Archive for August, 2008

Aug 30 2008

Moved in!

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Ohmygoodness.

We moved ourselves (partially) into our new apartment in Renens today. This was not a simple process. Here it is, in the form of a list!

  • Step #0: last night, I attempted to do our laundry. Switzerland has a reputation things generally working. Trains run on time. The government regulates cocoa content in food products called chocolate. But this does not apply to washers and dryers. They were complicated and only labelled in German. After Googling laundry temperatures I was able to set the washer and it spun on its merry way. An hour later, I figured out which button opened the dryer and started it. 45 minutes after that, I figured out which button set the dryer to spin! This entire process only took 6 hours.
  • Step #1: leave our chalet, take some of our stuff by suitcase and backpack and travel by train to Renens. Modes of travel: walking (uphill), slow train out of Alps, fast train around Lake Geneva, bus, walking (up and down an underpass–they love those in our neighborhood)
  • Step #2: arrive in apartment, unpack backpack, head back to train to go to IKEA. Modes of travel: elevator, walking (up and down an underpass), train.
  • Step #3: wander into an IKEA competitor, Casa, with a disappointing selection. Wander out of Casa. Mode of travel: walking through a parking lot.
  • Step #4: trek across parking lots galore (maybe we should rent a car?) to IKEA. Modes of travel: lost in parking lots.
  • Step #5: Jackie and I have never been to IKEA. Our French is not perfect. As a result, we spend 35 minutes wandering through their showcase (“exposition”), overwhelmed by the model children’s bedrooms and fully stocked kitchens, unclear on where we can find things for our kitchen. Modes of travel: wandering.
  • Step #6: finally realize we’re in the wrong part of the store, go down a floor, and start picking out stuff. Lots of stuff. Silverware. Dishes. Towels. Sheets. Garbage cans. Knives. etc. This is particularly unfortunate because if we were in the United States we would be happy to use most of these second-hand. But we’re in Switzerland and we need a place to sleep and plates to eat off of–tonight. Mode of travel: slowly pushing cart loaded with goods while trying to avoid hitting adorable French-speaking children.
  • Step #7: leave IKEA, lug stuff home, rest for 10 minutes, forget to eat an apple (later, we realized we both had really had meant to eat one) and then immediately head back out to a grocery store. Grocery stores close at 6pm and are not open on Sundays. Tomorrow is Sunday. Thus, we needed to stock up (eating out is expensive and not so easy). Modes of travel: pushing cart across parking lots, train, bus, no underpass this time (went a different way!), walking, underpass.
  • Step #8: arrive at grocery store, begin shopping. Mode of travel: pushing a shopping cart.
  • Step #9: one fifth of the way through our shopping trip, a few minutes after 5pm, a store employee gets our attention with a “MonsieurMadame” (this is a very common appelation for us, for some reason) and informs us that the store is closed.
  • Step #10: foiled by an early closing time (Saturdays only, we hope) I head to the checkout while Jackie convinces the employee to let her get one more staple–olive oil–and is escorted to the aisle so she doesn’t sneak off and buy more things. Mode of travel: escorted by store employee.
  • Step #11: return home with enough food to cook a dinner, maybe. Decide to go out to eat instead.
  • Step #12: go to the Indian restaurant in town. That part wasn’t very hard. It was pretty tasty, but a bit pricey. Fortunately, local varieties of wine are very cheap here. Mode of travel: walking, uphill.

So we’re living in Renens, a suburb of Lausanne, 4 minutes by train and 15 minutes by bus to the center of Lausanne, and we’re hopefully going to be getting into pretty good shape. You can see our neighborhood from above. If you want our mailing address send one of us an e-mail (if you send us a postcard, we’ll send you one too!)

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Aug 28 2008

Bureacracy Day #1

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Today we headed back to Renens, VD, which is a 10 min bus ride from the center of Lausanne, in an attempt to sign a lease for an apartment we have been attempting to get since early July and take care of some other bureacracy.  We packed our letters saying we have a job and a scholarship and an admission to University of Geneva, as well as all the traveler’s checks we had.  We also brought tupperwares of food for Seth, since he can’t seem to find anything vegetarian and lactose free on the road, and of course, a couple ipods full of podcasts for the train.

The good news: we do have an apartment, and we can move in as early as tomorrow night.  I even have one set of the keys.  The apartment itself is really pretty and light inside, and the really nice previous tenants are selling us their almost-new Ikea furniture.  The so-so news: We aren’t thrilled with the neighborhood–it’s kind of urban and residential, but without the benefits of either (not a lot of people our age, not a lot of shops/restaurants, not a lot of trees, not super quiet, not very picturesque).  Also, we haven’t yet signed the lease because for some reason the realtor didn’t bring it.  She also didn’t bring the form for the security deposit.  We spent quite a while with the realtor discussing things, and hardly got anywhere.  It doesn’t help that she thinks that the reason we can’t understand each other is because we aren’t fluent in French rather than that we are talking past one another. But, the previous tenants, as I said, are super super nice and gave us all sorts of advice, helped translate, showed us everything, and even called for us to change the name on the internet, tv, phone, and electric accounts.  If you want our new address, send us an email.

After we dealt with that we went to try to get our residence permit because, as we’re quickly realizing, we can’t do ANYTHING without a residence permit.  We hadn’t thought to bring along any of the 36 ID photos we’d carefully had printed in the US, so we trekked to the Renens shopping center to get more, got terrible and expensive ones, and then went to city hall.  At city hall, we were informed that we couldn’t get a residence permit without our proof of a security deposit on the apartment.  Argh!  So we decided to try to find out about bank accounts, wondering how we were going to pay the security deposit if we couldn’t open an account without a residence permit.  We were praying it was the one thing for which we didn’t need a residence permit.  Fortunately, that was the case; they let us open accounts, hooray!  We decided on Credit Suisse without much research because we desperately need an account to pay the deposit and first month’s rent, and we need to leave a couple of days for money to be wired to us from our wonderful parents in the US.  Next week we’ll have debit cards and be able to access our accounts online, if the internet in our apartment actually continues to work.

We are hoping to move in partially on Saturday after we do some shopping, and then Mary is going to help us get the rest of our stuff from the chalet to the apartment midweek.

Other items of note today:

  • On our way out of the chalet, there was construction on the road, and we had to climb over a pile of dirt in our nice clothes/new shoes.
  • Speaking of shoes, I have new black shoes!  For those of you who heard my black shoe saga: they were pretty comfortable with thin socks and did not fall off my feet.  And I did A LOT of breaking them in today.
  • Underpasses are really common in Switzerland, it seems. And the one that goes under the railway tracks in Renens has a separate super narrow staircase with smooth ramps on each side so that parents can push strollers up or down it. Doesn’t do much for wheelchairs or people with other disabilities that make lots of stairs difficult to handle, though.
  • On our way back to the chalet, there was a really cute white dog (I think it was a bichon) who played fetch with a pinecone and me for about 5 minutes, until I had to walk away mid-game because I was worried if I stayed much longer, she’d think I was her new owner and follow me back to our chalet rather than staying in front of hers.

It was a stressful day.

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Aug 27 2008

Les Alpes in Color

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I’ve added our first Switzerland photos to my Flickr photostream. Now you can all see where Seth and I have been the last few days!  You can find my photostream whenever you want on the left sidebar.  Here are a few highlights:

Waiting for Rosti

Cow Circle

Canape Saumon Fume

Bike on the Telecabine

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Aug 26 2008

Jerusalem and the Hebrews on Continental

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We’ve been going a bit crazy working out our housing situation, but with things close to settled and no posts since the mammoth post from Day 1 (I know it was long, but there’s a video about slugs and poop you probably don’t want to miss), here’s one more story from the trip:

The audio programming on Continental Airlines features some interesting channels, including World Music (“Experience this musical journey around the globe”), B Tween (“Plug in for the hottest songs from all your slammin’ favorites. This month we drop Hannah Montana, the Cheetah Girls, Dora the Explorer, and more!”). There’s also Hindi Music, Japanese Favorites, and Chinese Pop. All of said stations claim to cover “top artists” or “the best” of ___.  I can’t judge these last few (though I believe the correct response to B Tween is OMG!sl@mmin’!) but I was particularly intrigued by the last channel they list: Shalom, “Tune in for this selection of Hebrew Music.”  Nothing about it being good, the best, the top, anything.  Just a “selection.” And, oh boy, what a selection. Thankfully for my ears, there was a list of songs so I didn’t even need to tune in to get the idea.  Let me provide you with some of the highlights, but believe you me, it was awfully hard to narrow it down.

  • “Ma Nishtana” (a Passover song meant for small children to sing at the seder table)
  • Debbie Friedman’s “Mi Shebeirach” (a prayer for healing)
  • “Lomir Zich Iberbeten” (this is Yiddish, NOT Hebrew)
  • “Ein Keloheinu” (a favorite closing song for Reform services)
  • “Desert Morning” (which is by an actual Israeli artist, but it sounds more like ambient middle-eastern music–in other words, nothing Hebrew about it)

Also baffling and hilarious were two songs called “Jerusalem.” The first is by Alpha Blondy & the Wailers and has Hebrew in it–checkout the lyrics. The second is by Sinead O’Connor (click to hear it on YouTube). If there is a repertoire of “Jerusalem” songs, where, might I ask, is Matisyahu on that list?  Nowhere to be found.

Ok Continental, I’m not sure what you think “Hebrew music” means exactly. Songs about Jews? Songs by Jews? Songs by Israelis?  Songs about parts of Israel?  I’m pretty sure “Hebrew” is a language, or, if you want to stretch it, an outmoded word for “Jew.”  And this selection of music is neither in Hebrew nor is it biblical. Though I would be very interested to hear music written by the Hebrews–know where I can find it???

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Aug 23 2008

Slugs, sheep, & mountain chalets

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We are in a chalet in Gryon! Jackie is eating a chocolate croissant. Posts won’t be this long in the future, we hope.

The flight went smoothly–a bit of a delay on takeoff, but otherwise, no problems. We watched the second Narnia movie. Seth fell asleep right before the climax and got way more sleep than Jackie but still not that much. We got right through customs, got all our bags, and met Mary (from the Swiss-Jewish-American family) at the airport. We were able to squeeze everything into the car (it was a cross between station wagon and minivan) with just enough room for another backpack or so (good thing we didn’t check another suitcase!).

Mary took us the long way up to the chalet, which was very beautiful although it’s cloudy and drizzly here today. Jackie got rather motion sick as we climbed the mountain. Things we learned from Mary on the car ride:

  • Despite passing the Nestle world headquarters on the way, Nestle chocolate chips (which are essential for baking chocolate chip cookies, apparently) are unavailable in Switzerland because they do not have a high enough chocolate content to be considered “chocolate”
  • Retired Olympic athletes can sometimes be spotted in Lausanne, exercising in the vicinity of the Olympic headquarters
  • Switzerland has world-class outdoor swimming pools
  • Lake Geneva is dirty–especially compared to the Great Lakes
  • Switzerland not only has a dense public transit network and shared bike and car programs, but it also has a dense network of footpaths (called Wanderweg), marked very clearly with where they head and how many hours it might take to walk to that destination.

We drove by the University of Lausanne, which employs a shepherd and a flock of sheep to do its lawn care. We also drove by EPFL, the school that Seth is going to be working at (looks a little industrial). No sheep though. Lawn care probably isn’t the right term–both campuses had trimmed meadows of sorts.

We stopped at a mall to get SIM cards. We are now on a Swisscom prepayed plan (which is really expensive for us to make short outgoing calls!) and that will have to do until we have our residence permits. Send us an e-mail for our phone numbers. And remember! You can always reach us on Skype.

That chalet is very nice. Not fancy, but very comfortable. And it has a dishwasher! Mary got a lot of food for us, and somehow even managed to provide us with soy yogurt which will be great for Seth. Switzerland is a duvet country, which inexplicably perplexes Jackie, who really likes sheets. (Note from Seth: She’s crazy.) We took a jet-lag induced nap (it was REALLY HARD to drag ourselves out of bed) at the chalet and then headed into town. Town included a bike rental place, a convenience story/grocery (we got some more lactose-free foods), an amazing boulangerie, and a tourist information center.

On the way back from town we passed dozens and dozens of slugs next to a series of upscale chalets. They were everywhere: on the sidewalk, perched on the terracing of the landscaping, and seemingly dried up on the foliage. We shot a video which is a bit juvenile–if you know some small children, watch it with them so they’ll think you’re cool. Careful though, it’s a bit gross.

In another video that may appear later, we argue about our current location. Jackie, who grew up in Philly and New Jersey, is no stranger to hills and mountains, and visited Switzerland at age 14, is of the opinion that we’re not currently in the Alps. Seth, who’s never been to Switzerland and first encountered (and was terrified by) mountains at age 14 is convinced that if we’re in mountains, they must be the Alps. Who’s right? We’re still not sure.

We cooked dinner. And ate it. Then we wrote this post. Off to bed!

P.S. Download Skype! …and don’t forget to actually sign onto it.

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Aug 22 2008

Airport anxiety

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We are waiting to board. We only checked 5 bags between us with none overweight. I’m nervous to leave and live abroad! Deep breaths… Here we go!

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