Munich, Germany

I had been to Munich airport many times, but had never been off the airport grounds.  I am glad Oktoberfest and the subsequent meet-up with our friends from The States gave us a reason to go to Munich and spend a weekend, because the city itself was really cool.

Munich is rich in history.  This city was the capital of Bavaria during early times, set the stage for Hilter’s campaign as the seat of the Nazi Movement, and was the site of the Olympic tragedy in 1972.   There are numerous museums and monuments.

The city is beautiful, and had everything you would expect from Germany – - Cleanliness. Order. Lovely architecture.   We explored Marienplatz the morning we were meeting our group for Oktoberfest.  Gabe and I got there early and climbed the Glockenspiel, the tower of town hall, Neuesrathaus.   The sun was a bit bright but we enjoyed the vantage point the Glockenspiel gave us of Munich.

Marienplatz – ground level view

View from the top of the Glockenspiel into the Neuesrathaus courtyard

View from the Glockenspiel, looking out towards St. Peter’s in Old Town

Sunday we also had an opportunity to explore more of Munich with Olga & Heidi, our friends from the States.   We  started in Marienplatz (where the U is in the below map) and walked around the perimeter of Munich centre city, walking to each of the gated walls.   We took our time, exploring the area, people watching, and noting plaques for churches and historical sites.

Image courtesy of Google Maps

Karlsplatz (one of the city gates) and the pedestrian shopping streets.  On the above map, it is to the far left.

And our little walking tour led us right to Hofbrauhaus! We knew it was a little touristy, but delighted in experiencing the renowned brewery.   We had a traditional German lunch and a round of Oktoberfest beers, happily singing along with the band which played in the upper ballroom where we were seated.

The Hofbrauhaus

Lunch at Hofbrauhaus.   Oktoberfest liters all around….except a Lauren-sized weissbeer for me.

Beyond being a city that really enjoyed a good time, probably my biggest takeaway was how green Munich was.   Parks seamlessly blended into urban life.   They weren’t necessarily perfectly manicured like a Paris, but they felt very natural and thus, softened the city.

Hofgarten, center city Munich

In fact, the city’s gem, The Englischer Garden ( English Garden ) , is the one of the world’s largest urban parks.  It is larger than Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London.    This park was actually the location of our hotel, as we had Hilton points.   This little waterfall was steps from our hotel:

English Garden

Finally, the public transportation in Munich is excellent.  They have a combination of bus, metro, and train options.  We took all three during our duration and got quite good at navigating around the city.

Olga & Heidi on the Bus

For tourists, you have the option of buying 5-person passes either for one ride or for the day.  It is a great way to save money.   If you are going to the airport though, take note that you need the pass that includes all zones.

Cheese Wars

This week, a big debate was settled.  It involves one of Switzerland’s most precious assets – cheese.  A US subsidiary of a Swiss cheese company was using the Swiss name Gruyeres on its cheese.    The Gruyeres region AOC was very upset as the US has very weak protection on designation of origin.

In Europe, its very common for wines to have AOC or DOC, ensuring that with this designation, the product you are buying comes from the original source.   Kind of like how champagne can’t come from anywhere but Champagne, France.  Everything else is just sparkling wine.

Gruyeres specifically comes from a special region in Switzerland.  They didn’t want to dilute that designation with cheese made in a similar fashion in a different area….like in this instance, the US.

I noticed today a tram advertisement for Le Gruyère that reads “Never forget where it comes from.”

Gruyeres Pride Tram

Take note – don’t mess around with Swiss cheese.

Related links:

SwissInfo.ch – Emmi surrenders Gruyere label in US

The Swiss Watch Blog – Famous Swiss Foods: Cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog – Gruyeres, Switzerland

We’ve Moved (To WordPress)

Post by Lauren

The Swiss Watch Blog has now moved to WordPress.   I have mixed feelings.   I know that moving to WordPress will give this blog a lot more search and categorization functionality.  However, it is a lot more work that iWeb, the old program we have been using.

Why did we switch?  Good question.  Apple is discontinuing their hosting service on MobileMe, where our blog used to live.  To boot, they have decided not to support the iWeb program any longer now that the magical iCloud has been introduced.   So, there was a chance that one day in June, our blog could go “poof” and disappear forever.

We were afraid our mothers would be horrified that they couldn’t check in on us everyday, so we attempted to save the blog.

I found a $50 app that converted all of the text and comments from iWeb.  I purchased it and we are officially online at WordPress.   However, I need to manually add the photos and captions back in.   Good thing that I am glued to my recliner recovering from foot surgery.  Otherwise, the task of updating 208 posts would be too daunting to bear.

So I ask this of my loyal readers…..through the next few weeks, please comment and let me know what you think of the new format.   Let me know if we should keep this thing up!!

 

Going to the foot doctor: Part Deux

Post by Lauren

One of my favorite stories to date about ex-pat life is trying to go to the doctor and actually going ending up at the pedicurist. I bet you are wondering what happened with that?

I did find and visited a surgeon who spoke English but later got some discouraging feedback so I wasn’t too thrilled about going under the knife with this guy.

I was referred to a holistic doctor in hopes that maybe we could try some orthopedic therapy to alleviate pain and possible prevent surgery.

I tried to go to her last Monday. It was the first day of the new TPG schedule (public transport system). Let’s just say it was catastrophic. This doctor operates out of her house in the middle of nowhere. The connecting bus I was supposed to ride into the countryside for 52 minutes showed up 35 minutes late. In the torrential rain. Once I knew I was going to be late, I called and left a message in broken French. As soon as I boarded the bus going to the middle of nowhere, she called back. And informed me I simply couldn’t come tardy…she had another patient. Great, I was already headed to nowhere. By the time I got back on the reverse bus ( that only runs once an hour ) and made my connection home, it had been 3 hours and 15 minutes. In the rain, for nothing. Let’s just say, it wasn’t a good day for me. I hate being late and also disappointing people. I also don’t like rain. It was a trifecta of bad. This is what it looked like*:

After receiving a scolding of a missed appointment and asking if I could actually show up this time, I made another appointment. I made it at 1:30pm so I was less likely to be delayed by rush hour or whatever TPG horror there was in store for me. I left a whole hour earlier to catch the early country bus out of fear of the TPG being screwy.

After my 75 minute journey on the bus, I hit the signal for stop. The bus driver didn’t hear it and dropped me off at the next stop. It was over a mile past my stop. Those who follow me on Facebook who that this has happened before. I had complained about back-tracking 15 minutes in the rain that time. But I didn’t know, it could get worse. This is what it looked like**:

It was curvy and there were no sidewalks. I almost got hit 3 times. Honked at five. An old man pulled over and told me in French to please get out of the snow and get inside his car. He looked harmless but I decided the snowy country roads were better.

By the time I walked 45 minutes backwards on the side of the road, I had soaked shoes, but made it by 1:30. Thank goodness. Couldn’t take a lecture this time.

She was really nice. She did a treatment but concluded that I need surgery based on how the arthritis has progressed. Good. I already had another surgeon appointment in 8 weeks. He supposedly is the best and it took me 3 months to get the appointment. Let’s hope so. I will plan for nothing short of entertaining.

*The sad Lauren photo isn’t really from the doctor appointment. It was taken at the Boston College game about 3 years ago after we lost and Ferdinand & Isabella made me rush the field with them at their alma mater. It’s the only picture I know where I have a frowny face.

**After the fact, I came home and looked up where I walked from. It was less than 1 km from the border of France. Good thing I didn’t go over…I didn’t have my passport on a routine doctor’s visit.

 

Swiss Minimum Wage

Post by Lauren

One of the interesting things about Swiss government is that any petition can be put to vote, through a referendum. You just need 50,000 signatures in 100 days for a Facultative referendum and 100,000 signatures for an Obligatory Referendum.

A petition table in Old Town Geneva



Before we left, there was a heated debate about a minimum salary in Switzerland.

Political advertisement for minimum wage change

The party who instituted the referendum was hoping for a minimum salary for full time employees of 4000 CHF / month which is about $60K USD a year.

Wow, that’s a lot for a minimum! Mental note – start seeking Swiss jobs more aggressively!

Equalized in USD but cost of living is not factored in. This would affect these #s quite a bit.


As it turns out, only 40% came out to vote and the referendum was not passed. They hope to revisit it next year.

Swiss Holidays: L’Escalade

Post by Lauren

This weekend was the annual L’Escalade celebration. In French, “escalade” means climb. In 1602, the Savoys (now France) wanted Geneva badly. It was its own republic and not to mention, a free town. The Duke of Savoy wanted to push out Protestantism and make it his capital. So, his army secretly gathered and tried to climb into the city gate with ladders. They were thwarted and Geneva kept its independence. Thus, the holiday’s name.

 

Geneva, back in the day. Courtesy of wikipedia - escalade-battle-2.jpg

 

I was originally told that there was a lady was up late at night cooking soup who heard the climbers and dumped her boiling pot of vegetable soup on their heads and their screams woke up the Genevois so they could defend their city. Apparently, this recount is false that she was the initial defender, but she did dump soup on one soldier’s head and killed him. And his screams woke up more people. She also was the mother of 16 children.

And to commemorate the brave Madame Royaume (the soup thrower lady) they have a marmites (chocolate cauldrons) into which they dip marzapan vegetables to symbolize her vegetable soup. How this correlation was made, I am not sure, but I do know that the confectioner’s on Rue de Marché are very grateful.

 

A typical chocolate display for L’Escalade. I can’t imagine what the big pot cost. Also below are marzipan vegetables.


Nevertheless, the Escalade celebrates Geneva’s victory and all weekend, people are gathered in Old Town, dressed in period attire. We went Saturday to explore.

Every half hour, there were demonstrations on musket firing, cannons, and battle scenes.

Just for L’escalade weekend, they open the Passage de Monetier, a secret passageway that was used during enemy attacks. It was very tight!! They served vin chaud, a hot spice wine that was very handy to keep warm. I don’t recommend having four cups if you want to have a productive Sunday.

Sunday, we went to the grande cortege, or parade. It was really cool and done in the dark so it is by candlelight, to mimic the time of evening of L’Escalade. There was lots of fire involved and thousands of Genevois in costume.

 

At the end, they do a huge bonfire in St. Peter’s Cathedral.

We enjoyed our first L’Escalade and are glad to live in this city so proud of their heritage!

 

An interview with ourselves

During our US travels, we got lots of inquiries about our first six months in Switzerland. So we figured we’d post the top ten questions & our answers in case we didn’t get to see you.

What is your favorite thing about Switzerland ?

We love being in the same city as one another. It was only 8 months ago that we were doing the long distance thing, so we are enjoying being with each other, avoiding Interstate 85 and not packing up on Sunday nights.

We really like Geneva. Its got great public transportation, fun summer activities and is in the middle of everything.

We also love our opportunity to travel during this time in our lives. We have a great location in order to explore Europe. We are trying to make the most of our time here by doing trips on the weekends. We have been to London, Madrid, Amsterdam, Florence, and lots of Southwestern France – Chamonix, Burgundy, Annecy, as well as ventured around our home country, Switzerland – Montreux, Gruyeres, and Interlacken.

What do you miss the most?

We both miss feeling like capable adults. In the US, there wasn’t much we couldn’t handle in terms of day-to-day life. Living in a foreign country feels like being a four year old sometimes….not able to talk properly, figure things out, or know how to function as an adult does. In fact, you can count on there being an uncomfortable situation every single day. Sometimes its not fun.

Oh, and we also miss Mexican. And pumpkin spiced lattes. And not being able to afford to buy anything but food.

Do you have any friends?

Yes, we are very lucky to have met lots of great people – both Americans and other nationalities. We enjoy learning about other cultures through our friends from around the world.

Do they have Christmas in Switzerland?

Christmas is a religious holiday of which Switzerland is 40% Protestant and 30% Catholic, so yes.

What season are you in?

We have the same four seasons as the US which occur at exactly the same time. It only gets flip flopped if you are south of the equator.

What time does it get dark there?

The same time as it does in the US. So, since it is winter, when it is 5pm our time, it gets dark. Except we are 6 hours ahead, so it is East Coast 11am.

Is it really cold there?

It’s not too bad. Geneva is one of the most mild cities in Switzerland. We haven’t seen any snow yet and the Fall / Winter has been pleasant.

What do they eat in Switzerland?

It is famous for chocolate and cheese. We eat dark chocolate every night. Fondue and raclette are cheese dishes that are really popular at restaurants but we only eat them when company comes because if we gain too much weight we won’t be able to afford new clothes. The restaurants are mainly French & Italian. There are a surprising number of pizza places because of proximity to Italy. The food in Geneva is not that spectacular compared to other cities we have visited in Europe.

What language do you speak there? Swiss?

Nope; there is no Swiss language. We speak French in Geneva. Other parts of Switzerland speak Swiss German, Italian or Romansch. It really depends on what country you border in your canton to what is the official language. Some have two. That would suck to live there.

If you have a kid while you are there, would it have Swiss citizenship?

We don’t plan on having children until we are back to the United States, but no, our child would not have Swiss citizenship. One parent has to be Swiss. They don’t give out citizenship here like candy bars here.

Feel free to ask more questions in the comments section. We’d be happy to answer them!