11 May 2021

It was another quiet weekend her in Zürich. Saturday was a beautiful day; so I got up and went for a long run while Julie went to the hairdresser. We don’t talk much about that here, because I come very close to a coronary when I get the text message about how much was billed to the credit card. I can almost go to my barber for a year for what she has to spend for one trip to the hairdresser. 10 months is close to a year, right?

For Mother’s Day, Julie wanted to go for a hike. I convinced her to get on the bus and go to the foot of the lake, and hike down the other side. The hike really showed us the difference between the two sides. During the development around Zürich, one side became industrial, and the other residential. We live on the more industrial side. On the other side of the lake, the lake side trail stays next to the lake longer, and there are a lot more parks, and swim areas. We also learned that young people are jerks everywhere. There are trash receptacles every 20 – 30 meters yet, the kids that stay out partying all night, never throw the garbage away. It is simply left on the ground for someone to come and clean up. The worst place, we bypassed the trail completely. The idiots were not satisfied with simply leaving the garbage. They brought literally hundreds of glass bottles, and decided to break all of them before they left. It was a very sad display for a country that prides itself on being clean.

I learned, once again, this morning that weather people are no better here than anywhere else. I either run or ride my bike 6 mornings per week. I hate going out in the rain, though, so if the chance of rain is really high, and the radar shows rain coming, I default to riding my bike. This morning, the radar said the rain was coming at about the time I would have been 1/2 way through my run; so I decided to ride. Here we are 4 hours later, there are almost no clouds, and there has been zero rain. I write this because I am hoping the weather people continue being wrong for the next few days. They are predicting rain for the rest of the week.

Thursday is one of the few Holidays that Julie gets this year, so we are taking off for the city of Vevey. Vevey is in the South part of Switzerland near Geneva. The town is known for two things. Nestle is headquartered in the town, the town claims to be the place where Milk Chocolate was invented. The second thing the town is known for is that Carlie Chaplain lived here from 1952 until he died in 1977. Vevey is one of the cities that make up the “Swiss Riviera”. I had never heard of that term until I tried to find a hotel.

Speaking of the Riviera. Julie and I were going to be heading to the French Riviera in June. We decided against it though, because there have not been any firm dates as to when France might open to visitors. We were afraid of getting caught like we did with Portugal, and having to potentially lose a lot of money if we couldn’t go. So we have decided that in June, we are going to take one of her vacation weeks and travel back to Zermatt and the Matterhorn area. This was the last trip we took before things locked down; so we thought it might be fitting to go back right before things open up again. We are both convinced that Switzerland will open up to visitors at some point this summer. The Government did announce they have settled on a vaccine passport that will put them in line with the EU. The passport is supposed to be rolled out sometime towards the end of June, so I think they will open up sometime in July for people that have been vaccinated. I know I could be really wrong on this one, but I don’t see Europe opening up until sometime in 2022 to people that have chosen to NOT get the covid vaccine.

I just found out once again, that sometimes I am really so dumb, that I should not be breathing….. So George just messaged me this morning saying thanks for the $$$$$. It turns out for the last two weeks, I thought I had been transferring money from one of our bank accounts to the account tied into our taxes. When I make that transfer, I always have just looked at the line that says Unknown Balance. Well apparently after USAA upgraded something in their banking system George’s USAA account also shows up, and since I am not on that account, it too says Unknown Balance. So Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday George. Now send me the money back, so the IRS doesn’t come after your mother and I.

All of this has been complicated by moving here. The fee to transfer money directly from our swiss bank account to our credit union account in WI is astronomical. I can transfer money into our USAA account for next to nothing so I started being cheap and making one big transfer into USAA instead of splitting the money into different banks. The problem is that I can only transfer money OUT of USAA in small increments; so I have to schedule multiple transfers . After this, though, I might just have to eat the costs, because obviously I am too stupid to handle multiple steps. I should also look and see if I can edit account names in USAA so that I can more easily identify the accounts instead of trying to memorize account numbers.

That is enough of my mis-adventures for today. The next time I post I will have some pictures from Vevey, Switzerland. I hope this finds you well. Until next time..


7 May 2021

So this week Julie and I applied to get our residency permit approved for another year. I still find this whole process easy, but silly. So here is a little bit of information about the different permits you can get for Switzerland. I am not going to talk about the process if you marry a Swiss citizen. That is something completely different. I am sure I am going to butcher some of this; so please do NOT take it as legal advice.

The first is the visitor permit. This is the standard permit you get when you show up at a Swiss port of entry with your US passport. It is a short term permit good for 90 days each year. This permit is granted to anyone visiting Switzerland that has a valid passport issued by another country. This is quite simply a permit that allows you to vacation here.

The next is the L permit. This permit allows you to work in Switzerland, but it is supposed to only be for a short time. The L permit lasts one year, and I believe it can be renewed once. This would be the type of permit you get if your company is sending you here to install some computer software, or something like that. The cynic in me says this is just so the government can get some tax revenue from you.

After this one comes the B permit. This is what Julie and I have. The B permit is the first of two levels for long term residents. The B permit lasts for 5 years, and I think it can be renewed only one time for another 5 years. This permit does come with some restrictions concerning the number that can be issued each year to Non EU citizens. It was granted because a company asked for the permit, and certified that there is no one in Switzerland or the EY that could be found to fulfill the job. These are similar to the H1-B visa in the US. These are limited to about 4500 per year for people not an EU citizen, but the number is higher, because the family members are also given this visa. For a Non EU citizen to be granted one of these permits here are the requirements that MUST be met:

Employees who do not originate from an EU/EFTA
country can only work in Switzerland in senior
management positions, as specialists or other
qualified personnel. Permits are only granted in
the overall economic interests of Switzerland.

A person with a degree from a university or
institution of higher education plus several
years of professional experience is deemed to
be qualified. Depending on the profession or
specialization, people with special training and
several years of professional experience are also
approved.

This is a pretty high bar to meet, and basically means that from outside the EU you are not going to be granted a long term residency permit unless you are sponsored by an organization.

The final level of residency permit is the C permit. You an apply for this after you have been here 5 years and there is no expiration date on this permit. This is for the people that have decided they want to make Switzerland their home, but do not want to try and fight through the headaches to get citizenship. This permit allows you basically all the rights, except voting, of a Swiss citizen.

The B permit is an annual permit, for people not from the EU. If you are from the EU it is a 5 year permit. Even for Non EU residents five years is still important. The B permit is valid for 5 years, even though it is renewed every year, and the permit can only be renewed one time. This gives you a total of 10 years on the permit, at which time you either leave, or try and get approved for the C permit. It is tied to employment. I believe the law states the permit is revoked if you have gone 12 months without employment.

I honestly do not know why this bothers me so much, but it does. Maybe I have a little OCD in me. If the permit is good for 5 years, then make it for 5 years. Otherwise, change the wording, and say it is a one year permit, and can be renewed up to 10 times as long as you are gainfully employed. I think the other reason I get annoyed with this, is that the terms of the permit are explained so much better on the non-government websites. On the main government website, the only place I can find where it talks about the B permit is in the section for EU citizens. So I guess the bottom line, is that just like the US Government, the Swiss Government makes things harder! That should probably be what I take away from the 48 hours I have sat and stewed over this whole thing!

These residency permits have been in the news a lot lately. Not so much because of the permits, but because the government has been in trade negotiations with the EU. The main sticking point is residency and ability to move for EU citizens. In the EU, there is full freedom of movement. You can move from country to country whenever you want. The reality is that only a small number of people actually do this. Switzerland though, has basically said anyone can come here provided they already have gainful employment, or are sufficiently wealthy to sustain their own livelihood and be able to purchase health care. The Swiss do not want to open up the borders completely, because they are are afraid people will come here, and then cause the social welfare net to explode. This is going to be interesting, because just like the UK is finding out. An individual country needs the EU a lot more than the EU needs the country. Almost 80% of the products on Swiss shelves originate in the EU. 45% of Swiss exports go to the EU.

Other than the B permit being an annual permit instead of a 5 year permit, the other thing I find irritating are the restrictions upon buying a house. In some areas the restrictions are not a burden, but in the larger cities this permit makes buying a home next to impossible. The restriction is that I can buy a primary residence. That sounds great, BUT… the permit holder can only buy a residence that their family and only their family lives in. In and around Zurich, there are almost no single family homes. It is simply too expensive to build a home for one family. I am itching to do some lawn work, or gardening, or anything other than mopping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms! I would start washing the windows, but it has rained for the last three days, and it is supposed to keep raining for the next three or four days. I hate to waste the time washing the windows when they will immediately get dirty because of the rain.

My final thoughts this morning concern how the rest of the world looks at the US each and every time a gun death makes the news over here. Believe it or not, it is pretty damn frequent. The US has a lot of problems and gun deaths are only one of them. Personally, I am more concerned about the fact that one of our political parties no longer believes in telling the truth. That to me is a bigger concern than gun control. However, at least to what I see here, the rest of world thinks our wild west infatuation with guns is our number one problem. To me the situation should be pretty darn easy. Put limits on how many rounds a gun can hold, start tracking all ammunition purchases, and hold the gun owner criminally and civilly responsible if their gun is the cause of an injury to someone else and self defense was not in play. None of those things goes against the constitution. Unfortunately our politicians do not have enough integrity to actually do anything to try and solve a problem.

I can already hear people saying, ” Cars kill more people than guns.” Those people are right. We also have put all kind of rules and regulations in place that govern the use of automobiles. This even though the constitution allows freedom of movement. I used to believe in the concept that the US could solve her own problems. I realize that our politicians do not really care about solving problems, they only care about the money trough to which they are attached. The older I get the more I think we are simply going to have to live with the devastation we cause each other until the whole system collapses on itself.

Pretty bleak thought to end this week’s post with, but I am in a place right now that I am honestly scared for the place I call home.

Hopefully next week, I can be more optimistic.

May the 4th Be With You 2021

Sorry…. I am old enough to know better, but still too young to resist!!

CoSN and the CETL

Yesterday, I got an email verifying that my CETL certification was renewed for another three years.

CETL Certificate

CETL stands for Certified Education Technology Leader. The certification is offered by the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN). CoSN was founded and continues to be an advocacy group for technology in education. At the Federal level the main areas of focus are: Broadband Access, EdTech Funding, and Data Privacy. They offer a lot of wonderful training in Cyber Security and Data Protection. In April, I was able to spend four days working with CoSN and the State of Florida helping facilitate cyber security training. CoSN is a fantastic organization, and I would encourage any educator from the US to look at getting your district to join. It does not cost that much, and your district is able to take advantage and get some really good training opportunities.

The CETL is the only certification (that I am aware) that looks at all aspects of an EdTech (education technology) job. Certifications like the ISTE certification or Google or Apple, are wonderful, but they look only at classroom practices. This is important, don’t get me wrong, and we need a lot more educators learning how to implement technology in the classroom. The CETL looks beyond the classroom. The certification is based on the Framework of Essential Skills. This framework has three pillars: Leadership and Vision, Educational Environment, and Managing Technology. The Pillars are developed further in 10 specific skill areas:

  • Leadership and Vision Provide leadership while working with the executive team to develop a strategic plan that will support the organization’s mission, vision, and goals with technology.
  • Strategic Planning Possess a high-level view across the organization and work with teams to identify steps needed to transform the educational and operational technology vision into a strategic plan in alignment with the organization’s mission, vision and goals.
  • Ethics and Policies Manage the creation and implementation of policies and procedures relating to the social, legal, and ethical issues involving technology use throughout the organization and modeling responsible decision-making.
  • Instructional Focus and Professional Development Budget, plan, and coordinate ongoing, relevant professional learning for all staff using technologies; ensure or recommend a sufficient budget through the implementation and assessment process of emerging technologies.
  • Team Building and Staffing Create and support collaborative teams for decision-making, technology support and professional learning in support of the organization’s mission, vision, and goals.
  • Information Technology Management Lead the integration of technology into all appropriate areas of the organization.
  • Communication Systems Management Use technology to improve communication and collaboration with stakeholders.
  • Business Management Manage the budget and serve as strong business leader who guides purchasing decisions, and fosters mutually beneficial relationships with vendors, potential funders, and other key groups.
  • Data Management Implement and maintain systems and tools for gathering, mining, integrating, and reporting data.
  • Data Privacy and Security Implement practices and systems to ensure the privacy and security of organizational data.  

The thing that impressed me most about the CETL is that it recognizes that it takes all different backgrounds to have success in technology for a school district. The district must have the leadership and vision to move forward with technology. A district needs to have excellence in education to be able to implement technology so it is more than just a gimmick. Finally, the district needs to have the 1’s and 0’s knowledge to keep things running, and keep the district’s information secure. CoSN realizes that people come to EdTech positions from all different paths. The school administrator that is simply made the CIO. The teacher that loves using technology to reach their student; so she is made a technology coach. Sometimes, it could even be the geek hired to keep the computers running that assumes a leadership role.

Enough of the commercials. Anyway, after posting a tweet yesterday about getting my re-certification, someone asked me to share my story.

MY CETL journey

I came into education through the backdoor. In the year 2000, I was an assistant manager with Target. I really liked working retail, but there was one problem. The company was growing so fast, that consistency in store management was non-existent. I would have a fabulous store manager, and then I would get a manager from HELL. Someone who thought the only way you could manage people was to make them fear you. The other problem with Target was that I was stuck. Their policy at that time was to make the most experienced assistant manager the logistics person, meaning I almost never left the stockroom. I was also unable to be promoted because my wife was making double my salary; so we were not going anywhere for my job, and to be promoted you had to be willing to move. I was the most miserable I had ever been. I do have the absolute GREATEST wife. She knew I was miserable, and supported me making a change. So I went back to school to earn another bachelor degree in Management Information Systems.

SIDE NOTE: One of the best days of my life was telling my boss on a Friday evening, that I was done. I normally would never encourage someone burning a bridge like that. It was the least professional thing I have ever done, but WOW did it feel good.

I spent the next two years going to school part time, and being a full time father to our son and daughter. After graduation, I ran into another little snag. You see most of the employers in our area were letting their IT staff go. They hired a lot of people for the Y2K problem, and two years later were still downsizing. No company wanted to hire someone who was pushing 40 and had no IT experience. So I approached the Hortonville, WI School District about volunteering two or three days per week. I figured I could count it like an internship. I could gain some experience and I could help our the local school at the same time. After a few months of volunteering the District Administrator told me about a job opening in another district and he would put in a good word for me if I was interested. 17 years later I cried when I left Winneconne for the move to Switzerland. We had accomplished a lot together, and the people I worked with made it a joy to go into work almost every single day.

My first couple of years at Winneconne, I really had to learn about IT before I could learn about education. My degree prepared me to be a programmer, or an analyst. My ideal job back then would have been to work in a development role, where I could have been the bridge between the programming team and the end users. Instead I found myself breaking the network during my second week on the job, because my boss wanted me to knock a hole in the firewall for an application the district had purchased. We were only down for about three hours, but it was the longest three hours, and I was sure I was going to be fired before I got my first paycheck. 🙂

After I became comfortable with the 1’s and 0’s of my job. I started working on the mission of the district. I was frustrated that here we were in the 21st Century, and we were using technology as a game. I started seeking out educators who were embracing technology in their districts. One of my mentors is Diane Doersch. I may be a little off on this timeline, but I believe Diane had been working as the CIO of Green Bay Schools when she earned her CETL. Diane is the one that introduced me to CoSN and the CETL. She knew I was looking for a way to continue meshing my IT role with the mission of education.

Working towards the certification helped me fully embrace what a school does. I started spending a lot more time in the classroom. Working with teachers, and helping to find ways to integrate technology into learning instead of simply using it as a gimmick. Another big way CoSN helped my district was teaching me about funding and budgeting. One problem that a lot of schools have is they look at technology as a cost center. When budgets get tight it is an easy place to find money. You know, why update the server farm? It is working, it has been working for 9 years. This cost could literally pay for a teacher. All of those things are true, but just let it ride, and what happens when the server farm dies, and you can’t write checks, or transfer money into the payroll account? The stuff gets real then! Working towards the certification led me to spend months working with our business manager to come up with a sustainable technology plan that allowed us to get computers into the hands of almost all our students K – 12th grade, as well as keep our VMWARE farm current, we also were able to start work on getting a 10GB backbone in place within and between school buildings. One of the things I am most proud of, is that when I left Winneconne, I knew that my replacement did not have to worry about figuring out how he was going to pay for upgrades, and that there was a really good plan in place to keep the district moving forward in regards to technology for at least the next five or six years.

The test was not easy. It took me over two years of study to pass the exam. In fact I failed it the first time I took it. The focus on the CETL is not that there is one right answer. The focus is on the process to get the right answer. The first year or so I studied, I looked at this like any other certification test. It was like beating my head against a brick wall. Once I was able to embrace the concepts that are preached all of the time in education.. You know what I mean Collaboration, Cooperation, Communication… Then I finally had the breakthrough and was able to pass the test.

My final anecdote about why every EdTech Leader should work towards this certification. It encourages and almost causes you to work with all the important people in the district. You learn to work with parents, teachers, administrators, and even students when you are rolling out new initiatives. When it comes to any new initiative if there is not enough acceptance for the change it will never get off the ground, and in technology change is the only constant. We all know the world kind of shut down last March and April. Last May I got an email out of the blue from one of the teachers in my old district. I am going to paraphrase the email she sent: I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you. When you were here, I used to think the training you wanted us to do was a giant inconvenience. I was wrong. I’ve been talking to my friends in other districts as they are struggling to do this remotely. I do not have those struggles. I would much rather be teaching in person, but you made sure we know how to use the tools, and that is paying off right now.

I have spent only a few days in front of a classroom as a substitute teacher. I am convinced, though, that I had a pretty big impact on the education of the students in the Village of Winneconne, WI for almost 20 years. I owe a lot of that to CoSN and the CETL. The certificate encouraged me to come out of my network closest and embrace using technology to help in the education of our students.

If you would like to learn more please visit Cosn.org. If you are in the US you can find out if your state has a chapter of CoSN by clicking here.

7 April, 2021

I am writing this looking out on another few inches of white stuff that fell last night. This is the second morning, in a row, that we have gotten up to snow on the ground. Winter does not want to go away this year. We have had some glimpses of spring, but they have been few and far between. I do not remember if I have told you this before, but snow tires are a law here during the winter months. There is no such thing as all season tires. Every time you buy a car, you have to buy a second set of tires. Since our car is a company car for Julie, we do not have to worry about storing the tires, but I did get an email last week telling me I need to get in and have the tires changed. I think I am going to wait until the last possible moment. It isn’t even that I drive that much. I simply like the idea that if I have to get out on the hills around the apartment and there is snow on the ground, I have every advantage!

I am able to feel productive this week. I have kept my membership in CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) while I am over here. It helps me stay informed with what is going on in regards to Education Technology, and every once in a while it gives me something to do. A couple of weeks ago, there was a request for some assistance with some Cyber Security Training that CoSN is providing for the Florida Department of Education. The benefit to me, is that I get to record some volunteer time for my certifications, and I get to attend the training for free! It is not the same as working, but does it make me a bad Hausmann to say I prefer spending my afternoons helping vs mopping the floor or doing laundry? The floors do need mopped pretty badly, though, so tomorrow I will be doing that all day! 🙂

Schaffhausen

We were able to get away for a second weekend in a row. Thanks to the swiss holiday schedule. Even though Switzerland is not particularly religious, they still keep a lot of the traditional religious holidays. Easter is a four day weekend for us. We have actually been through Schaffhausen a couple of different times, but we never left the train station; so it was good to see some of the town. The coat of arms is a ram, but look at the picture of the flag, and I think you will agree with me, that it looks more like a dancing poodle.

You just have to ignore the cloven hooves. I am not exactly sure why the symbol of Schaffhausen is a sheep (schaf). I did a little research, and there are a couple of theories. One is that it came from one of the founding families. One of them may have had a ram on their coat of arms. Another theory is that it comes from a wrong translation, that somehow got passed down through the years. This one does have historical context to it, however.

Before there were any bridges or trains. The town was critical for the transport of goods up and down the Rhine. About two miles below Schaffhausen sit the Rhine Falls, and there are some small falls and rapids in between; so goods were offloaded and then carted to the other side, where they were loaded in a “scapfa” or skiff to continue their journey. Back in 1045 Schaffhausen first appears in history as Villa Scafhusun. This theory actually makes a lot of sense to me. The dialect of german spoken in this area tells me that it could be just the way the word was pronounced, and some influential traveler heard the word spoken more like the word sheep, and it simply stuck.

I made the comment with some friends via Snapchat, that you know you are visiting a town with a lot of history when the “New Tower” in the town was built in 1321.

The New Tower


One thing that never fails to amaze me, is how so much of the history in these old towns has been preserved. There are many examples in Schaffhausen where the old city walls have been integrated into the architecture of the town. Quite a few of the towers that used to make up part of the city wall are still in existence. It is not quite as fascinating of some of the old Roman and Greek ruins, but it is pretty close to me! One last bit of historical relevance, is that Schaffhausen holds the distinction of being one of 70 Swiss cities attacked by the Americans in World War II.

Attacked is honestly a little bit of poetic license. The Americans did bomb the town, but it was because the navigators were lost. They thought they were bombing a German city. An article I read while we were visiting, was that the air raid sirens had gone off so frequently the citizens ignored them. About 40 people were killed, and the US paid $40 million in apologies.

Munot

One of the more interesting examples of architecture in town is Munot. (Another interesting tidbit, I have not ever seen it referred to as The Munot. I am not sure why.). Munot is a circular fortification built on one of the hills above the city. Standing at the wall, and you get a beautiful view of the Rhine, and of downtown. Julie and I actually made the trek up the hill a couple of times.

Munot was built in the mid 1500’s. The town leaders decided Schaffhausen needed more protection so they built the fort. Interesting enough even before it was finished the town realized it really wasn’t strong enough to handle the “modern” artillery. It was only used in battle once in 1799. The French had been chased out of Austria, and tried to hole up in Munot. After a very short battle, the French forces realized it was not going to hold so they abandoned the fort and escaped across the river. The tower on Munot is occupied. The Watchman lives there, and every evening at 9:00 PM rings the bell signifying that everything is secure. This bell ringing has gone on almost every night since 1589.

There used to be a moat around the fortress. The water has been drained for many years now, and it is a park for a small herd of deer. The one male deer is always named after the current mayor. I joked with Julie, that this would cause some issue if there is ever a woman mayor!

Munot Deer

Another thing that seems to set Schaffhausen apart from other Swiss towns are the number of Bay Windows all through the town. At some point this became a competition to the wealthy people that lived in town, to have the most opulent bay window. I did not take pictures of all of them, but I did take some of my favorites.

Below is a short video of Munot. I started recording from the roof, as Julie and I were walking out. The “stairway” is striking, and you will see a little of the gathering space in the center of the fortress. The video ends with some of the views from the top.

I will have one more post this week. Easter Sunday Julie and I took a hike from Schaffhausen to the Rhine Falls. It was a gorgeous hike along the river!

See you soon, and enjoy the pictures. The first of the pictures were taken Friday morning in Zürich. Each spring the city fills some of the larger fountains with roses. So before we went away for the weekend, we made a fast trip into the city to see the fountains.

2 April 2021

Since we moved to Europe we have normally stayed in Hotels. This has been for a couple of reasons, but the primary ones being hotels are usually easy to get to, and are in the center of the action. However, because of the COVID restrictions in place we now look for places with kitchens. Hotel restaurants are allowed to be open for guests, but these places are usually packed and neither of us feel safe dining in a jam packed room. Having a place with a kitchen allows us to more easily socially distance and we feel safer. This was our first time renting an apartment not tied into a hotel. It was OK. The only real problem is that it was off the beaten path. Of course in a Swiss city, unless you are talking Basel, Geneva, or Zürich the path is usually not that big to begin with. The one thing that was kind of strange was leaving the apartment. We were supposed to vacate by 10:00 am. That was not the problem. The problem was that at 9:00 am the doorbell started ringing. I would go and answer, but no one would reply. It seemed the like the doorbell was ringing every 5 minutes between 9 and 10. When I started loading the car at 9:15 the cleaning crew had already dropped their stuff off by the front door, and when we left at 9:45 they were standing by the door waiting to get in. I am sure they wanted to get in and get it clean so they could on with their day, but it did kind of ruin the mood. Instead of leaving feeling relaxed, we left feeling rushed.

In my first Locarno post I told you about the Gotthard Tunnel. Over 17 kilometers long it really can speed up the travel to the southern part of the country. The only potential problem with the tunnel is that it is only two lanes, and any kind of slow down results in a massive traffic jam. Since we went down on a Wednesday afternoon, I wasn’t that worried about the traffic, but coming back I was afraid there could be an issue with all the skiers returning home for the weekend. So we decided to take a longer route back. The longer route was AMAZING, and it could be even more so!

Yes there are tunnels on the route we used, but the advantage of the Gotthard Tunnel is that it cuts straight under the mountain range. Coming home we drove up one side of the range, across a pass, and down the other side. This was the type of mountain driving I had been looking forward to. It was pretty awesome driving up the mountain at 60 MPH with a large drop on one side, and a car coming at you on the other. Julie, wasn’t as amused. I can hardly wait for a time that Julie has to travel for work. I hope it is during the summer, because the summer roads were not open, yet. See the picture below. We were on the relatively straight highway. Look at the squiggly red lines. The picture was taken in a tunnel at the top of the pass. During the summer we can take a road up closer to the top of the mountain. I know Julie can’t handle that, but I think it would be a gas!!!

The navigation screen in the car showing the true mountain pass.

The one downfall to driving is that I don’t get to see anything. Julie took a lot of pictures on the ride back, but since I was concentrating to stay on the concrete I didn’t see any of it! The next time I take a road like this, I am going to mount my GoPro on the dash, so you can see the drive. I suggested that Julie take some video, but I cannot print her response.

Maggia Valley Hike

I feel like an idiot. I had over 25 minutes of recorded video from our hike. For some reason, though when I went to import the files into Final Cut the video was unusable. I tried to import the files multiple times, but something strange happened with my Go Pro, so all I got is 55 seconds of video. Oh well, I guess some is better than none!

BREXIT

I’ve been following a European story about British citizens living in Spain. In a nutshell, these people moved to Spain while the UK was part of the EU. It is really easy to move within countries in the EU. The only thing you are required to do is register as a resident within your first 90 days. So what has happened is these people never registered. That way they did not have to pay some taxes in the UK because they did not have a residence there, and they were able to skip out on some of the Spanish taxes, because they did not ever register as a resident. The problem started as soon as the the UK pulled out of the EU.

Since travel between the two countries is not open any longer, the UK citizens finally had to register with Spain. You see, they can now ONLY stay in Spain 90 days per year. Spain, however, is very upset with some of these long term residents that have not been paying taxes, so their residency permits have been denied. Now the UK citizens are trying to make a big stink over Spain kicking them out. On the surface, I can see where it is hard. Some of these people have lived in Spain for years, and now have to be out of the country by tomorrow, or face criminal charges. However, if they had only done what they were supposed to do years ago, there would not be any issues now.

Some of the most funny stories are from the UK citizens that voted FOR Brexit. The quotes they give make it astonishingly clear they had no idea what they were actually voting for. “I just wanted the UK to be able to set their own rules. I never thought I would lose my right to live here.”

I should not laugh at people that are losing their homes. I just find it hard to feel sorry for them. They were intentionally trying to get away with not paying their taxes. The Spanish Government is not going after them for the money, they are just saying you are not welcome to live here. I will be very interested to find out if any of them chose to not leave, and see what happens then.

We have decided to spend Easter in a little town named Schaffhausen. It is very close to the Rhine falls, so we will for sure be going back there. It should be interesting. The last time we were at the falls was in Autumn. The falls should be even more active will all the snowmelt from the last month. I hope you all have a wonderful Easter Weekend. I will write more next week.

Enjoy the pictures. These are all pictures Julie took from the car on the drive back home, and others that she took in Locarno.

31 März 2021

The weather report told us to expect rain on Friday so we decided that we would stay and explore Locarno more. We had a couple of things on our agenda, but we were unable to complete even half of them. We still had a fantastic day however. First on our list was going up to the top of Cimetta. Second was to tour the Madonna del Sasso. Third was to tour the Visconteo Castle.

As we walked through town we were able to see the mountain behind the city, and realized that Cimetta would have to wait for another trip. The clouds covered the top 1/3 of the mountain. Going to the top might have been a fun trip, but once we were up there there would not be anything to do. Sure we could hiking, but we would not be able to see anything. Not to mention being up in the clouds like that, we probably would have been wet and cold. We do. partway up the mountain though.

In the center of town is a funicular train that goes up to the Madonna. So we bought our tickets and rode the train up to the church.

According to legend the church was built on the spot where the Virgin showed herself to Father Bartolomeo Piatti da Ivrea on the eve of the Assumption in 1480. The main part of the church was consecrated seven years later. I have to admit, the size of the sanctuary is very deceptive from the outside. I was expecting the church to be 4 to 5 stories high. The inside is very beautiful, but it is small. One of things that struck me was in the main courtyard there was a clock on the wall right next to a sundial. I was very happy that we visited before DayLight Savings started! Because that way we could see the clock and the sundial were the same, or am I over thinking that? I mean they can’t adjust the sundial, because it is fixed on the wall, and once the time changes, the clock would be an hour behind the sun.

Main hallway of the Madonna del Sasso

We kind of cheated the system. If we were pilgrims coming to the church we would have been expected to walk UP the hill. Along the path are the stations of the cross, and a smaller chapel about 1/2 way up from Locarno. I guess the pilgrims are expected to walk up from the town, and stop at the chapel and each station and pray before getting to the main church. We cheated by taking the train to the top, and then walking down the hill.

One thing we did learn that Ticino has more differences than simply language. In one of my last posts, I talked about how we struggled a lot, since we do not speak any Italian other than Hello, Goodbye, and Thank you. We struggled because we did not run into many people that spoke any English. The other big difference we found was the public transportation. In Zürich, and other areas we have visited the public transportation was truly on a clock. It is a rare thing if a train or bus is later than two minutes. In Locarno, we only had one bus or train leave within 5 minutes of the scheduled time. The strangest one was the Funicular train going up the mountain. The times were posted that the train left at 15 and 45 after the hour. We showed up to the train at 20 minutes past the hour. There was no one in the ticket office, so that was no problem. The train showed up at 35 minutes past the hour. We figured this would be perfect. Buy the ticket and wait about 10 minutes to head up. We wound up sitting there for another 20 minutes before we left the station. In Zürich that probably would have gotten us a free ticket. :).

The one other place we tried to visit was the castle. We struggled, because the entrance to the place was not very well marked, but we finally found it. Then in the ticket office, the language barrier showed up again. It turned out there was a castella and a castello. The castella is part of the same building, but it has been refurbished and made into a modern art museum. The castello is the part I really wanted to see. However, I tried to buy us tickets. The agent kept going on about the castella and castello, but we were NEVER able to figure out what he was trying to say. We even tried using our phones to translate, but we failed miserably. We finally got out ticket purchased, and the guard inside was very emphatic that we turned left into the art museum. We really wanted to go straight into the other part, but since we had nothing else to do, we figured we would go through the art museum and then visit the other museum. The castella was nice, but the art was not anything that excited us. After we went through the building we tried to access the castello through the courtyard. Unfortunately, the gate was blocked. We finally realized that the ticket agent was trying to tell us the Castle part was closed, and that we could only visit the art museum! :). Oh well, it is not like we flew across the Atlantic Ocean JUST to go see this one thing.

We found this little hole in the wall (literally) to buy a pizza for lunch. Seriously, the entire restaurant was maybe in a 12′ by 12′ room. There is no eating area, which was perfect for the COVID lockdown, because this place didn’t even have to change their business model. The pizza was fantastic, and what I liked even better is that it was perfect size for one person. Every other place you get a pizza, they bring out one big enough for two people, and I always feel guilty about asking for a take away container. I also had the chance to try an orange soda that I have never seen anywhere else. Lunch was great!!!! If you ever get the chance to visit, you need to hit L’Archetto for lunch. You won’t regret it.

All that aside, we had a lovely day in Locarno. Hopefully we will go back, and we visit the sites we had to skip this time. I will have one more post about Locarno. I have to edit some video, and then I want to talk about the drive back home, because the drive was OUTSTANDING. (Well I had a blast, Julie…… not so much.)

Enjoy the pictures:

30 März 2021

Trying to hike up a mountain

Well we tried to do our first really serious hike. Over our time here we have had some good hikes, The longest one we have done was about 10 miles. However, this our first true mountain hike on unpaved rough trails. Bottom line is that we still have some work to do to get into Swiss hiking shape! It is hard to describe the difference, but on Thursday, we “hiked” all over the city of Locarno. We went about 8 miles. On Friday, we went up about 2 miles, and came down 2 miles! Then on Saturday, we went all over the city again putting another 9 miles on our feet. I know we were pretty close to the 2 mile part because the whole hike was supposed to be a little over 5 miles, and we made it to the point on the trial between the l and the t in Valle del Salto. 🙂

This was our planned hiking route

We started down in the village of Maggia. I really wish I had taken more pictures of the village. It was very striking. There were houses that either had been built 400 – 500 years ago, or they have followed the style of homes that were built then. What was striking was that right next to one of these old houses was a new home that looked like it had been built within the last few years. The dichotomy between the new and the old was amazing.

Another thing that struck both Julie and I were the number of religious icons, chapels, and (for lack of a better term) yard shrines. This part of Switzerland is much closer to Italy than the northern part, so the area is very catholic, and it showed on our hike, simply by the number of religious items we came across on the trail. Of course there is no explanation for any of them. I just assumed it was like having a cross next to a highway in the US. Someone had an accident and died in the area, so the family put this up as a remembrance for them. It would take an awful lot of effort to build these shrines.

This weekend was the first time I really had a chance to look at some of the construction on the rock houses. They basically took the flattest rocks they could find, did a little more shaping to make them more even, and then started stacking them on top of each other. The houses all appear to have a little bit of mortar, but it does not appear to be mortar like we think of with bricks. It looks to be more similar to tuck pointing. Which is normally a process used to repair the visible parts of mortar, when you do not need to repair or replace all of the mortar. The roofs, to me, are simply amazing. It is basically the same process as the walls, except there is some wood bracing, and the stones are staggered so that the rain and snow and run off them. There must have been a lot of collapsing roofs back in the day, because the weight of the stone has to be awesome, and then throw in the weight of snow…. Though I admit, these stone roofs seem to be more in the southern part of the country where there is NOT as much snow during the winter months.

Stone roof section
Julie with a stone barn in the background

The barn pictured above was on a little farmstead we crossed through on our hike. I am not sure if I told you this before, but just like in the movie Heidi, it is a real thing where the animals are brought up and down the mountain during the different seasons. In the spring the animals are brought up the mountains to graze, and then in the late fall they are brought down into the valleys. I am guessing the farm we passed was for goats or sheep. This mountain had not been cleared, so there was not enough pasture for more than 1 or 2 cows. Granted cow herds are MUCH smaller over here. I read an article last winter that there are about 45,000 dairy farms in Switzerland, and there around 550,000 cows. So that means by straight average each farmer has about 12 cows. However, the number of dairy farms is shrinking each year, and the number of sheep and goat farms is increasing.

So this was our day in the mountains. In some ways, it was very depressing not finishing the hike. In other ways, I think back to where we were when we moved, and I remember we would have not even been able to hike up to the first overlook! I am really glad we went, and the beauty of the valley was worth the pain of the hike.

Virus News

I was reading this morning where the EU and Switzerland are getting ready to release their version of the pandemic passport. Europe is really thinking they will be able to open things up and allow travel this summer. I think what is going to happen is they will open, and they will allow travel, but the number of people that have gotten the vaccine will be so small that no one is going to be traveling anyway. Germany is the country that makes me laugh. They will not allow ANY travel within their borders unless it is an emergency or required for business. Hotels are not allowed to accept tourists. Yet, they can go anywhere else they want. I was amazed with the number of German license plates we saw on our drive home. I never counted, but I bet it was very close to 40% of all the vehicles we came across were from Germany. This announcement could be good news for people in the US if you are wanting to travel to Europe this summer. You all stand a very good chance of being vaccinated. I am guessing once the passport is approved it will work for US residents as well.

Julie and I were able to “register” for a vaccine today. I have it in quotes because we really are not registered for anything. We basically just told the Government we want the vaccine. All of the reports still say it will be June or July before we are eligible for the jab. I think this being very optimistic.

Overall, Europe is into the 3rd or 4th wave depending on how you count. For some reason Switzerland’s numbers have not seen the rapid increase that other EU countries have seen, but our numbers are on a slow but steady increase. The numbers tell me, we will be in this modified lockdown through at least April.

I’ve got a good number of pictures to show from the hike, and then to tell you about our Friday walk around Locarno, plus the drive back was an adventure. It was our first time TRULY driving through the mountains! So I have at least one more post for this week, but based on the number of pictures I’ll probably string it out to two more posts.

Enjoy the pictures.