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.

1 comment:

simon said...

well written, affectionate, and interesting blog.
i'm swiss, and i have noticed that we share the interest in this country.

if you ever get the chance, come visit me



my blog is (not as menacing as it sounds :-) )