29 Oktober. 2020

Getting ready for the election and winter!

Fall has come on very quickly. It seems like only yesterday I was walking around town in shorts and flip flops. No it doesn’t bother me that much that everyone recognizes I am not Swiss. Heck it is very obvious I am not even European. One only has to look at my clothes to know I am not from here. Clothing wise, the only thing I have bought in the year I have been here, have been some socks, ski pants, and a coat. I’ve actually gone shopping once or twice, but I have not found anything that fits me the way I like.

I did spend some money the other day, though. If you remember almost a year ago now, I wrote about blowing up the one tool I moved. It was the best knife sharpener I had ever found. I have been dealing with dull knives ever since. Well earlier this week I found it on sale here in Switzerland. It cost a little more than in the US, but I figure the electronics won’t blow up when I plug it into the wall. I’ll have to buy another one when we move back home, but that won’t be for quite a while yet!.

I have been putting some COVID updates on Facebook; so I will just do a quick re-cap here. Just like the rest of the world, once things have turned cool the COVID numbers have risen quickly. There are two cantons that are requesting military help to set up field hospitals because the normal facilities are becoming full with COVID patients. What is most worrisome to the Govt is the positive test rates are over 30%. I’m not an infectious disease specialist, but the news says that is an alarmingly high number. We were prepared for more lockdowns. Julie and I ordered an extra large delivery of bottled water for making coffee, and other staples. I am not worried about shortages, but it is so much easier having COOP deliver us 12 liters of water, than it is to carry that much up the hill. The only changes are that masks are required everywhere now, bars and restaurants have to close at 10 or 11 pm, public events have to be under 50 people, private events have to be under 15 people, and there is no end date for these restrictions to go away. I thought the lockdown would be a lot more severe, but I guess the government doesn’t want to lock everything down again. Though as history has shown us, that is going to be the only way to slow it down.

Julie and I were very excited, at first, because the Government also announced that some of the quarantine restrictions after travel would be lifted. They decided it made no sense to quarantine here, if you were coming from an area that was controlling the virus better. We thought that would mean we could see the kids around the Holidays, but the US is still on the naughty list. You can come in from the US now, but ONLY if you an “exceptional reason.” I am going to be checking, but I doubt if seeing your children is considered an exceptional reason. 😦

I am very happy that we are missing election season in the US. Especially because Wisconsin seems to be on both candidate’s advertising list. I saw an article that on a per person basis, Wisconsin has more money being spent on advertising than any other state in the US. I AM GLAD I AM MISSING THAT. We did get our votes in eventually. I think I talked about that last week as well. I made a tweet about this being a very expensive election, though, and a writer from the New York Times tracked me down. She was doing an article on over seas voters and what we have to do to get our vote to count. It came out in the paper yesterday. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/28/us/politics/mail-ballot-americans-abroad.html
I do not mind showing my own stupidity if I can help others. A Swiss newspaper picked up the story as well, and called me for an interview yesterday. https://www.blick.ch/news/ausland/uswahlen/die-amerikaner-george-und-julie-sorrells-aus-zuerich-wollten-um-jeden-preis-waehlen-stimmabgabe-in-den-usa-kostete-80-dollar-und-viel-aerger-id16166619.html

So now, people that speak two languages know that I am not very smart!!

The last thing to get ready for winter we have a new bed being delivered tomorrow. Julie and I have been pretty uncomfortable the last year. In the US we had a Select Comfort bed. (I can’t recommend them enough. Fabulous product!). Over here, she has had to pile layer after layer of foam pads on her side of the bed, to get comfortable. Now when we lay down, she is 4 or 5 inches higher than I am. For all the rest of the old married people that read this, that makes it very hard to snuggle when her feet get cold and she wants to warm them up. So we went bed shopping. We found something we think we can live with for the next few years, and it gets delivered tomorrow. I can hardly wait.

VAN GOgh Alive

Our cultural tour for the week was a visit to an exhibit called Van Gogh Alive. Basically the promoter took some of Van Gogh’s painting from the different times of his life, paired them with music, and displayed them on screens in a big room. You will get an idea from the video below what it looked like. I wasn’t a big fan. I like my art displayed statically. With this, you actually never saw a whole painting. For me it is just wasn’t as satisfying seeing part of a painting as being able to soak in the whole thing.

We learned a little about the history of Van Gogh. I had no idea he was such a prolific painter. He only lived to be 37 years old, and he really didn’t start painting until he was 27. In those 10 years he created about 2,100 artworks, with 860 of them being oil paintings. What I found most fascinating is that most of his paintings were done the last two years of his life. The other thing that surprised me was learning only ONE of his paintings sold while he was alive. Just think of the dedication and passion it took to do all of that knowing you were a commercial failure. As part of the show, one of the screens displayed quotes. Here are a couple that stuck with me:

I put my heart and my soul into my work and have lost mind in the process.

I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell. But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the pictures.

I dream my paintings and I paint my dream.

If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.

And the last one

What would live be if we had no courage to attempt anything?

Van Gogh Alive Zürich

I also took a couple of pictures from the exhibit, and of a water tower near the hall. Julie and I were surprised to see this water tower that seemed to be about a 100 years old in the middle of this more modern area of Zürich. Hopefully someone that knows German better than I can tell me if I am right, but the way I read the sign was that it was built in 1892 and it is special because it is one of the only smoke stacks built with a water tower attached to the stack. I found it interesting anyway.

The next time I write something, hopefully the election nonsense will be over with the US. I don’t think the noise from the election will be completely over, but I am hoping that within a day or two at most of election day the US will know which road it has chosen to go down. Whether you are a Trump or a Biden supporter I wish you all a safe and trouble free election day. Now that I know my ballot is in, there isn’t a whole lot left to do but wait!

Take care and I’ll write next week.

21 Oktober. 2020

Coronavirus update and online shopping

Covid seems to be taking up more and more of the news over here. Switzerland, like the rest of Europe, seems to be well into our second wave of the virus. The number of daily new cases is now higher than it was back in March and April. The numbers had been climbing slowly for the last two months, but then about the first of Oktober it got chilly, and cases skyrocketed. The good news about the number of cases going up is that so far the number of hospital cases is lower than the spring, and the number of deaths is WAY lower. I guess the medical community has been learning over the last 7 months how to treat this virus.

The government has now made masks mandatory all over the country, before this week different cantons (states) had mask requirements, but now masks are mandatory everywhere. There is also talk about mini lockdowns. By mini, I believe the government is talking about local. For example, Zürich might go under lockdown for two or three weeks, but Luzern would not. I think the government is really trying to avoid a nationwide lockdown again.

We do have our anti maskers here as well. That being said, you don’t see to much of them. They do protest in Bern frequently, but it doesn’t make much of a splash in the news. There is a 10000 CHF fine for not wearing a mask. Well technically, the fine is for trespass. You see the Government will not fine you for NOT wearing a mask. They will fine you for NOT leaving once you are asked. The police if called, will ask you to leave, and if you leave nothing happens. This really cuts down on the number of “Karen” incidents. From what I can tell, we have only had one here.

We have had some cases of “panic” buying again. I put quotes around the word panic, because it is not because of shortages. You have heard me say time and time again how expensive things are over here. Well the news paper, earlier this week, said that the average shopping cart of goods costs about 156 euros here in Switzerland, but only 107 euros in Germany, 109 in France, and 98 euros in Italy. So people that live near the borders are making their normal shopping trips, but are binge buying staples.

toilet paper binge buying

The picture above was from a train coming from Germany. I am not sure how the person got that many bundles of toilet paper to the train station; let alone how they will get it all off in time when they get to their home station. The fear is that the borders will close again. I am guessing those fears are well founded, but at this point who knows. I don’t think any government wants to go to the severe lockdowns we had this spring; yes they work, but at what cost? At some point, we either learn to live with this thing and embrace a new normal, or let the virus simply run it’s course and live with the pain while we wait for herd immunity that may never come.

an interesting shopping experience

A week ago, I wound up locking myself out of my apartment. I was taking out the garbage, and right before going out the door I patted my pocket to make sure I had keys. Well, I got to the door and went to unlock it, but it turned out I had coins in my pocket not my keys. I would have really out of luck, as it was raining, but I had put on shoes, and for some reason grabbed my rain jacket as well. :). I was finally able to get back in but it involved over an hour as I had to go to Julie’s office and get her key. So I started looking for a hide a key.

Online shopping is just as important here, as it is in the US. The difference of course, is that there is no Amazon.com. Yes, we could order from Amazon if we set up a mailbox in Germany, but that would involve two hours on the train, or an hour in a car just to pick up a package. That seems like a waste to me. Big companies over here take payments just like they do everywhere else. They will take a credit card, paypal, TWINT, or Apple pay. The small companies, though are sometimes different.

I found a company called Keysafe Switzerland. Just like their name implies they sell nothing but key safes. Some of these are meant to be mounted on the wall, but they sold some that are designed for the mail boxes. Mail boxes here have two compartments. The top one is locked, and it is where the post office delivers your letters. The bottom part is bigger, it is unlocked, and it is for large envelopes, and small packages. The key safe I found has a strong magnet so it attaches to the wall in the back of the mailbox. I went to order it, but there is no way to pay for it. You place your oder. Get a confirmation email. Then there is a bill included with the product.

I have to admit the first time I ran into this system, I was NOT a good customer. I ordered some cleaning products for the floors. I got confused when there was no way to pay for the product; so I called the company. The customer service person told me that I would get a bill later. I thought that meant they would mail me a bill. Unfortunately, the bill was enclosed with the packing slip. Now I don’t know about you, but I have never opened the packing slip on a box, unless something I ordered wasn’t there, or it was damaged, and I knew I would need it for the return. So about 6 weeks go by, and I get a nasty email from the company about not paying for the product. I called them and said I didn’t ever get a bill, that I had been looking for one. The person knew I was a stupid ExPat, so they told me the bill was with the packing slip……. They did quickly email a copy, and I paid them. I guess they were not that upset with me, because they sold to me again, and this time, I got a nice Thank You email when my payment made it there quickly! 🙂

This process seems very quaint to me. I mean when was the last time any business gave you credit without making you fill out a 10 page credit application and make a promise to give them your first born if you didn’t pay? It is just SOOOOOO 1800’s. I always thought the online payment systems for small businesses were pretty cheap. I would have thought it made more sense to set up a payment system than to give people the product and hope they would send you money. I find it hard to believe that Swiss people are more honest than people in North America, but they must be. I don’t remember any company that would give me the product and not expect payment immediately, unless terms had been arranged before hand. Part of me wants to contact the owner of KeySafe and ask him, but I am afraid that WOULD make me look like the stupid ExPat I am.

I apologize that this is not one of my better written posts. I had spent over two hours this morning writing and editing, and all of a sudden the page was blank. I’ve been using WordPress for a while now, and today was the first time that something had not auto saved for me. I should know better, I’ve worked around computers long enough to know to save my work periodically, but I had gotten in such a flow…. 🙂

Anyway, I hope you stay safe and healthy until I write again next week. Hopefully I will have some pictures of the Van Gogh Exhibit Julie and I are attending next weekend. I don’t know if they allow cameras or not, but I’m bringing one just in case…

14 Oktober. 2020

It has been a pretty quiet week, so far. The biggest news locally, is the Coronavirus is making a comeback in Switzerland. After the initial problems this spring, we had slowly but surely been opening up. About a month ago, we hit the final level in the opening plan, which was that large scale events with pre-approval could start up again. About two weeks ago, fall arrived, and since then the numbers have been growing pretty quickly. I was reading an article last night that said Switzerland is considering another lockdown. Just yesterday it was announced we had our largest single day increase ever of almost 3000 new cases. Julie and I were starting to make some plans for some trips in November, but we have decided to hold off. We didn’t want to get stuck like we almost did with our Portugal trip. The quote I found amusing was this: The Health Minister told the public to “Get your act together!” I don’t think it is going to matter.

I think one of the problems in the US was that people grew tired of the restrictions. Granted they grew tired pretty darn fast compared to the rest of the world, but they grew tired, and said screw it. I think that is now happening over here. More and more in the news you hear about different countries that are considering lockdowns again, because the people are not following the social distancing guidelines. Not as much the masks over here. You don’t see any anti maskers. I am sure they exist, they just don’t get any time on the news. Social distancing was easy three weeks ago, temperatures in high teens made it very easy to sit outside, and space yourself out. Now the temps are in the single digits to low teens; so everyone wants to move inside. I am not a Doctor, nor did I sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I think that is the biggest reason the numbers are going up here. We all want to be around other people, and it is not as much fun when we are all wearing masks.

I have spent a lot of time email back and forth with Mike Eierman, in regard to our apps. I had been working on a new website for a while, and I finally got that done. Then we realized the new IOS update broke some of the apps, so we have spent the last week testing and working on the apps. Take a gander at the new website and let me know what you think. https://ei-sor.com We also rolled out the newest app for Predator Hunting.

I did learn one big difference about living over here. Companies actually do seem to listen to you. I got an email from UPC on Sunday with a survey. I was bored, so I said “WTH.” and I filled it out. I was not overly harsh, but I was honest. On Monday, I got a phone call, from someone that wanted to talk about the issues I brought up in my survey. Today, I got a wireless signal booster in the mail. I don’t think that will fix the issue, but at least they tried, and actually responded. I had done the same thing in the US multiple times, both for work, and home, and NOT ONCE did I get a response.

They did ignore my complaints about the roaming charges for the cell phones, but I kind of expected that. I got hit with a pretty big charge in Portugal. I have a European wide roaming plan, but outside of Switzerland, they watch the data levels very closely. What irritated me, is that I went over the data cap. I got one text message warning me that I was at 80% of the cap. Two minutes later, I get another text that said I have exceeded the cap, and I would be charged X for every GB used. About 30 seconds after that text, I got another text message saying my data was being shut off, because I had exceeded the $50 price limit on the account for data. Hell, I didn’t even know I had a price limit, and I wasn’t even using any data at that time, so basically, I went from 80% use to 10 GB over in the space of 3 – 4 minutes. This irritated the crap out of me. It happened so fast, that I wasn’t even able to use my phone to log into the account and change the price cap so I could use the phone. Thank goodness, Julie had her work phone with her!

I have pretty much come to the conclusion that I need to look for a job. I have given up on being able to volunteer at one of the local public schools. I have been trying to reach out to some of the international schools, but there is a limit to how far I am willing to travel to volunteer my time! There are a couple of international schools (private) within two miles; so I am hoping if nothing else, I can find something there. I probably, should have been working more on my German. I see a lot of IT jobs being advertised, but they all state they require fluency in German and English. I think the biggest problem, is that I was not willing to spend the money, or the time to try and get “fluent” in German in my year over here. The second problem being do they really mean German, or do they mean Swiss German? Because those are two completely different things! I will let you know how it goes.

Oh before I go, I need to congratulate my fraternity brother and friend JT Forbes. JT has been the CEO of the IU Alumni Association for going on 10 years now. JT has also been given the interim job as CEO of the IU Foundation. For those of you that do not follow IU, the IU Foundation is the group that handles IU’s endowments and charitable donations. I am not 100% sure on this, but I think the Foundation runs the 12th largest endowment for any university in the United States. I feel sorry for Martha (JT’s better half) she will never see him now! I knew JT back when he was a green youngster, with a good head of hair. I was his Pledge Trainer. I knew he was a special man even then. Good Luck JT! I know you will continue to do great things.

Talk to you next week! I hope everyone stays safe, and wears their mask.

8 Oktober. 2020

Taxes and mt pilatus

I had an interesting experience with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) last night. This is kind of a cautionary tale to anyone contemplating living as an ExPat for a time. Make sure you have thought about the tax implications of your move, and that you have a CPA, or other tax expert, work with you on your taxes. The first year was really rough. We went round and around with the tax preparer over the effective dates that we moved. This literally took a couple of weeks to get ironed out. What made ours seemingly a little more complicated was that even after Julie moved, she continued to get paid from the US for a couple of months. Then I threw in a complication, because I added two more important dates in the mix. The day I quit work in Wisconsin, and the day I moved to Switzerland. Anyway, the taxes took a long time to prepare, but that isn’t the story!

I had been making some “estimated” tax payments beginning the month Julie moved. I made two estimated payments in 2019, and then a larger estimated payment in February. Once the taxes were completed I made (what I thought was the final payment) a larger payment. Then two weeks later the accountant messaged us saying they were not quite done, because now they got the FINAL number for the Swiss taxes. So I made a fifth and ultimately final payment to the IRS. All of this is done online through the IRS website. Really nice and I thought it was an easy system to use.

Yesterday we got one of those nasty surprise letters from the IRS claiming that I had underpaid the taxes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars so not only did we owe that, we also owe almost a thousand in penalties and interest. After the initial panic, I looked through the letter again, and saw they had not counted the last three payments I had made to the IRS. So girding myself for a fight, I dug up all the documentation I had stating the payments had been made. Even got the transfer numbers from the bank with the amounts and dates of the payments. So I called the number on the letter. I was only on hold for about 10 minutes and then got the best service I have ever gotten from any Government! After about another 10 minutes of proving my identification, and tax situation. The lady on the other end said, “OH, I see what happened.” Long story made short. The estimated taxes I made earlier got applied. The last two payments did not, because I made the last online payments using MY SSN. The tax forms the IRS got had Julie’s number as the primary tax person; so even though I was on the tax form, the IRS didn’t apply the payments.

I think that is kind of weird, but at least I was able to get straightened out with one 30 minute phone call, and we don’t owe any penalties or interest!! Now to the real reason you follow this blog: get to our last weekend trip, and the pictures!

Julie on the Terrace

There are a few different legends as how Pilatus was named. The first legend is that Pontius Pilate was buried on the mountain. The second is that when you look at the “range” from Luzern the mountain looks like a fat man (Pontius Pilate) laying on his back looking at the clouds. (See the picture below and look for the head on the left and then the belly.) Third and most likely is that it is a derivative of the word pileatus or cloud topped! Unfortunately, the most boring explanation is probably the true one. There is also a very old legend about a dragon on the mountain. I’m not going to recap the whole story here, but if you would like to know more here is the Link.

Picture from Wikipedia

We lucked out with the weather. It was predicted to rain the entire time we were there. The rain held off on Friday; so we were able to get up the mountain, check into the hotel, and them enjoy the views from the one peak visitors have access. I truly believe the view from this peak is one of the most beautiful views in Switzerland. You look out over the valley, and see Luzern and Lake Luzern (Vierwaldstättersee). Turn around and you see this beautiful skyline of the snowcovered Alps. See the next two pictures!

Looking over Lake Luzern

I am really glad we were able to stay at the top. It was something we will remember fondly about our time here. The staff in the hotel was fabulous. The hotel price included the trip up and down the mountain, as well as two meals per day. I thought the food was outstanding, Julie unfortunately was underwhelmed. I have to admit, my venison dinner on Saturday was MUCH better than her seafood concoction. Unfortunately Julie is not a big fan of venison. 🙂

If you saw my last post, the videos show what we woke up to Saturday morning. The weather reminded me of January and early February in Wisconsin. The snow was blowing so hard that it actually hurt your face. We went outside for a while, but then went to the bar, and had drinks and read. The sun started to come out, so we decided we were going to go partway down the mountain, and spend a couple of hours at Fräkmüntegg. There is hiking, and other activities down there. Julie was going to ride the Dragon Glider with me (really long zip line) and I was also going to take the summer bobsled run. Unfortunately, the wind did not cooperate. We went to get our ticket, and we were informed, that the wind was predicted to get stronger, so the gondola was going to close for safety reasons. Oh well, another reason to go back. I really like Luzern, so we will head back there for a long weekend, and take a day and go back up the mountain!

We went up the mountain on the gondolas, so we decided to go back down the mountain via the train. (Look at my last blog post for the train video.) The train was amazing. The entire ride down the mountain my heart was racing like a kid on Christmas morning. The views were breathtaking, and the thought that the train was basically going straight down the mountain kept the anxiety level high. I knew this train had been running for over 100 years, but I still had a hard time understanding what kept the train from running down the tracks completely out of control. The average grade on the tracks is 35%. At one point, however, the grade gets to 48%. The train advertises as the steepest train track in the world. I believe it. To get an idea of how steep the train is; the image below is of a 48 degree angle. One of these weekends, Julie and I will have to head back and try hiking up the mountain!

48 degree angle

One final plug before I get to the pictures: I keep running almost every day to stay in shape for the St Jude Marathon Weekend. This year the race will be virtual (which works out very well since Julie and I won’t be getting back). I have signed up for the 10K and the 1/2 Marathon. I run this race to support two of my old friends from Indiana (Paul and Julie Barlow). They lost their youngest to cancer, and now sponsor a team to raise money giving back to St Judes Hospital. If you can find it in your heart, please click the link and donate to Team David. The money goes to a fantastic cause. Thanks!!

Link to the Team David web page.

I hope you have a wonderful week. Talk to you soon. Enjoy the pictures.

5 Oktober.2020

Videos of Mt Pilatus

Julie and I had a wonderful weekend at the top of Mt Pilatus. We stayed in a hotel nestled between the two peaks of the mountain. I will write more later this week, but I wanted to share the two videos I put together.

The first is a video made on Saturday. We woke up Saturday morning to 4 or 5 inches of snow. The snow continued to come down, and the wind was blowing fiercely. My guess is that when it was all over the total snowfall was closer to 8 inches. It was really hard to tell, because there were places that had 2 feet of snow, and places that had 1/2 inch.

3 Oktober.2020

We took the cable car up the mountain, and decided to take the train down. You can either take gondolas and a cable car up from Kriens, or you can take the “World’s Steepest Train” up from Alpnachstad. The trip from Kriens runs year around. The train starts running late April or May, and stops in the Middle of October. The first video is the one I made with Kaylee in January of the trip UP to the top.

Trip up Mt Pilatus

The next video is a compilation of the trip down the mountain.

Trip down Mt Pilatus.

29 September.2020

Well I’m starting this one with ballots. I promise no more political than that! One of the interesting things about living overseas, is that we do get limited voting rights. I say limited, because I am not sure if Wisconsin will continue to treat us as “Temporary Overseas Voters” or “Permanent Overseas Voters”. I know I am not Permanent, because I plan on returning, but I can’t find a definition in the statutes as when Temporary becomes Permanent. Note to my son: There is a legal job for you. It will pay $1 or your tuition next year whichever is greater!

Official Ballot Envelope


Anyway, the difference between the two is drastic. A permanent overseas voter can only vote for Federal offices. A temporary voter gets to vote just like any other resident. So we get a say in all the local elections as well as county and state. It has been a year since we officially moved, and this time our ballots have local and state things on them, so I guess for now we are still classed as temporary. I wonder if that will change next year or the year after? I don’t get all the fuss about the mail in ballots, though. Yes, I guess it is possible that Julie or someone else could fill mine out, but highly unlikely. It is also highly improbable, that someone would be able to mass produce ballots. Both Julie’s and mine came with an identifying number which is tied to either our names, or to the ballot, but it is a number that is unique to each of us. Maybe that system is different in other states; so I cannot speak to everywhere, but at least in Wisconsin, the mail in votes seem to be pretty safe. Enough of that!!

King Tutankhamun’s Burial Mask

Every one who graduated middle school since the 1920’s knows this mask. I would guess it is one of the most widely known images in the world. Zürich has been hosting a King Tut exhibit for the last few weeks, so Julie and I decided to visit last weekend.

Our trip started with another navigation error. (Note to self: You are getting really bad at navigating lately, you had better turn those duties over to Julie.). The MAAG is a big arts center in town. They host a lot of music as well as visual arts, and history exhibits. What I didn’t know is they have multiple venues spread around Zürich. I printed off the tickets, and told Julie where we were going. Traveling by train you learn that you can either be early or late, there is never on time. So we we were 20 minutes early for our ticket window. Unfortunately, I was in the wrong part of town. In the small print was a sentence telling me that Halle 622 was located next to the Oerlikon Bahnhof. I just assumed it was one room in the large MAAG center. When we got there, something did not look right, because the people going into the center were all dressed very nicely, and there were NO kids. So the usher got a good laugh at me when I asked where the King Tut exhibit was. I don’t know if he was laughing because of my awful German, or because of my awful skills at navigation!

We finally got to the right place, and we were still 5 minutes early!

I actually learned a lot of stuff that I had either forgotten, or simply it went over the head of a young George. For example: I learned that King Tut was the conservative of his day. His father scandalized Egypt by doing away with the traditional religion. King Tut restored the religion while he was the ruler. He married his 1/2 sister. This was pretty common back then, however. King Tut had a lot of health problems. I am no biologist, but I wonder if that is because Tut’s Mom and Dad were also Brother and Sister. :0

Turn the sound down so you won’t be annoyed with the screaming baby!!!!

Hieroglyphics on one of the burial chambers

Howard Carter, the man who discovered the tomb, almost missed out. He spent seven years searching for the tomb, and the man bankrolling the dig, had to be convinced to pay for one last year.

For years there was thought to be a curse on the tomb. The man bankrolling the excavation was the first to die. He had some earlier health problems, but he cut himself shaving, and that became infected causing his death. Another 8 or 9 people died in the next dozen years, leading to the “curse”.

Next weekend we are staying in a hotel at the top of Mt Pilatus. Winter has already started coming to the mountains. There are places that have seen a foot of snow already. Hopefully, we won’t have that problem.

Enjoy the pictures!

26 September. 2020

Lisbon

There are a few things I will remember about Lisbon. The first of those being: Absolute worst sidewalks I have ever seen! All of the sidewalks are cobblestone. The only poured sidewalk I remember seeing was at the airport. Cobblestone sidewalks, by themselves, would not be bad but it seemed the ground was never leveled before the cobblestones were put in. The only level places I found to walk were the plazas around statues. I kept thinking I was going to twist my ankle every time I left the hotel.

The second thing: Absolute best wait staff of any place we have EVER visited. The event that really sticks in my mind was our second evening out. Julie had found a restaurant named Dom Queijo. Coming from Switzerland we thought this would be interesting because it was a restaurant centered around cheese. The waiter spent 10-15 minutes talking to us about what we liked to eat, and about different wines. He then made some recommendations. I was a little leery, because I was afraid these would be the MOST expensive items in the place, but this wasn’t the case. The food and wine was exquisite! It was also refreshing to pay under $200 for dinner!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We wound up trying this restaurant’s “summer tasting menu”. Six courses of absolute fantastic dishes all featuring different cheeses! The other food item that we really liked was a little tart thingy. It was a Portugese Custard Tart . It reminded me a little of the buttermilk pie my Aunt Lela Bass used to make. I am glad we did not have a lot of luggage, because I would have brought back a couple of hundred, and there goes the waist line.

The level of service we experienced everywhere in the country was second to none!

We did have our first challenge with getting around. The public transportation did not seem as robust as the other places we have visited. The day we went to tour the palaces, between the lack of documentation at the train stations and Google Maps, we wound up getting way out of our way coming back home. We were going to have to wait another 35 minutes for a train so we wound up taking a cab across town to get back to the hotel. I still don’t know how I screwed it up, but Google Maps told us to take a certain train, and get off at a particular station. I followed along in google maps as the train came to each station. Google Maps said to get off, so we did, but somehow the station we were was a long way away from the station Google Maps said we should be. The one thing we did learn was that traveling is a little nicer when you have some disposable income. We didn’t think twice about taking a cab back to the hotel vs being cheap and waiting on trains, etc, to get us back where we were staying! 🙂

Our first afternoon in Lisbon, we got to the hotel, and just took off exploring. We walked down the waterfront, and then we toured an old cathedral that was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. They were in the process of rebuilding the cathedral, but decided to keep it as a ruin and a museum instead. It was a fascinating place.

Day two we visited the National Tile Museum. Earlier I posted about the tiles, and posted pictures from there; so I won’t re visit that, other than saying if you ever go to Lisbon the Tile Museum is a must see.


Day three saw us visiting the Oceanarium, where we saw an Ocean Sun Fish. I had never seen one of those before, and I was simply fascinated.

Ocean Sunfish

After the Oceanarium, Julie found a shopping mall. She is a little obsessed with visiting grocery stores in every city we visit. I still haven’t figured out what she is looking for but she buys something in every one. We also had a very visible example of why “World Expo’s” stopped happening. Lisbon was the site of one, and what a waste. A lot of money was spent for buildings and attractions that just are not sustainable when it is over. Kind of like why new cities don’t want to host the olympics any more. The cities spend millions (maybe billions) on venues to hold events, but then when the olympics are over, the venues just sit empty.

Our last full day in Portugal, we left the city of Lisbon and went out towards the coast. We visited the town of Sintra. Sintra is home to two palaces. The National Palace of Sintra:

National Palace

and the Palace of Pena

Palace of Pena

These two palaces were fascinating places to see. The visitor truly gets an idea of how important, and consequential Portugal was to history.

This probably a little silly, but the thing that impressed me the most were two white cylindrical towers of the National Palace. The towers look like smoke stacks, and that is exactly what they are, but it is inside the smoke stacks that impressed me. The king that designed that part of the palace made the smoke stacks the kitchens. So when you walk into the smoke stacks, you see row after row of ovens, and stoves. The king used that one kitchen to feed the hundreds of people living in and around each day, so instead of having dozens of small kitchens around the palace, he just built one giant kitchen, and used the ceiling as the chimney for all the ovens. INGENIOUS!

The kitchen inside the palace smoke stacks

I am glad we finally got to visit Lisbon. We pushed off the trip many times due to CoronaVirus, and then my visit to Florida. I don’t think I want to fly anytime soon, though. I was little worried about catching Corona flying back from the US, but I was A LOT worried about catching something on the plane traveling to Portugal. Swiss filled every available seat on the plane. It just did not feel safe being packed that tight with other people for 3 hours. Sure everyone “WORE” masks, but those are not 100% protection. Especially when people two feet away had their mask off for well over 1/2 the flight because they were eating or drinking, or the one lady that was a couple of rows away, that wore the mask so loose that the bottom of the mask flapped a couple of inches every time she exhaled. :).

We have two small adventures planned. Tomorrow we are spending the day around Zürich, and visiting the King Tut Exhibit that is in town. Next weekend, Julie and I will be spending the weekend at the TOP of Mt Pilatus. Kaylee and I visited Mt Pilatus in January, and ever since I wanted to go back and stay at the top; so Julie and I are leaving next Friday for two nights on the mountain.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. Take care.

WHOOPS! I forgot I included some pictures my son sent. The first few pictures are from a place my Dad calls “Blue Hole”. It is on the farm we have in Orange County, that used to be owned by my Uncle Paul and Aunt Lela Bass. George has always been obsessed with finding a cave on the farms, and his Grandpa finally took him to one! Now I just have to figure out how to keep George out of the cave, because I don’t think it looks very safe, and my guess is that we will probably have to get some kind of excavation permit from the DNR to dig out an entrance! I decided to leave them in here, because the last time I saw a smile on my Father’s face that large, was when Trisha surprised us all with a wedding.

22 September. 2020

Azulejos

Azulejo from the 1500’s

Julie and I were both floored by the beautiful ceramic tiles we saw in Lisbon. We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon; so after we checked into our hotel we went for a walk. About 50 feet from the hotel we saw the first building that was covered with these tiles. We thought this was a really neat way to spruce up a building, but didn’t think much more. Then we noticed that many of the buildings had these elaborate tiles covering all or part of the wall. This is when we did a little research.

Azulejos were introduced into Portugal sometime in the 12th or 13th century. They were brought into the country when the Moors invaded Spain and Portugal. The word means small polished stone. Originally the Azulejos were simple tiles that had stones which were imbedded into simple geometric shapes. In the 1300’s Portugal’s king brought back some samples of this art form from a trip to Spain, and things progressed quickly from there. The oldest azulejos were a very simple color palate. Usually this was blue and white, the 2nd most common colors (for my Green Bay friends) were green and gold. The simple geometric shapes soon led to very ornate decorations, it was very typical for these to tell stories about history, or religion.

The city of Lisbon from 1755 before the earthquake



One interesting thing we learned was the fashion of decorating the outside of your home with azulejos was actually begun in a Portugese colony… Brazil. The reason why it had not caught on, was the Portugese had not developed a way to mass produce the tiles, so it was only the very wealthy that could afford to use them for decoration. Sometime around the mid 1800’s some Brazilian entrepreneurs brought back the method of industrial production, and then the tiles began to decorate the facades of many houses and buildings.

Azulejos is an art form that reaches everywhere in the country. Somehow, I think I forgot to take pictures of this, but even many of the street signs use this art form. Most homes do not utilize tiles everywhere, but a good many of them will have one small section decorated this way. It will either be a picture like depicted below, or a small set of the geographic tiles.

Azuelos decoration on the outside of a home in Sintra

I hope you like the pictures below. I realize the pictures do not them justice. It is easy to get lost in the symmetry of the geometric designs. I enjoyed seeing the geometric tiles, but I was truly most impressed with the hand painted tiles.

I will have one more post this week, with the rest of our Portugal pictures. See you soon.

21 September.2020

Julie and I got back from Lisbon yesterday. It is going to take me a while to compile and organize all the pictures I took. So today is just going to be a teaser video. We took a trip to the Oceanarium. It was one of the best ocean aquariums we have ever seen. The fish that surprised me the most was called a Sunfish. You will see it in the video.

Lisbon Oceanarium

Lisbon was an amazing city. I think what I will remember most are the sidewalks, though. The sidewalks are all cobblestone, and I don’t think they ever heard of leveling the ground before they laid the pavers. We did not see one level sidewalk the entire time we visited. We walked close to 20 miles over our 4 days; so we covered a lot of ground. I will post more pictures over the next few days.

13 September.2020

Julie and I still have our trip planned for Lisbon. The Covid numbers are going up in Portugal, but no worse than they are going up here, so we are still planning to go. We are watching the travel advisories very closely. I’ve never been a fan of Air BNB, or the other services where you stay in someone’s apartment, but this trip is making me re-think that. I need to look at the cancellation policies. Part of me doesn’t want to travel right now, but the other part of me says, “We have sunk a crap ton of money for these hotel rooms, and if we don’t go now, we lose the money.” I feel for hotels and other businesses that rely solely on travel to make it. I could see forfeiting part of our money as a deposit, but it almost doesn’t seem fair that we would lose all our money for something that really isn’t under our control at all.

Even the airlines have gotten worse. We want to book flights home for Christmas, but all of the airlines, that I have checked, have done away with the free flight cancellation. The flights I have checked want another $250 – $300 to add flight cancellation to the ticket. They all do say I can rebook ONCE for free. With these kind of restrictions, it will be a LOOOOONG time before people are willing to fly again.

We decided that today was a beautiful day so we went for a cruise on Zürichsee. Julie and I have taken the boats before, and it was a very relaxing way to get downtown, so this time we took a 4 + hour cruise from Zürich to Rapperswil. It was a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon. We got to the Bürkliplatz about 11:00 this morning and boarded the boat. This was certainly something we will do again! It would be even better with some friends, so when you come to visit Julie and I next summer, this will be on the tour! Oh and when you get to the picture of the beer… HELL is German for bright… 🙂

After we got back home, we hopped on a ZOOM call with a bunch of our MN and WI friends, and now get to watch the Packers beat the Vikings. Next time will be a lot of pictures from Lisbon.