Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Swiss Road Signs

Eureka! I found a list of all the road signs in Switzerland. I had figured out most of these, so I didn't really need to beat myself up about not understanding the signs so much.


Warning Signs

Intersection with Tramway

Traffic Signals

Falling Rocks


Level Crossing with Barrier (Road crosses railway tracks)

Level Crossing with Barrier (Road crosses railway tracks)

Uneven Road

Slippery Road

Right Hand Curve

Left Hand Curve

Bend In Road


Deer Crossing

Livestock Crossing

Children Crossing

Men at Work
Prohibitive Signs

Turn Right Area

Straight Ahead

One Way

End of Build Up

Pass on Righthand Side (Arrow pointing opposite way: Pass on Left)

Stop Junction Ahead

Wait for Counter Traffic


No Turning

No Overtaking

No Entry

No Stopping

No Motor Vehicles

No Parking

Speed Limit

No Trailers
Informative Signs


Parking Disc Zone


End of Motorway


Motor Vehicles Only

No Motor Vehicles

Dead End

Passing Place Road

Bus Lane

Priority Road

End of Priority

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another Trip to Ikea

Among the 700 kilos of boxes that we bought on Saturday, one of the many boxes was incorrectly entered on the bill of materials sheet. So Stacy volunteered me to go back to the store again, while she visited the new potential babysitter outside of Gümlingen.

The last two trips to Ikea were with a co-pilot -- this trip was me alone and my excellent navigational skills. I made it to Ikea uneventfully. The incorrect part was exchanged for the correct part. We were given an Ikea card with 84 CHF on it, the amount of the items I brought in for exchange. I found the safety jacket, as required by the Bern Glider flying club, and exited the facility en-route to find the Media-Markt, right next door.

See I had this vision, that I would leave the parking lot for Ikea, and drive to the parking lot for Media Markt, and shop for a new Television set for Jake's room. The short trip ended up taking me out of the shopping mall area, onto the motorway, almost all the way to Zürich, through Lyssach (the town right next to the Ikea), and back to the same parking lot I started from. The Media Markt is right next door to the Ikea, so my humiliation is doubled.

You would not understand. The roads here are weird and crazy, I tell you. There are many rules of the road that I should know, but don't know. These are embarrassing things to admit, so I won't go into detail about the depths of my road-rule ignorance. Before you judge me as the ignorant American, remember, I was not ready to be a driver in this country, I was involuntarily pressed into this service by my wife! That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.

On my way back, I got onto the motorway and started to daydream, following some other big truck that happened to be driving the speed limit. I have been warned endlessly that speeding is a serious offense here; one does not get away with even 1 kph over the limit! I think these are exaggerations to scare off the silly American, but I'll comply for now. I never have been much of a speeder in the first place. Besides, all these weird kph numbers really mean nothing to me, and I'm terrified of driving the Mercedes-Monster; so I might as well drive the speed limit. What terrifies me even more is that the police officer pulling me over will probably speak Swiss German to me, and I'll feel like the stupid American again.

I don't really mind getting lost in Switzerland. It gives me an opportunity to see things that I would not normally otherwise see. The only time I really get upset that I'm lost is when somebody is behind me. If I'm lost and nobody is around, I can take my time. Sit at an intersection and ponder my next direction. If there is somebody behind me, he is judging me, and my poor choices, and poor speed selection, and noticing that I clearly didn't understand that weird sign.

Such pressure of being tailgated by the impatient local is what leads me to get more lost. Get off my tail, and I'll figure it out. This is my new excuse as to why I ended up in the busiest part of downtown Bern, after trying desperately not to get into the most difficult areas to drive in. Back to my daydreaming behind the large truck -- I didn't notice some turn-off to Bern Bümpliz, and I ended up on the motorway to Thun. Instead of getting off and turning around, I stopped in Gümlingen, where my wife might still had been.

I actually found my way to the International School of Berne, and found a nice place to park the car, so I could call the wife. I would triumphantly announce my arrival in Gümlingen to pick them all up, so we could happily head home together.

No such luck. My wife and kids all got home without my help, and with the use of the local transportation system about 20 minutes before my call. This leads me to my adventure of getting home. In a typical macho fashion, I bypassed all attempts at getting directions home. And instead of the sure thing of getting back on the motorway, I decided to take the local routes home.

I had several situations where I couldn't go where I wanted, streets that dead ended, or turned into Buses and Bikes here only, please; and other streets that ended in a cul-de-sac that was not getting me any closer to home. I eventually made my way to Ostermundigen, and .. behold! The number 10 bus! I can just follow this guy all the way home!

Little did i realize that the number 10 bus takes me right into the heart of downtown Bern, full with pedestrian sidewalks, where the pedestrians walk freely in front of my car, and the max safe speed is probably 10 kph. No matter, I'm not lost, I can get home from here.

I did discover something, while getting lost in Gümlingen -- that "Lim" on the dashboard wasn't a matter of the car complaining about overloading. It wasn't a matter of the car being upset about being in the wrong gear. No, it is something much more mundane, and the readers will surely thing I am the dumbest person in this country, after I admit what was wrong.

The turn signal on this Mercedes is that stick that comes out from the steering column. Right next to it was another stick that I paid no attention to. It too says "Lim" and a little diagram that looks like a dial of some sort. Apparently, on the exit from the Ikea on Saturday, I used the right turn signal, and had inadvertently hit the second stick. This sets the car into "Speed Limiting Mode"

To keep your lead foot from getting you into trouble with the Swiss authorities, this vehicle is equipped with a governor. You set the "Lim" switch to whatever speed you want, and the car will not be made to go faster than this speed. It starts out at 30 kph, and each time you hit "up" on the stick, it increases by 10kph. That day leaving the Ikea was when I had the governor set to 30 kph, and no matter what gear I was in, I wasn't going to go any faster.

Well I guess the first step toward enlightenment is admitting that you do not know.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Day in Gurten

Wake up! We're going to Gurten today!

Jake decided to stay home with an upset stomach. So Stacy, Josh, Joey, Cecilia and I all got on the S2 to The main Bern Central Station. While at the central station, Stacy bought a Libero card, which allowed her to ride anywhere on the S-Bahn or bus without any sort of fare. This is limited to the general area around Bern. For the kids, she got them a "Zone 10-11" card, which allows the kids to ride (without us) anywhere in the immediate zone around downtown Bern (within zones 10 and 11, naturally), which includes our station, and the Gümlingen station. So hopefully, we will eventually be able to drop the kids at the train station and say "bye!"; have them go to school without having to drive them or accompany them.

We investigated getting a SBB General Abonnement card for me, exchanging what I currently have, the Halbtax-Abo. The GA-Abo, as it's called -- would permit me unlimited travel within any Swiss bus or train for a year. Unfortunately, I had not yet received my permanent Halbtax-Abo card in the mail, and only had my temporary card. Since the Halbtax-Abo card cost us 150 CHF, I wasn't about to waste that money.

We grabbed some quick lunch at the Migro take-away in the station, and hopped onto the 1302 S3 to Belp train. Only three stops, and we got off at Wabern bei Bern. The Gurtenbahn is right next to the train station, and it is hard to miss the very obvious signs pointing uphill. At the office for the Gurten bahn, Stacy got to ride free with her Libero card. The kids got to ride free with their Junior Karte, and I had to pay half-fare on the train up the hill.

This train is specifically designed to climb hills. Even to get on-board, one must climb stairs to get to the top of the train. After a short while, we were on our way.

Of course the view up the hill was spectacular, with a very good view of the downtown portion of Bern, and a nice look at the Aare river, on its way through Bern. This was exactly the opposite view of town as when we went to see the fireworks on Swiss National Day on the first of August. Jake and I saw the fireworks from the bridge that you can see over the Aare.

At the top of the hill, there is a nice restaurant, and a Ski jump. Since this is August and not February, the ski jump was of course, offline. The kids got immediately excited about the first thing they saw: A kid-sized train. The line to get on it was long, and Joey screamed with tortuous anger as we denied him travel on the train. The source for this anguish was because there were other people in front of us in the line.

Eventually, the three kids and Stacy settled onto the train for the ride. Stacy eventually was kicked off for lack of room, and the three kids went alone. The ride wasn't far, just around the park, and long enough so that the little kids on for the ride would not think of mommy and want to jump off.

Also at the park at the top of the hill is a nice little pond for the kids to play in, complete with a toad the kids managed to get out from under one of the play equipment in the pond. The pond also had this cool raft that was on rails. To get across, one had to pull along the rope. Josh was the first to get totally wet when Cecilia pulled the raft forward while Josh wasn't watching, and while he was boarding, he landed butt-first in the water.

We made our way to the viewing tower, made all of wood and steel cabling. It was a beautiful piece of architecture. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of it. :( I did, however, get some pictures from the top of the hill. The hill isn't far from our apartment, and the tower could easily see our apartment next to the soccer fields. The journey up the tower was difficult, as I had a heavy Joey on my shoulders, and we had already been walking all day. But once at the top of the tower, the view was fantastic. The winds were blowing, and we could feel the whole tower sway in the wind. Since the tower was made mostly of wood, this might have made Stacy feel uneasy, but I found it pleasant. I could also feel the wind blowing upward, and thought it would probably be a good source of lift if I was flying a glider there.

Eventually, we dragged the kids away from the park and got back down the hill to the Wabern Bei Bern train station. We had 3 minutes to get from the bottom of the hill-climber train to the train station, and a long flight of stairs with a stroller to do it. The train came promptly, and I was at the automat paying for my tickets. Stacy and the kids, with the freedom of Libero, boarded the train.

I quickly punched in the fare for Liebefeld Station. I quickly noted 1/2 fare, and one way and second class. The machine got to the screen of "Please to be entering your money." I had a 5 CHF coin ready to insert. I threw it in. The machine unpleasantly spat the coin out.

"Piet! Are you coming!?"

I re-entered the 5CHF piece. Spat again. Once more time, the third is the charm! I threw in the coin, and it was accepted. The machine started printing my ticket. The automat was on slow-dial that day. My ticket was released, and the 2 CHF or so in change. I grabbed. I ran toward the train. The doors closed about 2 meters in front of me, and the train started its journey without me.

I was a few cars in front of Stacy, and saw the wife and kids zing by at about 20 kph by the time their car went by. I looked at the train schedule and noticed, as usual, the next one comes in the next 30 minutes. I contemplated waiting for about 30 seconds, and then realized that it really wasn't that long of a walk home, so I started my journey by foot.

View the locations of all I wrote about on this Google Earth KMZ file.
Or try to view it in Google Maps.

Drama and Trauma at the Qualipet
Stacy extended her journey to Köniz, and went to the Migros by that train station. I was about half-way home, walking up a nice little foot path called Frischingingweg, which was the way from our old Hotel Ambassador and our apartment. By the time I got to Hessstrasse, Stacy called me and informed me that I must immediately make my way to Köniz to see the two new baby bunnies that were in the Qualipet. The Qualipet is the pet store where we bought the rabbits' new cage (which is on the balcony), and where we buy most of our food supplies for the rabbits.

We really didn't have any more room in this apartment for the two new creatures that the wife and kids had their hearts set on. I was recalled to Qualipet to play "Bad Cop" and say no to the kids. I walked all the way to Schwarzenburgstrasse to get home. But I was forced to Köniz, and hopped on another bus ride to go south.

I arrive at the Qualipet and find two kids in tears, with bloodshot eyes, and what looked to be three rounds of tears dried up, and re-established. Joshie especially was the melodramatic one falling on the floor as if he had just been lanced by a spear. Cecilia sobbing, rushed up to me and grabbed my hand, "Quick! you HAVE to see these bunnies!" she insisted.

Yes, they were cute. And the kids had fallen in love with these new rabbits. They had even come up with names for them. "We named them Doh Doh and Kilo" How original. That was the name of our old two rabbits, who died last year. Kilo fell victim to some unknown plague, taking him out in his prime, at a young three years of age in the middle of the night without any warning to us.

Doh Doh was older than the hills and made it to thirteen years old before he finally gave out. When he died, he was completely blind, and couldn't even sit up straight any more; clearly the victim of arthritis in his hips. Poor guy. The kids surely hadn't forgotten these to fellows, and the new arrivals at the Qualipet were soon renamed to honor the fallen pets from the past.

Here are the photos of "Kilo mk2", left, and "Doh Doh mk2" to the right.

Yes they are cute. And our current rabbits aren't exactly proving themselves as useful. Look at this web site in Denmark, where somebody has trained Buck Bunny's identical twin to be useful and actually do cool tricks! These rabbits jump. Mine just run away when you try to pet them.

I stood my ground. Later, Joshie sulked around the living room. His usual habit is to just stop whatever he's doing and say, "Daddy I love you." This evening was no different. "Daddy, I lo-" He stopped mid-breath. "Daddy, I hate you. Why didn't you let us have the bunnies? They were so cute!" Usually, Stacy plays "bad cop" and I play the comic-relief role in parenting. I guess now I see what it's like on the other side.

Car Rentals
(August 17th) Somehow, I have managed to have a zero-carbon footprint since I came here to Switzerland. I don't mean a zero I live on candlelight and firewood zero-carbon lifestyle, but no driving around for me, like the typical American. I've made it my point to take the bus or the train as long as possible. It appears that this lifestyle has made it very difficult on the wife, especially, when it comes time to take home a very large batch of groceries, or taking home things like the new rabbit cage from the Qualipet (for the original two bunnies, not the new ones. I did stand my ground, you know).

Time had run out. We need to go to Ikea and buy some of the furniture that we did not ship here. The furniture that we currently are renting, and is soon to be taken away by the same furniture rental company, not to be replaced. There were no other affordable furniture places that we knew of here in Bern, and upon advice from Stacy's new American in Switzerland friend, Peggy, we were best off by going to Ikea.

The first part of this agenda is finding a rental car. And finding a rental car on short notice with the quality of seating this large family of mine is usually no small task. Earlier in this journey, I managed to find my way to Hertz, only to get rejected on the ludicrous request for a 6 person van without a reservation. I really had been putting this day off for as long as I could, but it seems my rope ran out.

We found a place called "Europcar" in downtown bern, on Laupenstrasse, about 2 blocks from the train station. I took the number 10 bus to Hirschengraben. At the office, I managed to get the car that Stacy had reserved the night before, and I promptly got the keys. Actually, the key. This is a Mercedes 7 person van; not a mini-van by any means. The key is an oddly shaped device, not looking like any key I've seen before. The van is a stick-shift; the first time I had ever seen a vehicle of that size with a stick shift on the console. Also, it's a diesel.

I should have really prepared a better way of getting home, as I didn't really know the ways around the town so well if it's not on a train or on a bus. I found myself going to the hospital (not as a patient, just driving by it). I also found myself going north of the train station, into a tunnel with a large parking garage. I kept making random left and right turns, trying to find an appropriate place to make a U-Turn. Eventually, I found myself trying to turn around in a small apartment complex, and finding that I couldn't figure out how to get the damned van into reverse!

After about 4 of 5 minutes of swearing and fidgeting with the gear shift, I managed to get the van into reverse, and back my way out of the apartment complex I had wedged myself into. Thankfully, there were no people waiting around behind me, thinking I'm a retard for not knowing how to drive. They would have been correct, of course.

I finally got home after even more swearing and cussing, and no telling how many driving violations I had. When I got home, I picked up Stacy, Josh, Cecilia, and Joey, and we were off to the Ikea. Somehow Jake managed to talk his way into staying home for the day. Stacy had gotten directions from Peggy, and we were off to a small town called "Lyssach" northeast of Bern.

This was by far the biggest Ikea I had ever seen. To put it into an American perspective, it's like three stories of CostCo. We got into the parking garage, and were led to the front of the store. This Ikea has a restaurant in the front, and you are taken on a course through the store, with arrows on the floor marking which way you have to go. If you walk against the arrows, you bump into all sorts of people-traffic -- all looking at you and wondering why you're going the wrong way.

We found a desk that I liked, all in black, and a desk that Stacy liked, with lots of places for her papers and knick-knacks and things she does to keep us all organized. We found a bed for us (we really like the rental furniture bed, and really wished we left our bed behind in the US trash heap). and a nice place to let the kids play on the spare laptop, so they can stay off of my and Stacy's computers.

Stacy placed an order to have the beds delivered, and found that, to our horror, the Ikea delivery guys won't show up for 3 to 4 weeks. Remember, the rental furniture guys are taking away our stuff on Wednesday, so this isn't going to do.

We left the Ikea with just a few shopping bags of stuff, to return on the next day.

Rite of Passage: Caravan to Ikea
Doing a trip to Ikea on a Saturday in Switzerland can be described as insane. Maybe it should be described as "something you avoid under all circumstances." But we have a deadline here! Stacy managed to sweet-talk her new (and extremely nice friend) Peggy into watching our kids early on Saturday morning. Her husband, whom we had not yet met, had somehow been roped into this.

The plan is for Stacy and me to gut the van's chairs out, to make the Monster-Mercedes into a shipping truck. Nick will ride along to the Ikea in his van, in case we can't load our vehicle any more. And he, as a native Swiss German, can help translate when my withered "Da ist der Tisch" German won't do.

Mercedes gets high marks for its vehicles, but certainly not on this day. The removal of the seats involved almost as much swearing and sweating as was involved on my initial ride home from the EuropCar dealer on Friday. Eventually, after Stacy gave up and went back upstairs, I managed to unload all of the seats from the van, and park the extra chairs in our parking space.

The trip to Ikea started with Nick and me getting a cup of coffee at the front restaurant, while Stacy went and got some of the numbers for the bed she likes figured out with an Ikea representative. We eventually had too many cups of coffee, and came to find Stacy speaking to an Ikea employee who didn't have the flag of the UK on her name label (meaning that she didn't think herself qualified to speak English to customers, but did it anyway). The discussion was getting sticky when Stacy was trying to order some sort of wardrobe with sliding doors, when Nick came to the rescue, and Sweetza-Dootched everything over smoothly. (I think I could have Hock-Doytched my way out of that mess, but he did a better job than me).

This Ikea had three sections. The first section was the show room. This is where the furniture you like is assembled and really pretty. The second part is the self-help section, where you put stuff into your shopping cart. This is where some of the plants, the boxes, the kitchen-ware, the knives, plates, cups, lights, and those sorts of things are sold. The third section is the warehouse section. This is where you take your labels that you wrote down in the first section, and find the appropriate boxes to put onto your obscenely-large cart.

Nick and I got the equipment/parts list from Stacy and started running down the aisles fetching various boxes with easy-to-remember names such as "Galant 100.568.88" Nick and I found a pattern to these boxes. We would look on the sheet to find the row and rack of the item we were looking for. As we went down the row, and came near the shelf where the item was stored, we would look for the biggest package available. Then, once we found the largest box, we would verify that the number on the box was the same as was on the sheet. Most of the time, we were served well with this strategy.

We filled five of these carts with an obscene amount of boxes, of various shapes and sizes; and made our way to the check-out. Several thousand Francs later, we were the proud owners of a zillion big boxes, ready to be shipped in our Monster-Mercedes. The Monster-Mercedes had plenty of room to store all the boxes, but with each box weighing at least 35 kilos, we started to wonder if we were reaching the maximum load of the van. We also made the mistake of loading the left side of the van first, and the right side of the van second. Apparently, the load was much heavier on the left than the right, as we could visibly see the van lean harder on its left wheels.

We set out in caravan mode, Nick leading the way. He started with the window open, driving next to us, saying "I'll go slowly." It's a good thing too. On the first part of the journey, apparently, I shifted from first gear to second too early, and the van really didn't like that.

No mater what I did, I couldn't get the van to go faster than 30 kph. Some light on the dashboard named "Lim" lit up. I could put the van back into first gear, and we would be revving 5000 rpms, near red-line, and shift it back into second gear to hear the engine laboring. "It's going to be a long ride home at this speed" Stacy noted. I had visions of us puttering along in the right lane, pissing off all of Switzerland with our can't get past 30kph -- clearly overloaded van. We already were creating a traffic jam behind us, leading out of the Ikea.

Not good.

We limped along the one-lane road leading up to the motorway. Thankfully, there was a little downhill leading up to the ramp onto the motorway. This allowed the vehicle to gain enough speed to get it out of the low-torque/low-rpm mode, and we got enough oomph to get up the hill. Instead of driving conservatively, now I'm gunning the engine like a race car driver, trying to get way more rev out of each gear than I would normally. It was a strategy that served me well, and we made it home uneventfully.

Unloading the piles of boxes into the apartment was even more of an adventure. With the small elevator, big boxes, big van, and small parking space, I'm just getting tired thinking about it.
Jake and Peggy came down to help carry the lighter boxes, Joey was clingey-boy, and would only be held by Mommy. Nick and I would take the 35 kilo boxes out of the van, and Stacy would direct us, depending on the name of the box, whether we were to put it in the "goes upstairs" pile, or "goes into storage" pile.

After the van was unloaded, getting the seats back into the van was even more time for me to say "Mercedes engineers, you suck." The Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager vans we had previously did a MUCH better engineering job of seat removal and replacement. The Mercedes van engineers get a D- for their engineering effort in ease-of-use for seat removal and replacement. Thankfully, now I'm an expert at the installation and removal of these seats, just in time for me to give the van back to Europcar.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Air Shipment Arrives

On Friday, our air shipment finally arrived. Many of the things that we really missed now showed up and are making our lives easier. Now I have more than just 8 shirts to wear (thankfully), and the kids have lots of toys to play with.

Joey also no longer has to sleep in a "Pack and Play", having his own bed. Unfortunately, he is still sleeping in the pack and play, and is not interested in sleeping in his bed. So the kids bedroom is now more crowded with stuff.

In the air shipment, Jake's and my computers arrived. Joy and jubilation! Both of the computers use a USB wireless adapter to get onto the local home network. I think the USB 802.11b adapters, connecting to a 802.11g router, are causing some latency from these computers. I'll do some more research about this. This is causing anger (Jake and me) while playing online video games, and lagging out every minute or so.

Television is a decreasingly important part of our daily lives. To be honest, I wasn't watching that much TV when I was in the US (for an American, at least), but now that all the channels are in German, the rest of the family has very little interest in the TV, unless the TV is playing a DVD or a video of some sort. Whenever I get in the mood to watch German TV, I really enjoy it. (Especially the channels from Germany, where I can understand them perfectly) :) However, understanding German really requires a lot of my concentration, and is very fragile to the screams of playing children. My comprehension of German is very reduced in a noisy environment.

Speaking of loud kids, we also purchased several rugs to help keep the kids' "thudding noises" down to a minimum. I feel rather sorry for our neighbor downstairs. She must hear way too much noise. These kids are hard to contain. They lived in a big house and never had to be quiet for fear of bothering their neighbors. It is quite an adjustment for them. We really need a hallway carpet, the kids (specifically Josh and Cecilia) keep forgetting that they can't run in the house, and invariably race very loudly. Joey has recently taken to screaming "NO" very loudly and with prolonged, almost operatic bouts of endurance. While walking down the street, I can hear these kids very clearly. (Sigh)

Releasing the Magic Smoke
You may have learned in high school or college, that modern electronic appliances use electricity to power them. What they did not teach you, was that the thing that actually makes computers work is called "Magic Smoke" Since you're not familiar with the term, let me get you acquainted with it:
  • All electronic components contain magic smoke. It is the force that makes it work.
  • The magic smoke is very powerful, as it is what your components use. It is endlessly trying to get out.
  • If released, the magic smoke will no longer do your bidding for your electronics. Thus, the electronics will never work again.
After unpacking our air shipment, we had many more opportunities to discover which appliances were actually ready for 240V. The first casualty was the X-Box power supply. We never even looked at the label. Once plugged, a very disturbingly large CRACK sound, followed by that smell of burnt capacitors, fried components, and ... released magic smoke.

Jake's Dell computer was the second casualty. It was a Dell computer, with a switchable power supply in the back. I was reading e-mail, or eating breakfast, or something. Stacy was plugging everything in for Jake. You know what happens next: CRACK! The magic smoke was released. Jake, in another room, asked "What was that?" Stacy asked what happened. I remembered the little pink switch in the back of the power supply. I approached Jake solemnly. "Jake," (I love speaking broken Spanish) "Tu computerero esta la en fuego" (Jake, your computer-ero is on fire). (the -ero part makes it sound more Spanish) Jake responded with a frustrated scream.

So releasing the Magic Smoke has a theme of "Insert incorrect electronic component. No waiting necessary, immediate pop!" The third casualty was not so fast to die. Jake's computer speakers, which required an external power supply (with no labels indicating the type of power required), stayed plugged in for at least 45 seconds, until there was a soft click. I looked over to the speakers, and noticed the green power light fading slowly. The computer power supply had a slow death.

Office Life
On Monday, my office equipment arrived in Fribourg, so I took the opportunity to go to the office and get my stuff set up. The office computer arrived intact, but some of my office stuff didn't. The two casualties were my coffee mugs. One, a treasured memento from my Antarctica adventures, and another that I didn't care about much. The box somehow got quite smooshed en-route. Most of the items arrived without much damage. My LEGO toys (small knick-knacks to keep the kids entertained when they show up at my office) were all busted to pieces, but all of the parts somehow managed to stay in the box, despite the gaping holes in the bottom.

The office I reported to was the Fribourg office down-town, not far from the train station. The actual data center office, where I will be eventually reporting, is another bus ride away from the train station ( ugh ). This unfortunately, will add another 15 minutes to my already long commute. Did I say long commute? Ho-boy.

Ausfall means "Inconvenience"
As I've noted before, it seems inconvenient for me to live in Bern, and work in Fribourg. Stacy and I weighed the options out very seriously, when planning on a location to live. It essentially boiled down to one sentence from my perspective: "One man's quiet misery is outweighed by the vocal misery of five." My quiet misery will begin at 7:51, on a train ride from Bern. The closest train station is "Station Liebefeld", and there is a bus even closer, the number 10, that takes me directly to the Bern Bahnhof.

I've done quite a bit of research, and discovered that, for leaving 10 minutes earlier, I can walk 2.94 kilometers (over a substantial hill, but through a nice forest) to a train station called Bern Bumpliz Sud. Catching that train at 7:51 will get met to Fribourg, and into the office by around 9:15. (respectable!) I walked the route the other day at a brisk pace. A pace unencumbered by a laptop bag, or by work clothes. I found the trip to be accomplished in 28 minutes.

As for the title of this section, the German word "Ausfall" doesn't really mean inconvenience. It means "loss." But for me, this really meant "huge inconvenience, and an unintended side-trip to the Swiss countryside. On Monday, as I made my way to the Fribourg office, I took the train as I did back in June, when I made my first venture into Switzerland. I grabbed the S2 from Station Liebefeld to the Bern Bahnhof, and connected with the "S1" to Fribourg.

You may know me pretty well, and might not be so surprised that I wasn't paying close enough attention to the big orange signs that had some word "Bahnersatz mit Bus" Not knowing what a Bahnersatz was (believe me, now I do), I just got onto the S1 to Fribourg. Enroute, there was an announcement that I did pay attention to, which told me that there was some work being done on the tracks somewhere along the route. The train system had this to say about the Bern-Fribourg train line:
IC 2536 (Bern - Fribourg) Streckenunterbruch Bern - Fribourg - Dauer der Störung unbestimmt Wegen der Unwetter ist die Strecke Bern - Fribourg für den Zugsverkehr unterbrochen. Die IC-Züge Luzern/St.Gallen - Bern - Genf Flughafen fallen zwischen Bern und Fribourg aus. Zwischen Bern und Fribourg verkehren Bahnersatzbusse ohne Halt. .... Die Dauer der Störung ist unbestimmt.

This translates roughly to...

IC 2536 (That's the train from Bern - Fribourg) Connection under construction between Bern and Fribourg. The duration of the disturbance is unknown, because of recent weather problems something is broken along the Bern Fribourg line. The Inter City Connector train from Luzern and St. Gallen to Bern to Geneva airport falls between Bern and Fribourg. So between Bern and Fribourg, please use the "course replacement" without a stop. The duration of the disturbance is unspecified.

Dictionary.com translation page's interpretation:

Distance interruption Berne - Fribourg - duration of the disturbance indefinitely ways of the tempests is interrupted the distance Berne - Fribourg for the train service. The IC courses Luzern/St.Gallen - Berne - Geneva airport fail between Berne and Fribourg. Between Berne and Fribourg course spare buses without stop operate. The courses of the rapid-transit railway line 11 (Berne - Fribourg - Romont) fail between Berne and Fribourg. ... The duration of the disturbance is indefinite.
(that was helpful)

The following paragraph might make sense if you get this map and follow along. Really. I mean it. Clickey now. Remember, I live next to the Liebefeld station (just south of Bern's main station), and I'm headed to Fribourg, on the bottom-left of the map.

What this "Ausfall" meant to me, the guy who already got on the S1 train to Fribourg from Bern, (that has multiple stops along the way to Fribourg): The train offloaded at a station named "Thorishaus Station." I just followed everybody. Half of the crowd went up the stairs to the trains, the other half went up a handicap ramp. I chose the handicap ramp. I got stuck behind some slow strollers who walked abreast, and used up the whole walkway.

I got to the top of the stairs, and a bus left. That same bus that the other half of people (who went up the stairs) boarded and zoomed away on. No problem, another bus drove up and I got onto that one. The bus started going down the twisty roads that followed the terrain of the area. A very quick trip, and we stopped at the train station Thorishaus Dorf. Nobody got off. The next stop was Flamatt. Next: Neunegg. Then: Freiburghaus, Finally: Laupen. Everybody got off. I followed, not really knowing where I was. The bus drove away.

I walked up to the train station, and there was a train that left the station. Gone. That was the S1 from Laupen to Bern. I looked at the map, and to my horror, I discovered that Laupen was another one of those wacky trains that has the same number, but stops at a different destination. (Jake, Josh and I had a similar experience with the Trams in downtown Bern, that went to Saali (which we wanted), and the same-numbered tram to Muri.)

Apparently, that first bus went to Fribourg, and all of the stops along the way to Fribourg. The second bus was the replacement bus that carried me on the rest of the way to the "Alternate" S1 line, that ended in Laupen. So now that the train left 2 minutes after I arrived by bus, the next train didn't depart for another hour. I realized the gravity of my situation, and realized that I was not going to get to the office in the morning, after all. (It was around 12:30 by this time).

I pulled out my blackberry phone, which has a super-cool GPS feature and Google Maps. If I'm going to be stuck in this town for an hour, I'm at least going to walk around for a while. I started walking along the road to Fribourg. Google maps says that it's 10 kilometers to Fribourg. Hey that's not too bad. I start walking, and eventually run out of sidewalk. I find a bus station, and there happens to be a bus coming in the next 10 minutes that will take me to Dudingen. Dudingen is right next to Fribourg, so I can probably muddle something together to get to Fribourg if I can at least get to Dudingen. (The bus I took was the one represented by the "121" on the public transportation map.

I got to Dudingen and found a train ready to leave. There were no signs telling me where this train was going. The train schedule made no mention of a train to Fribourg heading out at 14:27 (which was the time by then). The train pulls away. It was better to be sure and not get on the wrong train, I thought. That was my train. To my horror, I look further on the schedule, and find that there is not another train to Fribourg for another hour. But little good that schedule did me, since there wasn't supposed to be a 14:27 train to Fribourg in the first place.

I took the opportunity to get some lunch. A quick trip to the COOP next to the train station, and 7.50CHF later, and I have a Coke, a sandwich, and a little cole slaw that didn't taste much like cole slaw. I think one of the most valuable talents a person can have, is the ability to wait around patiently, and think of ways to pass the boredom. I am convinced that this was simly a survival skill requisite among the inhabitants of prior generations. ... For their lives were most likely empty and boring: probably insufferable before the advent of the Internet, Television, radios, cars, etc. I didn't have to try too hard to entertain myself, as I had a Blackberry device with e-mail. I don't know how humanity ever made it.

Before I got onto my train to go to Fribourg, Stacy called and said, (not knowing of my adventure so far), "Are you there at work yet? How much longer do you expect to be?"

How about, 'I haven't been there yet!'

"Are you kidding me? You should just give up come home now!"

"Heck no!" Would history had remembered George Mallory1 if he got 'close to' the peak of Mount Everest and gave up, went home?! Heck no! I was getting to that office to check out how my office supplies showed up! This was my adventure for the day!

I found my way to the office in Fribourg, and (miraculously) my badge worked, and I found somebody who knew something about my office supplies. Five cardboard boxes showed up in Fribourg. Two of them were very nicely packed boxes.

The trip back to Bern was uneventful. I actually followed the orange signs, and actually asked for help from one of the SBB representatives, and I took an uneventful ride home on a crowded bus, which showed up at the Bern train station. I would bore you with details of a boring bus ride if I went into these details. Instead, I will lead you to the next adventure in Switzerland:

Drugs for Ex-Pat Retards
While in downtown Bern, (mentioned in the previous Blog), most of the family was fighting off a cold of some sort. Joey had the green nose guck that even made Stacy give that gross face (and she's a Nurse!). Stacy was fighting off the sniffles, and so was I. When the opportunity presented its self, Stacy went into an Apothecary and found a pharmacist who spoke English. She asked for something for a stuffy nose. "Something with pseudophedrine." (like Sudafed). The pharmacist quickly pulled out a little pink box, and Stacy paid for it.

During the time of the apothecary visit and purchase, I was wandering around outside with the stroller, and Stacy immediately took the adult dose. I wanted to hold off for a bit longer, I hadn't had to take any medications for this cold yet, and I wasn't really in the mood to start yet. Later in the day, I caved-in and took one pill of the medicine, not really looking at the label.

About two hours later, I was overwhelmed with an incredibly powerful sense of needing to go to sleep. It was as if I had gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before, and the sleep deprivation had finally caught up with me. "This cold must be getting the better of me!" I noted. Stacy said I looked like a walking zombie. To top it all off, it started to rain, and we cancelled the rest of our day's wanderings. Upon getting into the house, I immediately headed for the bedroom and fell asleep. I do not recall my face even hitting the pillow.

It was a short nap, I awoke to an uneventful evening. The next morning, I wondered out loud why I was so dog-gone tired that afternoon. "Hey! Let me see that box of pills we bought at the apothecary!" I pull out the box and read the cover:

Hey! Who you callin' a retard!?! (Swiss people, please see footnote 4) I look at the ingredients label. The active ingredient? Diphenhydramine HCl. The chief ingredient in anti-histamines (such as Benadryl), and when you can't get to sleep, the major ingredient in the older types of over the counter sleeping pills such as Nytol. No wonder I was so tired. I took a sleeping pill!

Mental note: Be studious about the drugs you're given in a foreign country. Or just suck it up and don't take any drugs at all. (Which do you think I'm going to do? )

1. In case you don't know your history, George Mallory died in an attempt to get to the top of Mount Everest. It was Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first to make it. Shame on you for not knowing these important things2!

2. For some reason, I'm reminded of the scene from National Lampoon's Animal House, when Blutarsky shouted the memorable quote:
Bluto: Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor3? Hell no!
3. If you didn't get that joke, please know that it was the Japanese who bombed Perl Harbor, not the Germans. Do I have to spell everything out for you?

4. For the Swiss people who are enjoying this blog, please refer to the urban dictionary definition of "retard." It is commonly used by the American youth to describe people who are acting stupid.