This will be my last blog post for a while from Switzerland. In about 36 hours, I will find myself in Florida. Julie’s parents are going through a rough time in regards to health right now, and I will be heading to US to provide some assistance. Julie and I talked about this before we made the decision to move. In fact, one of the things that helped make the decision was the health of our parents; well as we are learning, when you get close to 80 years old all bets are off. So please keep Julie’s parents, and Julie, in your thoughts and prayers over the coming weeks.
Last weekend we took another day trip to the city of Lenzburg. Lenzburg is the home to Schloss Lenzburg, or for you English Speakers Lenzburg Castle.
Historians do not know for sure when Schloss Lenzburg was built. The earliest mention of the castle was in a document from 1077! For the next couple of hundred years, the castle was passed around between the Catholic Church, and the Counts of Kyburg. The Kyburg family was a noble family in Germany and the German portions of Switzerland in the 12 and 13 centuries. The Kyburg family was one of the four noble families in modern day Germany and Switzerland. Around 1340 the last Count of Kyburg died without an heir. His daughter married into the Habsburg family. (That name should be familar to many of you.) The Hapsburgs greatly expanded the castle, and used it as the residence of many of their liegemen.
From 1444 until 1798, the castle was the home for the Bernese bailiff for that area. A bailiff was the `person in charge of an area of land. They reported to the monarch. So although the bailiff was not a “royal” position, a bailiff had a lot of responsibility. In the mid 1800’s the castle passed to private hands. The castle remained in private hands until 1925. Interesting side note. The last “owner” of the castle was an American named Lincoln Ellsworth. The castle sat empty for the next couple of decades, and in the late 50’s the Canton of Aargau acquired the castle, refurbished it, and opened it to the public. So that concludes your two paragraph history lesson for the day!
I hope you enjoy the pictures, and the next time you hear from me, will be from Ft Myers, Florida!
It has been an interesting week since my last post. We finally got our taxes postponed. It has been really frustrating waiting for someone else to figure out something I have done myself since 1987. :). The Swiss taxes should actually be pretty easy. The payroll taxes are figured out automatically based on Julie’s contract, and then we had to provide proof of all other assets we have. That is figured out on a straight percentage as well, but for some reason the Swiss taxes are the ones causing all the problems. So we filed for an extension, and then paid a LOT of money to the US Treasury for the privilege of being American citizens!
As I started writing the blog about a year ago, I let everyone know that Julie’s Aunt was taking the mutt for us. Well, the mutt has had some health issues, so I’ve been trying to get some money to Jane. Once again, I learned a lesson that Credit Unions are great when you are local, and all of your transactions are straightforward. They are not so great when you are living in another country, and try and transfer larger sums of money in and out. The credit union has contracted out with another company for their online bill pay system. For the last 12 months, the ONLY thing I have used the bill pay system for, is to pay a credit card that has some auto payments attached, and I think I made one Verizon payment for the kid’s cell phones. Since my checkbook is locked in the storage locker, I figured I would set up another payee and send Julie’s Aunt a check to pay for dog expenses. Well I think after about 4 hours on the phone, and two days, the payment is finally set up. Apparently, I set off all kinds of red flags because I hadn’t used the system very much in the last year. The credit union did not update the bill pay partner with my new contact information; so the bill pay system called my OLD office number, get a different name for the phone number, and that caused them to flag my account as possible fraud! I only lost my cool once….
I had spent an hour on the phone with the credit union trying to determine what the fraud was. As part of the conversation I mentioned to the support person, that my contact information was correct when I am in the credit union’s website, but wrong when I am in the bill pay system. The credit union tech support informed me the bill pay system would be able to change my contact information. So during one of the calls to the bill pay support, I talked about changing my information. I was informed that the credit union doesn’t pay for “international” support, so they cannot enter my phone number or address. I then tried to use a Google Voice number I have, and to change my address to my parent’s address, but was told I had to contact the credit union to do that. I blew up just a little, and said you need to call with me, because the credit union said they can’t update that information, you need to do that. Bottom line: Dave, you will probably get some more calls for me! Sorry about that. I’m not in the mood for a tech support fight right now!
I am not a HUGE beer drinker, but I have learned I really like the beer over here a LOT more than what passes for beer in the US. The Budweiser of Switzerland is a much better product than the Budweiser back home. When I learned the Feldschlösschen Brewery was pretty close I made that one of my goals for a day trip. Last weekend we took a trip to Rheinfelden to visit the brewery. Rheinfelden is a beautiful little town. The town straddles the Rhein river.
Feldschlösschen literally translates to “castle in the fields”. The brewery was founded in 1876. It is the largest brewery in Switzerland, and it really does look like a castle.
The picture above is a stock photo, but I didn’t get any pictures that really do it justice. The building and the grounds are very impressive. It really does look like a castle. I was joking that they built it like a castle to protect the beer!
The tour was interesting, to say the least. The website said they had tours available in German, French, Italian, and English. Unfortunately, I could not find English tours available; so we signed up for a German tour. The guide was very accommodating. He did the whole tour in German, and then as we were walking from place to place, we would give us a recap in English.
One of the tidbits of beer making I learned was in the preparation of the malt. I had always assumed, they just took dry grain, and with addition of water, hops, yeast and heat (simplified version) that beer magically came out as the end product. At least in this brewery that isn’t the case. They actually take the grain, and start the germination process. They start and stop the germination of the seed two different times, before the grain is ground for the malt. This is probably something that everyone else knew, but I never really cared how the beer is made, as long as it is cold. Another tidbit I learned was in the preparation of the hops. This brewery now takes the hops, dry them and crush them into little green pellets. These pellets all have the same size consistency, so it makes it very easy to always get the same flavor from every batch of beer. The tour guide explained that based on the hop growing season, the recipe for the beer had to change from year to year, because 1 kilogram of hops would contain different amounts based on how big the individual hops were. By crushing the hops, it allows the consistency to be the same batch to batch. Again, this might be something that all big brewers do I just did not know it!
Dealing with Covid also caused a bit of a chuckle. We were forced to wear masks for the tour, but at the end of the tour, we were dumped into a dining hall, with about 100 other visitors. We all sat shoulder to shoulder at banquet tables for an hour or so as we sampled the different beer. The tour tried really hard to social distance, and keep everyone wearing a mask for the tour, and then threw it all out the window at the end!
On Sunday, I took a bike ride around part of the lake. Hopefully the weather will be good this weekend. I plan on biking around the entire lake. For my Fox Valley friends. Zürichsee is the same length as Lake Winnebago. The difference comes in the width. Lake Winnebago is 3 or 4 times wider than Zürichsee. The best part, is that for most of the ride, you are between 100 and 200 meters from the lake. It is a beautiful ride, and the only real hill I have to worry about is the last mile back to the apartment. 🙂 I still suck at the hills, but it is so much nicer on my road bike vs the commuter bike I have. I think the 10 – 15 pounds you save with the road bike make a HUGE difference.
Once again, I hope you enjoy the pictures. Talk to you soon.
Schools were open in Switzerland for about 5 weeks, before going on Summer Holiday. The K-12 schools opened 11 May, with Universities and other schools (Language) opening up in early June. Schools were definitely part of the 4 phase re-open plan. The official plan is three steps, but the 3rd step did not address the resumption of LARGE Attendance events; these are events of 1000 people or more. Currently the country says they will address these events in August. Since, to me, the whole idea is to get things as close to “normal” as possible, these large events must be taken into consideration.
The Swiss COVID plan was 4 phases: Phase 1 this was about 2 1/2 weeks long. It was Personal care services, outpatient hospital services, and Home Improvement stores. Phase 2 was almost 4 weeks long. This phase opened up all retail, restaurants and bars, schools, gyms, and basically everything except Universities, and Larger attendance venues. Phase 3 This is where we are currently, and it will last approximately two months, or longer. Phase 3 opened up large venues. This is basically venues up to 300 people. As I said earlier Phase 4 is scheduled to go into effect at the end of August, and this is basically the phase that gets us back to “normal” life.
The following chart is a comparison of Switzerland, New Jersey, and Virginia. I compared these two states because they are the closest in population to Switzerland. The other thing I found interesting was the size comparison. Switzerland is about twice the size of NewJersey. Virginia is about twice the of Switzerland. So I thought these comparisons would also show some of the density issues. The chart does not capture the density as much as I would have thought. You will certainly see the numbers are really different between Switzerland and New Jersey. I would have expected the numbers for Virginia to more closely mirror Switzerland based on the density of population, but that is not really the case. So obviously there are many other factors that come into play. I do think the population density is one of the reasons Virginia’s numbers are significantly different than New Jersey’s however.
0 (On 16 March 80 cases)
0 (On 20 March 20 cases)
4305 (also Peak)
27 April (Phase 1 Lockdown Ease Swiss)
0 (383 on 26th)
11 May (Phase 2 Lockdown Ease Swiss) Schools Opened
6 June (Phase 3 Lockdown Ease Swiss)
865 (Peak was 26 May at 1615)
Numbers on this chart are New Cases per day (New York Times )
The lockdowns varied in severity and when they started. The Swiss shutdown everything except manufacturing, pharmacies, and groceries. New Jersey and Virginia closed schools the same week Switzerland went into lockdown. New Jersey went into lockdown a week later, and Virginia began their lockdown 1 April.
I believe the chart, especially the first couple of rows, show the difference between the population density. The peak numbers (as of 7 July) were very similar between Virginia and Switzerland. The peak number in New Jersey was significantly higher than either and part of that is due to population density.
There is one real big reason I wanted to show you that chart before I laid out the back to school guidance. Switzerland has had next to zero problems with going back to school. From what I could find there have only been two cases of COVID transmission that have caused individual schools to change their plans. I was not able to find any instance where a school had to close down again after opening. In the cases of transmission, the individual classes and teachers were quarantined at home for two weeks, but the rest of the school continued to operate. That is a pretty impressive record to me. That being said, based on where the numbers are at in most US states, I don’t see how many school districts will be able to go back this fall with even a modified schedule. I am sure some rural schools will have no problems, but based on the state wide numbers, there are not many urban schools that can open safely until the numbers of new cases crops significantly.
Overview of plan
I was able to get re opening plans from 4 local schools, they were all very similar, and basically, took almost no editing to get them into one plan. I could not find an official plan written by the canton, but I am assuming there had to have been one, since the school plans were all so similar.
Basically, the plans calls for reduced class sizes 15 people were the maximum. This meant students going to school for 1/2 days. you were either in school in the morning, or the afternoon. The plans all called for one entrance per building with appropriate hand sanitization stations at that entrance. NO Visitors during the school day. The other thing I found interesting is that in school instruction was only focused on the the three areas considered most critical: Mathematics, German, Italian, or French (English or Language Arts for my American readers) and Foreign Language. All other subjects were still covered, but they were covered via distance learning. I am sure the Foreign Language area seems strange, but you have to remember, that Switzerland is a small country, and there are four official languages in the country. So being able to speak at least one more language is critical for life outside school. You will also see the plan was in place for only one month, at the end of that month, things went back to normal. Again, we were able to do that because the virus is much more under control here.
You will see the plan is pretty basic, which I believe is good. If you have any questions, please ask. If I do not know the answer I will get it as soon as possible.
The following concept describes which basic principles have to be taken into account in classroom instruction at the school. It is based on the protection concept of the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) 1 for schools, on the handing out of the Education Directorate of the Canton of Zurich to resume classroom instruction at the elementary school (regular school) from May 11, 20202 and on Government Council Decision No. 441 of April 30 2020 (RRB No. 441/2020) 3.
This concept is valid from May 11, 2020 to provisionally until June 8, 2020. All school actors must adhere to the measures listed therein and implement them.
The aim of the protective measures is to prevent the number of particularly severe COVID-19 diseases and to keep new diseases at a low level. The focus is on protecting the health of teaching staff and pupils, and especially those at particular risk.
4. Particularly vulnerable people
The COVID-19 regulation defines the persons considered to be particularly at risk as follows:
– People aged 65 and over
– People who have the following diseases in particular:
o high blood pressure
o cardiovascular diseases
o chronic respiratory diseases
o Diseases and therapies that weaken the immune system
5. Teaching / pedagogy
a. The classroom instruction takes place in half-classes (up to a maximum of 15 students per class) due to a special timetable with reduced group size.
b. Schoolchildren attend on-site lessons at school during the average of half of the usual lessons. Classroom instruction is supplemented with diverse tasks and assignments from various specialist areas, which are worked on and solved at home. Specialist courses will continue to be provided through distance learning.
c. The focus is on mathematics, German(language of Canton), foreign languages. Pure swimming lessons are dispensed with. Sport and movement sequences take place, however in selected areas of competence, so that the distance to other students can be guaranteed.
d. Group rooms can only be used when accompanied by a teacher, and work in the school building is prohibited.
e. The teachers work to ensure that their pupils achieve the goals and basic requirements of Zurich curriculum 21 at the end of the cycle.
6. Lessons in special situations
a. If pupils are among the most vulnerable or if there are other good reasons that speak against attending classroom attendance, parents can request a dispensation. These students can take part in the distance learning sequences offered and process the orders placed online. As a rule, a medical certificate is required for this.
b. In such cases, kindergarten children stay at home without additional support.
a. Schoolchildren who show symptoms of any kind of illness or live in a household with a person suffering from COVID-19 are not allowed to attend school.
b. Before starting school, the pupils gather on the school premises in the places shown in the plans below and enter the school building in a half-class association.
c. Every person disinfects their hands every time they enter the school building, disinfection dispensers are available at the entrances.
d. There is enough space in the cloakrooms in half-classes, it is also important to use them.
e. In the classes, the distance rules (minimum distance of 2 m) are observed as far as possible. The pedagogical and above all didactic means are adapted to the distance rules. Likewise the furnishings and the table arrangement.
8. Employee measures
a. Sick employees or those living with a person with COVID-19 living in a household as well as particularly vulnerable employees stay at home.
b. There is always a minimum distance of 2 m between adults and between adults and schoolchildren.
c. In the teachers’ and living room, in the copy room and on general surfaces (stairwell, entrance area, etc.), care is taken to maintain the required minimum distance of 2 m from one another.
9. General protective measures
a. The general behavior and hygiene measures apply to everyone and must be implemented consistently:
– keep your distance (> 2m);
– Wash hands regularly and thoroughly with soap;
– avoid shaking hands;
– cough and sneeze into the handkerchief or the crook of the arm;
– stay at home with cold symptoms;
– Only go to the doctor’s office or emergency room after registering by telephone;
– Wear a mask if it is not possible to keep your distance (e.g. public transport).
b. The rules of conduct and hygiene are practiced with schoolchildren every day and checked, if necessary, improved.
c. Students are encouraged not to share food or drinks. (We recommend packaged baked goods from wholesalers for a birthday snack).
d. Students use disinfectants when entering the houses. In the school buildings, hands should always be cleaned with soap and water.
e. Half-classes are not mixed, on the one hand to reduce the epidemiological risk and to be able to trace contacts (contact tracing).
f. Between the half-classes, all surfaces in the classrooms are disinfected.
10. School complex – break area
a. The school complex is closed to the public (including parents) during class hours.
b. Adult people who are not directly involved in school operations stay away from the school area (e.g. parents who bring their children to school).
c. Larger groupings on the outdoor area should be avoided.
d. The breaks are staggered. For this purpose, the break bell is turned off. The children are encouraged to stay within the half-class group during breaks. Mixing of the groups should be prevented. The required distance must be maintained between the groups.
e. The school is open to the public outside of class. Accumulations of more than five people are prohibited. The minimum distance of 2 m from each other must always be observed.
11. Isolation and quarantine measures
a. Employees and schoolchildren who have typical symptoms such as cough, fever, sore throat are self-isolated.
b. Employees and schoolchildren who have had contact with a person with COVID-19 in the immediate vicinity or whose symptoms indicate the new corona virus enter self-quarantine
12. Occurrence of symptoms of illness in school
a. Schoolchildren who come to school sick or fall ill while in school are looked after until they are picked up by their parents.
b. You will be taken to a quarantine room. A hygiene mask is given.
c. Inform employees who get sick in school
the school management immediately and go home. They can be tested immediately.
13. Occurrence of Covid 19 diseases in school
a. The school management is to be informed by parents or employees.
b. The sick pupil or employee goes into self-isolation. The family members must be in self-quarantine.
c. The school administration informs the parents of the affected group that a child or a teacher has Covid-19.
d. The school management informs the school medical service so that contact tracing can be started.
e. Neither the teachers or employees nor the children of the same group have to go into self-quarantine, but they have to take care of their health.
f. If there are multiple cases in the same half-class (> 2), all students in this half-class and the teacher are sent to self-quarantine for 10 days.
14. Camps and excursions(Field Trips)
Larger groups, school events, camps and excursions, school trips in public transport, cross-class project weeks, sports days and graduation parties are prohibited until the summer holidays.
I apologize for some of the stilted English. My own German skills are lacking, so a lot of the translation was done with Microsoft and Google Translator apps.
This one is going to be kind of rambling. Not much has happened in the last week, but I’ve got a lot on my mind!
First off Covid: I have to admit I am very disappointed that we won’t be able to see George and Gabby (his girlfriend) next month. Europe is keeping people from the US out until the virus rates come down to a manageable level. The two kids are not scheduled to come in for another few weeks, but I do not see any way the virus levels will go down enough in the US for the European Governments to react. Americans were in the news last week as a group apparently rented a jet to fly to Italy for vacation. Of course they were denied entry. Unfortunately, no one was there with a phone to record the Ken’s and Karens yelling at the Italian authorities for not allowing them entrance. Switzerland seemed to have the virus contained, we spent all of May and most of June with new cases per day well under 50. There was a spike towards the end of June where one day new cases were over 100, but then July hit, and with the exception of Sunday’s new cases have been above 100 each day, with a spike of over 200 new cases. I don’t if it was in the works for a while, or not, but on 2 July, the Government announced mandatory face coverings for all public transportation. This had been the one big flaw Julie and I had noticed in the virus prevention here. Social distancing, for the most part, is a daily occurrence. Except on trains and busses. The penalties are not that severe if you get caught, You are just asked to leave the train or the bus. If you refuse, however, you are fined 250 CHF for disturbing the peace.
Continuing with Covid Coverage: The Swiss Government has rolled out a mobile app for contact tracing. Part of me wants to install it, but the IT person inside me screams out not only no but HELL NO!! The app is supposed to use bluetooth on the device, and constantly reach out for other devices with the app. Every day, you are supposed to answer questions about how you are feeling (symptoms of Covid) and then if you are tested and the test comes back positive; report that you have the virus. If anyone your phone came into contact with either reports symptoms, or a positive test, you are supposed to change your status on the app, and if someone has tested positive then you are supposed to self quarantine.
I’ve got lots of problems with this whole thing. The first one is the security risk. I don’t want my phone’s bluetooth turned on all the time. I keep bluetooth turned off, unless I am specifically doing something like listening to podcasts. Sure the chances of something bad happening are slim, but having that app installed means I have now opened up my phone to anyone and everyone that comes near me. That concept just makes my skin crawl! Secondly, the Government claims they are not tracking your GPS locations on the app, I don’t buy that for a second. Especially, because the app information states, “If you have spent 15 minutes within 1.5 meters of someone that has reported symptoms or tested positive…..” I know I am not the smartest person in the world, but I don’t think bluetooth has the ability to say how far away a connected device is. You are either connected and have a signal, or you are are not, and that distance of connection is much farther than 1.5 meters. There has been some talk about the Government making it mandatory to download, but so far the cooler heads in the government have prevailed. I have no problems with contact tracing. In fact every restaurant you go into, has a voluntary sign in sheet with name, email, and phone. If it is a sit down restaurant, I fill that out every time. I just do not like the idea of making it really easy for the government to track every single place my cell phone and I have been.
Final thoughts on the virus: COMEON United States get your act together and get this thing under control! Julie and I want to come home for Christmas, and hopefully bring the kids back to Switzerland for a week or two afterwards! At this rate, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
AIR CONDITIONING: Julie assures me this June and July is nothing like last year. She was miserable as Switzerland had many days where the temperature was close to 100 degrees F. In fact she wound up staying in the hotel a couple of extra days, because our apartment doesn’t have AC. I have to say I miss the air conditioning. Not only for the lowering of the temperature, but for getting rid of the humidity. We have learned that a concrete house actually can stay pretty comfortable, if you lower the window blinds following the sun. For example, Every night before we go to bed, we close the shades on the east side of the apartment. Then during the afternoon, we open the east side, and close the west side blinds. This along with a couple of fans actually keeps the inside temperature OK. The funny thing, though, is I still work up a sweat practically walking from one end of the building to the other, I even broke down this week and bought a dozen handkerchiefs to carry with me. Not for blowing my nose, but for wiping the sweat off my face everytime I walk somewhere!
I am amazed with the lack of bugs in the house. There are no screens on windows or doors, and we leave them open all the time. Granted we will get an occasional spider that causes Julie to scream at the top of her lungs, but I think we have less bugs here than we had inside the house in Wisconsin. Not sure how that works. Switzerland has flys too, but for some reason, the flys tend to stay outside. 🙂
TAXES: I am a firm believer in taxes. I figure that if a city, state, or federal government wants to do something it has to be paid for. Personally, I am of the opinion that taxes in the US are either to low, or just not configured correctly. However, I think taxes should be simple enough to be done by the individual. I knew that our taxes would be a lot more complicated now. Especially this first year, as part of our money was earned in the US, and part of our money in Switzerland, but even that should not be to hard. I mean we know exactly when our paychecks were from the US, and when they are from Switzerland. Our United States Federal and State tax returns this year are 187 pages long! Hell, some businesses probably don’t have that much paperwork with their taxes. I have no idea how long the Swiss tax return will be, because that one isn’t completed yet. And the funny thing is that one should be simpler. No write offs, no exclusions, it should just be the income Julie earned in Switzerland, and then they have a wealth tax as well. The wealth tax is every asset you own, plus investment accounts that are Non-Retirement. The asset part was easy! We have none. We got rid of the house, cars, and furniture isn’t counted. The bank accounts were pretty easy as well. We had to print out the account balances on 31 Januar and provide that to the tax preparer. I think the main reason I am frustrated on the taxes, is that I was expecting one number, and the amount owed is going to be significantly higher. The second reason, is that for the first time in over 30 years, I did not do our taxes and the added complexity makes it really hard for me to go back and see if all the numbers are correct. I have long been a proponent of a simple flat income tax. No write offs, just here is your income, and here is how much you owe. That would certainly make this process a lot easier. :).
COOKIES: My wife has decided I have lost to much weight. After a year she finally found a place that sells brown sugar. For the 4th of July, she decided to make a triple batch of chocolate chip cookies. Thank goodness she gave some of them away, because in 4 days, I have eaten most of the remaining cookies! It was a true taste of home for celebrating Independence Day!
TRAVEL: We are reaching a stretch where we will not be able to make any real plans to go places on the weekend. August is Julie’s worst month of the year, because that is the annual filing for AMCOR. July runs a close second, because all of the divisions from all the different countries are getting their numbers turned in. You would think this would be pretty standard, but every year Julie spends hours the month before filing working with the other accountants to get them to send her the correct information. This year seems like it will particularly hard, as it will be the first time the new company has to provide annual numbers and follow US accounting procedures. Oh well, that was the job and she knew what she was getting into!
That being said bigger trips are out for the next 6 – 7 weeks, but we are going to take advantage of some Saturday or Sunday day trips, and visit places with in a couple of hours. We started that this weekend with a visit to Rapperswill. Rapperswil is another old city with a very long and rich heritage. It is actually a lot bigger than I thought it would be. There is a beautiful old castle that sits on a hill looking over the downtown. Unfortunately, the castle was closed; so we will certainly be going back, as it is only about 30 minutes away by train. Another unique thing I learned that Rapperswill commissioned the first and one of the only bridges that cross Zürichsee. The bridge was completed in 1360. It was over 4700 feet long and it was 14 feet wide. Certainly big enough to allow two way traffic. This wooden bridge was used until 1878. So the original bridge stood for over 500 years, and since then (from what I could find out) there have been three replacements. Kind of makes you think they may have built things a little better back in the day,huh?
The main reason we visited was to see the Elephant Parade. The Parade is a traveling exhibit designed to highlight the plight of the endangered Asian Elephant. The parade is composed of about 60 ceramic statues that have been decorated. For my Wisconsin friends, it is similar to the Bucky statues that are all over Madison.
We have been back in town about 5 days, but I am already to head back to the mountains. Zürich, and the surrounding areas are really pretty, but scenery wise, I do not think I have ever seen anything like the alps before. The closest was Yosemite National Park in California. I do think Eowyn has been glad we are back.
The only time the cat has not been touching us, since we have been back, is when she is sitting on the balcony. She has slept on my arm every night. When we are gone for longer than two or three nights, I have a cat sitter that comes in every single day. The cat sitter spends an hour playing with her, cleaning the litter box, etc. Heck the cat probably gets treated better when we are gone. This time, the cat sitter even brought toys for her to play with at night. :).
Right before we went out of town, I kind of had my first run in with the Medical system. I say kind of, because the Wednesday before we left, I managed to break a tooth. It took a day of calling, but I finally found a Dentist that would see me. The dentist put on a temporary crown the day before we left. I have since been back to the dentist twice, once to get the permanent crown made, and another time for a cleaning. The dentist experience here was no worse than going to a dentist back home. I am thankful for that. I need to break down and get a Dr appointment for a physical. We were going to be doing that stuff back in the US, but since we can’t go back home any time soon… I just need to get it done.
We also had to get new glasses. I don’t remember if I talked about this before our trip or not, but glasses, are apparently a big thing over here. There are many optician offices within a mile of our house. I knew my vision had changed, as I was constantly taking my glasses on and off to focus. Most of the exam was the same as in the US. The only difference is to get a glaucoma test, you actually have to see a doctor. Glaucoma runs in Julie’s family, so I think we will be scheduling our first real doctor visit soon. Like everything glasses are more expensive over here, and there is no such thing as vision insurance at least that is what Amcor Human Resources told Julie when she was looking at insurance.
Julie is still on the two days in the office, two days working from home routine. For the most part Switzerland has Covid under control (at least it seems that way). To put it in perspective with the US, by population if Switzerland was a state, it would be the 11th or 12th largest state. It would fit between New Jersey and Virginia. These states are still having 400-500 new cases per day. Switzerland is on a slight uptick this week, we had been around 20 new cases, but now about 50 new cases per day. Still much less than many places in the US. However, her company recently told her they do not know when things will get back to normal. It was originally scheduled that next week all the employees will be back at work, but they are still taking it slowly. From what I read and see in the news, this is actually very common for companies here. I will say, for the most part, on our vacation outside of the train, there was no sign of Covid restrictions. On the train, it was like watching a game of Simon Says. Julie and I were typically the first ones on the train to don our masks, and if the car was even 1/2 full most people would pull a mask out of their pocket. That was only in the mountains, though. The closer we got to any city on the trains, the less people would worry about masks. I found that to be strange. Restaurant wise, the only place that worried about social distancing the tables, was a small Chinese restaurant in Grindelwald. They had every other table blocked off. In fact, the place could only seat 16 people due to Covid. How they stay in business is beyond me, because especially at dinner time, there is no concept of turning the tables. If you sit down at 6, you might stay there until 10.
Final brain fart: If anyone reading this is going to attend St Jude’s for Team David. Drop me a note with your fund raising page. Especially if you are looking at the Gold Level. Traveling back to the US for one weekend, doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially since we will hopefully be coming home a couple of weeks later for Christmas; so we want to spread our donation money around. If you haven’t signed up yet. There is still time, but I think some of the perqs have expired though. Here is the Team David Fundraising page: https://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR/Heroes/Heroes?team_id=250200&pg=team&fr_id=121077
The rest of the blog will be pictures. I am going to separate them by day. There may be some duplicates from my earlier posts, but what the hell, very few read this thing anyway!
The Canyon was formed by the Lower Grindelwald Glacier. This Glacier does not exist any more, but the Lütschine flows through the floor of the canyon. During the winter months the water flow is much lower. Once spring hits, the river is flowing wildly from the melting snow.
The walls of the canyon are approximately 300 meters high. Julie and I both were amazed at the differences in temperature and wind levels. One section, you could barely feel the wind, but 100 meters up the trail it felt like a mini tornado.
The First is one of the minor mountains around Grindelwald. It is a very popular hiking destination in the summer. The winter months it is filled with skiiers! The mountain is only 7,106 feet above sea level. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is almost 4000 feet higher than the city proper. :).
Today is the last day of our Alps vacation. It has been a fascinating week. We have spent a lot of time hiking. We took the train down the mountains to Interlaken, and took an afternoon cruise on Thunersee (Lake Thun). I hope the week was relaxing for Julie. Other than the week we went back to the US at Christmas, this has been her only week off since we moved here. Julie has always been a very dedicated and hard working employee, but the last two years has been incredibly hard. Getting ready for the sale of Bemis, and not knowing what was going to happen with her job, made 2018-2019 stressful, and then dealing with the move and getting the new company straightened out 🙂 has made 2019 – 2020 every bit as challenging.
After visiting Lauterbrunnen, we decided to go up. Tuesday we went up the First and took a hike to Bachalpsee and had lunch.
It takes about 30 minutes by Gondola to get from the bottom of the mountain to the top. We were able to have a very pleasant trip with two Gentlemen from Geneva that were also spending a few days here. I think Julieś favorite part of the ride was getting to pet a dog again. One of the gentlemen brought his golden retreiver along. Upon arriving at the destination, your first adventure is the cliff walk. This is a 3 foot wide metal walkway attached to side of the cliff, and you get a little taste of rock climbing. Well kind of a taste, because there is no effort other than walking, and you are in absolutely no danger, but Julie was a little freaked out by the experience, and did not want to stop touching the cliff. I guess she has a little fear of heights! After taking the path Julie stayed at the restaurant and had a stiff drink, while I grabbed my GoPro and took the walk again. I will be editing the video down a little next week, and sharing it with you!
Side note. I am sitting here writing this, and realizing that sometimes I really do not like technology. 🙂 I think I am going to have to have a third post, because a bunch of the pictures are stuck between my iphone and the cloud! I bring three cameras with me everywhere we go. I have the iphone, a Sony Digital camera, and a GoPro for video. It is really easy to sync the pictures from the Digital Camera, the GoPro, and my Google Chromebook (this is my travel computer). However, Apple doesn play well with other infrastructures, so I have to use my iCloud account download the pictures from the iphone. Well, I forgot that iCloud does not sync off of data, and the wifi at the hotel leaves a lot to be desired, so there are about 250 more pictures on my iphone that I can get put in the blog. I should probably take more time, and go through weeding out pictures, but I do not pretend to be a proffessional the intent is to share. So you get them all!
Back to the trip: One thing that is really different here, is that outside you see many elderly people out hiking. The trip to the lake is a little over 4 miles round trip. Up and down some pretty steep climbs, but I would estimate at least 1/2 the people on the walk were over the age of 65. It gives me a lot of hope for our next 30 years! I also got a kick out of the young parents pushing strollers, and carrying kids on their backs. I kept thinking, ¨I really do not miss those days.” That is hard work. Most of the snow was gone, but on the north side of the mountains there were some remnants left, and when I get the pictures synced, I will share some of Julie and I walking on the snow.
On Wednesday, we went even higher. Jungfrauberg (Mount Jungfrau) is one of the highest mountains in Switzerland. It also has the distinction of having the highest elevation for a train station in Europe. We caught a train in Grindelwald, and went all the way up. The trains are kind of fascinating to me. I know they exist in the US, but here cogwheel trains are pretty common. The mountains are to steep for a traditional train, so a cogwheel train has the drive part in the center of the train, and the cogs drive the train up the tracks, and the wheels are there for the most part purely to keep the train on the track.
It takes about an hour and a half to get all the way up the mountain. at the top you are at 11,000 feet. Julie kept complaining that she was feeling woozy. I tried to explain to her about altitude sickness, but I do not think she really grasped it until we were back down the mountain. She kept telling me that one second she was feeling strange, but all of a sudden she felt great. 🙂 The Jungfrau is high enough the snow stays year around. There are a lot of people that bring skis with them on the trip. That seems like a little to much work to me, though, because you can only ski so far down, and then you have to walk back up to ski down again. 🙂 Though if we get the chance to go skiing this coming winter, I think I want to come back here. The ski slopes looked amazing. They are building a new high speed gondola, that will take you from Grindelwald about 3/4 of the way up the mountain in 1/2 the time it takes the train. Most of the people going to the top go for a long hike on top of the glacier, but with Julieś hurt knee we decided not to take that trek. So instead we sat on the glacier and enjoyed hot chocolate and Baileys. (Personally I think we made the smarter decision, but to each their own.)
After spending two days up high, we decided on a change of pace. We are about 30 minutes away from Interlaken, so we took the train all the way down the mountains, and took a lake cruise on Thunersee (Lake Thun). The lake stretches 11 or 12 miles from Interlaken to Thun. The lake is about 2.5 miles wide, and the AVERAGE depth is 440 feet. We got in a little trouble on the cruise, because I convinced Julie to go up and sit on the first class deck. I pretended not to know any German, so the deck hand was actually very nice in explaining to us that we were in the wrong spot. 🙂 Honestly, though it did not make much sense to me. One wooden bench is as uncomfortable as the next one. It was a very relaxing day, the different scenery was still breathtaking. I was very impressed with the road engineering.
So today we are taking our last hike. We have decided to take the gondola to the top of the First and we are going to hike down. We thought about doing it the other way, but that sounded much harder.
I hope you enjoy this batch of pictures. I will get some more up when we get back to Rüshlikon. Next week I will have some video to add as well.
Julie needed to get away from work for a bit, so we decided to go on vacation for a week. We were originally planning on spending the week in Austria; since the boarders have opened back. However, her company has said that if you travel outside the country on mass transit, you have to self quarantine for two weeks. What makes ZERO sense to me, is that we have spent more time on mass transit traveling to Grindelwald, than we would have spent traveling to Austria. Oh well, sometimes logic doesn’t make any sense. I am doing a mid week blog post, because the amount of pictures I am taking will make it necessary.
Before leaving for the mountains, I finally was able to get an interview with a school in town so I could discuss volunteering next year. I have been a little afraid that I was going to have to change the name of this blog, because I couldn’t get any education content at all. I was not getting any schools returning my emails. So the pitch was changed. The last email did not talk about volunteering it was a brief introduction and the wish to meet and learn more about the Swiss Education System. It worked! I had a wonderful meeting with the “Principal” of one of the primary schools in town. A primary school in Switzerland is K – 8. I put the word principal in quotes, because even though there are multiple primary schools in town, there is no school district. Each school is independent of the others. Herr Müller informed me that he reports directly to the canton of Zürich. So basically the head of the school reports directly to the Department of Instruction at the State level.
We talked about some of the different problems that he faces. For one thing, about 60% of his students do not speak Swiss German or even German at all. By law the instruction has to be given in the official language of the canton, so German as a second language classes are always full. What amazed me the most, is the number of languages he has to worry about. This year he told me they have 30 different languages being spoken in the school. That is a lot of interpreters. Another difference between schools here and the US: In the US for some reason private schools are looked on as better education systems than the public schools. (I personally disagree with that feeling. The biggest reason being is that private schools get to pick and choose their students, public schools do not get that luxury.) In Switzerland everyone I have spoken with has said the public schools are a much better education option than the private schools. This feeling seems to be backed up anecdotely from the executives at Julie’s company. At least two of the senior executives have moved their families back to their home countries for their High School education. Their feeling is that the private (international) schools here will not prepare the students for college. The problem for a lot of expat workers is the language. Yes they make every effort to make sure the student is going to learn and learn in the language, but if you know you are only going to be here for a couple of years, learning German is a very big burden to overcome in relation to all the other education items a young person needs.
The school I interviewed with is getting ready for a 1:1 program next fall. I think I was able to get the Principal’s attention when I talked a little about implementing the 1:1 program at Winneconne a few years ago. So hopefully in the coming months I will have some education blog posts. Hey Winneconne Administrators, if you get a phone call in the coming weeks from someone with a thick accent: PLEASE say nice things about me, don’t tell him the truth! 🙂
The mountain in the background is named the Eiger. The town of Grindelwald is nestled in the valley, and is one of two start points to the “Top of Europe”. It isn’t the highest elevation in Europe, but it is the highest elevation for a train station in Europe. Tomorrow morning when when we go to the Jungfrau, the train ride is about an hour long, up alongside, and through the Eiger. If you have ever seen the movie ” On Her Majesties Secret Service” ( I believe it was the only James Bond movie that George Lazenby made. After all who could hope to follow Sean Connery!) you know the part of Switzerland we are visiting.
We have done a lot of hiking the last two days, which is great for me, but not so much for Julie. Julie realized how much she has been working the last few months, and had decided to start the Couch to 5K program. She was in week 4, and took a bad step off a curb and hurt her knee. She has been a trooper though. Each day we have logged at least 6 miles with nary a complaint.
Our first day here we checked into the hotel, and just relaxed. It turned out, though we were the awful Americans who don’t follow the rules. The Hot Tub had a sign that limited it to two people at time. Unfortunately, the sign wasn’t near the hot tub. so Julie got yelled at for climbing into the tub when there were people already there. The other BIG Faux Pas, is that we were in our swimsuits. We bothed missed the sign on the door that had a picture of a swimsuit with an X. So not only were we ignoring the Coronoa Virus rules, we were clothed. 🙂 What got me on the swimsuit though was the disrobing area was in the hallway down to the pool. You have to wear swimsuits in the pool, so I didn’t think the “get naked area” would have been that public. Oh well!
The next day we explored the town, and went through the Glacier Canyon. The canyon was beautiful, about 1/2 of the pictures are from the canyon. We also were able to have a nice picnic on the hike. We found a little clearing by one of the many streams, and spread out the blanket for a nice relaxing lunch.
Our second day here, we visited the town of Lauterbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen is in another valley around the Eiger. In many of the tour guides it is also referred to as Water Fall Valley. I have to say Lauterbrunnen is a much prettier town than Grindelwald, but the lodging options were a lot less. I have been fortunate to do a lot of traveling in the US. I have seen many of the National Parks, and until yesterday, I always thought of Yosemite National Park as the prettiest place I had ever seen. The Lauterbrunnen valley is amazing. Literally you are in between two cliff walls that are approximately 1000 feet high. I have not ever experienced feeling so small. I have a lot of pictures of the valley, but NONE of them even come close to capturing the magnificence of the mountain walls.
The image above is Staubbach Falls, it is one of the very first things you see when coming into Lauterbrunnen. The falls are 297 meters high. The falls were measured in 1776 by a team of men that climbed the cliff trailing rope! The 2nd most impressive water display is Trümmelbachfälle. These falls are in the process of cutting a canyon down the middle of the mountain. Only the last two falls were visible until 1877, when some enterprising person cut a tunnel up through the mountain! The amount of water in the falls varies greatly. From December to March there is just a little stream trickling down under thick sheets of ice. After frosty nights in April and October the flow of water measures only a few dozen litres a second. But between April and June, when the snow melts, and between June and September, when the glacier ice melts, as well as after heavy rain and thunderstorms, as much as 20’000 litres a second may come thundering through the rocky defile. The little stream becomes a mighty river.
I have some video of inside the falls that I will get up in the next week or so. I didn’t bring my macbook with me for video editing. Trying to edit video on a chromebook, is not the most enjoyable experience!
Anyway, this is all I am going to write for the day. I hope you enjoy the pictures. I will try and get one more post up this week, but I do post frequent pictures on Instagram (gwsorrellsiii) or twitter (@gwsorrells).