Gratitute Friday: Painting en plein air

Post by Lauren

It’s been a great week…..I got to paint 3 times outdoors in the last 8 or so days. I am very thankful for the burst of beautiful weather before we head into winter here in Switzerland.

The first time, I painted on the right bank, and had a glorious view of Mt. Blanc. You have to look really hard at the above photo, but you can see the snowy white mountain range almost disguised by the clouds. Here was the result:

The second time, I did the left bank in the financial district. This little guy kept hanging out after I shared a part of my baguette.

The third time A met me. It was the best time for three reasons. One, I had company. Two, she brought wine. Three, some Americans tried to buy her painting on the spot. An interesting time!

Bon weekend, everyone!


Adoring French Villages

Post by Lauren

I have really grown an appreciation for small French villages. The handful of little towns we have visited within driving distance of Geneva are really adorable. We had another lovely experience during our time in Burgundy, checking out a few of the villages in the region.

Beaune & Nuits-St-Georges:

Chalon-sur-Saône, where we stopped an hour or two on the way back to Geneva for market day & exploring the town:

Adventures in Bourgogne Wine

Post by Lauren

This weekend, we traveled with S & S to Bourgogne (Burgundy) wine country. It’s only about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Geneva. Not bad. Below you can see the portion of France that is designated to be Burgundy. I make this designation of what is truly Burgundy because they certainly make sure to educate you that their wines are the most special viticulture region of France, above Champagne and Bordeaux. We had an excellent guide, Jean Michel, who used to be the director of the travel board of Burgundy. In this role, he traveled all over the world educating on Burgundy wines. And after a day with him, we all felt a bit smarter on wine.

Takeaway #1 – Burgundy wines are special because of the geology. The Cote d’Or used to be an actual coast many years ago. When the Alps formed, it rifted the layers of limestone, thus creating different steps of limestone based soil. It was the Cistercian monks In the 11th Century who actually discovered that the different plots produced different tasting wines. It is because of this that they have the four designations today: regional, village level, village premier cru and village grand cru. They can be literally intermingled.

Notice the gradients in the limestone in the top picture and how the different soils make different color leaves, resulting in a "patchwork" effect.

This land is only a cool 6 million for 2.3 acres. What a deal! But this price and scarcity of sale prevents people from buying large plots at once. It isn’t unusually for an owner to only have 3-4 rows of vines in one place, and then own another few rows elsewhere. This also keeps production small and focused on quality.

Why were monks making wine, you might ask? Well in this day and age, they dedicated one-third of their time to prayer, one-third to education/study, and one-third to labor. Their labor was on the land they were given, the vineyards, and they used their production for gifts and for trade.

Scenes from the monastery, Clos de Vougeot
The monks worked here during the week and marched home on Sundays.

Takeaway # 2 – Europeans really believe in the terroir methodology. We heard yet again how Californian wine has a bigger nose, meant to wow, with this mentality being the American style. Jean Michel taught us that Burgundies have a lighter first nose, but then their tastes exceed expectations. You may remember in Italy I learned a lot about Old World vs. New World production. It’s a constant theme here.

At our cellar tasting, Jean Michel taught us that wine tasting was an “intellectual process”.

Takeaway # 3 – Wines are meant to be shared. We talked about the art of selecting a bottle throughout the day, being equally as difficult a skill as tasting. Jean Michel told us that his cellars were never locked for his children, but they were taught that if they took a bottle, they must ensure that the person they shared with appreciated the quality. In the cellars at Gevrey Chambertin, there were bottles from 1934. He told us they were literally “priceless”. I’d strongly encourage anyone traveling through France to make a stop in Burgundy. An incredible place.

Gratitude Friday: Having a Place

Post by Lauren

This Friday, I am grateful for having a home, and the fact that I have never had to worry about having a place to sleep. I would include a “warm place to sleep” in this designation, but we don’t actually have that guaranteed anymore in our current apartment since our heat hasn’t been fully turned on yet by the regie 🙂

Kidding aside, I used to volunteer frequently at The Samaritan House back in Charlotte, cooking meals for and playing games with the guests. The organization was for homeless who were recovering from a hospital stay or had a serious medical condition. Traditional shelters, while good, were not an adequate place for this type of individual needing rest and recuperation. Samaritan House allowed them to live in a family-like setting for up to a month and also provided assistance for housing & jobs upon recovery.

In acclimation training, when I mentioned this and my intention on seeking similar opportunities in Geneva, our trainer commented, “good luck with that”.

When I first arrived, I did find it difficult to find places to give back. Most what I consider “real” volunteer opportunities have the pre-requisite of speaking decent French. I can’t check that box yet. Did you read Wednesday’s post?

The women’s club always has a need for people, and I have been helping with welcoming people and doing pro-bono marketing and PR. It’s a great organization. But, as a sole outlet, it lacked what I got out of my time at Samaritan House.

I phrase this exactly this way because without question, I get more out of volunteering with those in need, exceedingly more than the time or money that I put into it. It provides a paradigm shift for what problems actually are. When you see those give such gratitude for simple gestures like a meal or a conversation, it makes you realize how joyful you need to be with your own situation. I don’t know about you, but I need a healthy dose of that often.

I was so delighted when a friend at the women’s club mentioned her church cooks and serves lunches for a women’s shelter here in Geneva, Café Care. I had my first visit this week and am so grateful for the timing of the experience. I won’t go into the details, but sometimes life in a foreign country can get you down, and it was one of those weeks.

Café Care

We served the lunch, so sat down a few minutes after everyone had started eating, finding spots amongst the twenty women attending that day. As I unfolded my napkin, the girl in front of me looked up and said to me with kind eyes, “bon appétit, madame”.

Just what I needed.

Bon week-end everyone!

A page from the Swiss Rule Book: The Draft

Post by Lauren

People here are wicked afraid of drafts. Not like the military. They don’t mind that and every Swiss man serves each year, and keeps a gun in his home to protect the motherland. What I am talking about is the kind from wind.

Just as a preface to my story, in case you haven’t noticed from earlier posts, air conditioning doesn’t exist here.

I noticed this extreme fear of the draft when my French tutor, on a sweltering day, refused to sit in the cross winds of the dining room, where I had ingeniously created a nice flow of air from kitchen to living room. “Pas dans le vent!” she exclaimed. She made me close one of the doors.

I was confused by it.

The next instance was at the women’s club when again, a sweltering day, and 60 of us were jammed in the lovely clubrooms for a luncheon. Could we open the windows? Let a little air in? Nope.

Sitting next to friend, M, I commented they must love being hot.

She told me she’d read something about the fear of draft and loaned me her book.

Here is an excerpt.


Courtesy of Culture Smart: Switzerland

Maybe I should follow suit. They have the longest life span of any people.

Aside from superstition about germs, the one dislike I have of the draft is the noise it can make when it will randomly slam a window or door. It truly is the worst sound I know since it is always unexpected. Gabe knows if he is the culprit of leaving a door open without a prop and it slams, I am going to give an evil eye.

So, I could possibly figure one could get a headache from the draft based on the door slams. But, until AC comes along, its going to be hard to adopt this tradition myself.

Reason I wish I knew French # 98

Post by Lauren

I need foot surgery. Years of running and exercising with the wrong shoes for my high arches created some issues with my big toes. I have been managing the pain with cortisone shots for the last few years, but don’t want to continue steroid injections as frequently as I have been getting them. So, its time to bite the bullet.

I don’t want to miss out on travel while we are living here in Europe, so I decided that winter in Geneva is going to be my best bet. We have heard winter here can be nasty, so why not opt for my 8-12 weeks of recovery time then? Gabe begs to differ that I’ll miss out on ski season but I suppose I’ll be forced to sit in the chalets sipping delicious chocolate chaud instead. Oh well, there are worse things in life. Besides, have you HAD the hot chocolate here? Out of this world….

I decided that I should probably find a doctor now so I can plan out the surgery. Luckily, we have an agency that is here to help ex-pats like us with finding doctors.

Before we continue, I have an admission. I procrastinate making simple calls like this here in Geneva because I am embarrassed by my French skills. Thus, I am uncomfortable doing errands and calls that I could do in the US four-at-a-time with my hand behind my back. However, I finally called Friday at 4pm, after putting it off all day.

This particular day, I was lucky enough that I got someone who spoke some English.

“Bonjour. Je m’appelle Lauren. I need to find a foot surgeon in Geneva.”

“A what?”


( silence )

I muttered, “médecin pour les pieds….chirurgien pour les pieds”

“For your husband?”

“Non, pour moi.”

“It’s called a podologue in french. I will call you back”

“Oh….une podologue. Merci beaucoup!”

She called back later that evening saying there was an appointment Monday. I couldn’t believe my luck. All that putting off and I had an appointment for Monday!

The only other time I went to the doctor here, it was to the chiropractor. He could speak a little English, I could speak a little French. All went fine and I felt great afterwards, but this time, I decided to do a little preparation to make the language gap easier. In addition to the x-rays and detailed medical files I had organized to bring, I worked on a timeline and case history of my feet (the image above). I detailed all the surgery options that my podiatrist and I had considered in the US and listed out my preference. I listed my questions. And then I popped it in Google Translate and printed both, in English and French. That way, if there were any issues with a part of it, I figured I’d know what part there was confusion on and I could do charades or something. A combination of charades and broken French usually works with the maintenance folks who come to the house.

So, this past Monday, I went to the podologue, with my x-rays, my medical files and my special translated letters. I left a bit early, but good thing as the building was a little hard to find. I arrived on time at sat in the really nice office, which resembled a spa. A lady greeted me kindly, “Bonjour, Madame.”

“Bonjour, Madame. Je m’appelle Lauren. J’ai un rendez-vous pour mes pieds”

“Oui, entrez!”

I cut right to the chase and handed her my packet. She studied it, reading my detailed explanation. She looked confused. “J’ai aussi les x-rays” I added and started to hand them to her.

She sighed. “J’ai peut couper vos ongles”.

This means, “I can only cut your toenails.”

Lesson learned: a podologue is actually a person who does pedicures.

She kindly handed me a card of an orthopedie who could do the surgery, located in a town 30 minutes away. But, I’m going to wait a little bit I think to book an appointment. I am trying to scrape all my self esteem off the floor in the foot spa where I left it.

Curry if you care

Post by Lauren

Have you ever used curry to promote peace and tolerance? After this weekend, I can say YES!

This summer, tens of thousands of Singaporeans united against intolerances by pledging to cook a pot of curry on August 21. The effort was designed so that all could appreciate and embrace multiculturalism. Check out the link to Reuters from Lady J’s musings here that can provide more background.

While so many of us were traveling late summer, our friend, Lady J, who happens to be the best cook / pastry chef I know, decided to treat us to a rain check….a Cook A Pot of Curry evening in Geneva. Gabe and I are always up for promoting multiculturalism. Plus, did I mention how awesome her cooking is? 🙂

Lady J and her husband J, and traveling guest KT were such excellent hosts. We had the pleasure of tasting Gado-Gado, Chicken Satay served with Ketupat, Curry Chicken, Prata and Kaya Puffs. My favorite were the incredible sauces. They are so delicious and spicy.

Because I didn’t pull out my camera until the end, Lady J’s Musings and KT ‘s blog provide much better recaps of the fun we had that night. However, here are a few shots I captured later in the evening of the great people we’ve met in Geneva:

The only thing that I am sad about is now I have a constant craving for Singaporean food and its really hard to secure the goods here in Switzerland to make such a meal. Guess its time to plan a trip to SIngapore!

How we watch TV

Post by Lauren

We’ve commented many times how lucky we are that our overseas assignment fell now, when numerous technologies help keep everyday comforts easy to access.

Slingbox is a wonderful invention. We got an extra cable box and cable plan that lives with Gabe’s brother in Florida. It allows us to dial into it over the internet and play it on our TV in Geneva. We even have the ability to DVR programs we want to watch. Some days it works better than others, usually depending on the internet speed, but its great to have.

So, here’s how our habits have changed:

– It takes a little effort to navigate to record shows, so usually don’t have a ton in the queue. So, watching TV is a special occasion and something we look forward to all day long if we have something to watch that evening.

– We watch commercials now. We use to be hyper-obsessed with fast forwarding through DVR’d shows to maximize our time. But now we watch them as attentively as we do the TV programs because they are in English and it keeps us updated on what is going on back in the US

– We watch college football on Sundays or Mondays. Since we are 6 hours behind, we can’t watch evening games the day live. Last week, when Virginia Tech played Clemson at 6:30pm Eastern time, it was past midnight when it started. We didn’t have a chance to watch it Sunday, so I watched the whole thing Monday. I had to stay off Facebook for 2 days as I knew logging on would surely give it away. Let’s just say it wasn’t very pleasant to watch us lose 2 days later.

– Sometimes we get foiled. This past weekend, VT played Miami. One would think that would be televised in Florida where our Slingbox lives. But, no…..we DVR’d what was supposed to be the VT game but got Penn State instead. Big letdown. Especially when I saw on YouTube this was the “best game” that the announcer had ever seen.

The language divide

Post by Lauren

Switzerland has four official languages. This map below from depicts the portion of Switzerland in which each language is spoken.

A few things to notice:
-The spoken language typically matches what the closest proximate country is. Ex: Geneva is closest to France, so we speak Swiss-French here (blue). This also plays out in the local cuisine of the areas as well.
-Most of Switzerland speaks Swiss-German (yellow) – 64%
-Some portions of Switzerland are bi-lingual…such as the part near Bern where you can tell its shaded in blue and yellow.

It’s really interesting to see the road signs change as you drive into different parts of Switzerland, see below for “exit”. Also, the radio stations change back and forth into different languages as you drive along.

This week, Lady J, S, and I took a little road trip up to Murten, which is just west of Bern, and one of the bilingual areas where 25% speak French and 75% speak Swiss-German. We visited the Old Town and had a nice drink in the main square. When the Swiss-German waitress came for our order, we attempted a little German before she effortlessly slipped into English to take our drink requests. There’s nothing like trilingual waitstaff to make you feel insufficient in life. This happens very commonly in Geneva to Gabe and I, since most Swiss residence know upwards of three languages.

Rooftops of Murten, Switzerland

As if this isn’t enough to keep track of, the languages that Switzerland speaks have deviations to the original versions. Swiss-French is slightly different than French. French people typically think that Swiss French is more sing-songy and its interpreted as being slower or more “country”. Thank goodness I am in the slow part. I can barely understand it as is.

Swiss-German is very different than High German. I have heard that people who know excellent High German have a hard time with Swiss-German.

And still, there’s more! Esther taught us in French this week that every one of Switzerland’s 26 cantons speak a different dialect. There are different words and expressions used in different cantons even though the overall “language” is the same. For example, in typical French, petit déjeuner is breakfast, déjeuner is at noon and dîner is in the evening. But, in Geneva, déjeuner is breakfast, le dîner is served at noon and le souper in the evening. There are also different words for post office box and they use different variations of #s (see my prior post on numbers). And this continues throughout Switzerland.

While we all speak English, I suppose dialect thing is very common in the US, where people speak differently in Boston vs. Chicago vs. Texas. What words have you found different depending what part of the US you are in?

Gratitude Friday: Swiss Water

Post by Lauren

One of my favorite things about Switzerland is the abundance of free yummy water.

Whether you are in an urban area, a small town, or the middle of the countryside, you are sure to find a babbling spout, as can be seen below. You can easily fill your bottle up no matter where you are.

In the US we have things like this but you wouldn’t dare drink out of it. However, here is is 100% safe and super tasty. I have been told the water supply is monitored three times a day to monitor for any abnormalities. From the swissworld site, they quote:

The drinking water that comes out of Swiss taps is as pure as bottled mineral water – and 500 times cheaper.

In a country where everything is expensive, I am grateful for this natural perk.

Bon weekend, everyone!