Wednesday, August 31, 2011

34 years ago ...

31 August 2011

So, thirty-four years ago last Saturday, I married my best friend/worst enemy depending on how I was feeling that day. Tiring of a long distance relationship, with me teaching in Breslau Ontario and Greg at Columbia University in Manhattan, on July 2nd I moved into Greg's studio apartment in lower Harlem ... this was lower Harlem before Bill Clinton made it cool to live there. Two strong willed adults used to living on their own sharing space in a cockroach infested studio apartment was not the recipe for a match made in heaven. Our family and friends had a bet on to see how long we'd stay together ... and the bets were in days and months, not years. Had the wedding not already been a done deal, we might have called it off. Fortunately, we didn't.

So, to celebrate, we decided to go to Geneva for the weekend since we'd never been there. Had I given it more thought, instead of the three hour train ride to Geneva, we should have added an hour and gone to Munich, where it all began. Maybe next year.

The heat spell was finally breaking. Unfortunately, it broke right over our heads as we were walking along the lakefront promenade. Instantly soaked, I started bitching at the one who suggested Geneva as our destination. It didn't help that the person was me. Luckily, the rain was quickly over and we enjoyed mostly blue skies for the rest of the trip.

This is the Jet d'Eau - the world's highest fountain. This photo was not taken during the sunny part of our stay.

I proved to myself, yet again, that Zurich has spoiled me for anywhere else in the world. Once outside of the old town, Geneva seemed seedier and dirtier than Zurich. On the other hand, we heard a lot more English there than we do here and it does have some neat buildings and other stuff. You know, like the United Nations and Red Cross.

The old town hall. See how the window openings slant up? That's because it's a ramp so riders on horseback could go right up to the top.

Russian Orthodox Church

One of the really neat old mansions along the lake. None of them seemed to be privately owned anymore but it must have been wonderful to have owned one way back when. This one houses the Science Museum.

World's coolest carousel in the Botanical Gardens

Musee Ariana (porcelain, glass, pottery).Gorgeous interior.

How's THIS for an anti-war statement?

This summer, a giant spider sculpture had magically appeared on the waterfront in Zurich. When Dottie and I were meeting downtown before going to the cactus museum, I suggested we rendezvous under the giant spider. Trouble is, it was gone! I found it again ... in Geneva. I don't know how it got there or who took it but I want it back: no questions asked.

Zurich July 2011
Geneva August 2011

You'd think, this being our anniversary and all, that we would make sure we got a picture of the two of us but no. The only one I have is this.

How strong is a marriage that lasts thirty-four years? Only the Shadow knows.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Okay, so this is odd. In looking over my posts, I was astonished to see a serious omission: a post describing our trip home to Florida in March.  That was the wonderful visit when we learned we are going to be grandparents! I think maybe I was too busy beating the kids at pinnochle to have time to write the blog.

Be that as it may, that visit was a pivotal point in our lives. Until then, Greg and I were excitedly exploring retirement options in Europe.  The news that we were about to become grandparents transformed our minds into freewheeling pendulums. Yes, we are very concerned about the US economy and politics. Yes, we love many things about Europe and feel we would be very happy here. On the other hand, I don't want to be a FaceTime, thrice a year grandmother. So ... if we can't magically transfer the kids here, maybe we should consider returning to the States to live. On the other hand ...


Fortunately, if Vistakon extends Greg's contract beyond the end of the year, we'll have another year before we have to make a decision.  Which brings us to this blog.

Greg and I rented a car so that we could tour the Jura and Vaud cantons of Switzerland, checking out retirement compatability.

Instead of changing hotels daily, we decided to spend three nights at Le Petite Kohlberg, a lovely little hotel set in the middle of farmland just outside Lucille, France (just over the border from the Jura) and another three nights at the Ibis Bulle hotel, a ten minute walk from the center of the charming town of Bulle in the Vaud region. My family gives me a lot of grief over some of the hotels I've booked but these two were great.

During our stay in the Jura, the weather was mostly overcast and rainy and in the Vaud it was sunny and clear. I don't know if that is normal for the two areas but I certainly preferred the latter.

The Jura region is composed of softly folded mountains with some impressive gorges. It's mostly farmland with cows who are bred with the legs on one side of their body shorter than the other to accomodate the sometimes steeply sloping land. Although the mountains are the newest on the planet, the other stuff is old.

Old castles.

Old churches.

Old towns.

Look at the size of the two houses in the middle.

Old dinosaurs. These are models on the dinosaur walk that is adjacent to the Reclere grotto.

Old caves.

Old (mostly) scenery.

Old fart.

Then we tried to visit an old waterfall. We programed the place into our new GPS which then took us down narrow incredibly scary forest roads where we lived in fear of oncoming cars and the steep inclines to our right - on the passenger side, you understand, so that I could experience the full terror of our situation. Finally, the road ended and a sign indicated that a two hour walk would bring us to the falls. By this time, we had used up most of our day and so we turned tail and slowly made our way back up the same roads. Undaunted, the next day we drove into the town nearest the falls, Les Brenets, and hiked along a rugged path for an hour and a half until we came to the falls. Interestingly, all the photos of the falls are taken from below (click on the waterfall link above) while the path we were on only allowed you to view the falls from the top which made the whole experience rather underwhelming. Fortunately, we were able to hitch a ride back to the parking lot on a boat.

the easier part of the walk

waiting for the boat

We're on the Swiss side. The building and dock on the other side of the lake are on the French side.

The Vaud region was my favorite of the two cantons. 

The scenery is gorgeous.

View from our hotel terrace.


I fell completely in love with Bulle. It's a small town with many ammenties that we look for in a possible retirement haven: les charcouteries (butcher shop), boulangeries (bread), fromageries (cheese), patisseries (pastry), wine shops, bookstore, banks, cafes and a weekly regional market. It was wonderful hearing so many people greet each other. I fantasized about being able to do the same. (We chose these two regions because the language there is French and I've given up on German.)

Yum! Look at that ham.

Traditional alp horns.

Look at how high that flag is!


We bought food at the market and stopped at a winery. No tastings but we bought a bottle of wine (three, actually) and ate a picnic overlooking the vineyards.

The winery.

Charmey is a high mountain village. We took a cable car to the top where we watched paragliders literally step off the mountain. Many of them were tandem affairs with the layman in front. If I were to be the one in front, the expert behind would have a hard time with the hand controls because he'd need both hands free to throw me off the mountain. No way would I willingly walk off into nothingness!

Greg and I walked down from the peak to Charmey below. The signpost said the route would take 1 1/2 hours but we took an hour longer. We should have paid more attention to the red stripe on the sign which indicated the walk was difficult. They weren't kidding. By the time we were done, my calves were screaming! Three days later, I was still walking like a rusty robot.

Our sign is the top one. Note red stripe.

milking shed


We found some amusing signs in our travels,

sign on the dino walk
No wet dogs allowed on the boat.

Imagine you are the one who has to clean the toilets.

ate plenty of great food,

We helped ourselves.

Breakfast at the patisserie.

Mussel soup in a saffron base. YUM!

A "Carrousel of vegetables": nineteen different kinds!

Une grand cafe noir avec la double cream Gruyeres. (A large black coffee with the famous "double cream" of Gruyeres - soooo rich!)

and saw some interesting animals.

On Sunday night, we were one of only a handful of people still at Le Petite Kohlberg ... and the rest were off somewhere so we had the whole place to ourselves! We ate a picnic supper on the terrace and I amused myself with trying to find the biggest slug of all those congregating on the lawn. I think the guy above won.

There were two dogs in the back seat. You can see them if you click on the photo to make it larger.
Dottie and Laurie told us that Chateau Chillon, on the south end of Lac Lemon, the largest lake in Switzerland, was a must-see. After taking two hours to tour it with one of those individual audio tours, we had to agree.

The castle owes it shape to the raw rocky island on which it is built. Here in the cellars you can see the rock at the foot of the walls.

View over Lac Lemon from the top of the tower.

Our last foray was to explore some of the mountains around Montreaux.  Les Diablerets and Chateau-d'Oex were two high alpine villages we hit. Our GPS, with no fiercely forested single wide roads in sight, sent us instead on one lane mountain roads. Not sure which one was the scarier.

over achiever

So? Possible retirement places? Jura - no. It seemed a little too small townish. I'm not sure how we would be accepted as residents. Vaud - yes. It has more tourism and so English is more widely spoken and accepted. I loved Bulle and could see myself living there ... if we can only figure out how to get the kids to relocate.

P.S. I lied about the cows.