A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: 1st Class

Post by Lauren

I wish this lesson for you hadn’t come with a 150 franc fine for us (equivalent of $200 USD) but unfortunately there is no such thing as a second chance or a warning in the minds of the Switzerland train patrol.

We have frequently ridden RER, regional trains, as it is the most direct way to get to and from the airport. Swiss trains are immaculate, perfect, and once they have had a good life riding along on the pristine swiss railways, it becomes their turn to be set free in the pasture. With the pasture being the airport and RER routes that are 15 minutes tops, and don’t require a world-class choo-choo.

You can ride these RER trains for the same price as a TPG ticket, so 3 CHF, or for us, free since we have an annual abonnement for public transport. From the airport, its literally free to encourage tourism.

What we didn’t know was that these little regional trains actually have a designation of first and second class. We went for the short line when boarding the train back from Russin, but mistakenly entered the first class cabin. No clue. No less than 30 seconds after the train started, we were approached. No biggie, we were all covered by our TPG passes. Not so much. They pointed out we were in first class.

“Oh, so sorry, we didn’t know. We’ll move,” we said.

“Trop tard,” said the stone-faced police man. This is “too late” in French.

“Really? We didn’t know these had classes, we’ll happily move there,” pointing at the 2nd class cabin, literally through a few yards, through the first set of doors.

He sternly asked for all our identification and issued us 4 tickets. By the time he finished issuing them all, we were at our very short destination of the main train station.

So, a very expensive lesson learned this weekend and a big buzz kill to the wine festival.

What do you think…..did we get what we deserved….or would you have given us a second chance?



Wine O Clock

Post by Lauren

Our favorite Geneva festivals are wine festivals.

Reason # 1. Swiss wine is pretty good. And, you’ll have to come visit us to experience it. In keeping with Swiss tradition, they only like to consume their own agricultural goods. This is based on knowing their own are of higher quality (like everything Swiss) and more historically, on WW2 and the refusal to be dependent on anyone else for food. So, by the time they drink their own supply, only 1% is left for export.

Reason # 2. Doing independent wine tasting on your own requires a lot of work. Wineries are only open 10-noon on Saturdays. I have learned customer service and pleasing the public is not on their list of to-dos. So, you’d have to be well-planned to visit more than 2 in one weekend due to the short opening hours. Plus, I am sure you have to be fluent in French for it not to be awkward to show up at someone’s farmhouse ready to taste.

Reason # 3. Past Success. You might remember our first weekend we attended Caves Ouvert , where we met A & A and also D. We were delighted to go 2 for 2 with the A’s for Geneva wine festivals. They hosted an awesome pre-game brunch to lay good groundwork for the day. Sadly, D was not with us but we carried her around on a popsicle stick all day for photo ops. 2 out of 5 (the guys) thought this was creepy. But, all the girls enjoyed the humor in it and we made sure D on a stick had a good time.

Things we learned for next year:

–Don’t show up at noon for the Russin Wine Festival. Things don’t get started until about 2pm-3pm. We wondered around a ghost town Russin until about then.

–Babies aren’t allowed to drink

–If you dress up in a Father Wine Suit, you are likely to have lots of pretty girls pose with you.

–The most important lesson comes tomorrow. Be sure to tune in.

In the meantime, for more facts on Swiss wine, check out Schwingen in Switzerland.

Suiting it up in Geneva

Post by Lauren

Barney Stinson would love Geneva. Obviously for the level of awesomeness, but really the fellows in Geneva really know how to “suit it up”.

I still find it amazing to see everyone in their perfectly pressed suits whizzing by on their mopeds to work, on their bikes, and motorcycles. Men and women.

If you walk down the downtown Geneva anytime between 9a and 11a, you are sure to have a 3:1 suit to normal wear ratio. It makes me feel super self conscious since I am normally found in my gym clothes at that time.

If you think I’m kidding, even the guys at Globo gym behind the reception desk wear suits. Seriously..the gym?

I learned recently that the word suit in French is costume. I find this particularly funny in Geneva.

Look!!! A big sale on costumes!!

For more Swiss fashion trends, check out A’s blog.

A day at the zoo

Post by Lauren

I am in a photography group in Geneva. Just like in French class, I’m easily the worst one. Gabe graciously lets me take his fancy camera out so I can look like I know what I am doing. But I don’t. I keep it on the automatic setting. I have no clue what to do otherwise*.

Our leader does a really good job at giving direction and inspiration. Each month we have a theme. This time, we had an outing to the Knie Circus, which is in town. We were during the day so only had access to the zoo part of the circus. At first, I was a little bored. But, with time, I discovered new things to look for based on the enthusiasm of the others. In the end, I wasn’t ready to leave. Here are a few images:

So, moral of story: I have never had so much fun at a circus or a zoo. I think my over-productive OCD personality might finally be wearing down a bit to actually enjoy an activity past a half hour. Kudos to this group and Geneva for finally making this happen.

*If you know how to use an SLR, I’ll trade you skills. Like art skills or making jewelry. Let me know!

Gratitude Friday: Peace and Healing

Post by Lauren

September is always a reflective time for me. As an American, the anniversary of 9/11 is always one that pulls at the emotional heartstrings and leaves one saddened and in awe of what was lost that day. The people that perished, families broken, and the mental effects on those who survived are always on my mind.

The news coverage of 9/11 and United 93 can be hard to watch as the date falls within three days of the anniversary of my father’s flight that crashed in 1994. So, needless to say, its not an easy month emotionally.

With that being said, this Friday, I wanted to give gratitude for peace and healing. Bad things happen in life. We aren’t promised that life is fair or easy. But, as humans we are blessed with the ability to heal both physically and emotionally. Time heals hearts. Gratitude, love and peace also have healing tendencies on our minds and bodies.

And so this week, I am thankful for these positive forces that we as humans are blessed with, these things that comfort us in bad times. It is part of what gives us comfort. Its part of what allows us to forgive and eventually heal.

Without that, we’d be lost. We’d stay angry and resentful of what is gone, instead of reflecting on gratitude and love for our experiences for what precious time we were given.

Bon weekend, everyone.

A page from the Swiss Rule Book: Personal Space

Post by Lauren

Today we are addressing the Swiss rule book on personal space. Or lack thereof.

My displeasure at this cultural difference has been brewing for months. It erupted most often prior to most recent events at IKEA. As you shop at European IKEAs, people brush beside you, even where there is plenty of room. By the time we get to the frames, I am usually really to kill somebody. Gabe knows I have a time limit at IKEA due to this issue and tries to get me out of there in under an hour. Sometimes we had to go only in for one thing as we knew that the time to decide on two items might push me over the hour limit, and thus over the edge of sanity.

This place makes me go bonkers

While noticeable throughout the summer, the invasion of personal space became a forgotten thing at the end of the summer. I spent a lot of time back in the US where everyone sticks to themselves.

And upon return to Europe, the number of people in Geneva has multiplied. Like rabbits. If you were wondering where they went, they were all on vacation. Trams, buses, places are generally more crowded. In a crowd, one might try to separate from others to not invade another’s area. Not true in Switzerland. Even in empty places, they try to snuggle up next to you.

Yesterday, I went to the gym at 6:45am. The bus is empty at that hour. People usually don’t get going until 9am. So, I happily found an empty row on the bus. There were about 10 empty rows. I even had room to put my gym bag / purse on the seat next to me. So guess what next lady to board does? Sit beside me. I had to move my bag to my lap. Really?

And this morning, Gabe and I went together to the gym at 6:30am. Empty. Blissful. You get your pick of equipment. I laid a mat down to do abs for 20 minutes before disco spin. And my keys to my locker that i have to keep up with the whole time. On the vast vast vast floor, a lady comes and lays her mat on top of my keys about 3 inches from me. I said “pardon” and reached under her mat to get my keys. And she gave me a nasty look. Really?

I am just waiting for what fun is in store for space invasion tomorrow. I am considering getting a bubble suit to protect myself.

Eating baby eels

Post by Lauren

One of the things we decided to do in Madrid was a fancy-schmancy multiple course dinner. Not like the kind where you are stuffed to the gills, but more like the Top Chef version where the presentation is so beautiful that you question when and where they ever serve that stuff in real life. And it was totally intriguing to Gabe & my curiousity, as well as Andreas was game to the new culinary experience.

Kudos to Isabella for doing the research and landing us an impossible table at Diverxo.

We sat down and had a piece of art as a centerpiece with Spanish words for “what we would experience”….. quite a conversation starter.

They don’t publish the menu at all, before or even upon arrival at the restaurant. You only get the selection of the seven, nine or eleven courses which are customized each evening and sometimes to each table. Our five-some decided upon the middle selection — nine courses. And, they are listed below, as dictated to Ferdinand’s blackberry at the end of the evening because photography wasn’t allowed. Please forgive our descriptions as we couldn’t remember the proper names. I am sure the chef would be offended if he knew we called elements of his creation “dipping sauce” and “breadcrumbs”.

Edamame served with Paraguayan pepper dipping sauce
Tea with flowers and stuff

Tiger mussel* with mousse and bread crumbs
Soup – baby eel** and baby fish in broth, fried eel skin

Smoked tuna belly with egg yolk wonton
Chicken stock wonton on a wheat disk with langoustine and mushroom in a broth
Mushroom “bun” wrapped in milk skin on tomato pad, with pulled jamon jerky
Variation of Peking duck: crispy pork skin with roe and black sesame brioche, then pork meatball lettuce wrap
Oxtail short-rib dumpling with foam & exotic mushrooms

Violet mousse with foam
Green tea chocolate mousse with passion fruit gel and chocolate shavings

Wine: Familia Martinez Bujanda Rioja

*Note, the tiger mussel was seafood. Not the muscle of a tiger which was our first thought.

**When they served the soup dish, they mentioned that it contained a special sea noodle that was made “in house”. We were told after that they wait to tell us the noodles are actually baby eels which are an extremely rare delicacy, as it turns some people off. They said some restaurants serve them living, swimming in the soup. We are glad they weren’t that kind of restaurant that served living baby eels. I am not sure I could have continued on eating the remaining courses after that out of fear.

The service was amazing…if you took a sip of wine or water, immediately the waiter or waitress quickly poured a replacement sip. I almost felt guilty for sipping, they were so attentive. They took care to explain each dish, in English, as it was brought out. The highlight was they also instructed us the best way to eat it….what to start with on the dish, how to pick it up, whether to eat it with one bite or two, etc. We all agreed on our gratitude for this explanation.

I have long been a fan of attending museums and galleries for appreciating fine works of art. The same goes for concerts and shows to witness the talents of musicians. This was definitely the closest feeling I have had to experiencing culinary arts. It was quite a way to behold the creativity of food selection, preparation & presentation and will not forget eating baby eels for quite some time.

Madrid Nights

Post by Lauren

There was lots to love about Madrid during the day, but what is the most memorable is the nightlife in this capital city of Spain.

Isabella had told us we’d be eating late….an early reservation was at 10pm. This intimidated me. But, once we arrived and started living like the Spanish, it all fell into place. Late dinner. Nightlife. Sleeping late. Explore a little. Eat. Siesta. Repeat.

Here are a few visual highlights of the evenings in Madrid:

Ferdinand’s colleague hooked us up with a penthouse reservation at this bar in Plaza Santa Ana. Amazing views. Delicious cocktails. And a great scene for celebrating Ferdinand’s birthday which happened to be the first night Gabe, Andreas and I arrived.

Nine course dinner at Diverxo lasted until well past midnight. More on this tomorrow!

Flamenco show – a traditional Spanish display of singers, musicians and dancing.

Evening tapas crawls – absolutely delicious and a great inspiration to make it late into the night!

I can’t think of a place I have ever been that is livelier than Madrid at night. A stark contrast from Geneva nightlife and a really fun long weekend. Again, lots of gratitude to Ferdinand and Isabella for giving us a great reason to visit and enjoy this amazing city to the west.

Madrid Days

Post by Lauren

This past weekend we met up with some great friends from Charlotte, Ferdinand and Isabella, as they were in Madrid for his work. Gabe and I (as well as Andreas who was visiting us) had never been to Spain before so we were pumped about meeting them in Madrid. A bonus was that Isabella had spent 3 summers in Spain, so she had a lot of insights into what would be the best to do in a long weekend, as well as she spoke fluently in Spanish. An amazing combo and I was lucky enough to travel in a few hours early to get some girl-time before the guys arrived.

In short, here is my summary about day-time in Madrid:

-It’s a beautiful city. We stayed near the old part of town so benefited from being surrounded by gorgeous fountains, perfectly landscaped gardens, pastel stucco buildings in classic Spanish style, and an elegant light that flooded the streets in the early evenings.

-It’s hot. Really hot. Gabe and I commented it was similar to our time in Greece when the sun was just relentless and scorching. We feel that it is just a different sun in this Mediterranean region than we are used to.

-Everyone siestas. This is really three-fold.
One, the nightlife is vibrant. Dinners don’t get started until 10 or so. On a light night, you get in at 12:30 or 1pm. On a average night, its 4 or 4:30am. Thus, naps are needed to recover from the night before and to prepare for the night coming.
Two, you eat amazingly, delicious Spanish food for lunch. You typically eat a lot and after a morning walking, your body gets full and tired and craves a bed.
Three, the sun, mentioned above. It’s almost uncomfortable in summer mid-afternoon. It’s really best to be under a shade tree or taking a siesta.

-World class museums. We visited Prado and Reina Sofia.

More to come on Madrid night-life and eating, but wanted to provide a description and a few visuals to paint the picture:





A page from the Swiss Rule Book: The Honor System

Post by Lauren

As you have probably noticed from our blog, the Swiss love to follow rules. Part of the reason I get yelled and honked at is that they assume everyone else wants to follow all the rules, perfectly, just like them. They aren’t trying to be mean, they just assume that others would want to know that we are doing something wrong so I could fix it. In their minds, they are “helping you out”. Sometimes, its okay, when I really do something wrong…I want to fix it. But when I am yelled at for crossing the street, with no cars coming for miles, just because the red man hasn’t turned to a green man, then that is when it annoys me.

But along the same lines, it’s this trait that shapes one of my favorite Swiss characteristics and that is their trust and honesty. It isn’t unusual for the Swiss to leave their doors unlocked, and even keys in the car on the street. Its that same assumption that no one would do anything wrong knowingly.

That is why Swiss bank accounts are numbered, without names in association. It’s each persons responsibility to report their taxes honestly. This is why there was such a big to-do when the US demanded Switzerland hand over the American’s bank account information who might be hiding money. To the Swiss, banking is private, and they believe their citizens will report honestly their bank information when it comes to tax time.

An example of this is the TPG, the transportation system. There are machines to buy tickets, but no one checks your tickets prior to boarding the bus or tram. Yet, they don’t seem to have any problem with this. I have seen two random checks in my 4 months here, and no one was in violation.

Another example is when paying for a paper. You aren’t required to put the coins in before taking a paper. You just drop them in a separate bucket. Its simple….just the honor system.

You never have to worry about someone short-changing you in Switzerland. It would be unheard of. Its a good thing, as my French numbers are still not up to par.

I find it refreshing that they have this must trust in others.