Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bunnies Arrive Safely

The children were thrilled today when our two pet rabbits arrived safely. They were carried by Air Animal's Swiss Associate, named "REX". We put the two critters out on the deck, and they are quite happy with their new home.

I got my new mobile phone, a Blackberry 8800, which I really like so far. The pointer is a track-ball in the center of the phone, and it took some getting used to, but I really like it now. I used the Treo for a few seconds, and hate it, and am fully ready to send it back to the US for disposal^H^H^H^H^Hreassignment.

Tomorrow (1 August) is the Swiss version of Independence day, called National day, ( but they call it Confederation Day here). The same rush we had on Saturday was replayed today, as we made the mad rush to get to the grocery store before they all closed at 1700. This time, we went to the Migros down the street, on Hessestrasse, and came back with a shopping cart worth of groceries.

We are going through milk, and chocolate milk at obscene rates, requiring multiple visits to the store per week. For dinner, I went to the local pizzeria that we visited earlier this week, and the lady recognized me. When I asked for one pizza with no tomato sauce (unheard of apparently), she remembered our odd order, and replied, "Just like last time, right?" (she did it in German, though)

We got some interesting junk mail today. I read it through, and discovered it was some sort of political advertisement, asking citizens to vote on a new referendum, seeking the immediate expatriation of foreigners.

Oh. Not just any foreigners. Foreigners who murder, traffic in prostitution, deal drugs, etc. But that was down at the bottom. You can imagine my moment of consternation.

Tomorrow, I'm planning on taking the kids to the Party in downtown Bern. Here's the screen-shot from the "berninfo.ch" website.

One of the cool things about this holiday, is how all the food changes. There are lots of decorated eggs, cakes, stuff like that, that are available near Swiss National Day -- we bought some hard-boiled eggs painted red with the Swiss Cross, and there were some nice cakes we bought today with the Swiss Weiss-Kreuz painted on them.

Another thing that doesn't seem that strange is the rampant celebration with fireworks a few days before the celebration. (Not much different than back home). What would surely be illegal fireworks back in Virginia are displayed like an exploded ordinance factory. I hope it doesn't keep the kids up.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Endlich sind wir in hier!

(That's German for finally, we're here!)

Stacy started the day early, visiting the apartment at 0800 to greet the movers. The movers actually weren't moving in our stuff, per say, but rather, the stuff that we'll be renting for the next few weeks/months, until our air shipment, then the sea shipments arrive.

The furniture that we're leasing is actually very impressive, and we haven't been disappointed with the furniture at all. In fact, if our sea and air shipments never arrived, I think the only things we'd miss are my computer and associated stuff, the books, and more clothes. We're getting along fine so far.

As Stacy directed the furniture rental people to move in all the equipment into the apartment, I stayed back at the hotel with the kids. My mission was to:

  • Gather the children, awakening them at the appropriate time
  • Getting them to breakfast
  • Getting the luggage downstairs
  • Paying the bill and checking out
  • and at 11:00, our taxi service will show up with a bus (kind of like the rental car shuttle buses), and take our 26 bags to the new apartment.
All went pretty well, considering I didn't have a clock to work with. So that might explain why I had gotten all the luggage down to the main level at 9:45 instead of 10:45. (oops)

"Why do we have to wait so long in Switzerland?!" cried Joshie. We did do a lot of waiting. But I was glad to have the sitting down and not doing anything time, as I was in some pain. Especially my butt.

See, last night, Jake and I went to the swimming pool at the hotel's basement. One of the unique things about this pool is that the water comes right up to the same level of the pool's surroundings. So if you jump in, water is bound to splash out. If your 11 year old son wants to see the 210+ dad jump into to the pool, there is bound to be major Noachian spillage to be witnessed.

The tidal wave lapped over the wall and down the hall and down the stairs and nearly made it to the elevator. (that was quite an accomplishment, I have to say!). It was all fun and games until somebody got hurt. Me. But I'll get to that in a minute.

After seeing the locals swim in the river Aare, Jake was determined to pass any sort of test that Stacy constructed to allow him to swim in this river. (It's nice to see him excited about something other than video games, for once). Stacy made an off-hand remark that she would allow Jake to swim in the Aare with me if he could pass some sort of swimming test. Maybe swimming back and forth in the hotel pool without touching the bottom for 3 times (there and back equals one lap).

I had Jake tread water with me for 2 minutes at first, then for 5 minutes. After that, he swam 11 laps. Not wanting to have Stacy move the bar on him, he swam 31 times back and forth. He was in the pool so long, we had a Romanian couple on vacation come in, swim, get tired and leave, before Jake was done.

As we left, I was impressed by the deluge of my cannon-ball. I was so impressed that I didn't really notice that there no handrail, and no traction stickers on the steps. Before I knew it, I was on my butt, and my hand was bleeding. Thankfully the majority of my impact was to the padded area of my butt, and not so much anywhere else. Like a good macho guy I instantly got up and started running, cussing.

I keep asking Stacy to look at my butt for bruises, but there are none to be seen. And she's not to thrilled about me saying, "Look at my butt" (pulling down the pants just far enough to show the injured cheek) There has got to be a bruise there!

Now, each time I sit, I yell, "Ow, my butt!" Jake laughs every time. Stacy, as for all my other antics in life, simply rolls her eyes.

We got all of our luggage, and all of our rental furniture situated in our new apartment, and everything looks to be suitable for the time being. The pets show up on Monday, and we need a cage for them. I found a nice little pet store for the bunnies in Koniz, and we think that they will live a happy life outside on the deck.

It turns out there was a miscommunication during the signing the lease process, and we weren't sure that pets were allowed, after we signed the lease (oops). I had no recollection of the discussion of pets during the tour of the apartment, and there was no mention of pets on the lease. Just to make sure, we asked. It turns out our landlords were very upset about the prospect of us having dirty, pee-on-the floor rabbits, but agreed, after insisting some extra insurance be taken out for the apartment.

Well to make everybody's life easier, including the luxury of not witnessing rolling clumps of rabbit hair on the floor in the kitchen, we decided there would be plenty of room for the critters on the balcony, which is quite protected from the elements. In the summer, the temps don't get very hot, and in the winter, the balcony has direct exposure to the sunlight, and won't get snowed on directly. The type of hutch we chose has a nice little cozy room for the rabbits to take refuge, and they should be comfy (I hope). My mission was first to get a rental car, then to buy a bunny cage at the pet store we found in Köniz.

On Sunday, everything is closed in Switzerland. You can walk down the streets to find nothing but closed shops, closed stores, closed supermarkets. I think the only things that run on Sunday are the trains, the buses, and the shops directly in front of the shops. It's also presumable that the restaurants that are located in the hotels are open for dinner and lunch, but I have not personally confirmed this.

Because of this, our Saturday mission was to get to the grocery store, Migros, and stock up on some living supplies. Since we don't yet have a car, and all of the rental cars in the area are all exhausted of minivan-sized vehicles, we decided to shop Migros by bus.

We all got on the bus for a "kurzstrecke", which means short trip. This costs 1.90 CHF. In the supermarkets in Europe, one normally purchases the bags to carry the goods. So "paper or plastic" means "Do you want to pay for paper bags? Or did you bring your own?" Thankfully, all the kids brought their rolling back-packs for the ride home with the goods in-hand.

One more thing you pay for at the supermarket, is the shopping cart -- you have to chuck in your 1 CHF piece into the handle of the shopping cart, in order to release it from the chain of shopping carts. I'm not exactly sure what the reasoning is behind this business model... but "when in Rome..."

The experience in the supermarket was very similar to that in the US, with the exception of every label being in German. This was one of those shining moments when I was glad I could speak a common language with the locals. (Note I didn't say "speak the language of the locals", for they speak Swiss German, and I have no effing idea what they're saying to me when they speak it.) We purchased about as much as we thought we could safely take back on the bus, and carry away in shopping bags and back-packs.

One of the experiences we totally forgot about, is when purchasing fruit and vegetables, one must first weigh them, and print out a sticker, indicating the purchase price. First, look at the sign describing what the item is that you're buying, and it will generally have a 2 digit number associated with it. Then, take your produce, and put it on the scale. Then, hit the number of the item you're purchasing. Out comes a little sticker, which you affix to your bag of produce. If you do not do this, the cashier will not be able to ring up the item you've carelessly bagged without a sticker.

The picky eating kids are likely to starve on this trip. Jake has continually been a brave child, trying new things to eat. Cecilia and Josh are likely to wither away into dust, at this rate. I'm sure their stubbornness will override any hunger they may experience. One of the items we bought was chicken nuggets. Seems pretty harmless, but these connoisseurs would not accept these low-quality Swiss substitutes, and insisted on only the original, true nugget that they were familiar with in the US. See what I mean? Likely to wither to dust.

No Internets!

One of the things I've noticed, is that there aren't any free wireless networks around to leech off of. And the wireless networks that have you pay, make you pay out of the nose. In the Hotel, the wireless Internet was outrageously expensive. I think I paid 30 or 40 dollars for a day's worth of access (bought in 2 hour increments.) (Imagine how much that blog cost me to write 2 days ago). (Do you now see why I get grumpy when people ask me how it is over here, and they haven't read my Blog yet?) (Are there any more random thoughts I can put in parenthesis?)

Once we got to the apartment, there are no hook-ups to the local services, so we had to get Internet connectivity from somewhere. There are no wireless LANs around here that I could link in to, from the office we set up. Stacy and Jake were really starting to show signs of Internet withdrawal. (I was doing fine, thank you very much!) I opened my laptop bag to find an old USB LinkSys wireless connector, and hooked it up to my Linux laptop for grins.

Apparently, the long USB cable it connects to allows me to prop it up on the window shades, getting me that extra 1 db of signal that I need to dip into the Köniz City's wireless access network. It looks rather ridiculous, and I'm typing with the windows open, while it's raining, but I'm gettin' my access!

The first thing Stacy did was to take over my personal laptop to read her e-mail. Then she started shopping on-line. Apparently the adventure of getting all those groceries in Köniz was too stressful for her. She found an Swiss equivalent version of Peapod, and started ordering all the things she wanted.

The kludgey internet connection is going in and out. I better post before I lose all this work.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Flight to Switzerland

"I can not imagine all that is involved with moving a family to Switzerland!", I keep hearing.

You're right! You can't imagine!

I wish I could say "it all started with..." but that would be difficult to figure out where all this difficulty started, without going all the way back to when Stacy and I decided that this "would be a fun adventure." So I'll skip lots of details that I couldn't possibly cram in to 1.5 hours of typing, and start with the adventure of packing all the 62 million things we have into 24 pieces of luggage.

Our strategy of divvying up stuff takes one of eight paths:
  1. Stuff we won't need and was trashed at the old house
  2. Stuff we didn't want and was donated
  3. Stuff we needed, but not for two years, and was stored
  4. Stuff in my office, that I wouldn't need until I got to my new office in Switzerland, shipped from my office, by my company
  5. Stuff we needed, but not immediately, was shipped by sea
  6. Stuff we needed, and quickly, was shipped by air
  7. Stuff we needed upon arrival, but not during the flight, in checked luggage
  8. Stuff we needed on the flight, or while travelling, in carry-on baggage.
After many many hours of thankless calculation and preparation, Stacy decided that our journey would be accompanied by 24 bags. These are not the simple travel suitcases of years past. These were honkin' large huge suitcases. The airlines charge for overweight bags. We blew the weight limit on four of them, and paid the $200 for the privilege of not being able to pack light. We also paid the privilege of paying the sky cab $40 in handsome tips to put up with our mountain of luggage.

My mother visited us at the airport to send us off. The airport was surprisingly empty, and we zipped through security. We donated a bag of shampoo and toiletries to the TSA, who graciously accepted the donation. Apparently, that bag of shampoo was supposed to get put into a different piece of luggage, but somehow made it into the carry-ons.

At the gate, there was a helpful employee who insisted that the semi-mountain of carry-on luggage could be reduced, and gate-checked the luggage. This actually was a huge favor for us, and now Piet did not have to play the role of "beast of burden." I don't think Stacy was as thankful as I was.

On the flight, Joseph decided that he did not want a seatbelt, and fought gallantly against the oppression of being restrained. Joe is usually a very well-behaved child, but today, he would have none of it. We had one of those wonderful parenting experiences where everybody in earshot had a large dose of second-guessing our parenting skills. Originally, the seating was all along a long row of seats; four in the center section, two along the window, from left to right: Cecilia, Joey, Stacy, Josh, Then the two seats next to the window: Piet, Jake.

It probably was a mistake for Joey to sit between Cecilia and Stacy, since he is a daddy's boy after all. The fight for being seated didn't end until Joey ran out of energy to fight. Cecilia was quickly re-assigned to sit next to Jake, and Joe was to get the full attention of flying between Stacy and me. He managed to find several ways to escape from the belts, his most favorite being to slouch over, and slip out from under the seatbelt. This was remedied with my arm being planted firmly between his legs, as a sort of third strap, to keep him from sliding down to the floor. It was a pretty awful experience, and I wish the FDA would come out with some sort of "toddler chloroform" over the counter. We would be first in line to purchase that product.

The children were determined to not sleep on this flight. The flight departed out of Dulles at 8:05, and was to arrive in Munich at 10am the next morning, Munich time. I don't think the kids fell asleep until about 1 or 2:00 AM EDT. Jake got the most sleep. Stacy got a grand total of zero minutes of sleep. (If you thought she was grouchy before!)

We arrived in Munich on-time, and found our way to the Bern connection rather easily. There's nothing particularly interesting to note about that part of the trip.

The flight from Munich to Bern was in a Dash 8 the seatbelt saga was about to be replayed with Joey. I sat on the aisle, next to Joe, who was at the window. We were right inside the engine's mount and could clearly see the propeller. I waited until the last minute to hook up the seat belt. I got the straps long enough to get around him, but not too long as they wouldn't be any use; short enough to just get to him, and not fuss with the tightening.

"Look! Joey! A propeller! " The engines were starting up. I slipped the seatbelt around Joey's waist -- "click" Victory!

The flight was a lovely journey over mountains unlike which the children had never seen before. The in-flight snack was a bunch of cookies that Joey never ate, but found endless entertainment by stacking them into a tower.

We arrived in Bern, and there was no discussion between the Customs agent and me, but a mere hand-over of the passports, and we were on our way.

We counted up the luggage, and had a 100% success rate on luggage delivery. That is an incredible feat, as I have the absolute worst luck with luggage that you could imagine. I could wax eloquently on the dozen stories of lost luggage, shredded luggage, returned luggage; but this is about our relocation, and I wouldn't want to bore you with that! :)

We got a ride to the Ambassador Hotel by a shuttle, which cost us $65 USD, (quite a bargain, considering how many bags we were talking about). The kids immediately took to the stairs in the hotel lobby, and within a few minutes there was an injury. Joe fell down one step and got a blood blister on his right thumb, which Stacy managed to repair with hugs and wiped tears.

We checked in at about 2 PM, and had to find something to do to keep us awake for the next 5 or 6 hours. I found the hotel pool and gym.

The gym and pool were greeted with the sign, "Der Fitnessraum und das Schwimmbad sind keine Nacktzone!" Well that's too bad. "The fitness room and swim (bath) are not naked zones!" I guess the reason that sign was erected was because there were some nakedness incidents in the past. I can only wonder and imagine!

The whole family went to the pool, which was unlike any other pool I had seen before. This indoor pool was designed to have just the perfect water level, to be the same level as the floor surrounding it. The pool, when calm, looks as if it is a part of the flooring in the room. The design is quite well done, and I'll have to get a picture so you can see what I'm describing.

This tired and exhausted family of six really enjoyed the swim. Joey clung to me, and didn't want to have anything to do with Mommy. Jake splashed the two younger kids, who cried with each drop. We were unprepared for the drying with an inappropriate number of towels. By 1510, we were ready to get out and start searching for food.

We got a map, and set out for the center-city. We probably should have gotten better directions. We had a goal of getting to the city center in-mind, but started really going the wrong way. We headed toward the Titanic building, and missed our turn there. We should have gone right and headed across the bridge. Instead we headed down another block, and tried to connect with the bridge across the river. Unfortunately, we discovered that the bridge was about 100' higher than the banks of the river, and we had to double back.

The already-tired kids were pretty irritated with this walking. We took a short break at the COOP store nearby, and got some drinks. We headed across the bridge (past the Swiss version of the IRS building), and stopped along the bridge to watch the swimmers below.

In Bern, the raging river, the Aare, is flowing extremely rapidly. But there are no really dangerous things in this river that we would expect in our American rivers, like... obscene amounts of pollution, logs, bridge abutments, etc. The locals all jump into the river up-stream, and float down at what looks to be 10 or 15 mph, until they exit before the dams. It all looks quite fun, I have to admit. We peered down from the bridge to the swimmers below.

Actually, swimmer would imply that they were paddling, which they weren't. They were merely floating along a very fast racing river, fed by glaciers, so it had that blue hue to it that we don't see in Virginia.

The famished family started now really begging to go back to the Hotel. Stacy, with no sleep yet, very irritated at my inept navigation (we weren't lost, just not around anything we could identify as food). We headed down Jubilee street (Don't remember the actual name of the street), which was guarded by soldiers and police, and wasn't available for your average citizen to drive without being first confronted by a guard. We didn't know what this was about, so we just looked like we knew where we were going, and weren't accosted by the local guards.

We walked to the entrance of the "Tierpark" (which means zoo), and found an excellent pedestrian bridge that crossed the river. From the bridge, swimmers leaped into the water, or observers watched the swimmers zip along underneath, headed downriver (to the bridge where we first viewed the swimmers).

We found a restaurant, the Schoenau, which was on a street named the same. It was an Italian restaurant which was empty. It was empty because we were early, not because the restaurant didn't get any business. We sat, and they spoke no English. It's a good thing I can speak German! I relayed the pickyness of the children, and ordered boring kid-sized spaghetti for Josh and Cecilia. Jake was brave and tried the Wienerschnitzel mit Pomme Fritte. Stacy stuck with the adult sized Spaghetti. I also had the Wienerschnitzel.

Jake, as I had predicted, liked -- maybe loved the Wienerschnitzel. Cecilia refused to try any. Stacy stole some of mine. Josh later tried Jake's and decided he wanted a plate of his own. Joey slept in the baby-stoller the whole time. We ran out of our ability to stay awake, and headed back to the hotel after 200 CHF of dinner.

I remember getting back to the hotel, but not much after that. I put my head on the pillow and fell asleep shortly thereafter.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Two Days Until Departure, Passport Saga

You would not believe how busy these last few days are. We are preparing the final aspects of our departure on Wednesday, the 25th of July. In case you haven't been paying attention to my life, (or I've been too busy to say anything to you), I'll give you the quick run-down.

The four kids, wife, and two rabbits will accompany me on a two year jouney to Switzerland. The company is paying for the relocation costs, paying part of the rent, and giving me a transportation allowance. It's quite an opportunity for the kids, who will be going to school at The International School of Bern.

The two rabbits are being shipped by a shipping company. We originally wanted to bring them along with us in carrier cases, but that would involve seriously difficult logistics issues. The airport at Bern can only handle little aircraft, and not any aircraft large enough to handle an animal cargo hold. The only other alternative is to fly into Geneva or Zurich, and that would require a long drive in a foreign country the first time. Air Animals Inc. will do a good job in shipping in the animals, we hope.

In June, I took a trip to Switzerland, and a side trip to the Netherlands. The Swiss journey was to find a place to live, and to get generally acquainted with the country. I found Fribourg to be a little more difficult to get used to. I don't speak French, and everybody there expected me to speak French. In Bern, I felt much more at home, and had engaging conversations in German with the locals.

I visited the gliderport, and enjoyed flying their very handsome two seat glider, the Duo Discus. They have lots of excellent gliders, and a very nice club, and I don't know how they can afford to fly with such low prices. they were very happy to know that I'm a flight instructor in the United States for gliders, and tended to be a lot more friendly after learning that fact. Teaching an American with poor shabby German skills is more difficult than accommodating an already (presumably) expert glider pilot with shabby German skills, I suppose.

Stacy will probably not be able to work, while in Switzerland. She is a nurse by training, but does not know German or French, and won't be allowed to practice nursing without those language skills.

People all wonder how difficult it is to relocate a family. Often I hear stories of how the military relocated a family with ease. To respond, I would say that this is much different. It seems pretty clear that VeriSign doesn't do this very often, and there were very many challenges along the way. Some of these challenges weren't even VeriSign's or our relocation company's fault, but the fault of the US government.

This subject leads me to passports. In the post-911 hysteria that is sweeping America, some smart things are being done, and more dumb things are being done to make us feel safer. (Thanks Captain Obvious). One of these is requiring that American citizens coming in from Canada and Mexico now need passports. The sudden requirement of passports put a burden on the State Department, who apparently didn't grow their capacity to generate these new passports. Also to make the matters more difficult, the passports contain special RFID electronic chips in them, and delay their production.

This has led to a serious back-log in the passport acquisition of normal citizens. Despite the fact that the passport restriction has been temporarily lifted to enter the US, there still is a huge backlog, and the time to get passports is causing much pain among American tourists wishing to visit nations abroad.

This, of course, made our relocation even more difficult.

In order to get to move to Switzerland, we need a work Visa. We need a residency permit, too. In order for these to be applied for, we need passports. The application process in the Swiss Embassy takes six weeks. We applied for our passports in late April, and they still hadn't shown up by July. Time to escalate. We managed to find that our congressman, Frank Wolf (whom I had always voted against) had a special office for his constituents to escalate passport requests.

This did some good! The passports were found in the system, and shipped to us via FedEx. They were received the next day. Stacy excitedly opened the package to find the passport for Joseph, Cecilia, Josh, Jake...

"Where's my Passport!?!?!" Stacy cried.

Which leads me into a whole new story...

The Passport Saga...

This required ANOTHER trip. This time to the passport issuing agency office in downtown D.C. We had a 0900 appointment, and managed to show up on time. We saw the long line of other citizens waiting for entry. Because we had an appointment, we cut in line (that was cool) to get inside to wait in yet another line. Ugh.

We waited 90 minutes in the first line, and the congressman's assistant finally called. We were told that we would never get our passport that day, and that we could go upstairs to suite 200 to get a new passport, with the congressman's letter faxed to the office.

All of the kids were with us, and did not wait patiently. While waiting upstairs, we would not even fit into the waiting room, and were forced to sit outside, in the hallway. The quantity of waiters was definitely a deterrent to getting us access inside the waiting room. I elected to whisk the children away, but was met with whiny response from the younger children, "No! I want mommy!"

I dragged the unwilling children out of the boring hallway to be met with further complaints. "I want mommy!" "Where is mommy!" "When will we see mommy?!?!" I dragged them, still unwilling, to the local corner bakery, where I ate a sandwich, and the kids ate a cookie and some chips. It's impossible to find those kids anything to eat that doesn't resemble junk food. (This is Stacy's fault for not exposing them to tasty food at an early age).

Josh had a melt-down when I gave him one (big) cookie, while he was expecting two. A total meltdown. Curious onlookers in the restaurant observed, and reached for their cell phones, ready to call child protective services for what was most certainly the cries of a child who was abused. I dragged Joshie to an unoccupied booth, and calmly scolded him, warning that he would get zero cookies for his behavior.

His behavior improved, and was granted the cookie of redemption. The children's behavior improved, and I decided to take them to the White House. The office of the State Department wasn't far from where I used to work, so I figured it would just be a few blocks.

The kids were surprisingly nice, at that point, and we took our time in front of the White House. Jake saw two squirrels "fighting" and was freaked out about it for the rest of the day. Jake, with recent "life studies" education, was well aware that the squirrels weren't fighting, but the little kids didn't know any better. When he and I realized there was no confrontation between the squirrels, but the "tussle of love", Jake and I looked at each other with the look of "We know what is up, the kids don't. "

"Those squirrels were scary!" the eleven year old remarked over and over.

We moved on to the Washington Monument. We found a nice little ice cream stand near a homeless guy who rested in the shade near a public bathroom. I had to escort Joey into the public restrooms, and watch very carefully, as he tried to grab the urinals and reach in for those tasty-looking hockey-pucks. Yuck.

We hung out at the base of the monument for a while, and I taught Jake a little something about sun-dials. It was a pretty sunny day, and the shadow that was cast upon the ground was sharp and contrasted well against the sky. We were patient enough to sit around and watch the shadow crawl across the benches. We checked to see if we could get into the monument to look around, but by that time, all of the tickets for the day were given out.

We continued our journey, the ultimate destination was the Library of Congress (all the way across town.) I didn't tell the kids that "you see that little green dome next to the Capitol building waaaaaay over there?! We're walking toward that, kids!" Nope. Just moving along one block at a time.

We stopped at the Smithsonian building's Enid A. Haupt Garden and visited the nice cool fountains in the back. They had a very nice outdoor garden, with entertaining fountains. We stopped at the fountains at the Hirshhorn Museum, and found an excellent set of fountains in front of the National Museum of the Native Indian.

The stops at each fountain entertained the kids long enough to move on to the next destination. By the end of the day, Stacy was still in line (good thing we went for a walk), and increasingly irritated from boredom, lack of food, lack of companionship. By the time we got to the Library of Congress, Stacy had finally gotten some food, and the promise that this passport would be available by 4:30.

I hung around my mother's office, until we could meet up with Stacy. Mother introduced us to many people I hadn't met since I was the height of an outstretched hand from the waist, followed by the quote of, "I haven't seen you since you were this tall!"

We have our passports. We're still in that scary position of not having our visas. We'll be in the country as tourists until we can gather our work permit and residency visas. I won't be allowed to work for the first few weeks. We've even arranged to pick up our visas in Lyon, France.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Civil Air Patrol National Flight Academy

From June 23 through June 29, I attended the Civil Air Patrol National Flight Academy Encampment, in Mattoon, Illinois.

I take a week off work to go give flight instruction for the week. I got to fly one of the the USAF's Air Force Academy's old 2-33 trainers. It was in pretty good condition, but was pretty clear that it had a long lifespan of injuries and repairs. All of the repairs were nicely done, but I've never seen a 2-33 with so much empty weight (and so tail-heavy too!)

Even though I paid my own air-fare to the event (A flight with Jet Blue to Chicago O'Hare, plus a one-way rental car trip from Chicago to Champaign, IL), I enjoyed the event. They paid my room and food expenses, and I got to concentrate on teaching 8 students to fly gliders.

The amazing thing is that within 7 days of instruction, I turned several students from having never seen a glider before to being able to do all aspects of the flight without any intervention, hints or help from me.

There were 24 students at the encampment, six flight instructors, three towplanes, and 9 tow pilots. We got to borrow a nice big hangar from the CIA. Not the US Government agency, but Central Illinois Air. It was quite easy to cram all the aircraft into the hangar when a big storm came through.

The weather?! Terrible! It rained or was cloudy every day of the encampment. It was quite amazing that we actually had any flights at all. Every day was ruined by weather, and most of the students did not get a flight higher than 1200 feet until the last few days of the encampment. This was by far the worst weather that the encampment had ever suffered. All the farmers were happy for all the rain, but the pilots were miserable.

When I was in New York City earlier this year, United Airlines lost my luggage for three days. During that time, I was forced to get some short term laundry at the lcoal tourist trap. I bought some I heart NY tee shirts, some I heart NY boxers (several pairs), and a nice Borat Tee shirt saying "Sexy Time!" I wore this tee shirt one evening, (while we were all out of uniform) and the cadets, who apparently all had watched the movie many times over, all loved the tee shirt. Of course, the kids all said "Sexy Time!" (just like in the movie), every time they saw me. One of the cadets loved it so much, I gave it to him at the the end of the encampment. it was like the old Coca Cola commercial when Mean Joe Green gave the little kid his work-out towel. (yuck).

Here are the pictures from the event. [Picasa Album Page] [Slideshow]

Monday, July 9, 2007

Apartment in Bern

I'm getting a lot of questions about the new apartment in Bern. When I was over in Switzerland, I found a nice little place in Northwestern Bern; a group of apartments that I actually saw from the air when I was flying over Bern the previous Saturday. I actually have a picture showing the neighborhood from the air.

Here is a short walk-through the apartment