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The Boy, 2 Muttleys and I have finally realized our dream of living 1 mile from the Lindt Chocolate Factory. Leaving Atlanta (the World of Coke) for Zurich (the World of Chocolate) hasn't come without challenges, incredible fun or giggles. Follow along as I chronicle our adventures as we acclimate to this new Swiss lifestyle.
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Monday, May 31, 2010

Touched by Cinque Terre

Just some of the thousands of steps we touched during our trip to Cinque Terre. What you don't realize is this is actually someone's daily commute.

I know what you are thinking. How in the world am I supposed to incorporate "touch" into my series on Cinque Terre and the 5 senses? Do Kristi and the Boy go places, aimlessly touching stuff? Do they come away from a trip thinking "hot damn...that ocean was wetter than the last ocean we visited. In fact that last one was just sort of damp".

While we do inadvertently touch stuff on vacation, we don't go out of our way to. I am willing to bet a traveler rarely thinks about what their body touches, except for all of the germs from other travelers they come into contact with (who seem to cough and sneeze a lot more in small, enclosed spaces - I swear sometimes it feels like public transportation is a scene out of "Night of the Living Dead"). So if we weren't actively touching stuff, where in the heck am I going with this?

We were touched by Cinque Terre. Did I just open up a can of metaphor on your ass or what? When we went to Africa last year, it taught us that travel is so much more than what you see and eat. It is also about people, different cultures and connecting to them while in their land. While in Africa, we went to see animals and came away meeting the most amazing, sincere and gentle people. I can only speak for myself, but now whenever I travel somewhere, I try to find a connection with people whether it be a local or another fellow traveler because isn't that what life is all about? Why limit connecting to others to just our daily lives?

In Cinque Terre, we met many people because a lot of English was being spoken. I think both the Boy and I were excited to be able to produce small talk so we struck up conversations here and there. Most were of the friendly sort, barely leaving an imprint on my brain. We did however meet two women from Australia on our train ride from Milan to Monterosso. We talked for 3 hours straight and had a lovely time. We left wishing them well with the hopes we would bump into each other again during the course of our short stay. We were staying in different towns and there was a good chance we wouldn't run into them.

It just so happened we did bump into them one night at a restaurant in the town of Vernazza where the Boy and I were staying. They proceeded to invite us to their table for dinner where we were introduced to the daughter of one of the women and the daughter's friend. At the end of the evening, the connection was so genuine that they invited us to their apartment later in the week for dinner, drinks and sunsets.

Another day, while in the harbor of Vernazza enjoying one of our many gelatos, a group of Italian school kids, ages 9 or 10, approached us and our doggies. You could easily tell they were on a field trip as they each wore a backpack and were led by harried adults, constantly making sure they hadn't lost a kid or two to the gelato shop (lucky kids - at their age I was going to Planetariums for field trips, which led to temporary Narcolepsy. Hey...those reclining seats and twinkly lights were...zzzzzzzzzzzzzz). We spent a good 20 minutes with the kids, who were enamored with our dogs Pedro and Julie. Yeah...there was no correcting them, they thought Dooley was Julie. It was certainly endearing to see the kids interact gently with our doggies, but what will last with me, maybe forever, was their attempt to communicate with the Boy and I. Their English was in its infant stages but when this one boy in particular said "Happy Day" as his farewell, I almost lost it. It was pretty freaking cute and left an imprint on my brain.

A connection could be meeting two great women from Australia on a train or being wished a "Happy Day" by a cute 9 year old. Will I ever see them again? Probably not. If I don't, does that take something away from the connection? I say no, because that is the life of the Expat and traveler. Making seemingly temporary but sometimes very meaningful connections. On your next trip, try to not overlook finding the "touch" in your experience. Hopefully you find it and relish it just as much as I do.

This post was written for AffordableCallingCards.net, a community linking Expats and soon to be Expats. In addition to being a great source of Expat information, they offer affordable calling cards, keeping you connected.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Shame on You Zurich

There is no Utopia. There is no heaven on earth. Even if there was, we couldn't truly enjoy it as the human condition requires us to be constantly dissatisfied during the course of our lives. We are wired to think there is always something better out there and it is because of this "grass-is-greener-itis" that we always strive to make things better. It is nature's way of ensuring our success (and excess unfortunately).

Since landing in Zurich, I have been its defender. I have yet to meet anyone who is completely in love with the place and just like any place on Earth, it has its flaws. Part of the reason why I always come to Zurich's defense is I truly believe you are responsible for your experience in ANY place you live. In addition, if I gave merit to every complaint thrown Zurich's way, I may just start believing all the negative stuff myself and not enjoy my experience as much. Defending Zurich is my defense mechanism against Expat unhappiness and I happen to truly like the place.

So what are some complaints that people have about my new city? Here are a few along with my defense:

1. The weather blows: Are you talking about the "Foehn"? The pressure system that the Swiss named after the German word for hairdryer? Well if so, you are right...there is a giant hairdryer in the atmosphere that blows crappy weather into Zurich. It isn't Zurich's fault and that cloud we have been under for 4 weeks seems to be hovering over all of Europe.

2. The people don't smile: Well if you were constantly being blown by a giant hairdryer, would you smile? All kidding aside, I just conducted an experiment. I smiled and said hello to 5 strangers. All 5 said hello back and 4 of 5 smiled. Not a bad ratio. Let's be honest with ourselves. In our past lives, were we walking down our streets smiling like lunatics? No...if I smiled walking down a street by myself in Atlanta, the likelihood I would be swooped up and taken to the nearest methadone clinic was pretty high. So unless you invented the "glum chum-o-meter" and can actually measure smiles, give the Swiss a break on this one.

3. It is hard to integrate into Swiss society: Well, holy crap. The city of Zurich happens to agree with you. They have even gone so far as to start a campaign teaching us foreign folk how to integrate into Swiss society. There is even a department in Zurich dedicated to foreign integration called "Intergrationsfoerderung" and the new campaign they released almost reads like a 10 Commandments of clean Swiss living.

This particular poster is one example of many designed to get the message out to us foreigners. It happens to be quite benign and I actually like the message:

I am not sure what this necessarily has to do with integration though. Perhaps there is a perception that foreign people come here, live beyond their means and drain Swiss society. I suppose I can't really fault a campaign designed to combat this, if it is in fact a real threat.

Other messages include "Try other food besides Kabobs..." and "When you ask for something, ask politely" and "Don't fight with your fists, if you have an issue with someone, talk it out". These are all great snippets of wisdom but there is a catch...almost every poster is paired with a person from a different culture and each culture represents a stereotype. For instance, the poster with the "Try other food" message has a picture of a man of African descent. The poster containing the "Don't fight with fists" contains a picture of a man in a wife beater who appears to come from Eastern Europe.

For the first time since moving here, I can't defend Zurich. In my opinion, the city took the easy way out. On their own, the messages they are trying to get out are fine and actually have some merit. I am all for integration and it being the duty of the visitor to at the very least honor the new culture and place they are inhabiting. However pairing these messages with a stereotype is offensive and narrow-minded.

There are so many other pictures this campaign could have used. Instead of pairing the food poster with an African male, how about showing us this great Swiss food you want us to try? Instead of pairing the fighting poster with a Eastern European guy in a wife beater, how about showing two mouths talking to each other? All this does is serve as further proof that Zurich, and even the country of Switzerland, is afraid that us foreigners are going to irreversibly change their country. Switzerland may be known for being neutral, but is becoming increasingly evident to me that they are more afraid of change and willing to do whatever it takes to prevent it. I suppose that is their prerogative, but it sure doesn't make Zurich feel warm and cozy to the Expat.

Shame on you Zurich. I wish there was a corner for ill-behaving cities I could put you in, but alas one doesn't exist. If you want to see more on this campaign, visit (just don't ask me to translate): http://www.integration.zh.ch/internet/ji/integr/de/schaufenster.html

This post was written for AffordableCallingCards.net, a community linking Expats and soon to be Expats. In addition to being a great source of Expat information, they offer affordable calling cards, keeping you connected.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Smelling Cinque Terre

To say a place smells sorta puts you off, doesn't it? Well knock it off, Cinque Terre smells mostly good. The worst thing we smelled the whole trip was the present Dooley left us in our apartment one day...under our bed...a bed that had no where to move because it filled up the entire room...I had to get all "Tom Cruise-Mission Impossible" on that clean-up.

Cinque Terre is in the Mediterranean so of course it has that salty, sweet smell that comes along with an ocean location. I am a lake girl but nothing smells quite like ocean air:

There were flowers everywhere and they perfumed the streets:

Did you see the size of those lemons? Nice lemons! Excuse me, but can I squeeze your lemons?

These are all of the things you want to say when you first see them. Just be careful what company you are in when you say any of the above phrases. They could be taken the wrong way...you know, language barriers and all. The lemons were humongous in comparison to what we see in the stores and they left a subtle, fresh scent.

I don't have pictures of the smells that would waft through the streets. You can't really take a picture of "wafting", but there was waftage. I am talking fresh Foccacia bread waftage, garlic waftage and all sorts of other incredibly edible smells.

Now I am home, sitting at my computer with one of my dogs on my lap. My dogs are notorious sulfur producers. Let's just say Cinque Terre smelled a LOT better.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tasting Cinque Terre

I know my way around a kitchen and I enjoy a good glass of wine from time to time. If quality and fresh ingredients are important to you like they are to me, then Italy is a food and wine paradise. Living in Switzerland, I can get great in season produce for a decent price, but fresh seafood? Fo get a baht it.

Cinque Terre is not only known for seafood but also for its fresh fish, pesto (served over a special pasta called "Trofie") and Foccacia bread. I tried them all in abundance. I wish I could say "I couldn't get enough" but friends, while I like Italian food, I also like variety. By about day 4 of our 6 day stay, I started to seriously crave burgers (with bacon, cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, mayo, ketchup and a extra large side of fries...just so we are clear). I never crave burgers except on trips to Italy...we are talking "rotund Italian men started looking like giant burgers" craving.

The wine...oh the wine. Each restaurant had a house red or white which were not only reasonably priced, but also delish. In addition to all of the house wines we tried, the couple we rented our room from also owned the vineyard you see behind the Boy in the picture below. We tried two of their whites and one of their reds, and they were all incredible. The name of their company is Cheo Azienda Agricola, they do not have a website and produce about 14,000 bottles per year. If you are dying to try out their wine, I guess you will just have to go to Vernazza, rent the same room we did and buy a few bottles direct from the owners:

The Boy and I tried anchovies at almost every restaurant we visited. We did this because we couldn't believe we liked them so much but also to compare how each restaurant prepared these little lovelies. The anchovies served here are of the white variety and very mild in comparison to what you get in the States. I swear each one I placed in my mouth was caught within the past 24 hours. Just so you know, they are too little to be de-boned and you even eat its little tail and probably all its other little things:

So what you are about to see may frighten you, delight you or both:

Once you get past the suckers and the tentacle-y stuff, you are treated to the sweetest, most tender and fresh 8 legged creature ever. I have to admit, it always takes me a little while to get past eating octopus and if it is the least bit chewy, I want to heave...but this dude was smooth as buttah and sweeter than any lobster meat I have ever had.

One word: GELATO. I love the stuff. Don't ask me how it is different from ice cream but I think it contains eggs and ice cream does not. I had a pistachio gelato from the little shop located in the harbor of Vernazza. Folks, it was possibly the best thing I put in my mouth all vacation. If I have any advice for gelato consumption, it would be to go outside of your chocolate or vanilla comfort zone. Try some other varieties...you will be glad you took the risk.

So here is a little story about rules. I am not a food purist and I am definitely not an expert on how to eat Italian food. I just order it and stuff it in my mouth. On our last day, we shared a pasta dish served with scampi (langostines) and asparagus. There were 3 langostines on the plate which are basically tiny lobsters and produce tiny bits of deliciously sweet meat. We knew the seafood portion of our meal would fast be gone so we asked for some Parmesean cheese to give the remainder of our dish a little flavor. Our server proceeded to roll his eyes so violently that I half expected them to drop to the ground, only to be scarfed up by the stray cat that had been patrolling the restaurant that day. While I was fearing a cat would eat his rolled eyes, he proceeded to explain in harsh tones that pasta with seafood is NOT to be eaten with Parmesean cheese. We said we wanted it anyway, he shuffled off while muttering "Jesus H Christ...why is Rick Steves bringing us all these morons?? Why?"

Finally, a little note about service and tipping. Each restaurant charged us a cover charge. I know what you are thinking, we were eating at night clubs and didn't know it. While I do not know exactly what the cover charge is for, I know what we used it for...their tip. If a restaurant is going to charge us a fee to dine there, well then no tip-a-roo. The service was also equivalent to what we experience in Switzerland...there are no "let's all hug and facebook each other" after our meal moments like you get in the States. Service is just a different animal in Europe and we are OK with that, especially considering we tip accordingly (which is sometimes not at all).

We ate and drank our way through Cinque Terre. I have new dimples on my butt to prove it.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Seeing Cinque Terre

From its terraced vineyards to its terracotta stained buildings, Cinque Terre is a sight to behold. In addition to the natural beauty of the area, tradition runs thick. You can see the tradition when two local female residents are hanging out of their windows after 5pm chatting instead of using their cell phones. The colors are uniform and ancient in their presentation for a reason, you can't paint just any old color...it has to get approved. In other words, tradition is mandated but it is also embraced here and you can see it. There is no use in me jibber jabbering anymore. Shall we see some pictures?



Me, our deck and our view

Cinque Terriers

One of the many insane views captured while hiking

Standing on a castle...check. View in background...check. Squinty eyes...check.

It isn't Italy if you don't see a kitty in a basket


Monday, May 24, 2010

Five Lands, Five Senses

When you think of taking a trip somewhere, you typically think about what you are about to see. There are certain places however that are more than just their scenery as they can tickle all 5 of your senses. Africa was the first place I visited that did just that. But it didn't just tickle my senses, it punched them around like one of those unbelievably sculpted warriors in the movie 300 would a rag doll. Anyone know if their abs were real? Just wondering...

Last Saturday the Boy, Monsters and I trained from Zurich to Cinque Terre, Italy and discovered another place that is much more than just its scenery. Lying along the dramatic northeastern coast of Italy, Cinque Terre literally translated means "five lands" and is composed of 5 towns, each with their own unique character. They got their start as tiny fishing villages and later added grape and olive production to their repertoire giving Cinque Terre its famous terrace landscape. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a result of its rugged beauty and location along dramatic coastline in the Italian Riviera making it the tourist mecca it is today.

Once heralded a secret getaway for the European traveler, Cinque Terre is now a hot spot destination teeming with travelers from all over the world. This is in some part due to our favorite dorky travel writer and TV personality: Rick Steves. Rick is either loved or loathed depending on the local you ask. One particular restaurant owner showed me his well worn copy of "Rick Steves Italy" every time I bought a fricken chocolate filled croissant...which was often my hips are sad to say (and my hips don't lie). It took all my willpower to not say "Yeah...I get it, you made it in a freakishly tall travel writer's book...yay". Even though Cinque Terre's secrecy is gone, it maintains its authenticity as the locals are a proud people and believe in maintaining the many traditions of their tiny but steep world.

Over the course of the next 5 days, I am going to talk about this magical little place and how it impacted all 5 of my senses. Today you will just have to settle for a little introduction and eye candy to get you wanting for more.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Wine Goggles

The term Beer Goggles is pretty straight forward- the more beer you consume the better something or someone can look. Typically this phrase is used for human interaction within a setting where mass amounts of beer is consumed and very well be the number one reason for the "one night stand" and those awkward moments when you reintroduce yourself to someone only to find out you met them the night before...they just looked really different when washed down with a few Miller Lights.

Yesterday we met Art of Geneva and his friend Eva in Sierre (or Siders if you are Swiss German) which is a small town located in the French speaking canton of Valais. This region and Sierre specifically, is known for its wine production and tasting and imbibing. It is also quite beautiful, but perhaps I had wine goggles on? It is a stunning combination of old European cuteness, valleys, mountains, ridges and all that other good Swiss scenery stuff...only it is served with copious amounts of wine.

I wish wine goggles could do something about my Courtney Cox circa 1999 hair-do

I am no wine expert and the way I judge wine is "oh, that tasted really good" or "oh, that tasted like the backside of some nasty wooden barrel". We tasted a bunch of varieties including Syrah, Johannisberg, Fendant, Chardonnay and our favorite, the Pinot Blanc. While we have been told many times over that the Swiss reds are sort of crappy, we had a very nice Syrah yesterday to prove some of the Swiss Red Haters wrong.

I loved this particular Vineyard's (or Cave) organizational skills

If you like wine and you like beautiful scenery, then I encourage you to explore this area. Here are some snapshots from the day and maybe you can tell me if it is really beautiful, or if I just had on some wine goggles:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Staycation 2010

So if I were a volcano and no one could pronounce my name, I would probably get pissed off and spew hot stuff too. I have come far my friends - just two weeks ago I was cursing volcanoes and their stupid magma and their disregard for human travel plans with all of their "creating fertile soil and new earth crust" shtick. I am no longer cursing volcanoes rather my attention and wrath has turned to the constant onslaught of rain we have been experiencing over the past 5 days, which by the way has no end in sight.

We couldn't go to Atlanta but we could stay in Switzerland and have a "Staycation" (props to my dearest Paige, lovely girlfriend of my brother in law, for reminding me of this spectacular word). Our Staycation started off with an olive branch from Mother Nature:

What is better than a rainbow? Two rainbows...if you look closely or out of the corner of your eye, you will see a rainbow above the one that is visible. It looked far more glorious in person and reminded me of all things good in the world: Kermit the Frog, Lucky Charms cereal, fuzzy frolicking kittens and fluffy puppies chasing butterflies... On this day we also had a little retail therapy session at IKEA where we purchased outdoor furniture so we can enjoy these types of things sitting down.

Mother Nature was so excited that we were cool again that she made the rest of our Staycation sunny and almost T-shirt weather warm. The Boy had a bug in his butt to bike to the famous Swiss Benedictine Abbey "Klosters Einsiedeln". Founded in 835, Klosters Einsiedeln is home to a Black Madonna which is said to have miraculous powers and is rumored to have inspired America's most famous Madonna to write "Like a Virgin". In addition to the Black Madonna, the church portion of the abbey built in the early 1700's is one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Europe. If Baroque means "paint everything peach", well then it certainly was a fine example. I think someone's Grandma had a bit too much input on the interior paint colors. Here are a few pics from the day:

Why hello photo that looks like a painting...you're purdy

I like to call this fountain "Pissing Contest" or "Even God Urinates"

While all catacombs are spooky, the dead people in here weren't dead long enough which sort of took the "spook" out of "spooky".

We did witness one miracle, a group of highly trained EMT's rescuing a very life like dummy, complete with the most amazing wedgie:

As you can see, this poor dummy needed some serious buttock resuscitation.

The following day, I took the boy and the doggies to Lucerne. While I had already witnessed its cuteness first hand, the boy had not. If you were to line up all of the "cities" in Switzerland, I would have to say Lucerne is the prettiest I have seen thus far:

Um...camera angles do the funniest things. Look at the head on that Boy!

The Loewendenkmal was Pedro and Dooley's favorite part of Lucerne. It was a gift to the Swiss guards of France's Louis XVI. The lion you see behind me is in precisely the same position that Dooley is in for 21 hours a day.

We rounded out our week with a BBQ which was held on the warmest day of our Staycation. I think this picture sums up the time we had:

There is no shame in the Staycation game. We had a wonderful week at home, in Switzerland, together, while enjoying some really lovely weather.