It started yesterday afternoon when 3 girls dressed as gangsters got on the train to Luzern.
Then, 5 minutes later, a separate group of about 15 men and women got on the train. There were athletes in track suits, nuns with glasses, an angel, and "old" women in leather and punk t-shirts. Out of curiosity, I walked behind them once we arrived in Luzern. Outside the station they joined about 20 others dressed in a similar fashion and were given a very warm and loud welcome.
Then, on the streets of old town Luzern, there was a giant pink bunny. Just one.
Not selling anything. Just walking.
Finally, as I was walking home about 2 hours later (having once again seen the gangsters, whose numbers had grown since the train), I passed a party of people on a side street, most of whom were dressed as furry animals. Not all, mind you, but the ones who weren't dressed up had props. One had a push-along doggy bike. Others just stuffed animals. They were having a great time and singing loudly to Sweet Caroline. Why I didn't stop to get a picture is a mystery to me.
To top it off, as I was waiting to cross the street a few blocks away, the man standing next to me started softly singing Sweet Caroline, having obviously experienced the same sight. I couldn't help but laugh. He did not seem to know English and definitely did not know the words, but hey, he sang it anyway.
It's that kind of song.
Oh and same day, while waiting for a bus in a tiny outside of Rotkreuz, I also saw a group of people hanging out with a camel.
Did I miss some kind of memo?
If you had asked me 10 years ago if I ever wanted to live in a city, I probably would have wrinkled my nose and said “no way.” I didn’t like cities much. I mean, they're great to visit for a day, but live there? No thanks. Too crowded, too noisy, and just not for me.
Well, people change.
Florence was my first taste of city living when I was 21, where I experienced the joys of walking everywhere and being around lots of people.
Then after college came DC, which I absolutely loved. If Switzerland hadn’t happened, I’d still be in Capitol Hill, playing skee ball on H St and visiting Eastern Market every weekend.
And when I first walked out of the Luzern train station this past October, I already loved it. That night, Liz joked that I should move to Luzern. I decided that it was a fantastic idea.
Fast forward 6 months, and here I am in Luzern! It’s been 2 months since I moved, and it was a fantastic decision. Luzern is a small city, about 1/10 the size of DC, but it is a great place to live. I lucked out in my apartment search, and I got one exactly where I wanted to be. I can walk to the train station in 5 minutes (4 if I’m really late), to the lake in 5 minutes, to Liz’s house in 5 minutes, and to the old town in about 6 minutes.
The lake is beautiful, especially on those bright, sunny days…
The old town has cobbled streets, outdoor dining, and painted buildings scattered throughout…
And on those rare occasions when I get the urge to go running, I love running up the hill to the old town wall, where there are few people and pretty views…
I live close to some friends I already have, and I’ve made some new friends through Meetups, pubs, and other people. We’ve gone dancing, taken over the karaoke stage, enjoyed rooftop views, and won pub quizzes (although sadly I didn’t contribute too much to the winning quiz).
There’s plenty to do, and I love my new apartment.
I haven’t yet made it to the transportation museum, or into the KKL, or on a boat tour. But the weather’s warming up, the sun’s coming out from behind the fog, and the slugs are (unfortunately) back.
Spring has finally arrived.
Unfortunately those haven't existed for me today.
I took an impromptu trip to Munich this weekend. It was great. I met new people, took part in a very German celebration in a bierhalle that involved lederhosen and dirndls (if only I had known I would have brought mine!), learned some Bavarian German (different than both regular and Swiss German!), and overall just had a really great time!
My train left Munich at 2:30 this afternoon, and I was scheduled to get back at 7:50, in just enough time for the weekly pub quiz.
It's now midnight, and I'm still on a stupid train.
From Ulm, my first stopover, it should have been 2 hours to Schaffhausen, in Switzerland, and then not far to Zurich and then to Luzern. However, 2 hours after leaving Ulm, I found myself not in Schaffhausen, but right back in Ulm where I started.
It was infuriating.
I was bewildered, and wondered if I was just a complete idiot. But I knew I got on the right train, so really I was just bewildered.
Turns out that the "mountain had fallen" on part of path between Ulm and Schaffhausen, and the train couldn't pass, so it turned around and went back. If there was an announcement, my engrossing book and lack of German skills would explain why I didn't get any of that.
My new itinerary had me sprinting to the train and adding 4 stopovers and 5 hours to my trip. Then at the next stop I had to move cars because they were leaving the one I was in at the station. That would have been quite a surprise to watch the train move away without me. Then, of course, the next train was delayed for an hour, making me miss my other connections.
Have you ever felt like the world is having a laugh at your expense?
So here I sit, nearly 10 hours later, still on a train.
It brought to mind stories of being stranded overnight in a tiny Italian town with no train, no taxi, and no hotel, but that's another story.
Living in Switzerland can sometimes be like living in a bubble. But as much as I enjoy embracing the unexpected when I'm traveling to other places, I'm quite content to return to the predictable, reliable trains of such an organized country. 5 minutes to Luzern :)
I was living in Charlottesville, VA, in my third year of college. My oldest sister had just had her first baby and I was a doting aunt completely in love with my niece (well, that part hasn't changed). My other sister was living in Kenya, engaged to be married in just a few months. I had just cleared out my things from my college room to store them at my parents' house and said goodbye to roommates Katie, Kathryn, and Katie.
I was 20. And I was terrified.
I was facing four months living in a new country, with new people, a new language, new customs, new experiences, and no idea what to expect.
And it was fantastic.
Ah Florence (and Siena as well). I studied the Italian language and the Italian mafia, and we took field trips to Leonardo da Vinci's home town. I lived in a piazza and learned to appreciate wine, coffee, spinach, and mushrooms. It's an experience that I am so thankful to have had.
By the end of four months I was homesick and ready to return, yes.
But oh the memories. Let's travel back to 2007 for a minute...
Six years later I finally returned. Travel buddy Liz endured (and endured well, I might add) a day full of
"Oh hey I went there!" and "Oh! I remember that!" and "Oh look! It's that place I went one time!"
We went to my old apartment above the Ristorante Celetino, where my roommates and I had made friends with Nick the waiter man.
As I was taking this picture a waiter came out of the restaurant (not Nick, unfortunately) and told me that his friend lived in the apartment I was pointing at and taking a picture of. I felt like a bit of a creeper after that.
We had lunch at Gusta Panino, now called Gusta Osteria and expanded to have a Gusta Pizza down the street. I used to go here for lunch a lot because they wouldn't serve me unless I ordered it in Italian. They knew I was learning.
They no longer serve paninis over the counter inside the door but their risotto is good. And they're in a fantastic spot for people-watching.
Finally, we attempted to have a drink at Friends' pub where, besides the apartment, I have the most memories from Florence. We spent countless hours drinking coffee and using their wifi (the only free internet besides the terrible computer lab at school), making new friends, and celebrating birthdays.
Sadly, it was closed.
I'm still bummed. The sign is still up, so maybe it's just temporarily closed?? I can only hope.
Ah Florence. Six years later, still fantastic.
We shopped, we ate, we people-watched, we ate. We had a great time!
Now we did have a slight mishap (or 2 or 3) with the train ride back.
We left Florence around 8 PM. It should have taken us about 2.5-3 hours to get back.
We arrived back at our hotel at 5:45 in the morning.
But that is another story.
I just spent 7 days immersed in many of my favorite things...
narrow cobbled streets with steep staircases at odd angles
brightly colored buildings
For six years I have looked forward to returning to this wonderful place. The four months I spent in Florence and Siena during college made a lasting impact to the point where all you have to do is say Italy and I smile, thinking of the Tuscan countryside, the streets and churches of Florence, Friends pub,
cooking class, my apartment right by the Ponte Vecchio, the gelato...
Ah but I digress.
Last Tuesday Liz and I packed our bags and hopped on the train in Luzern, my new home :)
Six hours later we arrived in the teeny tiny town of Corniglia, smack in the middle of Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre is an area on the Mediterranean coast of Italy, five small (really small) towns connected by trains and hiking trails.
We stayed in a room rented to us by Stefano, easily one of the friendliest people I have ever met. He stayed there talking to us for at least a half hour after giving us our keys, telling us about Cinque Terre and who knows what else.
It rained every other day. Which means that on the sunny, beautiful days, we were either hiking or walking around the towns. The rainy days were spent sleeping, reading, or drinking coffee and wine
(and eating. Definitely eating).
Liz also made it to the town of Riomaggiore (she went to all five towns!) but alas, I slept through that day.
We also spent a day in Florence!
Certain things have new meaning when in Italy. Pasta, for instance. I don't know how they do it, but something so simple just tastes so much better in Italy than anywhere else.
But I ramble.
There will be numerous Italy posts over the next few days.
I'm realizing that, while I love Switzerland, Italy...well it's just special.
Maybe it's the memories. Maybe it's the language.
Or maybe I just really like the food.
Whatever it is, don't be surprised if I announce in the near future that I'm leaving Switzerland to go live the Italian life.
It seems obvious, I know. People make life awesome.
There are benefits to solitude. I love my coffee mornings when it's just me and a book. I love being down by the lake on my own, or taking long drives by myself. And I love having my morning train rides.
But people can make a good time into an even better time. Having someone to share an experience with, whether it's an old friend (I met my first friend 25 years ago, and I've known many of my good friends for nearly a decade now!) or a brand new one, is often far more fun than having it alone. Plus, then you can relive it over and over again.
People are also what can make moving across the world so difficult. Leaving those you love is hard.
But meeting new people is so enriching and so much fun.
So here's to all the people in my life.
Whether you've been there for 27 years or a single day, I'm thankful for you.
My job is technology. I spend every day doing a combination of research, problem solving, teaching, sharing, and presenting, all related to technology and education. And I love it. I get to work with 350 kids ages 3-10 (I’m at maybe 150 or so on the whole remembering names thing, which I think is pretty decent) and dozens of adults. Most days I have at least one nerd moment when I get really giddy about some cool thing that teachers can do with kids or that I can use on my phone or iPad. The potential of technology is incredible, and it’s awe-inspiring to look back just a few years to see how far and how fast things have moved.
But I must admit that sometimes, it’s just all a bit too much. Most people know (some better than others), that I can be difficult to get in touch with at times. It might take awhile to respond to a text. I might miss your call because my phone is on silent or in the other room. It might take months to finish a single game of Words With Friends. It’s nothing personal, I promise. I just sometimes overload on technology, especially now that I spend my work days with computers and iPads, and there are days when I want to throw my phone and computer against the wall or hide them in a box and go back to the days when leaving the house meant leaving your phone behind and experiencing only what's in front of you.
But despite all of that, I wouldn’t want to go back to a time without my iPhone. You can learn anything, research anything, photograph anything, and talk to anyone. I’m not sure that I could live so far away from friends and family if Skype didn’t exist. The world seems much smaller than it used to. I can talk to Thailand like it's next door, or play a game with my cousin from thousands of miles away, or wish my niece a happy 1st birthday even when I can't be there. I can now say that I have friends or family on every inhabited continent in the world, which would’ve been difficult a few generations ago.
Recently, I’ve started watching a lot of TED videos. They are really fascinating, cover sundry topics, and are free to watch! Some are 3 minutes long, some are 20.
Some of my favorites so far are...
The Shared Experience of Absurdity
Charlie Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere, who pulls public pranks such as the Pantless Subway Ride
Before I Die I Want To...
Candy Chang, an artist who set up a giant public chalkboard asking people to respond to the prompt
"Before I die I want to..."
What Adults Can Learn From Kids
Adora Svitak, a child prodigy explaining why adults should be more like kids
Half A Million Secrets
Frank Warren, the founder of the Post Secret blog
An Animated Tour of the Invisible
John Lloyd, talking about all things invisible
It’s really hard to pick just a few favorites. Some are inspiring, some are challenging, and some are just flat-out funny. I love that unique ideas can be shared so easily and so widely.
On my way to Uganda a few weeks ago to visit my sister, I watched one that inspired a project. You can watch it here if you want to see the whole thing (which I recommend).
Basically, Cesar Kuriyama decided to document his life in one-second video clips strung together as a movie. He’s rarely in the clips because it’s meant to be a record of what you see and experience, and every day he chooses just one second to remember the day.
I thought this idea was brilliant. I’ve always loved the power of photos and videos and I’ve run out of space on iPhoto because I take so many. Even though I might have clear memories of, say, hosting Snowlympics with awesome friends and neighbors during the blizzard a few years ago, watching the videos we took makes it that much better.
So I decided to start my own project. I started with one second clips, but quickly decided that I like two second clips better. It’s surprising how many memories a short video clip can evoke, especially as time goes on.
It’s been exactly one month now, and I absolutely love it! It takes seconds per day to add to the video, and I now have about a minute. Some clips are more exciting than others, but hey, that’s life. By the end of 2013 I will have nearly 11 minutes of video. Personal histories, at least mine, can sometimes blend together. This way I can remember exactly what Nathan’s laugh sounded like at one year old, or that time I went dancing with a friend and 40 strangers, or how much I loved riding the train to work in the mornings past the mountains and lakes. I'm getting better at remembering to take my two seconds per day, although there's been a day or two that I've forgotten. My friends also know about my project, and they point out moments that might be a good two seconds for the day.
I love watching my video. Even the "boring" clips on those days when all I do is work and go home. It's a good reminder that even on those days, there are little things that happen.
The simple things, if you will, that can make any day a better day.
I get asked that a lot.
I've been in Switzerland for 7 months now, but I must admit that I haven't started German classes yet. However, I've realized lately that I know more than I think I do. Granted, often my response is still a blank stare, but I'm beginning to understand quite a bit more of what people are saying to me.
A lot of what I've absorbed has been from the process of finding a new apartment.
Yup, I'm moving again.
You would think that I enjoy nothing more than packing and unpacking my things and carrying them up and down stairs. In 4 years I will have moved my things 5 times. I've visited between 20-30 apartments and looked at countless floor plans (I do love floor plans). This one only lasted 7 months.
It's a nice place, but the first time I stepped out of the train station in Luzern, back in late September, I knew that's where I wanted to be.
The process of moving in Switzerland is very strange. In my past apartment searches, the hardest part has been finding a place I like with a price I can afford that has an available apartment.
Not here. When I first mentioned the idea at work, I had no less than 5 people try to talk me out of it. They told me how time consuming it would be, how expensive it would be, how picky the Swiss are. And indeed, it has been an intense experience. Especially since all apartment ads are in German, all applications are in German, I wrote a cover letter that had to be in German, I had to make phone calls and visit apartments where the tenants only spoke German...you get the point. I had some wonderful people from work helping me out (thanks again!), but a lot of times I just had to suck it up and do it myself. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but I'm certainly glad that it's almost over. Only one piece is still unfinished (besides the physical moving part). I am required to find a tenant to take over my lease, so I've been holding visitations over the last few weeks.
Many of the people who have come by (there have been about 20 or so) only speak German. And they will talk to you and ask questions anyway. It's slightly uncomfortable, but you come out alive and most likely having learned something. And I've discovered, to my delight, that I understood most of what they said. Granted, I can't express myself back to them very well, but I've also learned how to effectively use gestures to get my point across :)
So after nearly 5 months, moving day has finally arrived.
Luzern is quite a bit farther from work than my current apartment. One of the nicest things about where I live now is that it only takes me about 10 minutes to get to work, which includes the 5 minutes it takes to walk to the bus stop. Luzern will be at least 45 minutes by train and bus.
If you know me at all, and especially if you've ever been a roommate of mine, you know that I tend to have a slight problem with mornings. Particularly the getting out of bed on time part.
I actually love mornings. I love the peace of mornings and having time for coffee, breakfast and a book before leaving for work. It's just that my warm, comfy bed usually wins out, leaving me rushing around like mad just trying to make it out of the house on time. This has been complicated even more this year by the need to rely on public transportation.
And trust me, the buses don't wait for you, even if you're running. It's a terrible feeling to watch the bus drive away without you.
So most people think I'm nuts when I say that I am looking forward to my morning commute.
Yes, I realize this means that I have to get up earlier.
But it also means that I've been given the gift of time.
(5 points and a virtual high five if you know the reference!)
I'm very much looking forward to coffee, a book, and a train ride in the mornings. Not to mention the culture of Luzern, the wine bar on the corner, the city atmosphere, meeting new people...
Shortly before I left for Switzerland last July, my sister Valerie and her family moved to Uganda. Needless to say, it was a crazy, crazy time for our family. Although Valerie had lived abroad before, the whole family had been in the US for the past few years.
I was used to seeing my family every few weeks when I was back home. Parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, and 5 amazing nieces and nephews. We all lived close by, and my sisters and I would frequently meet up at my parents' house over a weekend, or occasionally even just for dinner. Seeing my family so often was one of the very best things about living in DC, and is certainly one of the hardest things about living here.
While I was able to visit with my parents and my sister Allison over Christmas, I hadn't seen Valerie in 7 months. So with my February break coming up, I hopped on a flight to Kampala for a visit!
I fell asleep as soon as I sat down on the plane, having gotten up at 4:30 to get there. I woke up an hour later to find that we were still on the ground in Zurich. Grr. Arriving in Brussels, I rushed to the gate only to find out that the flight had been delayed for 5 hours. Grr. Although perturbed (this now had me arriving in Entebbe at 4 AM, precisely what I had spent so much time trying to avoid), it also gave me the opportunity to take the train into Brussels and see a bit of the city.
What do you do when you're stuck in Belgium for 5 hours?
Buy chocolate and eat waffles, of course!
At about 7 AM, I finally arrived at my sister's house and started a fantastic visit!
Since I last saw them, Natalie celebrated her 4th birthday, started preschool, and she is learning her letters and numbers.
Nathan celebrated his 1st birthday shortly after learning how to walk. Now he won't sit still!
I had such a blast playing with the kids and catching up with my sister and my brother-in-law. In addition to two kids, they also have an attack dog who couldn't quite decide whether she'd rather let me pet her or attack me, as well as an insane cat whose name is constantly changing. She used to attack suddenly and without reason (read Val's blog for more info), but now she's pretty calm most of the time. However, she does love to play with her food, including giant cockroaches she's caught.
We wanted to capture it on video.
This was taken immediately after Val said, "No Kelly, you take the video. I'll scream if I do it."
That thing was huge, ugly, and REALLY fast.
I also didn't know that I was capable of making that sound.
I ate a lot of great food and drank a lot of tea. And I enjoyed a brief respite from the cold Swiss snowiness. I must say, though, as nice as it was to be warm, I'd have a tough time living in a hot climate year-round. I like my seasons.
Now if only I could learn how to sleep on overnight flights.
Life gets busy, especially while preparing for a three-week trip home for Christmas. That's my excuse, anyway, for slacking off on this whole blogging thing. So here's a recap of some of the fun that happens in Switzerland during the Christmas season...
Snow started coming down in early December, and it kept on coming. Because they're used to that kind of thing here, roads and train tracks were constantly being cleared, so there were no days off of school.
However, I found that snow is much more enjoyable (even without the time off) when I do not have a car. No snow to clear off, no icy roads to worry about, and no cold car to sit in as it verrry slowly warms up. Just a walk to the bus as normal.
And since there is very little wind, the snow came down slowly and it stayed put. It stayed on tree branches, on rooftops, and even on fences. The constant snowing refreshed the old snow, so it stayed pristine and white. Unfortunately it was also slippery due to a lack of proper snow boots, but it was beautiful!
Talk about a winter wonderland. For some strange reason I find myself with very few pictures, but I assure you it was gorgeous!
In the town of Küssnacht, Samichlaus visits in a parade on December 5. We met him (he looks like a bishop Santa) on our way in, and my friend even got a picture with him. We got some food and some glühwein and then stood with hundreds of others waiting for the parade to begin. Somehow we ended up in the font row with a great view. I thought this was great...until the men with whips came out.
The whips made loud cracking sounds, and they orchestrated it so that rhythms were created. However, with no physical barrier between us and them and nowhere to back up, the whips came terrifyingly close. At one point I even saw a woman's jacket hit by one. She, however, wasn't fazed. Although I kept thinking that I was going to be hit, the effect was really cool.
After a while of this, at the sound of the last whip, all of the street lights went out simultaneously. We were herded off to the side in the darkness in order to make way for the parade, and we ended up still being right in front. Leading the parade were more whippers, heralding the arrival of Samichlaus (these were actually more worrisome than the others because now it was dark and we could only hear the whips, not see them. The whippers couldn't see anything either. However, happily we all left unscathed).
Then came a procession of men and boys in white robes, each with a huge, lighted bishop's hat on his head. These were made from cardboard and intricately designed. Then colored, transparent paper was put on the inside and it was lit from within with candles. It gave it a incredible stained-glass look. They were gorgeous and ranged from about 2-5 feet high. They paraded and danced past, and I was pleasantly surprised that no one fell over.
This is, unfortunately, when my camera died.
Next came Samichlaus, accompanied by his Schmutzlis, men dressed in hooded robes whose purpose I don't really know.
The next part explained quite well why a coworker suggested that we wear earplugs.
Hundreds (they just kept coming) of men, each carrying a huge cowbell that bounced against their knees in unison as they walked by. Loud is an understatement. After them came about 200 more men, this time blowing cow horns, also in unison. Traditionally, all of the noise was meant to banish darkness and evil.
By the time we left, my ears were ringing and my toes were numb, but it was well worth it!
Conclusion: Christmas season is Switzerland is fantastic.
Next up comes snowboarding season!
Kelly is an American teacher living in Switzerland and enjoying everything the country has to offer.