Thursday, September 27, 2007

Weird Signs

I finally found out what these little signs are:

A friend in the flying club asked his other German friends to discover what these signs are. It seems nobody knows, because it's only something that the utility people use to find out specifics about the sewage, water, or gas lines. In German, they're called
Hinweisschilder zu Straßeneinbauten, literally translated to "Signs to road installations" The Wikipedia page only has the description in German.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

So Much To Say

Again, apologies. It is disappointing that I must always start my blog entries with an apology. This duration even exceeded the previous one, which was also quite embarrassing. I will make no further promises of schedules of the next edition. And apologies will no longer be necessary, as you will have no expectations of periodicity for me to uphold.

Permit Acquisition
I didn't really advertise this on the blog, but our situation with the residency permit was certainly not the ideal. Remember, our goal was to get to Switzerland early enough so that the children could be settled in to the life in Switzerland, get to know the area, find some comfort, before we sent them off to school. To meet that goal, our scheduled arrival date in Switzerland, along with the apartment rental, the shipping, all the everything else involved for this relocation had a date of August first, 2007.

Unfortunately, nobody informed the Swiss Visa and Fribourg Canton authorities of our tight schedule.

There were many forces conspiring to delay our trip to Switzerland, but one force -- Stacy -- (yes, she can be described as a force) that continued on course to meet that date. All the other stuff involved in the US was closing out. We had the furniture get shipped out. We had people come in and rent our home in Virginia. We had everything packed. The United States Department of State, which was responsible for issuing passports, took their sweet time in issuing the passports for the family. Also, my passport had to be renewed, as it was due to expire in less than two year's time. My passport didn't take any time at all: it was returned within a week's time.

As I was saying, the Fribourg authorities were not apprised of our plans, and also took their sweet time in preparing the work permit. Stacy and I were at a point where our departure to Switzerland could not be delayed, and we were forced to embark on our journey, work permits, entry permits or not. We found a loop-hole in the system: to enter the country as Tourists. Stay for a week or two while the permits were getting prepared. Exit the country, acquire entry visa. Enter the country. Register with the local authorities. Live peacefully as legal aliens.

The catch for the resident tourist strategy is that only 90 days was permitted here, and no working! Once the 90 days was up, if no permit, I was required to leave the country and not come back for another 30 days. (Yowza!)

It did not take the predicted 1 or 2 weeks overlap, in this country as tourists. It took 4 and a half weeks overlap. As each day went by without a permit, we grew increasingly nervous of the following scenario:
We do not like Americans named Piet in our country. We have had problems with them in the past. Therefore, permit registration denied!
If this event was to transpire, I had a special place on Monbijoustrasse bridge over the Aare prepared in just such an occasion.

That long-awaited day finally came. That lovely e-mail announcing the arrival of the work permit, and the appointment with the Swiss embassy in Washington DC to acquire the entry permit. Remember the original plan. Since we were here as tourists, we had to leave. And when we left, we had to re-enter. Also, the entry permit was a special document affixed to the passport, and required a Swiss consulate to handle the passport for a short time.

We had the possibility of mailing our passports back to the Washington, DC office; having them mailed back through FedEx. We also considered the possibility of going to Lyon, France for the day, and visiting the Swiss consulate there for the same activity. It was decided: Lyon is a short (3 or 4 hour) train ride away, and we could spend the night at a hotel there. Since we had to leave the country anyway, this was the perfect opportunity to finally get some travel done in Europe.

Also, during this period of living as tourists in Bern, we were growing desperately poor. This was due to fact that some of the funding from the company was dependent on the successful acquisition of the work visa. Our financial desperation was bordering on destitute. We were one or two meals away from brushing the bread crumbs from the cupboards into bowls of water, to call them soup. The acquisition of the permits could not have been any later.

To Lyon via Bern, Lausanne, Bern, Geneva
Sunday, 9th of September, we all awoke early, got on the train to Bern Bahnhof, Stacy purchased the tickets to Geneva, and purchased an open ticket and return to Lyon, France. Since by that time, I had my "General Abonnement" card (allowing me unlimited access to any bus, train, ship, and go-kart in Switzerland), there was no need for a ticket for me, except for the ticket from Geneva to Lyon.

We boarded the train before 10 AM, and headed westbound. It was quite crowded, and I sat with some of the large bulky luggage in my lap. Past Fribourg, and the kids started getting hungry. I set out with Joey and Cecilia to find the Restaurant car on the train. We go four cars forward, until I see the train conductor. He is collecting tickets, checking that the passengers all have their GA tickets. Infractions cost 80 CHF in cash-money. If you do not have the cash, then they send a bill for 100 CHF.

Since Stacy is such a type-A personality, and needed to gather all documents involved for this journey, she gathered all the passports into her folder with all the other immigration documentation. Earlier in the week, I begrudgingly gave up my passport, and didn't think much about it since then.

Upon the site of the conductor, I realized that I had my wallet, which contained my GA. I then realized that I did not have the appropriate documentation (Junior Karte) for the two children who were in search of the restaurant car with me. So I turned around. The Junior Karte is a document which allows children, while accompanied with a parent, to travel anywhere in the country for free. So if I have a GA, and the Junior Karte, I can go anywhere in the country, and only Stacy has to buy a 1/2 fare ticket. The Junior Karte resides in my leather envelope along with my passport.

Cecilia and Joey and I set back to where Stacy was sitting. "I need my passport pouch", I announce to Stacy.

"You're kidding!" she shouts. Swiss trains are generally very quiet, and the volume of this was well obvious, and noted by the startled, mild-mannered passengers. "You don't have your passport." A statement of incredulous interrogation.

"No, I don' thave my passport."

"I gave it to you yesterday."

Ach. Now I know what happened.
Let's rewind a bit. I spent Saturday, September 8th at the glider port, getting some familiarization flights at the new field with the new flight procedures, etc. I will get to that in more detail later in this chapter. Before I left for the day to go to the gliderport, I acquired my passport from my wife's pouch of important documents. Stacy had collected all of these documents so we would have everything when re-entering the country. I feared that I might need my passport, because somebody might take me to the Airport authorities and get me checked in, an airport badge, and a key for the fence onto the airport grounds.

"I know exactly where my passport is. It's on my desk." I had walked by that desk two or three times, but never sat at my desk, to see my passport staring me in the face, asking to be taken along. The reason I never got to sit at my desk, is Jake was hogging my computer for some sort of game that doesn't play on his computer.

By this time, we were halfway between Fribourg and Lausanne. The conductor came to us and asked for our tickets. Stacy thankfully had her Junior Cards, and the kids were safe from being fined 80 CHF. I asked the conductor (in German) for the connection information back to Bern. Now the title of this section may make sense. To get to Lyon, my journey now included the following connections: Bern, Lausanne, Bern, Geneva, Lyon.

Thankfully, Stacy called our local American friend, who had been tasked with feeding our rabbit creatures inhabiting the balcony. (This friend happens to live in a castle.) (Yes, really). (Yes, we would like them even if they didn't live in a castle). The friend wasn't put out by doing this favor for us, and found her way to our apartment, grabbed the missing passport, and met me at the Bern train station. Peggy, our friend replied, "I can see myself doing this exact same thing for my husband."

Stacy rode on with the kids. I took one piece of luggage, with the sleeping bags. Stacy's connection in Geneva to Lyon was a short one. She had 8 minutes to get off the Geneva train, get on to the train to Lyon. There was no time to stop for food. Did I mention I never made it to the restaurant car on the train? Did I also mention that there was no restaurant car on the French train to Lyon? Stacy had a miserable trip with whiny, hungry children. Of course, this is my fault for forgetting my passport.

The good thing about trains in Switzerland, Bern in specific, is that the trains leave regularly. I connected with a very short turn around time in Lausanne, less than 3 minutes, and waited 34 minutes in the train station in Bern. Actually, there was a train leaving right back to Geneva, after I got in Bern, but I wanted to make sure I got some lunch at the train station, and Peggy wasn't waiting at the station to hand over the passport anyway. I bought a book, in German, that I had read about in Scientific American.

By the time I got to Geneva, it was about 13:30. My next connection was 14:21, nearly an hour away. By this time, Stacy was almost all the way to Lyon, hungry starving children, and wife with a growing migraine. I spent that hour walking around the train station. I made it down to the lake, took a few quick pictures, and turned around to get back to the train station in time to get to my train.

Trains: Follow Your First Instinct
(or learn French)

The procedure for customs between Geneva and France are a lot less elaborate than... say entering the United States off of a plane from Amsterdam. It is simply a door where they check your passport, your ticket, and let you through with a pleasant "Bonjour, Merci!" I walk up the ramp to my train. The sign is big and bold and obvious. Lyon -- Part Dieu. I stow my luggage, and settle in for the two hour ride ahead of me.

There are a lot of people sitting outside the train. They look like they're waiting for another train. Hmm. That sign in the train. It doesn't say Lyon. It says "Grenoble".

Hmm. I wonder what Grenoble is. Is it the brand name of the train? Why does it say Grenoble? I wonder if it's a city. I wonder if all those other people are waiting for my train to Lyon, and this is the train to Grenoble. Where the hell is Grenoble? I pull out the Blackberry 8800 with a GPS unit, and a connection to Google Maps. I type in Grenoble. I find it's significantly further south than Lyon.

Holy crap! I'm on the wrong train! Nobody on this train speaks (or pretends to speak) English. I exit immediately, but I'm not quite sure. After exiting, I start looking for a conductor. Nowhere to be found. I ask two strangers, neither understood me well enough, or pretended to, at least. Here's your situation, see how you fare:

The train says the name of a city that is not obviously in line for where you are going. Nobody can help you. The sign outside the train, on the track where the train sits, tells you the correct city location. There is nobody to help you. Do you:

  1. Get on the wrong train and risk having the wrong ticket and getting fined very heavily.
  2. Wait around a bit and see if this train looks like it's going to depart at exactly 16:21 (the time of departure shown on the sign)
  3. Wish you went to the consulate in Austria instead, where they speak a language you can understand and are quite comfortable in.
I chose number 2.

The train pulled out of the station at precisely 16:21. For a few seconds, the sign was blank, then changed to "Paris"

Crap. Wrong choice. Apparently this train does go to Lyon first, but ends up in Grenoble eventually.

Oh well, shouldn't be a terrible delay. Lesson learned. No problem. I'll just look at the schedule and find the next train to Lyon. It's now 16:22 and


The next train doesn't leave until 20:37. I check the schedule at least 3 times in disbelief. Nothing named Lyon between the departed 16:21, and the 20:37. Retard.

Unanticipated Day in Geneva

Well, there are worse cities in the world to be stuck in for a day. (Champagne Illinois comes to mind). I find a place to store my luggage for the afternoon, in a locker for 7 CHF, and start walking around this beautiful city. For you geographically challenged Americans reading this blog, Geneva is right next to a big lake, named... C'mon guess: Lake Geneva. Along this lake in Geneva are a zillion boats, little restaurants, lots of tourist attractions.

View Larger Map

I spent the 3 hours walking up the lake and taking pictures. I found a very neat sundial, a park with zillions of old bicycle tires which have been converted into swings. I walked along a rocky shoreline, with boulders to protect the shore. I also enjoyed the views of the lake. It was too windy and cold to go swimming, but there was a beach for the children to play in the sand.

I got back to the train station with about 45 minutes to spare. If I missed this train, there was no way to get to Lyon that day. I sat in the train station, and saw this sign:

So, faced with this situation, do you:
  1. Realize that you could have gotten on this train, it goes to Paris, and stops in Lyon on the way.
  2. Better to play it safe. Don't get on that train.
  3. This sign says something like "reservations obligatory" on the bottom, and I don't think my ticket would qualify.
Pretty much I chose numbers two and three simultaneously. For entertainments sake, I typed in "Gare de Lyon" into my Google Maps browser on my cell phone that had gotten me into trouble previously. It's a good thing I didn't get on that train. Gare de Lyon is a train stop in Paris. Yikes that would have been a fun phone call to Stacy. "Yeah, I got on the wrong train, and now I'm headed to Paris. The conductor is about to fine me a hundred Euros probably, cause I'm on the wrong train. "

I eventually got on the right train. Passport in hand. Luggage retrieved from the locker. Sitting in my seat. My neighbors look confused. They keep looking at their tickets, then look at the numbers on the seats. They look like they're looking for an assigned seat on the train. I check mine. No where on that ticket does it look like an assigned seat location. All the fields that look like they should be an assigned seat have a "*" symbol, which to me, the programmer, sees that as a wildcard. "I can sit where I want!" I sure hope I don't get a yellin' at in French from the conductor.

The conductor eventually found me, and punched the ticket with no comments. He did comment to the two people trying to find their assigned seat number that looked like they were in the wrong assigned seats or something. I don't know. It was French. Or Italian. Or something I didn't understand.

I arrive at the Lyon -- Part Dieu train station at 11:00 ish. With luggage in hand, and Blackberry 8800 with GPS and Google Maps, I head out. The blackberry is my tri-corder. I have the address for the hotel plugged in, and I start following the streets that looks like it will eventually get me there. Only 4 kilometers! I'm too scared to get a taxi, and if I get mugged, they can have this luggage with two sleeping bags in it. It will lighten my load. It's also not as if I have any cash either.

I eventually get to the hotel, and check in. I find my bed. It is near midnight. What a day.

It's a Zoo with Imaginary Animals!
The next morning, the family had breakfast at the Hilton breakfast bar downstairs. The food was excellent, the service was even better, and everybody was so nice and friendly. We enjoyed our stay at that hotel very much. The cool thing about that hotel, is that it is a part of a long string of interesting buildings adjoined with an art museum, a casino, and right next to the biggest garden with zoo that you have ever seen.

View Larger Map

Stacy makes her way via taxi to the Swiss consulate to get our passports prepared with the correct entry visas. My mission was to take the kids to the zoo. The kids had spent lots of time in the gardens on the previous day (while I was discovering Geneva), and were terribly disappointed that they did not find the zoo.

We made our way to the zoo around 10:00 am, and started to look for these animals. Lots of cages. No animals. We went to the first exhibit, an empty area. Maybe birds are supposed to be here. We go to the second. There are supposed to be monkeys here. Third. Bears. Nowhere to be found. "What kind of zoo is this!" Jake asked.

"It's a zoo with imaginary animals, Jake! You have to imagine you're seeing a bear!" Jake found that funny, and for the first few minutes in this zoo, this is really how it felt. Maybe the animals were all sleeping in. I don't know. Eventually, we found the crocodiles, which were out sunning, warming up for another exciting day at the zoo. That's when we started to see all the animals that were probably getting fed or maybe just not yet woken up.

We saw the elephants (Indian, not African), zebras, bears. After the kids started complaining about needing to go to the bathroom, they repeated what they were told by their mother yesterday. "They don't have bathrooms here, just showers."

This I don't believe. The kids take me to these "showers"

They are not showers, they are squatters. How primitive! And the kids, especially Cecilia, really have to go. Jake has to go too, and it has to be in the squatter, too.

"How do we use it?" the kids ask. I demonstrate (clothed).

This sure was entertaining listening to the kids complain. After the experience was scarred on their psyche forever, we exited. I saw the handicapped bathroom. I couldn't help but wonder how the squatters were adapted for the people in wheel chairs.

"Oh look at that Jake, a regular toilet!"

Boy was he angry.

Parlay-vous Number Deux on le Sides?
Stacy found us, and we had lunch. We headed for the train station for a 14:00 departure. Unfortunately, when we arrived, that train was a "Reservee Obligatorie" or something like that, reservations only-train ride. The 15:45 train was a bus to Geneva. Our next train didn't come until 16:45. Ugh. It's like Geneva all over again. We tried sitting in the train station for a little while, until we realized that we were going to kill the children for whining too much before the train ever came. So we set out on a new journey.

I love doing this in cities: pick a direction and go. You'll find something interesting in most cities (Except maybe Champagne, Illinois). I found the Tokyo dome in Japan, and watched a baseball game. I found a Coast Guard Station in San Diego, I found the Pornography museum in New York City. (oh, that's another story).

Here in Lyon, we picked a direction and just "went." Stacy and I have been giving that look to each other for the past few days. You know, the look of "Gee, Jake is starting to look like a Hippy." So we found the first Coiffeur that we could spot, and walked in. No English. It's like living in Miami, almost.

We managed to convey our interest in having the boy's hair cut (See section title). Mostly with the typical American who doesn't speak French's favorite method of communication. Hand gestures, grunts, slow talking. Jake was miserable that we were forcing him to get a hair cut against his will. The hair stylist did a great job for a fee that was far less than we would have ever paid in Switzerland.

Cecilia got her hair cut too, with a very short haircut that she loves.

We eventually got onto a very crowded train with a boring pizza that took forever to cook and almost made us miss our train. There was no place to store our luggage except for our legroom. We had a stranger sit on the same bench as us. Nobody spoke English, of course. (or at least everybody pulled a Quebequois and pretended not to be able to speak English).

The entry into Switzerland with our visas was pretty uneventful. We had to ask that our passports get stamped, and that is not a normal occurrence at this customs station. So much effort for so little ink. But we're now legal, no longer tourists.

These poor kids. Wherever we go on a train, it is so boring for them. Be quiet. Sit. Don't scream. Don't poke your brother. Stop pulling his hair. Stop yelling. They have so much energy built up on these restless train rides that they go crazy. The ride from Lyon to Geneva was a constant struggle of independence versus the Parent-Police-State laying down the law.

It was on our train ride from Geneva to Bern that we were blessed with the dream of all parents: The Kinderwagen! This is a car on the train where the kids are allowed to be kids. It is a train that has a little playground in it. Not a big one, but certainly big enough to entertain the kids for the few hours on the train ride home from Geneva. Stacy and I sat quietly, while the younger three kids, sans shoes, climbed over the slides and ladders on this wonderful wonderful train car.

There was some guy with a laptop, who looked like he was trying to work. Too bad for him. I never told the kids to be quiet once. If this guy needs silence to work, he picked the wrong car. He eventually disappeared to seek productivity elsewhere. We eventually got back to Bern around 10:30, and the kids went straight to bed.

Fitting in with the Glider Club
Prior to the adventure in Lyon, I finally made my way to the glider club to get some flying done. Prior to this, I had not yet even flown with the club, and was starting to get very irritated with my decision to come to this country. My flying has been unacceptably low this year, and this trip to Switzerland is only going to harm my currency even worse.

I arranged some instruction with the same guy who gave me the first ride in Belp back in June; Kurt. The plan for the day was to put me in the Duo Discus, and do the four flights necessary to get me ready to fly any of the club's planes. I am not permitted to fly to the alps yet, until I get a few check flights. But in principle, after these four familiarization flights, I'm set.

The flying part is easy. The Duo is a dream to fly. This one is brand new. It is less than a month with this club. This makes their third Duo-Discus. This one is actually the "Duo-Discus 'X'" with extra capable spoilers, my only complaint about the Discus, is the less than stellar spoiler capabilities.

Like I said, all the flying part is easy. I find myself enjoying this glider very much. The part I have the most trouble with was the communication with the radio tower. See, it's not like the communications with the tower is in German. Or Swiss German. Or French. It's English. I should be able to muddle my way through radio communications in English. This is a new procedure for the airport. The club has suffered a large drop in membership, as many of the members decided they did not want to have to learn English to communicate with the tower, and have gone on to other gliding clubs. No sweat! I should be able to handle this English thing!

Radio communications is hard. You have to fly the plane, and talk to somebody who is sitting at a desk and critiquing your radio manners. As a native English speaker, you can not draw from the power of improvisation, you can only recite the appropriate lines from this play: like a pull-down menu of only the correct words to say back to the tower. Also, whenever you're given a clearance, you have to hear it well enough, and say what they told you back to them, in the correct syntax. I'm not liking this very much. I was never comfortable with the tower communications in the three flights, and it might be a few more months until I'm fully comfortable.

Reporting to Work
Of course, the first thing I want to do once I got my work visa is actually go to work. That is why I came here, in the first place. Stacy, however, had different ideas. "Now that we have our residency permit, we can actually go get a car!"

"Now that I have a work permit, I can actually go to work!" was my response. I won on the first day. I reported to work on the Wednesday after our day at the Police station, registering. That was pretty much all the work I was able to do that week. My day at work was spent mostly getting my workstation operating, getting caught up on the 3000 e-mails that I didn't really have time to read, and meeting all the people in my office.

Car Purchase Adventures
One of the luxuries of this country is not needing a car. Back in Virginia, caught in Suburbia hell, riding my bike to work is an impossibility. Most Europeans do not easily grasp the concept that nobody walks, nobody bikes, and nobody uses public transport to work; unless you live in the close-in suburbs, or in deep urban areas ... on the east coast only (with a few west-coast exceptions like San Francisco). I really have been enjoying using the train and buses so that I don't have to drive. My conscience is lighter knowing I'm not supporting evil Mid-east regiemes with my commuting habits.

But Stacy will have no more of this "spend the whole day on trains" bit. As you may have read in previous posts, she takes the kids to school, takes a tram to drop off Joey at his babysitter, takes a tram back, then repeats the whole process in reverse, sometimes not getting back home until 4:30, having spent the whole day on trains.

During this time of no permitness, Stacy has been stalking used car dealers. She found a used car in the small village of Worb, on the southeastern outskirts of Bern. The car she found was an Opel Saffira, a year old, and with only 9,000 km on it. We got a reasonable lease deal, and it was certainly much cheaper than purchasing a car in the US.

Getting insurance was rather difficult, our American insurance company, USAA refused to insure the vehicle as the Opel "did not meet United States crash safety criteria" Which really means that I'm driving a vehicle that hasn't gotten into any crashes in the US; not that it's a rolling deathbox.

The conversation to purchase the auto was entirely in German, and I of course, had to be there, as Stacy couldn't sign the papers herself, or couldn't understand what they meant anyway. The financing was with GMAC, and was a pretty good deal. Hopefully, we won't drive too many miles.. kilometers on the car, and be able to return it to the dealership with a little bit of money coming back to us at the end.

The day before we drove home with the car, Stacy made a special trip to find a car navigation system. We got a Magellan NUVE 660, which has lots of neat features. The experience of driving to the school to pick up the kids, and the experience of having the computer tell us exactly where to go was much more simple than my journey in the Monster-Van last month. That would be the journey where I pissed off at least 2 dozen people, had 3 near accidents, and probably went down the wrong way on one way streets at least 3 times.

"I never knew that the school was so close to the house!" Stacy remarked. The train trip is 30 minutes or so, by car it's a mere ten minutes. I thought that the school was on the outer skirts of civilization, not just on the other side of the river. I guess the perception of distance really is reduced when driving around.

Cinderella on the Train
A week later, the company had a grand opening ceremony for the Fribourg office. The whole affair was rather quite a big deal. It even made the local newspapers. There were press conferences, trading of business cards, tours, newspaper reporters. The party with all the schmoozing was for the VeriSign officials only. Directors, VPs, etc. Not me. Not pee-on me.

But that was made up for with a company party the night after: Thursday. The company put on this party, starting at 6:30, where we had a bus pick us all up, and take us to a restaurant with a beer brewery, on the southwest edge of town. The party included an open bar (yay), and a variety of three locally-brewed beers for our tasting. After the beer tasting, we went upstairs for a wonderful meal. There were two choices, the pasta or the chicken. The chicken didn't turn out to be chicken. I was given the option of pasta and the strange French-named bird I never heard of (and can't remember). I looked it up on wikipedia, and it was too cute of a little birdy, so I opted for the less guilty pasta. Besides, pasta doesn't have bones to pick through.

The party bus left at 11:30, so we all staggered out to wait for the bus. We waited. And waited. The bus didn't come until about 11:45. A short bus ride home, and we found a ghost-town of Fribourg, late on a Thursday night. I got a car-ride to the train station.

I was kind of worried about finding a train back to Bern this late, so along the way to the train station, I was scoping out nice bridge abutments I could sleep behind, like a homeless person. Oh by the way, did I mention that there were no hotels available in Fribourg? Many of the people who came to visit on this Fribourg special event had to stay in Bern, or stay at two star hotels.

Upon entering the train station, I found that the blue board, which lists all of the trains coming and going, usually full with the next 30 minutes worth of trains -- was completely blank. This place is a ghost town. There was one puny measly entry left on the board. I squinted to see the one train left was the 00:34 train back to Bern (whew). I waited 15 minutes for my train, and at 00:40, I was starting to get rather nervous. Finally, in typically un-Swiss fashion, the train arrived fashionably late at 00:49. I hopped aboard the nearly empty train, and headed for Bern.

The train was stopping for the night in Bern. It's a good thing I don't live in Zurich. I exited the train to find that the Bern station was completely empty too. The S3 to Belp stopped running maybe 2 hours earlier. The S2 to Schwarzenburg also. Buses? Nope. There is something called a "moonliner" -- a bus that runs late hour routes. I didn't see any of these buses, and didn't know where to pick one up anyway. So a long walk home was ahead of me. In terribly uncomfortable dress shoes. I got home a few minutes before 2 AM. Next time I'll do the American thing and drive to the party, or drive to the office.

Taco Bell, How I Long for Thee!
"You always want what you can't have" It's not that I especially like Taco Bell. And it's not that I especially like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Or sweet pickles. Or cake mix. Or Cheerios. Or the little baked gold-fish crackers. But as far as we can tell, these things do not exist in Switzerland.

A co-worker alerted us to the "American Market", a store in Geneva that has stocked up on these very things that we miss so much. Except maybe for the Taco Bell. Once I learned of this location, I immediately informed Stacy, and we planned a weekend excursion to Geneva.

I will tell you of the tale of our trip to Geneva in the next issue.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sea Shipment Arrives

First of all, for those who have been writing to me, complaining that I have not updated this as often as I usually do, I apologize. Things have been busy here, and I haven't had much opportunity to sit at the computer and type. And I haven't had much mood, either, as you will see shortly. I will soon change the tagline from "Piet's Daily Journal" to "Whenever Piet Gets Around To It -or- Quasi-Weekly Journal" I would also like to thank you for actually visiting the site to find that I am a slacker and haven't updated the pages in a week.

Sea Shipment Arrives
On Wednesday, August 22nd, our sea shipment finally arrived. Yay! The sea shipment contained all the stuff I had learned to live without. It also contained all of the furniture that was currently held in the role of the rental furniture. In case you haven't been paying attention, (or I didn't mention it), we had rented most of our furniture, which looked like a shopping spree at Ikea. We asked the rental company if we could just make our lives easier and buy the furniture, and they said, "Sure! Please to be paying 5500 CHF!" That is when we decided to go to Ikea and buy some of the same furniture that we really liked; when we decided that the American bed we shipped over sucked, and was too big and uncomfortable; that was also when we realized we needed to buy our closet space. Oh so much to describe, I better slow down. Too much coffee this morning.

The Sea Shipment day was an action-packed day. The rental furniture had to go, the new sea shipment stuff had to find a way into our apartment; the final things we had bought at the Ikea in the days previous had to be assembled in a rapid fashion, or we wouldn't have any floor space to put together everything. Yikes! The Monday and Tuesday preceding the sea shipment consisted of lots of screwdriver turning and hammering as we assembled shelves. There were a few things that simply could not be assembled, due to the fact that there wasn't enough room for the rental furniture that hadn't left yet, and the new Ikea stuff that still was pending assembly. Namely, the bed in my bedroom, and the wardrobe in the hall. Some other things did get assembled beforehand, like the new chairs, my new computer desk, Stacy's computer desk. About half of the 1200 pounds of junk that we crammed into the Monster-Mercedes.

On the morning of that Wednesday, the rental furniture people showed up to pack up their stuff, which included the kitchen-ware, the dining room table, the couch, the chairs, the bed in my room; Jake's bed, all of the furniture in the Kids' room, all of the furniture in the living room, all of the TV's, and all of the silverware.

Second Trip to Gurten
The second half of the day's excitement was the sea shipment people who needed to show up late enough so that the rental furniture would be gone, and early enough so they could get done by 1700 (That's 5 PM for you Americans who don't know what 24-hour clocks are). Of course, the sea shipment people showed up too early, and started carrying things upstairs before there was sufficient enough room to put new equipment. I am sure that if you get Stacy started on the subject, she will begin ranting about how awful it was.

I, however, was charged with the very important task of keeping the kids out of the way. Out of the way means "out of the apartment." So, this meant another day to Gurten. As was previously reported, we had already enjoyed a day trip to Gurten, the only change in cast this time, was Stacy was not present, and Jake was not along for the original trip, but was present on the sea-shipment day.

Since the school year started on that Monday, there weren't any kids around on the top of Gurten, just us, and a few pre-schoolers. It wasn't as warm as the original day we went, and the kids were not permitted to play in the pond. Also, the kiddy train wasn't in operation until 13:30. The bumper cars were empty, and the kids drove around once, realized there was nobody to crash into, and gave up after one Franc.

The Rube Goldburg machine! Ah, I didn't explain the joys of the big ball machine adequately for the last Gurten trip. There is this huge contraption at Gurten park that is unlike anything I have seen in the US, (but I have seen one at the Singapore Science Center). The machine consists of three sections along with about a dozen what appear to be bocce balls.

The aim of the game is to get your ball all the way through the course. The course consists mostly of metal tracks for your ball to travel on, and every few meters of travel, the course presents you with various levers that must be pulled, wheels that have to be turned, dials that have to be twiddled, or cables that have to be yanked. Occasionally, there are a few places where the ball will fall off the track. The kids really enjoyed this contraption, and so did I.

I think I enjoyed the device the most when Joshie would get a ball moving, and as it raced through the tracks, Josh would chase the ball. The ball would inevitably change course while following a track, and Josh would have to dart around, trying to figure out where the ball would end up next. The aim of the game is to get the ball all the way through the three islands, back to where you originally started. I guess it takes about 20 minutes with about 2 dozen tasks to get all the way through the course, but I wasn't watching my watch, and wasn't counting the number of devices.

There is a big playground of raised walkways, and wooden ladders, etc, that the kids call the "Ewok Village", and now that they call it that, it does sort of look like the tree houses that the Ewoks lived in. We climbed the Gurten tower again, this time I got pictures of the building. We looked at the apartment, and called Stacy. We had her move some of the sun shades, so that it could help me point out the apartment for the kids.

After we climbed down from the tower, we enjoyed lunch in the cafeteria, where kids got to enjoy the comfort food of Chicken Nuggets. I had the kids run all around, and enjoy the day, but even at such an interesting place as Gurten park, there comes a time when the kids run out of joy. The kids were ready to go home.

I call home, Stacy says "No way, there's no room, the two sets of movers are arguing with each other, it's a disaster here." So I find a way to stall the kids even more. There was an indoor playground at the restaurant at the top of Gurten, and I had the kids goof of there for another hour, as I sat on the balcony and took pictures of the town below. Finally, Jake said he had a headache, and our time was up, and we had to come home.

Compulsive Hoarding
We came home to a jam packed disaster of an apartment. I felt like my spacious, almost spartan apartment with stylish European furniture has undergone a Gregor Samsa-like Metamorphosis. The first sentence of the Metamorphosis went like this:
Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
As I walked into the apartment, I was met with the same level of shock as poor Gregor Samsa must have realized, so allow me to re-write the first sentence of the Kafka masterpiece:

Als Piet Barber eines Mittag aus unruhigen Ferien beim Gurten, fand er sich in seine Wohnung zu eine schrechliche Unordnung. 1

As Piet Barber one afternoon, after an unsettling holiday at Gurten, found himself at his Apartment to a terrible mess (disorder).
As predicted in the second law of Thermodynamics, entropy has won. I sank into the sort of depression that faces one who is challenged with an unending task, such as dealing with the DMV or IRS. I also felt as if I had walked not into my apartment, but mistakenly found myself in the house of the worst compulsive hoarder. I was reminded of the stories I have seen on TV and on the Internet of the crazy old lady with stacks of newspapers since 1983, "Just in case she needed them." At the moment I saw things like towering boxes of toys and felt quite the same.

It is really hard to explain the funk I quickly found myself in. For some reason, my brain keeps coming back to roaches, even though there were no roaches in the apartment or shipment. I think it's the horror I witnessed of the piled boxes and disaster in the apartment, along perhaps the Kafka reference. Perhaps the only times I've experienced such horrific shock was a midnight snack in my old Arlington apartment, the shock of seeing a floor covered in roaches once the light is flicked-on. Shock for both me and the roaches, as I shout "Roaches!" and as the roaches shout "Human!"

While I'm on this really weird tangent, my mind also leads me to my recollection of my favorite "Straight Dope" article -- Their excellent article series about roaches.
There are two proven approaches to dealing with la cucaracha: (1) borax, and (2) arson.
I felt as if, to modify the Cecil Adams article; (and I hope you readers don't take this the wrong way, especially if a fire ever does break out in the apartment)
...There are only two viable strategies to deal with this apartment disaster: (1) Escape, and let Stacy deal with it, and (2) arson.

Packing Strategies Re-evaluated
While we were still in Virginia, I don't know where I was during the packing time. I think I was at work, escaping from the draining endless stream of questions that I would doubtless had been faced with, if I was present. A constant stream of confrontational questions like "Should we ship the box of this toys, or should we store it." A shrug of indifference was always my reply, and when confronted to give an answer, I would answer with as random an answer as I could come up with. Then, invariably, Stacy would choose the other option. She is a saint for putting up with me.

The evening of my Kafka-like experience of witnessing the endless piles of boxes, I got into an email conversation with a co-worker's wife -- they will be relocating to Switzerland, and were at that moment, were preparing their shipment and storage piles. I gave her this advice to her questions, in-line:

Get everything into as discrete a pile as you can get it. they will not let you pack your own stuff. But do them a favor and at least get stuff into recognizable enough piles so they can save some time. Buy them lunch. It will probably take several days to move all your collected junk. Treat them nicely. They can lose your stuff into a river very easily if you treat them like crap.

Remember there are FIVE piles you need to consider:

What do I need to throw in the trash
What do I need to pack into my luggage
What do I need to go into the air shipment
What do I need to go into the sea shipment. --
What can I put into storage.

Then ask yourself again, What can I take from my sea shipment and put into the trash, or into storage. I heartily recommend taking as little stuff as you can comfortably imagine. Then divide the pile in half again.

My panic-attack-of-the-day is that for some reason we won't get visas period.

I recognize that panic attack. I have a special place on the Monbijoustrasse bridge just in case that happens for me.

Is that anything I should be concerned about? I'm a total type-A worst-case-scenario kind of girl, so I'm hoping I'm just worrying about nothing.

You have nothing on my wife who is far more type A than you , and she seems less stressed. So suck it up, lady.

Questions, before I forget:
I've pretty much scoured the house from roof to nasty-carpeted-floor and just want to see if there's anything else I should do.

Wall to wall carpet is evil and should never have become fashionable in the US. But remember, if you live above neighbors, they probably will hear you guys thudding everytime you walk around. If you are a soft-footed side-walled walker like me, you're good. If you're a heel-toe thudder like my wife and kids, maybe you should consider some strategically placed rugs to soften the blow.

Introduce yourself to your neighbors before they form an opinion about how loud a thud-walker you are. They will not introduce themselves to you. Do the introductions as soon as possible, preferably on the day before all the junk shows up.

Understand the trash and recycling as clearly as possible before you come here. When you pay 1 franc per trash bag, you get a lot better at recycling. Understand that you can't just dump your trash into a big dumpster somewhere and forget about it. That cardboard box from your "Frosties" doesn't just go away, you gots to save it till cardboard recycling day, which is like twice a month. For our household, the day they come to pick up the cardboard might as well be as special a day to us as is Christmas.

Do not think just because you have green bucket that is called "bio trash" that you can throw all your kitchen scraps into it. We got a yellin' at cause we did that. The green trash bins are for like gardening waste, grass clippings, etc. (your results in Fribourg may differ).

We are stunned at how dirty our barefeet are at the end of the day. The hardwood floors safely store all dust molecules, and your feet pick them up like mops. Consider some household slippers. I love walking barefoot, so i will put up with the nasty black-bottomed feet at the end of the day.

What happened with opened spices and toiletries [from your shipment]?

They came. They should have been sent to the garbage dump. Big-Ass American Spice (isn't that one of the spice girls?) boxes really don't fit well in our tiny little shelf. the little petite one we bought at Migros worked just fine before our sea shipment came. Fresh minced garlic and fresh minced onion taste better than the dried onion flakes, anyway.

Did you move any dry food-goods or just trash them?

We shipped them. I think our movers were so tired of all our junk that they got to a point where they just threw them into a box and said "Ship it!" There are lots of things that got shipped that shouldn't have. Specifically, our rule was "If it's got a plug, don't ship it." We're unpacking a lot of these unusable electric items from the sea shipment today cause of this. (sigh)

Were the movers helpful during the process or did they just box-and-go?

Stacy would say no, I would say yes, because I feel bad for making some other poor bastard pack all of my bad shopping choices over the last 5 years.

* What do you wish you would have gotten/brought that you didn't?

Floor rugs.
DVDs. The movies you buy here will be in German (French in your case), and will not play in your DVD Player anyway.

A better question that you didn't ask, but I'll ask for you is similar
What would you choose to leave behind, and what would you choose to ship?

Now that my sea shipment has come, and I depressingly look at my small apartment, I now wish I had done the packing differently. I now wish I divided half my stuff into two random piles and set one pile ablaze. Dance around it like a pagan fire ritual. If enjoyed such a ceremony, I would have 50% less stuff shipped here that I couldn't remember that I shipped here in the first place.

Don't ship big pots and pans because there is a good possibility they won't fit your oven.
Don't ship curtains because they wont fit your windows. (standard versus metric)
Don't ship hanging file folders unless you ship the hanging file cabinets; your Non-Metric hanging folders don't fit metric file cabinets.

While in the US, sign up for service with Skype immediately. Get your phone number transferred. Don't disconnect before you transfer the phone number.

If you have a TiVo, have your friend set it up BEFORE you leave the country. (Preferably, a friend with big outbound bandwidth so you can download your programs nightly)
Watching La petite fille va au marché every night on the TV will get tiring very quickly.

Buy Rosetta Stone before you leave the country so you don't have to pay the customs import fee.

Do everything in your human possibility to learn as much of this language as humanly possible before you leave.

If you are an electronics nerd and know what a multimeter is, much less own one, do not leave your multimeter at home. Make sure it is packed in the luggage you take with you. Do your best to keep from releasing any magic smoke.

We bought a big bag of those universal power converters, that take any plug (namely our US plugs) and plug them into swiss outlets. I also found that they don't fit very well into the sockets; they use up more than their fair share of space on the three outlet socket. I found that you can buy the square cables pretty easily at the computer store here (to make cables just like the ones that plug into Chris's computer), and the figure 8 power cables (to make the ones that look just like the one that plugs into Chris's Thinkpad power supply). Those fit into the wall much more easily. The replacement cables are 10 bucks a pop.

Be careful not to go into overage mode on your cell phone before you shut off your phone service, and before you leave the country.

Get a loaner phone from the company , so you won't be screwed making personal calls to the US for the random things from pay phones.

Buy shoes. They are metric and expensive here.

Get a haircut. They are expensive here.
Choose a longer hair style so you won't spend a fortune on your #1 on the sides haircut. Mike [an acquaintance with a very short haircut] would never be able to afford his "might as well be bald" haircut lifestyle over here. At least he wouldn't be able to afford his nice car, if he maintained his haircut lifestyle.

Learn the rules of the road BEFORE getting into a car as a driver. Do not turn on red. Do not speed. If so equipped, learn what the "Lim" stick on your steering column means before you hit it by mistake.

Learn the train system here in Switzerland by heart. Understand deeply. Learn what a Abo and a Halbtax card are. Get on the train and just "Go". Go to Interlaken, and Thun.

Get over the fact that you will be buying milk in cartons, and learn what UHT means, and get used to storing milk on a shelf because your fridge is too small.

* Anything you would like us to pick up and throw in our shipment for you?

This country does not know the magic of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
This country does not know the magic of goldfish. (The crunchy cheese baked kind that Pepperidge Farm makes)

Here are more answers to questions you should have asked:

Leave your bed at home. The one we got from Ikea is cooler and nicer, and more comfy than that American monstrosity with 30 pounds of dust mites from 15 years. Oh I guess I shouldn't write that out loud, should I.

Find friends quickly. English speaking friends. If you find American friends, they are likely to understand why you miss Kraft Macaroni and Cheese so much.

Get over the fact that you won't have and won't need an Air conditioning. Get used to a fan. They are better for you and your environment. If you are hot in the summer, stop wearing six layers of clothes. The world is not 72oF every day, you should not expect your apartment to be, either.

Bring Sudafed. Here, the pharmacist will just feed you some "retard" drug instead, and then you wonder why you're so tired.
Assembly Interim
On Wednesday night, most of the stuff in the apartment was at least usable enough to get through the night. The most notable exception to this was the bedroom furniture. We did not have enough time to assemble our new Ikea bed, and it was late. I was in no mood to assemble this bed at 11:00 PM. Thankfully, we have a hide-a bed!

The couch had a cool Transformer-action-figure ability to contort its self from comfortable living room sofa into a comfortable couch! We took advantage of this, unfolded the couch and got the bed ready. We closed all the window shades in the living room, and settled in for a night's sleep that we definitely deserved.

I lay my head onto my pillow, and found my torso poked by some uncomfortable springs built into the matress. This was by far the most uncomfortable mattress I have ever attempted to sleep on. The hide-a-bed could have been more comfortable if its mattress pad was packed with gravel.

About two minutes of lights-out discomfort, and Stacy and I suggested to each other, simultaneously, if we could possibly make this bed more comfortable with the addition of the mattresses that were ultimately destined for our Ikea bed.

The mattresses we bought from Ikea, for ease of storage, along with that "demilitarized zone" along the center (to quickly determine which party had invaded the other's territory) were quickly unpacked and placed side-by-side atop the hide-a-bed. The center was unsupported, and the sides were stronger than the saggy middle. The two mattresses formed a "V" shape, with the V being a split down the center of the bed. That was certainly an uncomfortable night's rest.

Somewhat in Order

In case you've ever been in doubt, let me explicitly state it: Stacy is Wonder-Woman. If you are not from Generation-X, you might not remember the 1970's series, Wonder-Woman. Wonder-Woman would change from mild-mannered secretary Diana Prince into Wonder Woman by spinning around. Seeing Stacy convert piles of dusty boxes into usable living space was a vision exactly like Diana Prince's conversion into Wonder-Woman.
Instructions are only for people who don't know what they're doing!
-- Bob the Builder
With my expert help in assembling the furniture (refer to quote above), we finally got the apartment mostly-box free. When I refer to my expert Ikea assembly techniques, I ask you not to inquire about the PATRIK chair incident, where I didn't look at the assembly instructions and attached it backwards. When leaning forward, the hinge that normally allows you to lean back in the chair would instead dump you forward.

School Begins
The most appropriate song I can think of is the Chrismas Carol "It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Jake especially hates it when I sing this song to greet him with the new school year. The local schools all started two weeks prior (around August 13th!), so we got weird looks from the locals when we walked around town. "Why aren't these children in school!?" I'm sure all the Swiss wondered.

In case you haven't been keeping track of my kids, Josh, the 5 year old, is just about the age to start Kindergarten. The typical American scene of that first day of school is the teary-eyed mom drops the kids off at the school-bus, momma all proud and sad that her baby has grown up. The kid, also is crying, but not for the same reason. If the scene doesn't involve a school bus, it involves an SUV or a mini-van of some sort.

Being in Switzerland, Joshie was denied this stereotypical event in American culture, and experienced a minor change: The trip to school was not on a school bus, but rather on a train (very Swiss indeed). We got on to the S1 train to Bern (and points further), and watched, as each stop gained more people. There were an awful lot of non-Swiss looking kids on this train.

As we arrived at Gumlingen, everybody on the packed train exited at once. They all were bound to the International School of Berne. It was quite the mad rush. Instead of the train that shows up 38 minutes before class, this was the train that shows up 8 minutes before class. You must not dawdle, or you will not make the 3 minute walk to get to class on time.

My kids? Not dawdle? Ha!

Jake found some way for his rolling backpack ("A rolling back pack?!?! In MY DAY, we had to hoist a 30 pound back pack onto our backs! And CARRY it to school. In the snow! Uphill! Both Ways!") ... ahem. Excuse me.

Jake found some way to collide his rolling backpack into a previously-injured road-rash incident on his leg. Blood streamed. This is a delay. Stacy mopped up the streaming blood with Joey's emergency-change-of-clothes shirt. We managed to get to the school, injured Jake and all. Stacy delivered the younger two into their class rooms, as Jake was instructed to go to the bathroom and apply more pressure and water to the re-opened wound.

Stacy commanded that Jake go into the bathroom to clean up any remaining blood spillage, while she took the younger two kids to class. We dropped Joshie off first at the Kindergarten, where he settled in quickly and started playing. We had only a brief moment with Cecilia in the hall, as she found the appropriate place to put her backpack. "Stacy here with Joey!" Stacy commanded me. I obeyed.

Stacy went off to look for Jake, it was now 8:30, and class was starting. She couldn't find Jake, so she went to his class. Poor Jake. On the first day of class, his mother came to find him in his 6th grade class, and all of his fellow students got to see Jake's mother acting, well motherly. I can't think of anything more embarrassing for a 12 year old.

After dropping the kids off at school, we got on the Tram to go southeast a few stops, past Shiloh. This was the stop where Joey goes to the baby sitter; a Englishwoman who has been in Switzerland for 30 years; speaks German, English, Swiss German. At the day care, in her front yard or in her house, the kids are all spoken to in English. There is a friendly dog there named Janosh (YA-nosh), that Joey has grown quite fond of.

Stacy and I get back to the apartment two hours after we had started our morning journey. It didn't help that we missed a tram and a train, too.

I have acquired a French Press to make coffee in the morning, and I have discovered that it doesn't really matter much what kind of coffee grounds I have, if it's a french press coffee, I love it. Strangely enough, I'm not the only coffee drinker in this house. I can't brew up a batch, or even cook a kettle of water on the stove without young Joey coming to me saying "I WANT COFFEE!"

For me, coffee has been strictly an at-work ritual; but since I've not been able to report to the office for the past few weeks, due to some paperwork problems with my work visa. The at-work ritual has morphed into an at-home ritual, now instead. Joey's new fondness for coffee started when I bought a carton of coffee flavored milk, and Joey insisted that he have some then, too. Of course, it was quite milky, and very sweet; so who wouldn't like this? Each time I am forced to give Joey a cup of Joe, I follow the same reciepe: half a cup of milk, a couple spoons of sugar, quarter splash of coffee. He doesn't seem to complain.

Spend My Day With Trains
The typical Swiss thing with regards to trains is to just throw the kids on the train, and let them show up at their stop. Not 11 or 12 year olds, sometimes 6 and 7 year olds. Stacy hasn't yet gained this confidence to do this with the kids yet, or at least she hasn't yet gained the confidence that the kids can handle getting off on the right stop every day. Every day she goes with the children on the S1 direct to Gümlingen. This involves a significant chunk of her day on Bern's public transportation.

She starts by leaving the house at 0740 to walk to the train station, catches the train at the station at 0751. Arrives at Gümlingen at 08:22. Drops off the kids. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she grabs a Tram to Worb. They come every 10 minutes. To do this drop-off at Sue's house, she is only likely to get the 09:38 train back to Bern. She gets back to Liebefeld by 10:30.

Joey has a toy called "Geo Tracks" which comes with a DVD. On the DVD, they sing the theme song "I'm going to spend my day with trains!" Stacy sings this song, as a matter of disgust rather than humor. I think she's ready for a car, at least on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Jog Log
Before we got our sea shipment, the house was mostly empty, so I started jogging. I found this to be a good way to get to see all the sights of the town. I also realized that I was really going to enjoy this, as there are not that many interesting places to jog in Suburbia back in Virginia. Back in South Riding, jogging around is pretty much confined to the town of South Riding. There is no safe means of escape from the town, as all of the roads out of South Riding have no side walk and no safe shoulder to jog or ride bikes on. This is also why I dare not ride the bike to work. Some monster SUV driving soccer mom yelling at the kids in the back seat is surely going to wipe me off the road.

Here in Liebefeld, there are many interesting sights to see withing jogging distance. I've been slowly building up my distance that I can jog without limping home, or without having an asthma attack. I'm up to 7 kilometers now. Go East, and I can climb the Gurten. Go Southwest, and I can visit Köniz. Go Northeast, and I can get to the river. Go west, and I can go to a large park on top of a hill. Or if I feel like running on a track, I can just go around the block, and it's a simple 1.5 kilometers without crossing any traffic (but two sets of train tracks).

Last Saturday, I put Joey in the jog stroller and asked, "Mountains or River?" Joey decided to do the river. So I jogged northeast to the "Tierpark" which means "Zoo" Now this isn't like the National Zoo in Washington DC. This is a very nice zoo with "more room for fewer animals", as their tagline says. They do just that. These animals in this zoo are certainly given much more room than I have seen at other zoos. There are two sections, the pay-per-view section, with the Bears, and other large carnivorous animals, and the free section, with the horses, billygoats, sheep, otters, beavers, etc. Since I didn't have any cash on hand (I was jogging after all), we only experienced the free part.

"Is this where Macindonald lives?" Joey asked. This was very funny for us, since for Joey, 'Macindonald' is how Joey sings "Old MacDonald". In fact, sometimes it sounds like "Megan Donald had a farm." He loves singing that song, but gets stuck on the "neigh neigh there" over and over again.

Here's a map of my jogging routes that I've described so far. Just cause they're a nice solid line doesn't mean that I actually jog the WHOLE way, though. (Especially up the hills)

View Larger Map

Somazzistrasse Block Party
On Friday, 31th of August, the whole set of apartments on Somazzistrasse all had a big party on the basketball court. This was "bring your own meat to grill, something to share" party. I enjoyed meeting a neighbor who works in Zurich (so he has a similar daily commute to mine), who works for Google. I told him how much I enjoyed using all of Google's products, like Blogger, Picasa, Gmail, and how I moved everything to Google before I came to Switzerland. "And best of all, I'm not forced to use Windows for any of these things!" which was a viewpoint he perfectly understood. A fellow geek! I think we're going to get along just fine.

Stacy went to the Migros (that evening, somehow our communication that it was a "bring your beef" party was not communicated or forgotten somewhere along the way), and came back with some sort of mustard-sauce meat. Stacy didn't understand the German the guy was speaking to her, so there is no telling what kind of meat it actually was. Beef? Hopefully. But it could have been horse too. Anyway. Whatever sort of beast it used to be, it was delicious, and beef-like.

I was enjoying a very nice evening of conversation, until work called me on my cell phone with some sort of emergency which occupied the rest of my evening.

I think the kids enjoyed their time at the party, too.

Foot note 1. Please don't consider my visions of Gregor Samsa as a cockroach infestation. We don't have any bugs or other arthropods in this newly-constructed apartment, except for the occasional fly or honeybee that flies in through an open window.