21 April 2022

I remember when Kaylee was looking to spend her senior year of high school in Argentina. Julie and I, of course, were a little worried about our baby going so far away, and other than the surprise trip to a hospital we really did not have much to worry about. The one thing I remember from the preparation was a quote by an exchange student that had already returned. “I decided I was going to make my exchange year the year of “YES.” As long as it was not illegal I told myself that no matter what someone asked me to do, I was going to say yes, and enjoy the experience as much as I can.” Of course there is a difference between being an 18 year old vs someone in their mid 50’s. We probably have not said yes as often as we should, and we spend far to many Sundays recovering in the apartment instead of being out exploring, but we are trying.

One of the ways we have expanded our horizons the most is in food. Whenever we go someplace new, we make sure to order what we think is the most strange thing on the menu. (Seriously though, the fresh octopus we had in Portugal has been one of the best things we have ever eaten.) One big change is that we almost never buy pre-made meals any more. This is primarily because since I am not working I have time to cook, so about the only thing we buy pre-made is Rösti (a local take on hash browns) and Pasta. Well the pasta is going to be cut down a lot in the future.

Pasta Maker

Julie had a gift card burning a hole in her purse; so we hopped a train to Zürich last Saturday and went to Globus. Most of you have never heard of Globus, but think high priced department store and you are on the right track. We almost never shop there. Everything is priced significantly higher than any other store. However, since Julie had the gift card we decided to check it out. As we were walking around the store, Julie saw this and said how she had always wanted to learn to make pasta. So on the spur of the moment she picked up the machine, a spaghetti attachment, a drying rack, and some kind of ravioli contraption. The ravioli thing looks like a cross between a pizza cutter, and one of those tools used to put screen in a screen door. 🙂

We brought it home, and decided that since Monday is a holiday, (Does anyone in the US get Easter Monday off? That is actually a thing here, but I did not realize it until this year, because the last two Easter’s we have basically been shut down due to Covid.) we would use the afternoon to try and make fresh pasta. The recipe is pretty easy. You buy a specific kind of flour and then mix a little olive oil and 1 egg for every 100 grams of flour. I also added a little salt based on some of the things I read online. Mix everything up well. Roll the dough into a ball, and let sit for about an hour while wrapped in plastic wrap. Flatten the ball with a rolling pin, and then start running it through the big rollers on the pasta maker. It takes a total of about 18 trips through the roller and then you roll it through the attachment on top of the machine to make the shape. I actually made a video of using the machine, because WHAT ELSE DO I HAVE TO DO? 🙂

My first attempt at making pasta from scratch!

Making pasta is a lot more work than buying a bag of stuff in the grocery store, but honestly the results are worth it. The taste and texture is so much better than anything we have bought in the store. One thing we have learned here, is there is a big difference between regular pasta and premium pasta in the grocery store. Well the fresh stuff makes the premium stuff seem second rate. I highly recommend it. The other benefit is that until I do this enough to really figure out the machine, it is a great way to cook together. If you watched the video, the pasta maker is a lot easier with two people than only one. Now, maybe if we had bought the PREMIUM pasta maker that had an electric motor instead of a crank…… but that will be for the next gift card!

Pasta on the drying rack.
The finished product with a homemade sauce as well!

I think I am going to have a fun time experimenting with this. Just like I have really enjoyed learning how to bake bread. My next bread adventure BTW is to make Julie some English Muffins. The two stores that used to carry the muffins, locally, stopped carrying them, so Julie needs to find an alternative. Our recent trip to Munich found Julie searching through the grocery stores, where she picked up a month’s supply of muffins, but that is running out quickly!

THe BööGg

Sechseläuten is the name of the Spring Festival in Zürich. The translation of the word is “The six o’clock ringing of the bells.” This goes back to medieval times when the work day was from sun up to sun down. That scheduled worked fine in the winter, but starting in the spring and then through summer it meant that the workers got the shaft because they were paid per day, and all of a sudden sun down meant a much longer work day. So the guilds in Zürich came up with a solution. Each spring the Grossmünster started ringing the bells at six pm to signify the end of the work day. So now the day is a festival in Zürich. The festival ends with the burning of the Böögg. At 6 pm next Monday the pyre is lit, and the tradition is that the faster the Böögg’s head explodes the better the summer is going to be.

The festival has been called off the last two years due to covid. In fact, 2020 was the first time in recorded history the festival was canceled. Last year the festival was canceled, but the burning of the Böögg was moved to Andermatt. (See the video below.)

Burning of the Böögg

Next Monday, I will be downtown Zürich for the parades, and to watch the head explode live!

According to Wikipedia. The fastest time has been 5 minutes 7 seconds, and longest time is 43 minutes 34 seconds. I am hoping for a record, because I really want a good summer!

language success

I know I have talked many times on here about trying to learn German. I had, for me, a major success this week that I wanted to tell you about.

Each year, Julie and I have to renew our visa. Honestly, it is a pretty easy process, but it is kind of a pain. We are supposed to surrender our Aufenthaltstitel (residency permit) and then wait 4 – 6 weeks for the new one to show up. Normally it is not a problem to be without the card. If we are going anywhere, we simply use our driver license and passport. This year, though, I did not want to surrender the permit card, because we will be traveling back to the US before the new one would arrive. Not having the card does make it hard to get back through customs at the airport. Without that card, the border agents, give us a lot of grief about exceeding the 90 day policy as a tourist in Switzerland. So my success was that not only was I able to do the whole transaction in German. I was even able to ask about keeping the cards until the new ones arrived since we are going to be traveling internationally in the next few weeks.

What made the transaction even more special to me, is the town clerk realized I was trying valiantly to do this in German. He kept replying to me in English and then he would stop himself and switch to German! This almost never happens. The normal thing is that once the Swiss person realizes that I am not fluent, they immediately switch to English, and everything from that point on is English not German. It really does make it hard to get better.

I hope you are having a fantastic week. I will write again next week with hopefully some good pictures and video of the festival.

11 November 2021

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!

6 November, 2021

As promised I will be posting the two videos from Murten, but before that I have some more living outside the US things to share.

First to update you on the visit to the pharmacy. It took three trips, but I finally got the stuff Julie needed. I still have to say I am even more confused by the experience. My second trip back, the pharmacist took the card, but BEFORE she did anything else, she looked online at the medication, and saw they did not have it in stock. She did order the stuff, and told me it would be in the next day. She scanned the card in the system. So I come back the third day to pick it up. I had the card ready to go, and looked at me and said, “I do not need the card. I scanned it in yesterday.” So what gives? They do obviously keep the information from the card in the system. Was the first person just not treating me well? All she had to do was look up my wife’s information from the prescription. I guess I just got lousy customer service, instead of finding some real difference between stores over here vs stores in the US. 🙂

Our cable TV woes are still continuing. We now have three competing theories. One technician at UPC claims there is a bug in the programming, and that many people are impacted. Another technician claims that it is either the electrical current in the apartment, or the power supply for the cable box is bad. I still think it has something to with the construction going on around the building.

For the first theory, I started a thread on one of the forums I monitor. They have a section titled TV/Internet/Telephone. So I thought it was a natural. I figured if it was an update issue, there would be some other people respond. The thread has been up for almost a week, and the only responses I have gotten are “UPC is a crap company, and no one should ever use them.” and “there is something wrong with your cable box. You should probably switch it out.” So based on my limited sample size. No one else is having a programming problem with their UPC box. In regards to the, electrical theory. The technician wanted me to plug the box into a different outlet. That did not do anything. He then asked if I switched the power supply out when I got the new box. Neither of them have had any impact on the problem, because I did switch out the power supply. Here is the interesting thing. Last Saturday and today, the box has not rebooted ONCE. This, to me, leads some credence to my theory that all the construction is somehow messing with the cable signal. Of course no one from UPC wants to come and check on that. That might cost them a lot of money to replace the cable down the street. Oh well, we probably will not be customers for much longer. I am ready to just ditch the whole thing now, but Julie is afraid there will be problems while I am back in the US. So I guess we wait until after the Holidays to make the switch.

For those of you that are Facebook friends with me, you heard this rant yesterday, but it is a pretty good example of how complicated things are now days, so I thought I would share it here as well.

So I am traveling back to the US in 9 days. To get back into the US I have to provide proof of a negative COVID test, I am not sure about the vaccination status, because the rules are different for citizens. Yesterday I get an email from United Airlines about making the trip easier. They want me to get in and upload my documents before traveling. This is normal. We did the same thing when Kaylee was here to travel back and forth from Italy. So I log into the United site. I upload my passport information (for the second time). but am stuck trying to upload the COVID information. I figured I should be able to at least upload my vaccination information, but United has tied the vaccine into the test. So without one I cannot upload the other. This is where it gets silly.

The instructions state that all documents have to be uploaded at LEAST 72 hours before you fly. So for me that means by next Friday morning. Unfortunately, The documents have to be uploaded BEFORE you would have any information in regards to your Covid test. The test has to be taken 3 days before you leave. So if I go in at 8 AM to take the test. I won’t get the results back before noon. That service also costs me an additional $100. For the normal Covid test, the cost is still $150, but the results do not come for 24 hours. This makes it impossible to meet the 72 hour deadline.

Where it became even more funny. Is that in the section regarding the Covid test. United says I cannot take the test until the 14th. So if I wait until the 14th, I cannot fly back home, because I won’t have the results back I do not think I can even pay for the fast test on a Sunday. So I guess I will simply do what all our visitors did this summer. Take the test about 48 hours before I leave, and ignore having to upload the documents. Hopefully it will work out fine. I will be very angry if I get to the airport on Monday morning, and cannot fly home. Reminder to George: I get in to Indianapolis at 7:00 PM Monday the 15th. Don’t forget, you are picking me up and driving me to Mitchell. 🙂

Here are the videos from Murten:

Driving through the old section of Murten
The City Wall of Murten

Julie took some nice pictures from the town, so I thought I would share some of those as well:

Thanks for reading. Not sure what I will post about next week. I am going to be pretty busy getting ready to head back home! Talk to you soon, though.

4 November 2021

First off, Happy Birthday to my Father. He is 84 years young this week. He certainly is not as spry as he was 30 years ago, but he still loves getting out and doing things. He walks every morning, and spends time in the garden or other maintenance tasks on the farm. If it were not for computers he would probably still be practicing medicine as well. He still gets excited about travel, and he and my mother are already making their plans to come back to Europe next year. Anyway, Happy Birthday Dad! Glad we got to talk. I hope you like your gift, and I am looking forward to seeing you again in about a week and a half.

I had one of those “Oh Crap! Life is a little bit different here moments yesterday.” I had to visit the Apotheke (Pharmacy) and get something filled for Julie. We have visited this store multiple times. Of course I had never picked a prescription up before. I thought it would be like the US. Show up with the order, give your wife’s name, date of birth, and some other information, and you would get the medicine. Not here. I am sure they keep records that Julie has gotten medicine there in the past, but I could not get the order filled, because I did not have her insurance card. Honestly, I do not see how that matters. The way the insurance works here, is that I am the middle man. I pay for the drug, and then I ask the insurance company for the payment. I am sure it has something to do with the fact, that some drugs are no cost to the user, and then there is an arrangement made for payment, but I do not know for sure how it works. I do know that because of data privacy rules stores do not keep all the information they have about people in their data files. I am guessing that insurance information is one of those things they choose to not keep.

Technology did come through for us this past weekend. My son was in the “Moot Court” competition for his law school, He made it to the final round last Saturday. My parents, and some other relatives and friends were able to be there in person, but not so much Julie and I. His school, though, was very accommodating for us. They set up a zoom meeting; so we could watch him compete. The time difference was a little inconvenient for us. We wound up eating a really FAST dinner, and then sitting outside the restaurant watching his arguments. Julie and I were given a LOT of strange looks by the passerby’s but it was worth it.

Before I tell you a little about the town we visited. I got a lesson that my language skills are NOT nearly as good as I think they are. We show up to a restaurant, and exchange greetings with the server. This was done in German. So after the greetings in German I say: “Wir haven eiene Reservierung um seben uhr dreissig. Der Name ist Julie Sorrells.” Translated to We have a reservation at 7:30. The name is Julie Sorrells. Pretty simple and I thought I said everything right. However, she gives me a BLANK state. She had no clue what I said. So I tried it again. Still nothing. So I tried using the word for appointment (termin) thinking I butchered reservation so badly. Still just giving us blank stares, but then starts saying something that I cannot understand at all. Julie adds in, from behind me in English, We have a reservation…… The server immediately starts smiling, and shows us to our seats. The rest of the evening we conversed back and forth in German and English both.

I am really not sure what happened. I am convinced I said everything correctly. I did ask online, if I said something wrong. Here was the feedback I got:

1) Most said there was nothing wrong. She was just surprised to hear German. Julie made the reservation online and in English; so she was probably expecting an english speaker.

2) Like many Swiss people she speaks multiple languages. She was conversing with almost all the other customers in French. So the thought is that she is probably learning German just like I am. Since I do not speak German like a Swiss person, she probably did not understand my accent.

3) I did not use the common form for time. In German the normal way to say 7:30 is halb acht or 1/2 8. Honestly I struggle with this one, because in the US you would never say “It is 1/2 to 8.” You would always say, ” It is 1/2 past 7.” I always forget with the half, and think past instead of to the hour. I do need to get better at that.

The online feedback seemed to agree on number 3 the most, but I struggle to buy that one. What I said was not wrong, just not the preferred way of saying it. I think number 2 is probably the most likely explanation, but we will probably never know.


So our trip this weekend was to the village of Murten. Murten is about 150 KM from our house, so about a two hour drive. Murten is located in the canton of Fribourg. It is pretty close to the French Border. Friburg is the start of the French speaking area of Switzerland; so Murten is truly a bilingual village. Below is a picture from the church bulletin. You will notice that not only the mass order is written in two languages. Look at the song. The verses switch back and forth between French and German. This certainly made the Mass harder to follow. In German, I can usually follow about 50% of the service, and 30% of the homily. Last weekend those percentages were cut in half. Even during the homily, the priest did some in German, and then some in French!

Murten is a VERY old settlement. Archeological finds around the city are from 8000 – 5000 BC. Unfortunately, the provenance of those finds cannot be proven because the records have all been lost, but in the 1970’s during some road construction some additional finds were made that dale from 5000- 2500 BC. That is still pretty darn old! In Swiss History, the town is first mentioned in 515 AD. It was mentioned as a defensive site. The lake on one side, and the shape of the hills around the lake made Murten a natural defense. Murten is one of the few places that have maintained the old city wall. Parts of the wall date back to the 1100’s. The wall was made bigger for the next few hundred years, and in 1476, the city was under siege for two weeks. You can still see some of the bullet and cannon ball marks to this day! Starting around 1500 the town had really started to outgrow the walls; so parts of the wall were torn down, and as is common here were replaced with houses like pictured below. However, what makes this place unique, is that the majority of wall was preserved as it was originally built.

There are still a couple of spots where you can climb up to the battlements and look over the town, and the countryside like you could almost a thousand years ago! I will be putting up a video that we made walking along the old part of the wall; so you can really see what it looks like. The picture below is a panaramic photo I took from near the center of the wall,. You can see from the White tower on the left all the way along the wall to the tall tower on the right

The name of the town comes from the Celtic word for “Lakeside Fortress” One of those examples where the name describes the thing exactly.

Murten is an example of the thinking that lack of transportation can make or break a town, Back in the 1800’s Murten’s future looked very bleak. The government was putting in a rail line on the west side of the country that would go from North to South. The line was originally planned to go through the town, but it was rerouted through the Canton Seat of Fribourg. For the next 20 years the town struggled to survive because there was no transportation. Around 1875 a rail line was finally installed from Fribourg. That allowed tourism to become one of the driving forces for the village.

My final thoughts on Murten. I was very surprised by the number of homes in the old part of town. In most villages I have seen the old part of town has been preserved for business. Sure there are homes above the store fronts. Murten is a little different. The old part of town is about 4 blocks wide by about 6 blocks long. About 2/3 of the buildings are primarily business. However the section of the town closest the wall is primarily homes. There is an occasional storefront, but the majority of the buildings seemed to be homes. It looked like a really nice place to live. The other big shock was to find the grocery stores and some of the other retail establishments open on Sunday morning, Outside of the larger train stations or the airports, this was the first time in two years I have seen a grocery store open on Sunday. I think that is a sign that Murten’s number one industry is now tourism.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. I will have two videos and some pictures on Saturday or Sunday to post.

27 Oktober 2021

So this week has been one with a lot of frustration, and it is only Wednesday! I am hoping that by the end of the week it will be a bit better.

So Julie and I have been having cable TV problems for a few weeks now. The cable box simply decides to reboot itself. Some days it might be only once. The worst day has been five times in a 50 minute window. As a technology person the one thing I always feared were problems that seemed random. They are always frustrating to the user as well as the “fixer” so I know a little about how the technicians at Sunrise/UPC are feeling. What is the most frustrating is that we pay for cable TV, yet we really only use it for about 50 minutes a day. When we are having our morning coffee and breakfast the BBC is on; so we can see about the weather, and keep up with what is happening in the world without having to consult a dictionary every 30 seconds. So when the TV reboots itself multiple times in that 50 minute window it becomes very annoying.

I am convinced it has something to do with the construction going on around us. The reboots ONLY happen when someone is working. However, UPC does not appear to share my concern. At this point I am going to give them two more weeks, and then I call a competitor.

My second frustration has me convinced that if travel does not pick up after the pandemic, it is solely due to the airlines. I do understand they have it tough. They lost a lot of business starting in 2020 and that money is lost forever. They have scaled back in a lot of ways, but this has also made the travel experience that much worse.

It started off with the kids coming over this summer. Kaylee somehow managed to not have any major changes in their flights, but George and Gabby were a different story. The morning they were departing, the flight was cancelled at 3:00 AM. They did get a text message about the flight, but who in the heck reads text messages when they come in at 3:00 AM? Most of us have gotten to the point we do not even have an audio notification to a message we just get a visual pop up. By the time they woke up and found the notice they should have already been at the airport boarding the one other flight that was leaving that day. It was nice in that we got to spend another day with the kids, but a pain in the butt for them.

Like a good traveler I made my reservations for Christmas months ago. We try and schedule the non-stop flight from Zürich to Chicago, and then connect to Indianapolis from there. It should have the least amount of headaches, because there are multiple flights all day every day from Chicago, or if the worst happens, we can rent a car and drive to southern Indiana without that much of a headache. So the first change was fly to Washington and then to Indiana. Not that big a deal, still just one stop. The next change was fly to Newark, then to Indiana. Again not a big deal. The icing on the cake came this week. We fly from Zürich to Newark, Newark to Chicago, and Chicago to Indianapolis. Even worse we only have 1.5 hours to get through customs in Newark and to the new terminal, and 40 minutes to change terminals in Chicago. The other thing that made me angry is that instead of getting into Indianapolis at 7:00 PM we do not get in until 10:50 PM. That 4 hours is the difference between being able to sleep at our destination vs having to pay for a hotel for the night, because I will be exhausted.

Now I have not had the pleasure for flying into Newark from over seas. Maybe it is possible to get through customs that quickly, that is not my experience in any other airport I have visited though. So if we miss that flight we spend the night in the airport. You know they will not put us up in a hotel, because the airline does not control how fast customs moves. Assuming everything goes perfectly and we make the flight in Newark. What do you think the odds are that this plane takes off on time? So now we probably miss the flight to Indianapolis. So the way I see it, unless everything goes absolutely perfect, there is almost zero chance we make it home without having to spend a night in an airport.

Here is what makes me INCREDIBLY ANGRY. So I am logged into the United website. I am looking at all the available flights they have. Somehow the original flight we had booked is now back on the schedule. So I wait for my 90 minutes on the phone and ask about that flight. I asked why we just cannot go back to the original flights we had reserved. I was politely informed that is possible, but it will cost an additional $4500 per ticket!!!!! To get back on the SAME flight that I booked originally, and UNITED kicked me off? I have many things I can call that situation, but the most polite is BULL SHIRT!

In United’s defense the flight is a Swiss Air flight, but because United has limited flights into Zürich they have a partnership with Lufthansa (they own Swiss). So I do not really know which company kicked us off the flight, but it does not seem right that I have to pay extra to get back on a plane that I originally booked, and that I did not choose to leave. The other part of this situation that really honks me off, is that looking on the website there were multiple ways to complete our flights that were easier. For example, if I wanted to have a 2.5 hour layover in Newark there was a directy flight to Indianapolis, that I could take instead of routing through Chicago. It gets me there almost three hours faster, and United does not have to pay for the added weight on the third flight. To me that saves them money. I guess I need someone that knows airline economics to tell me if that is true, or not. It sure makes them more money for me to have some convenience because they wanted to charge me an extra $300 per ticket to make that flight.

There is a very strong possibility I am over reacting to this. I would guess that before now, I averaged 1.5 flights per year. We thought we would be flying a lot moving here, but I am still just a little above average. I have flown twice a year since moving here. I just know on my two trips back to the US, I have not had any issues with flight changes, but this year they have been awful. Even worse it seems the flight changes are never in the favor of the passenger.

What makes me even more upset, is that I am already looking at giving the airlines even more money in 2022. Julie and I want to visit Budapest and Greece. Both of these trips will involve air travel. Not to mention, Julie really needs to fly back to the US in the spring to visit her parents. She has not spent any time with them in three years. I guess the bottom line is that I really need to meet one of those incredibly rich people that supposedly live here in Switzerland. I need to find that one friend, and convince him to let me use his private jet whenever I need one! I guess I need to start hanging out at different places than the grocery store and library. How hard is it NOT to become an alcoholic but drink every day? Asking for a friend…

Not much else to report this week. The weather is definitely heading toward fall. We do not see the sun much anymore, and the temperature is down in the single digits every morning. We will be driving to the town of Murten this weekend. Murten is located right on the border between the French and German sections of Switzerland. In fact, so far it has been the first city that I have always seen the french name and the german name used together. The town is called Morat in French. The town is one of the few that have preserved the medieval city walls that surrounded the population. So next week I should have some more pictures to view instead of simply reading my rants.

I hope you have a good week.

Talk to you soon.

14 Oktober. 2021

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.

10 September 2021

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.

Holiday Monday Musings

24 mai 2021

Today is a holiday in Switzerland. For my non-church going friends the holiday is known as Pentecost. The percentages of religious people are very similar in Switzerland to the US. In Switzerland approximately 63% of the population is Christian. Which is almost identical to the US. The difference comes into catholic vs protestant. In the US it is about 42% protestant to 21% catholic. Here the percentage of catholics is slightly higher at about 35% of the population. The real difference comes into play in the number of different protestant denominations. In Switzerland 23% of the population belongs to the Swiss Reformed Church. Where in the US the largest protestant denomination only makes up a little more than 5% of the US population. Anyway, I just find it strange that the whole country celebrates a lot more religious holidays than the US does. I am sure a big part of that is the US having as part of their constitution that the government cannot impose religious practices on their citizens. It is actually quite striking to learn the parallels between the two countries in regards to religion. The percentages that identify with a religion are almost identical. The difference seems to have come into play with the number of people that claim atheism. In Switzerland that number is now around 30% of the population, where in the US that number is about 3 – 4%. So here people have given up on God completely, where in the US people have simply given up on church.

The weekend was supposed to have awful weather so we choose to stay around the apartment. I did not want to spend a lot of money on a hotel or apartment if it was going to rain all weekend. We have had our share of rain, but we have also had some great weather to get out and about.

Saturday, we took a ferry to the other side of the lake, and went for a hike. Earlier in the week, we had watched a ferris wheel go up, and start running. Somehow ( 🙂 ) I managed to ensure that our hike included going by the ferris wheel. I wasn’t sure if it was a local fair or carnival, but I knew we wanted to check it out. It turns out that it is a kind of roaming semi permanent fixture around the lake.

After our 7 mile hike, we decided to take the train downtown for a bit. We strolled down the Bahnhofstrasse and went into our favorite book store. OrrellFüssli is a huge book store. It reminds me of the giant book store that Tom Hanks’ family owned in You’ve Got Mail. It is four stories tall. The top floor is the English Department. So Julie goes to buy books (I prefer my kindle.) and I check out the English Treats Section. I scored! I found pickle relish ( which is completely different over here), malt vinegar, and some Hershey’s Syrup for ice cream. I have been looking for malt vinegar for over a year. Vinegar is a huge thing here, but it is all Balsamic. I was missing the malt vinegar on my french fries. I probably should have bought two bottles so it will last a long time, but I did not want to be greedy; so I will simply use it sparingly!

My Third best swiss purchase

So I have lived here close to 20 months now. If you remember back to 2019. Julie and I sold the house, and got rid of almost everything we owned for the move over here. I never knew that I was attached to a pillow until moving, though. The last thing I did before leaving Greenville, was throw my pillow, and bed sheets into a garbage bag. It turns out, I should have brought the pillow with me. I have missed that thing for almost two years now. Saturday afternoon, as we were roaming around I came across the pillow section in a store. I made a quick decision and bought a pillow. Julie thought that I had lost my mind. Especially when she saw how much it cost. I explained to her, that I have cycled through every single pillow we have in the apartment, and I had found only one that I liked. However, after I discovered it was a My Pillow pillow, I threw it in the garbage. I was afraid the Mike Lindell crazy had been sewn into the stuffing, and it would be like a leech into my brain while I was sleeping!!!!! So a couple of hundred francs later (no exaggeration) I am sleeping like the dead at night! I think the one thing I am worried about, is Julie tried it yesterday to take a nap, and she sleeps with 5 pillows. I am afraid that my one pillow purchase is going to cost us a plane trip back home. Speaking of plane trips.

We are so excited, both kids have made reservations to come see us in August. They won’t be here at the same time, but it is going to be so damn sweet to hug my kids again! Yes, Gabby, you will get a hug, too! Which as everyone knows is a big thing for me, because I am not much of a hugger! I also booked a flight home for November. My good friends the Eierman’s have said I can join them again for the Wisconsin Gun Deer Season. So I am going to be flying home for some deer hunting this year? I wonder if I have to buy an out of state license, or if my Wisconsin license is still proof of residency since I vote there? I guess I should check that out! I will also get to see Mom and Dad, and my Sisters as I will spend Thanksgiving Weekend in Southern Indiana. Which leads me to another rant about travel.

Julie and I figured we would be flying back to the US two or three times per year. That would have been pretty accurate except COVID has played a big role the last 12 months. So I signed up for a couple of the frequent flyer programs. I figured for the first time in my life I might actually fly enough that they would pay off. United Airlines, this rant is directed at you. So I logged into my United account and checked flights home for Christmas. It was going to cost over $4500 per ticket. That seemed really high, so I logged into Kayak and checked. The price was down to about $3700. Then I went back to the United page NOT logged into my account, and the price was $3800. Is there anyone that can explain why and how, the most expensive ticket was quoted to the account that has shown loyalty to the airlines by signing up for frequent flyer miles? That makes zero sense to me. Hopefully, Swiss airlines will soon have their normal flights scheduled, I really like flying Swiss. The food is outstanding.

rants over back to the weekend

So Sunday, the weather lady said the morning was supposed to be cloudy but no rain. We decided to take the bus downtown and go to the Zürich Botanical Garden. What a wonderful place to visit. We had the most calming walk right next to a stream in a very crowded area of Zürkch. It felt like we were out in the country. I found the perfect apartment to rent right next to a bus stop for Julie to get to work, and a waterfall. It would be the perfect little apartment. Of course it is probably less than 1/4 the size of the place we have now; so Julie wasn’t in to making a move. :(. Anyway, we loved the garden, and can’t wait to go back and visit. Unfortunately, the clouds decided to open up soon after our arrival, so we did not spend a lot of time there. We did stop and listen to the most amazing frogs I have ever heard. These are about 1/2 the size of a bull frog from back home, but wow were these things loud!

Once the rain chased us out of the Garden we decided to take a tram back downtown to catch a train home. Julie wanted to swing by and see if our favorite restaurant was open for carry out. It turns out they have put some tables outside so we sat down and had lunch. I had the most fantastic pizza I have ever had. Pizza in Europe is a completely different experience than in the US, but this as the best pizza EVER!!!! It was tomato, buffalo mozzarella, avocado, and red onion jelly. I was like a little boy. Julie says I gushed about that pizza for hours yesterday. She was right. I told the owner of the restaurant that I could die happy now. I have GOT to figure out how to recreate that experience. It is a good thing that LaPasta is not convenient to get to. Otherwise I would now be eating there a couple of times each week, and I would probably gain another 100 pounds…

So that was our holiday weekend in a nutshell. I hope you enjoy the pictures below.

I will talk to you soon.

25 April 2021

It has been another quiet week in Rüschlikon. Julie is trying to finish up Amcor’s quarterly finance reports; so she has been working long hours. The reports have to be turned in for approval this week, so then she gets a bit of a breather. She did go into the office for two days last week; so that seemed like a life altering change. I think I finally convinced her to upgrade her train pass to fist class. In some ways this seems silly. I mean you are talking a local commuter train. It isn’t like she is sitting on the train for hours to and from work. However, I see a couple of advantages. The first being the first class coaches are never full. She will always be able to get a seat. That also means that as long as we are still under the throngs of COVID, she is not going to be shoulder to shoulder with other people. Many of these people “follow” the mask requirements to the letter. By that I mean, just like on an airplane, you do not have to wear your mask while eating or drinking; so many of the riders choose to have a bottle of water or beer with them the entire ride. Honestly, I think the bottles are empty, because I almost never see anyone drinking from them, but simply holding them in your hands, the police will never make you put a mask on.

We did eat dinner in a restaurant for the first time in many months. We were trying to think when the last time was, and we think it was before Christmas. We were sure Switzerland was going to go back in lockdown before the Holiday. It turns out we were a few weeks early in our prediction. We did have a really nice conversation with the owner. He was describing how hard it was to stay in business. Before the lockdowns he was describing about 30 – 40 on an average evening. Now he is lucky to do 10 diners per night. The rules changed about a week ago where restaurants could serve people outside, but his outside dining area is very limited. Even worse, is that it is supposed to rain pretty much every day next week. Two restaurants that we visit occasionally have shut down. I am surprised more have not gone under.

Those of you that lived somewhere that speaks a different language than your mother tongue can relate with this. Speaking on the telephone is one of the most anxiety producing activities when you live overseas. When you are not fluent in the language it is hard enough getting by in face to face conversations. I don’t know what it is, but the conservation through the speaker of a phone leaves me almost completely clueless. I called the restaurant to make a reservation. I got through setting up the day and time, and then it happened. He asked a question, and I could not understand a word he said. How many in German is Wie viele. (It sounds like Vee Feela). I can normally hear those words, so I know the answer. This time all I heard was gibberish. so after making him repeat the question three times, I finally just asked him to speak English; so we could finish up the reservation. He had a good laugh with me while we were eating; so that is good! I know I am getting better at speaking, but it is still hard.

Yesterday also started our spring cleaning. We mopped and scrubbed the balconies. I realized after I was almost done, that I had made a huge mistake. Sometime in May the pollen is coming back. Last year it was almost like we lived in a pine forest. There was a thick covering of bright yellow pollen over everything; so I will wind up scrubbing them again very soon. The second patio in the house, will soon become my bike riding patio. It has gotten warm enough, that I can bring my bike up out of the basement. Riding on the balcony is only slightly better than riding in the basement, but both options beat the heck out of riding or running in the rain. I did break down last week and do something kind of silly. I bought a 2nd rear wheel for my road bike. It is such a pain switching out the road tire for the trainer tire each time I go from a real ride to the trainer that I decided to spend some of our travel budget that isn’t being used and make it easy on me. 🙂

In older posts I have talked about the health care / insurance system over here. Basically, the country runs on the same principal as the Affordable Health Care Act in the US. Everyone here is required to buy insurance, but the government will help you if you cannot afford to pay. I have learned that the insurance companies are not very responsive. When we moved, I made the mistake of telling the insurance company that I had visited a chiropractor within the last few years. With this bad mark on my record, I was only able to get the basic insurance. This is the level that every company is required by law to offer. The insurance itself wasn’t that bad. It has a 2500CHF deductible, and then it is an 80/20 split up to 15000 CHF per year. Since I am pretty healthy, and rarely go see a Dr. I could live with it. The only real problem is that it did not cover anything else. No dental coverage. No eye coverage. Nor does it offer coverage outside of Switzerland. So the two times I have gone back to the US I took out temporary health insurance. This is VERY expensive, but if I got into an accident, it was much better than having no insurance.

In November, I wrote the company requesting a quote for a step up in the Insurance. I figured I had been here a year with no claims maybe they would give me the upgrade. It took them 6 weeks to get back with a quote. So in January I turned in the request, and asked that go into effect on 1 March. So here we are at the end of April, and I have just submitted my third request to see if it was approved. The thing that irritates me, is that the only upgrade I have asked for is to be covered when I leave Switzerland. Everything else would remain the same. Assuming that my health stays the same, the company is going to make a lot more money off me. The upgrade costs 150 CHF per month; with one Dr Visit a year that costs almost nothing. You would think they would jump at this. For me, it even costs me more money, but assuming we can travel outside of Switzerland this year, I do not want to have to go through the headache of remembering to buy short term insurance every time we cross a border.

Since Sunday is truly a day of rest. Julie and I enjoyed the sunshine and took a long hike over the hill. The Sihl River runs through the valley on the other side of the hill. There is a wonderful hiking/biking trail that goes along the river, so we hiked along watching the fish, and other wildlife. I really need to go buy a fly fishing rod. Hey Rick Tardy. Come visit, bring your poles, and teach me to fly fish! The highlight of the hike was watching the mallard mating dances that were happening. Unfortunately, I was so engrossed watching, that I forgot to pull out my camera and make some video. I have to admit, these relaxing Sundays are one of my favorite things about living here.

This is one of the months that it is hardest being away from the kids. Finals week is approaching fast; and if nothing else it is easier to call and check on the kids when you are within a time zone or two. :). George’s finals start tomorrow. I wonder if year 2 finals are harder than year 1 for law school. Kaylee has a week of midterms, then the MCAT, and then her finals start. I think I would rather be George at this point. 🙂 So if you would, please keep both of my children in your thoughts, they have a couple of hard weeks ahead. Oh and Happy Birthday Gabby! Julie and I hope you are having a wonderful weekend with your parents.

Well, that is about all for this week. I have the Prosecco chilled, so I think it is time to make up some Aperol Spritzes and sit on the balcony watching the sailboats on Zürichsee.

Until next time.

26 Februar 2021

I had a very painful lesson about my limited language skills yesterday. I went for a Haarschnitt ( I love that word, it sounds like exactly what it is). My regular barber was booked solid, so I got the 2nd chair. I think this is a training thing, because it is always a different young man every time I go in. So as he was finishing off the hair cut, he said something but the only words I really understood were wachs oder lotion (wax or lotion). I thought he was talking about putting something in my hair, so I answered wax, because that is what they always use. The next thing I know there is green goop all over my ears. I realized a little late what he was talking about. So needless to say I got the first wax treatment in my life. Thank goodness it was above the belt!! Continuing on with the language thread.

One thing that I believe sets Switzerland apart from most countries is the number of official languages the country has. You have to remember that there are only about 8.5 million people in the entire country, and size wise… Well you could put 4 Switzerlands inside Wisconsin (Switzerland is a little over 41,000 KM sq and Wisconsin is almost 170,000 KM sq). So in this really small country there are four official languages. I know I have talked about this before, but for those just tuning in…. The four languages are German, French, Italian, and Romansh. If you really want to get technical, there are even more languages, because each of the German speaking cantons have their own dialect of German, but this post is going to be about Romansh.

Romansh is really only spoken in one canton, Graubünden. Graubünden is in the eastern portion of Switzerland. The two two cities that people know about are Davos and St Moritz. Only about 60,000 people speak the language. The public schools in the Canton use Romansh until 6th grade. After that all instruction is in German. Even though, Romansh is the official language of the canton the students need to learn German so they are employable after school. Romansh is similar to Italian.

Because Romansh is an official language, it means the government must ensure that all communication is made available in the language. Can you imagine the US mandating all documents be printed in a language that less than 1% of the population speaks or reads? It gets even stranger. There are four major dialects in Romansh. The canton is responsible for publishing each school book in the four dialects. When the cantons became responsible for education, Graubünden tried to only print the books in the most popular dialect, but the other citizens made such a fuss that the canton had to eventually give in. About a hundred years ago, the language almost died out because so many german speakers moved into the area. In the early 1900’s the push was made to save the language. It was officially recognized by Switzerland in the 1930’s, but did not become one of the national languages until the 1990’s.

I found this list of words and phrases online; so I am blantantly copying and pasting them. As you read through the list notice the familiarity with some Italian words that you may know, but also French and Portugese.

allegra hello. buna notg good night. bain finebun di good morning

buna saira good evening buna notg good night a pli tard see you

latera revair good bye grazia thanks. perstgisai! excuse me!

bun viadi have a good trip. Tge bel di! What a beautiful day!