inside. All the students line up with a large decorated fishing net and hold it up over their heads. When the birthday boy is ready, the class sings happy birthday (for Lincoln they did it in English) as the birthday boy and his helper walk under the fishing net and assume their positions in/next to the clam shell.

The class waiting for the birthday boy to enter.

The class waiting for the birthday boy to enter.

Lincoln as the Waterman

Lincoln as the Waterman

Then the story begins and was interjected with group song, and use of the accessories that Lincoln had in front of him. At one point, he was asked to strike a match and light the 5 floating candles. Then later in the story, he walked around and handed out two goldfish for each child to eat. Somewhere along the way he was asked to hold up the seashell to his ear and listen for the ocean, and finally, each student was handed a pearl and asked to make a wish.

Lil sis sharing in the birthday fun

Lil sis sharing in the birthday fun

Once the story ready was over, the students all went out side and lined up on benches. Lincoln was asked to call up students one at a time to pick out a cake pop. In true Swiss fashion (more on that in another blog post), any child that “stepped out of line” had to immediately put back their cake pop and wait for their name to be called again. Lincoln without fail called up the boys first, the majority of which had to give up their first choice cake pop.  Interestingly, this resulted in many girls getting their first choice of cakepop – the robot and left many unhappy boys with a blue sparkly Frozen one instead.

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Oh my Milano

By the time we arrived in Milano, we were Pizza and Pasta’ed out. We had two goals for the next 24 hours, do some hardcore shopping and stuff our faces with Chinese food.

Our first stop was Xier, a Chinese buffet super center (think two story dim sum sized restaurant) down the street from our hotel. This was the closest feeling to America I’d come to in the last 4 months and it was glorious. Well the food wasn’t that great but there was meat, seafood, gross sushi and it was all you can eat!

After the food, we of course had to do shopping. I left the kids in the hotel with Dad and I headed out with Uncle Bernie and Aunt Yawen. 5 hours, 13 stores and 7.8 miles of walking our shopping was complete (no exaggeration), Aunt Yawen had purchased one Chanel purse and driven the Louis Vuitton sales person to the brink of exhaustion. (She did go back the next day to make a purchase there as well.)

I shopped all day and all I got was a lousy cup of water.

I shopped all day and all I got was a lousy cup of water.

The big purchase of the day.

The big purchase of the day.

In all fairness, I did nothing but eat and shop in Milano, but overall it seemed like your typical nondescript metropolitan city. It probably also didn’t help that we had just come from some of the most beautiful Italian cities. We were exhausted and ready to head home.

We headed out for our last meal in Italy that night – Chinese of course. We ended up at this amazing restaurant recommended to us by our hotel staff (based on yelp I think it is called Kam but I’m not 100% sure) . The food was fresh, delicious and authentic. It was here we discovered what the signs at other restaurants saying “no cover charge” meant. Apparently standard practice in Italy is to charge a cover charge per person of 1-3 Euro’s. This is a not a tip, just a flat per person fee. The good news is that we found you need to do absolutely no tipping in Italy.

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We were ready to get back home the next morning. What should have been a quick 3.5 hour trip home turned into a very long ordeal that left me confident that we would be only travelling by car in the future. We were supposed to take a train from Milano to Zurich (2 hours 45min), Zurich to Wadenswil (30 min) and then a 2 minute bus ride to our house. This of course included 2 car seats, a stroller, 4 backpacks and two large suitcases (we stocked up on wine, Chinese groceries and olive oil). Apparently there was track work somewhere between Lugano and a town I had never heard of. We had to get off the train from Milan to Zurich, get on a bus, get off the bus and get on another train to Zurich. This of course was in the pouring rain with two sleeping kids.

Some of our many items that required many transfers.

Some of our many items that required many transfers.

How the good news was presented to us.

How the good news was presented to us.

We did however get some stunning views as a result of the detour and we had some wine to drink along the way.

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Siena and the Mystery Meat

Today marked day 6 of our Tuscan vacation and we headed to historic and beautiful Siena. It is a medieval town and its center has been declared a World Heritage Site. We parked away from the town square, Piazza del Campo, which gave us an opportunity to see some of the historic buildings and homes on our way to enjoy the more well known sites.

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Once you enter the center of town, you find yourself on narrow cobble stone streets lined with both old school shops like the local butcher and modern stores selling the latest fashion forward trends (I scored a fantastic deal on a Stella McCartney purse ).  One of the sites on the way to the town center is the Palazzo Salimbeni which was built in the 14th century and houses one of the main offices of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena, one of the oldest banks in Europe.

Jon and Aunt Yawen pose outside the cutest butcher shop!

Jon and Aunt Yawen pose outside the cutest butcher shop!

Palazzo Salimbeni

Palazzo Salimbeni

Piazza del Campo is the huge, shell-shaped town square that houses the Palazzo Pubblico and it’s Torre del Mangia as well as the Fonte Gaia water fountain. The square is surrounded by restaurants and stores that offer a view of the square that is filled with merchants, tourists and pigeons (including our children chasing the pigeons).

Jon and Lilybelle pose in front of the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia

Jon and Lilybelle pose in front of the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia

Chasing pigeons

Chasing pigeons

After a long relaxing lunch, with lots of pasta and wine of course, we headed to our last stop, the Siena Cathedral, otherwise known as Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. Construction began in the late 12th century on the site of an earlier structure and took almost 200 years to complete.

Siena Cathedral

Siena Cathedral

Siena Cathedral

Siena Cathedral

The pulpit, sculpted by Nicola Pisano in the 13th century features intricatly carved Carrara marble and is one of the many focal points of the Cathedral. However, what stood out in this Cathedral from all the others we had seen so far in Italy (and trust me, there were a lot), were the ornate inlaid mosaic floors covering virtually every inch of floor space. The exterior was equally breathtaking and was constructed of white and green marble featuring mosiac religious scenes and detailed carvings.

Siena Cathedral Pulpit

Siena Cathedral Pulpit

Chigi Chapel (Cappella della Madonna del Voto) inside Siena Cathedral

Chigi Chapel (Cappella della Madonna del Voto) inside Siena Cathedral

Inside the Siena Cathedral

Inside the Siena Cathedral

On a completely unrelated topic, the morning before heading to Siena, I decided to break out the mystery meat. First let me explain: Upon arrival in Italy, we were sooooo amazed by the low cost of food, particulary meat, as compared to Switzerland that we might have gone a little crazy when grocery shopping for the house. We essentially bought any and every meat that we could get our hands on and this strange massive thing of meat on the butchers block was not spared. From a distance, it looked marbled like your typical salami but in larger scale. The hunk of meat itself was the size of the largest watermelon you could imagine. We asked to buy some and brought it home. I sat down at breakfast that morning with a hunk of bread, some Italian olive oil and the neatly wrapped package from the butcher. I didn’t yet have my contacts in so I didn’t look that closely. At first, the meat tasted good and slightly interesting. All was good until I bit something a bit hard but still chewable. Against my better judgment, I put on my glasses and got a good look. It was marbled all right, marbled with meat, animal hair, cartilage…. It was as if they threw an entire cow in, ground it up and pumped it into a massive sausage casing and called it a day. Lesson learned.

Mystery Meat - don't fall for it

Mystery Meat – don’t fall for it

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