The apartment suddenly got a LOT more quiet this week, even with Julie working from home! Kaylee left for Madison on Saturday, and since both kids are back in the US the apartment just feels empty. It is getting a good cleaning this week, though! It is kind of strange having Julie home again so much. I think I am going to have to get a big whiteboard so that she can write down the days and times of her meetings. I have to work around the meetings so I can do house work.
I think I mentioned this in an earlier post this month, but 2022 is giving off such a strange sense of Deja Vu. Last year we were also in the middle of a work from home ruling. However, last year (if I remember correctly) we were in a kind of forced lockdown. Restaurants and bars were closed. The only exception were those in hotels. I remember thinking how stupid it was that you could go skiing and be in a gondola with people; you could go to a hotel and eat in the restaurant or bar, but practically all other entertainment venues were closed. Of course we were all hopeful because the vaccine was being rolled out, and we we naively believed that everyone would get the vaccine and it would be the end to the madness.
Now here we are a year later. By a lot of measurements in a much worse place with the virus, but the only real difference is that no one has any optimism for things to get better any time soon. Enough of the downer talk!
After the trip to Basel last week, we really did not do a lot. Kaylee and I went and visited the Lindt Museum in Kilchberg, but other than that we worked on a puzzle.
This puzzle was a lot more difficult than the previous puzzle. The blue alone took us most of a day. It would have been longer, but Kaylee noticed there were some electrical lines running diagonally across the sky. So we had to examine every single piece, and look for a “hair”. We eventually had to separate all the blue by shape. Then we would try each piece one at a time until we got one to fit. 🙂 Kaylee called it “Puzzling by brute force.”
I did get around to making some videos of our Basel trip.
Julie and I had seen some advertisements for something called the LILU Light Festival. This is something the city of Luzern started doing a few years ago. We thought it looked pretty fun; so after seeing off we bought tickets and took the train to Luzern. I wanted to take the train, because I had the thought the festival might have a sort of Christmas Market vibe, and wanted to be able to partake of adult beverages and not have to worry about driving home. Well my thoughts turned out to be WAY OFF THE MARK. It was nothing like a Christmas Market, and there was no booze to be had. Primarily because the crowds were so extensive, that it would have required a multiple hour wait to get anything.
Most of the show was outside but you could buy tickets for the inside light shows. We thought about buying tickets, but once we saw how big the crowds were, the last place we wanted to be was inside a building standing shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers! As it was, Saturday Night is the first time I can remember wearing a mask outside when we were not required to wear one.
The festival was supposed to have these light exhibits set to music. However, at most of the displays you could not hear anything. I am glad we went, but probably will not go back next year.
The rest of the week should be pretty quiet. Hopefully, I can think of something else to write about!
We have been back in the US now for about 5 days. We left our house at 7:00 AM on the 18th. By the clock we finally got to Indianapolis at about 10:00PM that same day. By the time we got to the hotel and checked in it was 12:30 on the 19th. So by the clock it was a long day, but if we had no time zones to worry about we would have spent 23 1/2 hours traveling. The extra long day did help with the jet lag, though. We both slept for about 8 hours, and really have not had any problems with jet lag this trip.
Julie and I intentionally stayed in Indianapolis the first night instead of driving another 75 miles to my parent’s house. We were able to spend a couple of hours doing some shopping for things we have hard time finding back home. I love going back home to Mitchell, but when down there your choice is Walmart and JcPenney; so staying in Indianapolis meant I did not have to drive back another time! EDIT: Well my mother informed me that JcPenney is closed; so your choices are Walmart and Lowes. 🙂
One of the most frustrating things, to me, about living during this pandemic, is how fast things change. Back home, in Switzerland, we really were not hearing much about the virus for a few weeks, and then WHAM! We get hit with the news the hospitals are full and the government is looking at implementing new Covid restrictions. As time is passing, the government seems more and more reluctant to put any strict mitigation efforts in place. We were prepared for restaurants to close, and quarantines be imposed for arriving travelers, which meant we would have to drastically change our plans for after Christmas. The restaurants are remaining open ( so far) as long as you are vaccinated, and they actually loosened the entry requirements; so as of now our kids will be returning with us. To enter Switzerland now you do have to be vaccinated; that has been the rule for a few months now. Where it became loosened is that instead of requiring a PCR test you can now come in with one of the rapid tests. I guess why I am saying that is loosening up is that the rapid tests are not as reliable, but they are a lot less expensive. Which kind of makes me happy as we have to pay for 5 people heading back after Christmas. We also have to take an additional test 4 days after returning.
Back in Indiana, we were getting ready to see everyone for the first time in two years, and then my youngest sister called, and she and her family are in quarantine at home, because her son’s best friend caught Covid, and due to contact rules her son has to quarantine for a few days. So it looks like we will not be seeing them this visit. I feel even worse for them, because most of Weston’s gifts are already here in Indiana, and very quickly after Christmas they were also supposed to attend a wedding.
There will be about 25 us still getting together, but we are trying to be safe. We have all been trying to limit our exposure the last two weeks, and another of my sisters has been scouring southern Indiana for at home covid tests; so we will all test ourselves before the big party.
Even though I was just back in the US a few weeks ago, I still am shocked by the almost universal lack of mitigation being enforced. Almost every store has signs up regarding wearing a mask, but maybe 1 out of 10 people is actually wearing a mask, and out of the people wearing masks maybe 50% are actually wearing a mask. My wife’s parents are staying at a hotel that claims they are mitigating for the virus. The website says that only registered guests are allowed in the hotel, it says they are checking for vaccination status, and enforcing mask wearing for anyone not vaccinated. Well, her parents arrived yesterday, so we went down to see them. It turned out that none of the rules the hotel has published are actually being enforced. We parked the car (after passing multiple signs stating that only registered guests are allowed in the hotel), walked right by the guard that was supposed to be checking for hotel guests, and met her father who had been given 5 of the “guest only passes” by someone at the checkin desk. No one ever asked about vaccination status, and no one ever checked the passes. Honestly, it doesn’t bother me that they are not doing the covid mitigation. What does make me angry is that they CLAIM they are doing covid mitigation.
When I was in the US a few weeks ago, I went out of my way to have some cheese curds. Those golden nuggets of goodness were one of the things I have really missed. We went to a restaurant in Bedford, Indiana, that claimed to have “Wisconsin Cheese Curds”; so we just had to try them. It turned out their idea of a cheese curd was to bring out a plate of mozzarella sticks. Needless to say we were sorely disappointed. I tell you this because last night we went to a restaurant in French Lick, Indiana that also claimed to have “Wisconsin Cheese Curds.” The family started chuckling and my son and I were debating if they would also be mozzarella sticks; so experimented and ordered the cheese curds AND the mozzarella sticks. We were pleasantly surprised to learn the Ohana Bar and Grill really did know the difference between the two. If you ever find your self in French Lick, Indiana give the restaurant a try. Great atmosphere combined with cheap prices and good food make a fun meal.
Not much else to report. I will try and write once more before we head back to Switzerland.
The word of the week here has been COVID. What about on the other side of the Atlantic? Julie and I keep waiting for more restrictions to come down. Switzerland has blown by all the stop signs the Government said would trigger. the daily case count is higher than it has ever been and hospitals are over flowing. Zürich has been out of ICU beds for two weeks now, and three or four other cantons reached that level in the past week. This week the government announced they were mobilizing the medical units of the Army like they did the very first wave February and March 2020. It seems surreal that back then new cases were only about 1000 per day. Yet I remember one of the headlines that was very close to “Switzerland has the biggest military call up since World War II.” Switzerland’s new case count now is hovering about 10,000, with the highest daily count reaching 19.500.
The Government is meeting this weekend to discuss further steps. Right now to enter Switzerland you have to: 1. be able to show proof of vaccination, 2. have a negative PCR test 72 hours before travel, and 3. have a 2nd negative test taken between day 4 and 7 of your stay. Based on the rumors I am reading the travel restrictions will probably not change unless things get even worse than they are. The two plans the Government has sent to the Cantons are:
Variant 1: 2G plus mask
The first path tightens the Covid certificate to vaccinated and recovered people, meaning that negative tests no longer qualify for the certificate.
In effect, this means restricting indoor areas only to the vaccinated and those recovered from the virus.
Masks must be worn indoors except for when sitting. Bars and restaurants are required to have allocated seating. Food and drink can only be consumed at a person’s seat.
If the venue cannot operate with allocated seating – for instance clubs, choirs, brass music concerts and rehearsals – then attendees would need to be 2G compliant (vaccinated or recovered) as well as providing a negative test.
This is known as 2G+.
Venues like fitness centres and restaurants are able to dispense with mask rules and allocated seating if they require visitors to show a test in addition to their vaccinated and recovered status.
2nd path: Partial closures
The second path tightens the Covid certificate to vaccinated and recovered people, meaning that negative tests no longer qualify for the certificate.
Under this path, indoor areas of bars, restaurants, clubs etc would have to close for everyone, i.e. not just the unvaccinated.
Sporting and cultural activities – i.e. amateur sport – would be restricted to 2G compliant people from age 16 and up.
Eating and drinking would no longer be allowed at outdoor sporting events.
I do not see many places willing to adopt the 2nd path. The other thing that neither plan addresses is work from home. I think work from home is going to be part of anything that is eventually tried. I am kind of surprised this is not part of the plans that have been published. In my mind, one of the realities is that unless some restrictions are put on the ski slopes nothing else will matter. Most of the slopes are already open this year and this time of year the ski slopes are where you find the biggest crowds. I have not seen any thing talking about limiting the number of people in gondolas, or wearing masks while in the lift lines. After living here for the last two years the one thing I have learned is that if you want to impact something in Switzerland from Dezember to März it had better impact the ski slopes if it has any hope of working.
Julie and I are taking it easy we do not want to risk catching it now since in 7 days we will be on a plane heading west across the Atlantic!
We have left the apartment this week, but not very often. We ran downtown this afternoon. I had not taken any pictures of the tree in the train station (See Above.) That is one of my favorite things about living here. I just love seeing that tree. Julie also needed to head into her office to drop off the Secret Santa gift. She is working from home this coming week; so it was either do it today or be the office grinch! Julie was looking for some chocolate santas and deer like we saw last weekend. Sorry the picture is not that good. We really liked the buck teeth on the deer, but it was Sunday morning and the store was closed.
It has snowed almost every day this week, but you can barely tell it down at our level, but the the hills surrounding Zürich are snow covered, and the Alps are almost completely white again.
The 12th is supposed to be clear so we are going to try the Rapperswil Christmas market again. Last weekend it was rainy and windy we would like to go when the weather is nice!
We have our appointments made for Covid testing before we head home, and other than a couple of trips to the grocery store we probably will not leave the apartment next week! I have a lot of cleaning to do this week since we hopefully have three visitors flying back after Christmas.
My last thought before closing out tonight, is what the heck happened to Indiana in Wisconsin? I mean the last time IU won in Wisconsin our oldest was only 1 year old. I do not what happens to the IU BB team when they get to Badger Land, but somehow the team seems to lose itself. Even worse is getting a 22 point lead and blowing it. The only thing that makes me feel a LITTLE BIT good is knowing IU still holds the series lead by over 20 games. How bad was Wisconsin in the past? Hopefully something exciting will happen this week so I actually have something to write about before we head to the US for Christmas!
Well it has been a fairly quiet week after returning to Switzerland. It was a pretty easy transition back into “Hausmann Tasks.”
It is very easy to tell that winter has returned to Switzerland. It is dark by 1630 every afternoon, and we have seen the sun exactly one time this week. We got a little snow on Monday and Tuesday, but not enough to actually stick on the ground for longer than a couple of hours. Julie and I are still trying to enjoy the season. We went to the Zürich Christmas Markets on Thursday. It was pretty awful weather, but the markets are always fun.
Zürich actually has three larger markets. There is one in the train station, the Neiderdorf Area, and at the Opera House. The markets are all different. The market in the train station is focused on buying traditional Christmas goods. The market in Neiderdorf seems more focused on foreign goods. The market at the Opera House is more of a food and drink venue. Julie had heard the market in Rapperswil is actually better than the Zürich markets so we hopped on a train and rode to the other end of the lake.
Unfortunately by the time we got to Rapperswil the weather had worsened. The rain was really coming down, and the wind had picked up so bad we watched multiple umbrellas turn inside out. We did find the nicest sales people at a stand, though. We had just started walking through the market, and Julie found a place selling wool chair mats, and other products. Julie wanted me to get a new pair of house slippers, and we can never remember our sizes over here; so the nice young lady brought out plastic sheets and paper bags; so I could stand on something dry and try on some slippers. Needless to say, Julie wound up buying multiple things, and has even said she is heading back next Thursday for more. I guess that counts as a win/win????!!!
I was going to be writing this in Prague. Prague has a Christmas Market that is on Julie’s must see list. Instead (I will talk more on this later.), we are in Basel for the weekend. I learned yesterday, that I forgot something back in the US. I mentioned earlier that we have seen the sun once this week. Well that was yesterday. As we were getting ready to leave I realized I would want my sunglasses. However, when I opened the case and saw nothing but air looking back, I realized the sunglasses are sitting in an F-150 back in Mitchell, Indiana. Oh well, hopefully I can return in two weeks and get them! This leads me to my next thought. Are we ever going to get over Covid?
We are now approaching the end of year two in dealing with this virus. The US appears to have gotten their Delta wave this summer. Europe is getting it now. Throw in Omicron, and we appear to be looking at another COVID Christmas. One of the biggest problems is that travel restrictions seem to come and go with a moments notice. When I arrived on Monday, we were still good for trip to Prague. By Wednesday, the trip was called off, because there was a mandatory 10 day quarantine upon returning. Even for people fully vaccinated. By Friday, the quarantine part had been lifted, because Switzerland’s status was just as bad as the Czech Republic’s. Now we have a very heavy testing protocol in place with any foreign travel. For example on our trip to the US for Christmas we have to take a PCR test 24 hours before the plane departs. We then have to take another PCR test 72 hours before we come back to Switzerland. After we come back, we have to wait 4 days to get another PCR test. I do not know how much these tests cost in the US, but here they are about $160 per test. So we are looking at about another $100 for the two of us for the trip. The way we read the law, this is now true for any international travel. We were thinking of going to Strasbourg, France next weekend, but that trip is probably out as well.
The worst part about the Christmas Trip, is that we were bringing the kids back with us. The travel situation is so tenuous right now, that we will probably wind up canceling the return visit for the kids. Julie and I are both surprised Switzerland has not already imposed more lockdowns. The Government said all along that as long as the situation remained stable they would not make any further moves, but in the last two weeks the number of people in hospital has skyrocketed. Zürich has filled up their ICU beds with COVID patients, and a news article I saw yesterday said they are unable to transfer patients to another canton. One other move the Government is making actually kind of pisses me off. Not because it is not the right thing to do, but because it rewards people that should not be rewarded. The announcement this week is that work from home is recommended, but may be made mandatory for the unvaccinated. I guess I still have much US in me. If your company requires you to be at work, and you choose to not be vaccinated to work from home, the company should immediately be able to terminate your employment. That will never happen here. At this point I am ready to throw up my hands in the air and say “F*** IT!” There are far too many people not willing to be vaccinated, and few countries will require the vaccination; so we will be dealing with this for the foreseeable future. We might as will just lift all the precautions and let life go. A lot more people will die, but at least that helps the over population problem right? I am writing this from a hotel in Basel. Julie and I decided to come visit the Basel Christmas Market instead of staying home; so obviously we are not that worried about catching Covid.
I do think many of the restrictions make sense. I support requiring the Covid certificates before going out to eat or going to any entertainment venue. In my mind, this should encourage people to take the one step the experts all agree would eventually mean we can stop being concerned about Covid. Julie and I are also on the waiting list for the booster shot. We should be able to get it right before we return to the US for Christmas.
Basel is a very nice city. Like most larger Swiss cities a good mix between the modern and the old. The two live successfully right next to each other. This is our second visit here. We came here for lunch one day when George was visiting this summer. We walked along the river side and toured the Cathedral. The weather was excellent yesterday; so we checked into the hotel and visited the Christmas Market. Julie claims this one has been her favorite in Switzerland. I think she said this, because it has been the first time this year, she could add to her Christmas Market/Gluwein cup collection. It is a great setting. You enter the market through a small alley, and it opens up to a drink and food court. All nestled along the base of an old church. You follow the alley along the walls, and it opens up into a really nice plaza where the majority of the market is located.
It turned out the “church” is now the Basel Museum. It is a fascinating museum with a great mix between the history of the church, history of Basel, and other exhibits. It is highly recommended if you are ever in the area. Julie and I commented multiple times, that our kids would love this place. Outside of the Swiss National Landesmuseum, this one is my new favorite. (Sorry Bern.) We topped off our Friday with dinner at an Irish Pub. We had a little problem with our food order, but the pub had live music; so we still had an amazing evening.
Unfortunately, the rain came back on Saturday. We were able to go strolling through town for about a couple of hours before the heavens opened up, but it has rained pretty heavily all day; so we relaxed in the hotel room.
I am thinking a lot today about many of my friends in Memphis, TN this weekend. This is the third year we have had to support the Barlow Family and Team David from afar. Julie and I both really miss being there. I know everyone is always asking for money this time of year, but if you have a spare dime there is no better place to support than St Jude Hospital. I am attaching the link to the Team David page please donate if you are able.
Also before I get to some of the pictures from our weekend, I would ask you to keep another High School friend in your thoughts and prayers. Brian Grow and his wife Misty just found out one of their grand children was diagnosed with leukemia. Stay strong Archer, you can beat this!
This will be my last post from Switzerland for a couple of weeks. In 4 days I will be heading back to the US. I am going to spend some time in Wisconsin and then head back to Indiana to spend Thanksgiving with my parents. I will probably write at least once per week, because I am sure I will have some amusing stories to relate.
There is probably a 99.9% certainty that something will not go right with the Wisconsin DMV. I mean what can go wrong while trying to get an ID that has an address on it, but the only address you have is in another country? I have already talked to someone in Madison, but just because that person understands my problem is no guarantee that someone in Appleton will. If I had not talked to other people, in my shoes, that let the license expire to learn the headaches I would just let it expire. That being said, I do not want to retake all the tests when we eventually move back. I am not so much worried about getting the ID. I am not getting the Real ID (where you have to show proof of citizenship as well as residency.). I figure when we move back I can worry about the Real ID. What I figure will cause problems will be asking the person to have the ID mailed to a different address than is on the ID. According to the person I spoke with, I have to keep my old address on the license, because that is the ID I have to provide to keep my voting eligibility. Yet since we moved so long ago, the Post Office will no longer forward any mail. So I have to use my daughter’s address as the mailing address.
One thing that still has me ticked off about Switzerland is the health insurance situation. I have talked before about how Switzerland runs the whole country on the same system as Obamacare. It works, and overall health care is very good here. What has me angry is that when we moved here two years ago. I was given the “basic” insurance that every company is required to provide. This is OK as long as I am in here, but it does not cover a thing if we travel to another country. I do not worry about for short trips, but spending two weeks in the US scares me a little in case of an accident. I think I do need some coverage. Anyway, I just bought a policy that covers up to $1million in expenses. Max I could be on the hook for is $20,000. So pretty similar to the long term policies in the US. The cost is about $80 for two weeks. At first I thought this was expensive, but then I started thinking about how much money was taken out of my paycheck every week and how much my old school district had to pay. I realized that $80 is a heck of a deal. There is still much confusion on my part why my insurance company would not let me upgrade to a policy that would cover me in other countries. Julie was eligible for that one right away. The price increase would have been $150 per month. Based on my track record with doctors here, that would have been a good deal for the insurance company. Anyway, it is all bought and I am ready to head back to the US next week.
For those of you that get our Christmas cards, do not be alarmed that they have a US stamp on them, and are mailed from Indiana. I spent this week getting the cards ready. If I were mailing them from here it should have been done about a month ago. The mail is so inconsistent with the US. Sometimes letters take 6 days. Other times they take 6 weeks. The other reason for doing them now, is that it costs about $2 to mail something to the US from here, but I have a bunch of 40 or 45 cent forever stamps. So I have them all addressed and stamped so I can drop off and save about $100 on postage. Even with the increased postage, here, it is not enough to keep the Swiss Post in the black. There are talks about limiting service just like the talks that have been going on for decades in the US. I am not sure what the cost of postage really needs to be, but it is not high enough to keep the system running.
Below I am reposting the videos that were made in Murten. I learned that I should never update this thing on a weekend, because absolutely no one goes back and reads it. I do not get a lot of visits on my blog but I enjoy the writing, and it gives me something to do. On a normal day about 15 people visit my site. On a day that I post something that usually goes up to 30 – 40. Again, not a very big reach! 🙂 That being said when I posted these videos on Saturday only three people visited the site! So if you are interested to see a little more of Murten, please click on the videos below.
I hope you have a great rest of your week, and the next time we talk I will be back in the USA! Hopefully with some good stories to tell!
Today’s post has probably been written 20,000 times by 20,000 different people. It is something that practically every person over the age of 25 has experienced at least once but more likely multiple times. I wish I could tell you I have pictures of the beautiful hike Julie and I took this past weekend or inviting prose about the wine tasting we went to Saturday evening. There will be only one slightly entertaining section of how bad my language skills are. This is a story that could (and did to one extent or another) happen to me back in the US. I guess to relate it to being an Expat it is simply proof that somethings never change. No matter the country, the culture, or the time.
So my story starts a couple of weeks ago. The last post I made I told you about the cable TV problem we were having. I ended the story with a new cable box coming out. Well unlike the US, the package arrived exactly when it was promised. I got the new box installed, and was very happy to see that there were new features with the new box, that were not part of the old one. For example, during setup the cable box immediately recognized what television was hooked up. The set up process asked if I wanted to tie the TV and speaker system into the remote. This of course was a HUGE plus, to be able to put two of the remotes in a drawer made me happy. The menu looked different, and I was even able to set up different captions; so that on some channels I could listen to the TV in German, but have English sub-titles. I figured this would help me learn. So I was really happy until 7:12 the next morning.
If you remember, the old cable box rebooted every morning at 7:10. I was watching the BBC for my morning news, when… the whole thing rebooted. I was slightly peeved, but wound up greatly relieved when it only rebooted once. Sunday morning, it rebooted four times, and this morning it rebooted again three times. So since I already had to give up my morning run. I decided to call UPC and try and work through customer service. I called at 9:30. Next comes the obligatory bad language skills part of my story.
I started the call speaking German. I got through the whole address, customer number, even was able to talk about the box rebooting. I did have to look up to learn the german word for reboot was Neustart. (Side note: another example of how the german language really makes a lot of sense. The word describes exactly what happens.) I even remembered that neustart would be a split verb so The UPC box reboots every morning becomes Die UPC box startet jeden Morgen gegen 7:00 Uhr neu. I was feeling pretty good. I did explain to the technician that I only spoke a little german. He was fantastic with me, and easily slipped back and forth between german and english flawlessly. I was also very appreciative of the fact that once he realized I was trying to talk in german he really slowed down, and was very helpful. I also appreciated that before he handed me off to the next person, he asked if I wanted a german or english speaker. This unfortunately was the end of the good parts to my story.
He put me on hold to wait for the next technician. I was on hold for 45 minutes, when the call disconnected. I went downstairs put the laundry in the dryer, and called again. The next person very quickly transferred me to the next level…. Unfortunately, I spent the next 3 HOURS on hold. I admit I wasted about 30 minutes sitting doing nothing. Finally I started doing something else. I mixed a loaf of bread, swept the floors, sharpened all the kitchen knives, got a load of laundry put away, and completed most of my daily housework all while listening to the awful hold music. After three hours on hold the call disconnected. I will call back again tomorrow. If I have another 3 hour wait; then I will be calling Swisscom.
I am a very loyal consumer. The first mobile phone I bought through Verizon, and I still have the kid’s cell phone plans through Verizon. In the past I have switched between cable TV and satellite a couple of different times, for service related issues not simply to save a dollar. The first time I switched to satellite because the cable company was not going to carry the Big Ten Network, and I really needed my Indiana Basketball fix. Ten years later I switched back to cable, because Direct TV had just released their new DVR and whole house system. I wanted to upgrade, but since they were giving systems away for nothing to new customers, I was unwilling to pay full price to upgrade. (What really ticked me off about that is the day AFTER the cable company had installed the new equipment Direct TV called and said they give me the new customer deal!) I have stayed with USAA for over 30 years. I switched once to save some money in 1989 and in 1990 was back to USAA.
One bad experience outweighs a lot of really good ones. UPC has been good. We have only had one cable outage in two years, and no internet outages. When Julie was working from home, we had a lot of wifi problems, but UPC helped us diagnose and solve the problem. They sent out new and extra equipment to make sure Julie was able to function from home during the pandemic. The service people have been extremely nice. So why am I considering changing companies?
It was simply the three hours of being forgotten. If they would simply have a live person come on every once in a while and let me know they were still around. Even some kind of timer that would say ,”There are 3500 people ahead of you. The wait will be 2 days and 21 hours.” Even better would be an automated system that says, :”We apologize for the wait . We have your contact information, Press 1 and we will have an agent call you when they are available.” It truly does not take that much to let the customer know you care about their time as well. This is going to sound petty, but I was not even able to get my laundry done today, because if I had gone to the basement the call would have dropped and I would start all over again. I also could not leave the phone upstairs, because if they had answered I still would have to start all over again. The bottom line for me is: DO NOT WASTE MY TIME.
Hopefully I have not wasted your time today. I hope you had a smile or two.
I have finally crossed the Swiss threshold for scheduling things. I had emailed one of the couples that we do things with, and was trying to find an evening to get together. We realized that weekends for the next three months are already booked. They have friends visiting from the US the next two weeks, then I am back in the US for deer hunting. When I get back we are spending the next two weekends in France and Czechoslovakia, then Christmas ( we are headed to the US, and I believe they have family coming here ), and then our kids will be here for a few weeks in January. I never realized how busy we are. Getting back to our friends; we agreed to have dinner on Wednesday. 🙂
I will end with something I learned about Switzerland just today. When you die in Switzerland, you rent your grave site for a term of 20 or 25 years. At the end of the time surviving family is given the tombstone if they want it, your remains are then dug up and disposed of. Most are simply incinerated. In most cases though there is not much left. The Swiss do not use vaults like in the US, and I am pretty sure the bodies are not embalmed like in the US. The caskets are simple wood boxes. With the amount of moisture and no preservation there is usually not much left after the 20 years. The exceptions to this are if you are from a really wealthy family that has purchased a large plot or if you are famous. If you are wealthy, the bodies are not moved, they stay in the family area. If you are famous. The remains might be disposed of, but the gravestone is kept in a place of honor in the cemetery. I hope that last thought was not to morbid for you.
As I am sitting here waiting for COOP to make a delivery I decided to write a little. It has been another quiet week here in Der Schweiz. Fall has arrived, but considering the way most people dress here you would think we are in the middle of January. The temperature was 3 degrees (C) this morning. When it hits 4 I wear a long sleeve shirt while jogging. When it hits – 1 I add long pants to the mix. I realized about half way through my 5 miles that it is obvious I am not a native. With one exception everyone I saw was wearing a winter coat and hat. Even the people jogging where wearing more clothes than I wear when the temperature is -5 or -6. Switzerland does not have “The Farmer’s Almanac”, but all the indicators are for a cold winter. I have not been able to determine if it is cold to Wisconsin standards but outside of the mountains I really doubt if it is going to be THAT cold.
I think I have mentioned in earlier posts that Julie and I have made some new friends. This is another US couple that has lived here about a year longer than we have. Anyway, we went out to dinner last Saturday. I have not decided, yet, if the bar was an Irish Bar that served American Food, or an American Bar that served Irish Beer and Whisky. It was a great night. Julie had a big ole juicy cheeseburger, and I had chicken wings. I have not had wings in over two years, and they really hit the spot! It was also the first place we have found over here, that really knows how to make onion rings.
This week actually felt like home. We have been having cable problems. Just like in the US, it is actually cheaper to get TV, Internet, and Phones all bundled together, than to get any one separately. Because of that we have cable TV, but it is only turned on for about 30 minutes every morning. That way we can get some BBC news while we are eating breakfast. The rest of the time we watch either HULU or Netflix. Anyway, the cable box has been acting up for about a week. Every morning at 7:10 the box reboots. Most mornings it only reboots once, but Wednesday it rebooted 5 or 6 times. I have tried updating it, resetting it.. You know the drill. Everything that you have to do with any kind of computer device. I finally gave up and psyched myself up for the dreaded Swiss German phone call that would have me curled up in a fetal position within 90 seconds of talking to someone. The call went just like it would have gone in the US. The only difference is that you have to listen to the introduction in German, French, and then Italian before you can start pushing buttons to get to the write department. I spent 45 minutes on hold waiting to talk to someone, of course, this was after I got hung up on twice. I got the first level technician, and he told me to reboot the box two times. Still was glitching out. He passed me on to the second level tech. He told me to “hard” reset the box. All of these things of course having been done multiple times over the last week. Finally after spending another 30 minutes on the phone with the 2nd level tech, he agreed to send out a new cable box. This is exactly what I tried asking for when I was on with the the first level technician.
I had to take a break to accept the delivery. I think grocery delivery is something I will miss when we move back to the US. I do not use the delivery for fruits and vegetables, but I really like using the service for the bulky and heavy things. The delivery service gets everything right to the door, and I only have to move the stuff one time. It is so much nicer than having to load everything in the car or use the shopping trolley and move things two or three times. I guess I am more lazy than I thought!
So for all my other Gen X and Boomer friends, have you heard the new Mellencamp song? If you have not; do yourself a favor and give it a listen. The collaboration between Mellencamp and Springsteen is really good, I think they should do more together.
The job search is still not going anywhere. I am really thankful we were able to negotiate a deal where I do not HAVE to work. The thing that frustrates me is seeing the same advertisement for a job come up time after time. I have a spreadsheet going of all the jobs I have applied for. I have seen multiple jobs still up 6 or 7 months AFTER I got my rejection notice without ever getting an interview. I am coming to the conclusion that the employment market in Switzerland is NOT as good as people claim. Though I do keep finding people online that talk about looking for jobs for years before finally finding a company that will hire someone outside the EU. It also makes me wonder why the government even bothers giving out work visas to people that do not have an employment contract, yet. Oh well, all I can do is keep going.
Last thought for the day comes back to taxes. You have all heard me rant multiple times that it stinks having to pay US and Swiss taxes. I understand why the US doesn’t want to change the tax rules. The number of people living outside the US is so small, that there is no lobbying group making it worth the politicians time to even discuss it. I do think the US needs to do something to make filing taxes less onerous. Another US citizen talked to Julie about something his accountant in the US discovered. The company that has been doing our taxes has not been taking advantage of all the tax loopholes. Apparently there is something called the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and Foreign Housing Exclusion that allow you to “exclude” part of your income and write off part of the cost of housing. It is designed for countries that have tax levels below the US and I guess is a benefit of still having to pay US taxes even though we get nothing from them. The catch to this is that it is not an automatic thing. You have to file specifically to take advantage of them. You would think a company that has a special department of US citizens that live in Switzerland would know about this but apparently not. We have not been happy with the company doing our taxes anyway. If they missed this exclusion it will make sense to forgo the company benefit of someone doing our taxes and finding someone ourselves. The fix to this would be so easy. Just have the US go to a flat tax over all work income and investment income. Then allow you to deduct any foreign tax paid. Of course that solution is way to simple so it will never be implemented.
Honestly, the Swiss system is so much easier. Income tax is graduated based on income. I believe that all income is taxed the same no matter where it comes from. You get charitable deductions, and some kind of deduction for owning a home. Everyone also gets hit with a wealth tax which is figured from all Non-Retirement assets you have. The tax form is like 1040 EZ form. One page long. The only downfall I see to the Swiss method is that if you have a permanent visa or are a citizen there is no withholding. The individual is expected to simply save the money to pay one time per year. I know a lot of people in the US that would never be able to handle that. I think the tax rates are able to be so much smaller than the US and other European countries, because the military industrial complex does not have the same control as the US, and health care is mandatory but the responsibility of the individual. That being said, I pay a lot more in fees and other hidden taxes than I would in a lot of other countries.
I think that about covers it for today. I need to get my German studying in, and still have to get to the store so I can make dinner! Talk to you next week.
Well this past week marked my official 2 year anniversary for arriving in Switzerland. I spent it like I spend every other day. Walked Julie to the train, exercised, cleaned the house, did laundry, cooked dinner. When we are not going somewhere, I lead a very boring existence! I have been really bad the last six weeks keeping up with my German. It was very hard to do with all the visitors, but now that they are gone I really need to start in on my lessons again.
I did get a practical lesson yesterday. You have heard me go on about the hills around here. Yesterday, as I was cleaning the kitchen I noticed an elderly woman starting to walk up the hill towards the grocery store. She had a cane, and looked like she could barely move. So I quickly grabbed the recyclables, and started off. I caught up to her about 10 meters up the hill, and in my halting german, I asked her if I could help pull the shopping trolley up the hill. She gave me a big smile, and consented. She did not speak a word of English, but we were able to talk some as we walked. I got her up the hill to the level ground, and she asked for the trolley back. I told her if she would like, I would shop with her, and help her go back down. I think she said there was no need; she does it frequently, and she finds going down easier than going up. She might have actually been saying, what a stupid foreigner. I make this walk multiple times every week, I can do it myself. But she gave me a big smile and said “Vielen Dank” so I am choosing to believe it was my first thought.
Julie is getting ready to leave me for three days next week. It will be her first work trip since February of 2020. If you remember, she went back to the US, and we were afraid she was going to be stuck there, as that is when all the travel restrictions started because of Covid. I had big plans for three days of solo exploring, but now it turns out, I might get one. She leaves on Tuesday, but Wednesday I have a dentist appointment at 8:00 AM and then she comes back home on Thursday. Not really sure why I agreed to the dentist appointment. I had a temporary brain fart. I think it is simply because I hate going to the dentist so I wanted the first appointment I could get; so I did not have to dread it any longer.
I found a new goal for next year, though. I had lunch with a fellow American on Thursday. He told me about a bike ride that happens every September called the Alpenbrevet. The ride starts in the town of Andermatt. You have four rides to choose from. The rides go from 64 kilometers up to 288 kilometers. The rides are over some of the most famous mountain passes in Switzerland. So the short ride is two mountain passes with over 2000 meters of climb. The longest ride is five passes with over 7000 meters of climb. The longest ride starts at 6 in the morning. There are two control points you have meet along the route, and then it finishes at 9 PM that night. That is one long day on a bike. No way can I make that one. I think I am going to sign up for the 2nd easiest ride. It is a little over 100 KM. It covers three mountain passes. The Furka ( go back to my post from last week where I did this one in my car.), the Nufenen, and the Gotthard. If I spend a lot more time on the bike than jogging next year, I think I can get in good enough shape to tackle this one. Anyone want to come and join me?
We also got another lesson in one of the differences between the US and Switzerland. This one concerns renting. Now please note I cannot say with any certainty that this is the way all renting is done here. This has been my one and only experience.
When I arrived, almost three months after Julie, two years ago. Our landlord had us re-sign the lease. I do not know if it is a law that both spouses have to sign, or if this is simply another sign that Switzerland is way behind the times in regards to women’s equality. Anyway, our landlord was very insistent that I had to sign the lease as well as Julie. We signed a two year lease, that was originally up in June of this year, but one thing we noticed when we signed the new lease that September became the end month. We since learned that there are two months that people traditionally move in the canton of Zürich. Those two months are March and September. Anyway, we knew the lease was coming to an end, but we had not heard anything at all from the landlord. We knew we were covered, because we did not give any notice that we planned on leaving. Anyway, I called him and he came down to talk to us about the new lease. It turns out, that once the original lease expired, the lease converted to a semi permanent agreement. Either party has to give 6 months notice for non-renewal. And of course there are only two months the notice can be given. You got it: March and September…. We found this to be strange. One reason I do not know if this is common, or not. Is I made the comment to our landlord about how different that is vs leases in the US. He made the comment, that yes, he wants to make money off the lease, but that is not his primary concern. He lives in the top floor of the building; and it is more important to him that he have long term renters, and people that are good neighbors. I guess the good news is that even though he is really the only other person in our building we have met, he thinks we are good neighbors! The bad news with the lease, is that the house next door has finally started to be torn down. This is going to be bad. The house is right next to the bedroom, and our office. If the construction noise is 1/2 as loud as all the other houses being built around here, that means we will never be able to sleep past 7 AM except for Sundays, and the office will be practically unusable while they are building the place. We thought we would be getting a larger deduction on our rent for the time period they are building, but we signed a contract that said $300; so that will be the discount. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
I did not think I had any worthwhile pictures to show, but I did find one. This morning after grocery shopping, we got back to the apartment and it looked like everyone that has a sailboat decided to get it out today. This will probably be one of the last warm sunny days; so people are out taking advantage of the weather.
Not much else to talk about this week. I will update you next week on my solo adventures. Not sure what they will be, but I am sure I will have fun doing something. My last thought of this post: Go IU! Beat Cincinnati!
Just some updates first. Switzerland is once again struggling with COVID. It does not appear to be nearly as bad as some states back home, but the numbers are still climbing and the ICU beds are at almost 80% capacity. Because of this there will be more restrictions put in place beginning Monday.
Starting Monday you have to provide proof of vaccination, a negative test, or recovery from Covid within six months before you can go to any inside entertainment venue. This includes restaurants. The government will also be announcing more travel restrictions next week as well. The thought is that quarantines will go back into place for Swiss people who are un-vaccinated and return from another country. Possibly they will also strengthen entry requirements for non residents as well. Right now, from the EU you can come in with a negative test, that might change to come in only with vaccination. You can come into the country, if you are only transiting through the country even without a vaccination. I think this one is the most likely to change. My guess is that you will not be given entrance, unless you are vaccinated.
The vaccination rates here, are about the same as in the US, but the Swiss courts have already ruled that companies cannot require the vaccine. The company is expected to make accommodations for employees not choosing to get the vaccine. This court ruling means that our level of vaccination is not likely to get better anytime soon; so the government is trying to avoid more lockdowns by putting in place other requirements.
If you have read my blog the last couple of weeks, you would know we have had lots of visitors lately. Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of pictures from my parent’s visit that I can show. My parent’s have asked that I not post pictures of them publicly. I do try and respect their wishes.
I think the trip was really good for my parents. My parents are both in their 80’s. Before coming over my father was saying this will probably be his last trip to Europe. However, by the time they left he was already talking about next year, and making plans for things he wanted to see and do. I guess travel does have a good impact on your mental state. It is hard to describe how good it was to see our family after being “exiled” for the last year. Now we just need to figure out how to get Julie to see her parents. We are on track to see everyone at Christmas again; so keeping our fingers crossed that we can still travel then.
In about an hour we are taking off for Colmar, France. It is already becoming fraught with problems. I had booked us a long weekend in Dijon, but Julie wanted to change. We had a real problem finding a hotel, but we did finally find a place. Julie just informed me, that there is a marathon on Sunday morning. This explains why I had such a hard time finding a hotel, and probably means that we will not be eating much this weekend. Julie said she has been trying to make reservations since Tuesday with no success. Hopefully there is a McDonalds around!!
I am kind of glad we are leaving the Apartment for a couple of days. The upstairs neighbors are remodeling, and the concrete construction seems to amplify the noise. It must be a pretty major change based on the amount of drilling and hammering that is taking place. We are hopeful they will finish with the long weekend.
Well Julie is finishing up her last work call of the day; so it is time to get going. Not many pictures, but I hope you enjoy them.
I know I have not written as much lately, but our 5 weeks of visitors has come to an end. We had our first visitors since February 2020 the first week of August. Our son George arrived on 31 Juli, a week later his girlfriend Gabby came as well. We had a few days rest, and then Kaylee our youngest showed up. Kaylee and my parents passed in the air; so the day after Kaylee left my parents arrived. I literally just had enough time to wash the sheets, clean the bathroom, and mop the floor before I had to take off for the airport.
Those people following me, know I really do not like driving that much here. The roads are narrow and the rules are just different enough that driving is still stressful. My parents are in pretty good shape, but I was really worried about fighting their baggage and a rush hour train; so I decided to drive to the airport. That was my first mistake…..
I had been told that rush hour in Zürich is a lot worse than you would think it should be for a city of under a million people. Normal traffic, the airport is 30 minutes away; so I left TWO hours before the flight arrived. Probably closer to 2 1/2 almost 3 hours before they made it through customs. Here is the thing to remember about Zürich traffic. There are three major arteries feeding the city. These three arteries come into the city at basically two points, and as soon as the city limits are reached traffic goes down to two lanes, and very quickly after that to one lane. This can lead to bottlenecks at any time. Knowing this fact, I thought I would take the one really long bypass around most of the city. This adds a guaranteed 30 minutes going from one side of the city to the other. The bypass was stop and go about 2 minutes after I got on the highway. The GPS in my car kept recommending I take a side road; so I decided to try it. After all, at this point I still had 90 minutes, to go about 15 KM. There was one big flaw in my plan: Road Construction. After an hour, I was 3 KM from the airport. My GPS was telling me to take a ramp onto the airport highway, that simply did not exist. I could see the exit, I could see the highway, but the exit was closed. I tried for an hour, trying to find my way through town. I kept wanting to believe the GPS knew something I did not; so I kept circling trying to find a way on to the highway. Literally shouting at myself I finally said “Screw it!!!” I just picked a direction and kept driving for another 20 minutes. I figured I was far enough away that the GPS would re route me. It worked. By the time I got to the airport I was almost 90 minutes late. I parked the car, and finally found my parents patiently waiting for their idiot son!! Oh well, we had a big hug, and a lot of laughter as we drove back to the apartment.
My next driving mis adventure was Saturday. I drove the four of us to Stein am Rhein in the morning. We walked around the town and had lunch. The town is about 70 kilometers from our house. Normally an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half drive. Getting there was no problem, but coming back…. I left the town at 2 pm, and made it into my driveway at 5:50!!! We sat in traffic starting about 5 kilometers outside Zürich. I am not sure I have ever been in a non accident caused traffic jam that bad. It was so bad that Julie has decided we will never again go on the other side of Zürich for one of our Saturday Adventures!
Finally I had one more driving mis adventure this week. The one wish Dad had on the visit was to see the Matterhorn. We drove down to Zermatt on Sunday; so that on Monday morning we could take the Gondola up to the Paradise look out, and Mom and Dad could get some good pictures. Well that part of the plan did not go very well. Mom wound up getting altitude sickness. She came down for breakfast, and after about 90 seconds was back up in the hotel room. I have to give a HUGE SHOUT OUT to the staff of Hotel Julen. They were fantastic. Our original plan was to checkout, and they would hold our luggage while we explored. With Mom getting sick, we were going to simply head back home. The hotel staff kindly let us delay our checkout by a couple of hours; so that Dad and I could go up, while Mom was able to lay down and rest. Thank you again! I will certainly have to stay there again!!
So anyway, Dad and I came down from the Mountain and got Mom onto a train, and down the road toward Täsch. If you do not remember, from our earlier trips to Zermatt. That town is car free; so you have to park your car about 5 kilometers from the city and take the train into town. Anyway, we got on the road, and started home. The first 20 minutes was fine. Then the GPS told me to make a turn, and go through a tunnel. Dad brought up the fact that we did not go through a tunnel on the way there. I told him that was not odd. There have been many drives that we went through a tunnel one way, but drove around the mountain the return trip. However, another 30 minutes later, and we were discussing that: A) we were climbing B) we were going through towns we had not passed before. At that point I knew the GPS was taking us home a different route, but I did not appreciate how different the new route would be. I was not that worried, because the GPS kept saying we were getting closer to home, and it looked like it would be about an hour faster than the route to Zermatt. My passengers were all enjoying the scenic drive. I on the other hand, was to busy dodging bicycles, and making hair pin turns to worry much about the views. I finally convinced Dad to get out his phone and start taking some video.
When we stopped to take this picture, I finally realized where we were. We had just passed a sign that said Andermatt 15 KM. We were going up the other side of the “James Bond” pass. You can go back and visit my first post in January where my wife and I walked up the other side of this pass.
There are two things I was thankful for yesterday. The first was the simple fact there was not much uphill traffic, as I was driving down, and the second is that Julie was not with us. Julie does not like mountain passes and she had commented as we were walking up this one that she was NEVER going to drive it.
Coming down the pass was an experience. I had to stop a couple of times for oncoming traffic. There might have been enough room for two cars to pass, but I was not sure. All I know is that at times, it felt like the right side of the car was mere inches from plunging to the bottom of the mountain, and the left side I KNOW was millimeters from losing the mirror. The speed is posted at 80 KPH. I think I got up to 60 once for about 20 meters! Part of me is scared to death to do the pass again, but an even bigger part of me wants to drive it again, with someone willing to hold a camera for the entire drive up and back down the pass!! It was something I will not soon forget!
This coming weekend will be our first “international” adventure in the car. Julie wants me to drive her to France for the upcoming three day weekend!