Occupying Switzerland

Post by Lauren

Nope, not talking about WW2 efforts. Thought the Occupy Wall Street movement was just for the States? Mais, non! We have our very own Occupy Geneva, camped out in Parc des Bastions. The first time I passed this site on the #12 tram, I had no clue what it was until I saw signs about banking in English…then it clicked….its part of the Occupy Movement.

From what I know, most of their protests are against the Swiss banks. Checking out their site, they have a video of using dusters and cleaning cloths to “clean up” the large Swiss banks on Rue de Rhone.

When Pascal, Giselle and I took a walking tour of Geneva, shivering every step of the way, we were concerned that they might all freeze to death out in the park. However, taking a closer look, we noticed that, they have hooked up some type of heat.

 

Occupy Geneva

 

In a city where homeless are kicked and prodded to move along by the police, its kind of interesting that they would tolerate a group camping in this famous park.

Beats me.

However, they have some competition for most clever Occupy. This weekend in Davos, they are going to Occupy WEF in igloos….take a look!

 

Gratitude Friday: My Health

This Friday, I want to dedicate this post to my health.

Just in general, I am thankful to feel good. I realize this is quite a special thing. I have no major health problems (except needing a really simple foot surgery) and I feel better than I have right now, than I have in a long time.

I also wanted to take this post to explain my rationale for why I feel better.

First of all, I have less stress here. I explain it to others that my stress is mainly short term. A bad day is not being able to communicate or having an issue buying snow chains. Those go away fast when I either laugh it off or have multiple glasses of wine. And while I enjoyed my full time job that I had in the States, it provided more “long term” stress, as most jobs do. So this major health affecter has lessened for the meantime until I start working again.

Second of all, I think a lot of it actually is rooted in food. My husband has been on this bandwagon for a long time, but this has taken me a long time to admit the cause/effect. I am now fully there. I just had to be forced to feel the difference in my body.

Here are a few reasons why I think my body feels better with the food here:

–In Europe, they don’t really eat processed food that has been manufactured for convenience, not for nutritional value.

–In Europe, they don’t have a lot of “shortcut” food like low fat and sugar substitute types. No diet ice cream here or fat free pastries here, folks. It’s the real deal.

–In Europe, genetic engineering of animals is illegal.

–In Europe, basically all the produce is organic by nature, they don’t use chemicals or alter the seeds in any way as is done in the States.

–In Europe, it is taboo to “eat on the go” or eat while walking, so it makes for more conscious meal enjoyment.

And its not just me. This topic has come up various times with friends here. One friend reported that she felt gross the entire time she visited the US for Christmas because her stomach had grown used to Switzerland’s foods and it couldn’t take the processed ingredients anymore. It was rejecting them. Another friend commented that she couldn’t cut the chicken into bits for a recipe at her mother’s house because the texture was so unlike the chicken she has become accustomed to here. Just this week, I met a lady who dropped 10 pounds in her first few weeks living here this Fall because of the positive change of the food.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend two forms of media. The first is the book Food Matters, which I read with my book club. It encourages conscious food consumption to protect the environment. My two takeaways were:
–Buy things with less packaging
— Try to cut your meat intake in half to lesson the environmental impact that big business meat farming has. After reading the book, I did cut down my meat intake, using nuts and beans to replace half my protein. I didn’t really miss it.

Also, Gabe and I are big proponents of the movie Food, Inc which outlines the danger of the current systems of agriculture. It suggests that we are on a slippery slope; our concern with producing food at less cost for masses of people has altered the food in a way that makes it unhealthy. It suggests that government subsidizing of our food supply creates a few harmful scenarios.

–For example….beef and corn manufacturers lobby the government for subsidies and thus, beef and corn are more affordable in the US. Thus, a typical mid-range US family can’t afford fresh vegetables but can stock up on sodas, packaged foods and other things contained corn oil, etc that might not be a balanced diet, creating health issues. Many US families literally can’t afford to eat healthy.

–Also, in the case of meat, the demand for certain types of meat has encouraged genetic manipulation so that we are raising animals that meet the demand. One of the most disturbing scenes in Food, Inc. is one in which a chicken continually stumbles and falls over…all because he was designed for a breast bigger than he could manage.

 

 

 

However, even after seeing this 3 years ago, my coupon-cutting-self continued to scoop up only the large chicken breasts at the local Charlotte grocery store, as every 6 weeks, they were Buy 1, Get 2 Free. So I could get 3 huge packs of chicken for $9 USD total.

It’s only now that the cost equation has been taken out, as well as I am not given a choice – its forbidden to alter the meat production here – that am I now consistently eating “normal” food. Eight months later, I can feel an incredible difference. When we move back, I am going to certainly prioritize buying grass-fed, non-antibiotic meat items and organic vegetables.

Finally, the healthcare is very good here. It is very holistic in nature. I saw my first “general” doctor this week, in an attempt to solve the Cambodia food mystery. She spent an hour with me – asking every single question possible. Asking detailed family history. Information about every health issue I have ever had. Detailed questions about every part of it. It was like she had all day. But she was trying to get at the root instead of solve my surface issue.

My Swiss chiropractor does acupuncture before adjusting as a standard part of the visit. Also, he doesn’t require a pyramid of visits like my US guy did…simply just tells me to make an appointment when I hurt again. In the US, I had chiropractor appointments twice a week, acupuncture once a week and massage every three weeks to try to fix the chronic back pain that I carried – I was spending about $500/month in pain management.

In the last 8 months living in Switzerland, I have only had two visits to the chiropractor and one massage for back issues. I think its a combination of less stress & natural food that has been the remedy. Those who have seen me during my visits say that I look like a different person because of the lack of pain.

And we haven’t had a single cold here since our move. Those who know me well know that I always caught things so this is a big turnaround. This surprised me as well because of how often I am riding in public transportation, sharing air and touching buttons. However, I think its the stress and food that are helping to build my immunity.

Today’s post is not meant to be anti-US. These methods exist in the US, but they have become harder to find because of the effects of food and healthcare economics. I was lucky enough to discover it only by it being the default for us, so I just want to share my firsthand story with two encouragements:
1) If possible financially for you, don’t buy genetically engineered meat.
2) Seek doctors with holistic approaches. It can make a world of difference.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

Discovering Geneva: Bel-Air

Post by Lauren

Today’s post is going to cover an area in Geneva known as Bel-Air.

I know I got you all excited by my recently celebrity post, but I hate to inform you that Will Smith does not live in our Bel-Air.

Nope; Will Smith is not in our Bel-Air

Bel-Air is an area in the centre ville that serves as a major hub for the TPG transportation system. It actually even has two stations, regular Bel-Air and Bel-Air Cité.

It was recently made an even larger hub and there are a lot of folks who are angry about how the new system works. For more on this, and why it might not have been smart to build a hub on a bridge, see Schwingen in Switzerland.

Bel-Air hub

However, before this bridge / island was a highly debated tram stop, was actually part of the Geneva fortifications. On the map we introduced on Tuesday’s Old Town post, you can see an island in the middle of the two banks. This is Tour d’île / Bel Air.

This island/bridge is one of the reasons why Geneva was so coveted. This bridge was the only route over the Rhone in olden times. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar actually made the trip to Geneva to destroy the bridge so that the Helvetians couldn’t advance.

Later, in the 13th Century, it had been rebuilt and there was a chateau / castle built to help in the defense against the Duchy of Savoy and protect this crucial passageway to France.

During this time, the island also became a market. Butchers built their shops so the blood could run directly into the Rhone.

During Reformation times, the chateau was converted into a prison.

After surviving multiple fires, the bridge finally burned down in 1677. Only the clock tower (seen in the top photos) survived. My french professor at UNIGE said that the reason it is called Bel Air as when everything burned down, the air smelled a lot better since there was no longer a rotting meat stench. I’m glad as I spend a lot of time there connecting trams these days.

Bel-Air

 

With or without a fresh prince, now you know a little bit more about our Bel-Air.

Geneva Museums: Swatch Museum

Post by Lauren

Unfortunately, many Geneva museums are closed on Mondays*. However, one that is actually open is the Swatch exhibition in the Cite du Temps building. They have an entire floor dedicated to the quirky Swiss watches.

So, Monday, Pascal, Gisele and I enjoyed browsing the Swatch timeline and seeing the models from all the different years.

Everyone had a Swatch story. I actually have a vivid memory of mine. We were all visiting my family in Eastern, NC. My cousin C was older and a lot cooler than me. He wanted to go to the department store to look at Swatches. You see, he’d been saving for a long time and just received a monetary gift during this visit that I think got him to the $25 that he needed for the Swatch. We got to the store and…..he realized the money was gone. It was confirmed that it had been lost.

I was probably 6 or 7 at the time but I remember thinking that was the most awful thing in the world. He was so upset. Poor guy!

I think my other aunt & uncle actually volunteered to buy him the one he wanted. We’ll have to see via their comments if this is how the story went as I can’t remember that detail. All I remember is the lost money that was supposed to buy the watch.

Years later, in 1988, I received my first Swatch. Yup, used to rock this baby out in middle school:

In addition to me finding my gem, Pascal found the one his brother used to have. Then we started going around and finding our favorites which were the kooky ones.

They even used to run some risqué Swatch advertising. Check this out…..

 

 

I actually received my second swatch this year for my 32nd birthday, a gift from Gabe’s parents. I had been eyeing it because it was casual chic and if you can believe it, I didn’t own a watch for 10 years prior to this one. Since I didn’t even have a phone the first four months in Geneva, it was really hard to know what time the bus came without a watch. They were kind enough to give me this nice gift. Good timing (no pun intended) as it is embarrassing to be late in Switzerland.

 

 

*Fast fact – Patek Philippe makes the most expensive watch ever sold at 11million USD. After checking out the Swatch museum, we headed “upstream” to the Patek Philippe museum to check out their collection of watch history. However, it was closed. Monday. Very rookie mistake of me to not know this Monday museum thing. Oops! I promise I’ll be better by the next visitor!

Discovering Geneva: St. Peter’s Cathedral

Post by Lauren

It’s always nice to have folks in town because you can see the city through different eyes and also in different seasons. On Monday, Gabe had to work, but Pascal, Giselle and I set out for an afternoon of Geneva exploration.

We started with a walk to Old Town, or la Vieille Ville, in French. I have talked about this part of Geneva before on the blog, but case you are just joining us, it is the old walled city.

When I took a tour as a student of University of Geneva, one American frat guy asked our professor which side of the wall the city was on – the really high hillside, or down below. The teacher held it together. Of course, the town was on the hill. Towns in that day and age had to build high and fortify for their protection. Geneva was an extremely coveted independent state and had a very desirable bridge across the Rhone at a strategic point…actually, the only bridge in the Roman era. When I recapped the Escalade Festival , the post recaps the most famous attempt to take Geneva.

It’s actually pretty neat that underneath the St. Antoine parking structure, you can see the original Roman walls that still exist and are well preserved in the transformation to parking garage. They didn’t know they were there until they started work on this parking structure and now they have a little exhibition underground so you can get an idea of what the city looked like when it was walled and surrounded by moats for protection.

 

 

This city model in the Maison Tavel museum depicts how the city was perched above and how moats/dredges were dug so that enemies were kept out.

 

St. Peter’s Cathedral (St. Pierre’s in French) commands the view in Old Town as the tallest building/steeple. It was originally Roman and from the 8th to 10th centuries, it was one of three different cathedrals to co-exist on the site. Underneath the present cathedral, excavators found remains of 4th Century Christian sanctuaries, portions of mosaic floors from the Roman times and a crypt.

 

St. Peter's Cathedral - present day


However, St. Peter’s is most notably known for being where John Calvin gave his sermons in the mid 16th Century.

Ferdinand Hodler’s painting of Calvin preaching in St. Peter’s

In the 1530’s, Martin Luther had just started in Germany, the printing press had begun to print copies of the Bible, and Geneva had just opted for the Reformation. Calvin, a young French man, was passing through Geneva (he stayed at a hotel in nowadays Place du Molard) on his way to Strasbourg. He hadn’t planned to stay, but later returned to contribute to the foundation of Protestantism.

Geneva then became a refuge for Protestant people to escape persecution in France, Italy and other neighboring countries. More on this and its contribution to Genva society as we know it can be found here in an earlier blog post.

Someone who doesn’t know the teaching of Calvin might characterize St. Peter’s cathedral as the most bland church in all of Europe. However, it was intentionally so. Calvin was very strict in his views that money should not be spent on embellishing the church. So much so that all its altars, statues, paintings and furniture were stripped away during his time. There is still very little decoration, only tiny stained glass windows.

 

Recent trips to cathedrals in Madrid, Siena, Florence and Lyon show that the Spanish, Italian and French have different theories than Calvin on church decoration

 

Despite its very simple interior, there are really amazing views from the top of the cathedral. This were actually taken in the Fall vs. our winter trip as it was a bit cloudy that day.

 

I find it interesting Geneva still serves as a haven for those escaping religious and political persecution. Makes me grateful that I was born in a country in which we didn’t have to fear for either.

In Winter Wonder with Pascal and Giselle

Post by Lauren

It’s an exciting week in our Swiss household! We have guests Pascal and Giselle, in from Richmond, VA. Geneva has been really behaving, showing its pretty blue sky. We didn’t even know that was possible in the winter here.

So, we feel very grateful that while they are here, they can actually see the mountains instead of the perma-cloud layer that hovers above us usually.

When they arrived, we forced them to stay up and took them around to Carouge Saturday market day and then to Annecy, France so that they could be out in the daylight to help with the effects of jetlag*.

Market day was a little quiet in the winter vs. summer, but still very enjoyable as Carouge always is with its simple Italian architecture and colorful artisans:

 

A quiet day at the Carouge market

 

Next, we went to Annecy, France for lunch. Pascal and Giselle had their first savory crepes. Did you know that a crepe can be a dessert and a meal? Kind of like a wrap…with a pancake. They ordered hamburger ones….check them out below. Even though it was about 20 degrees, there were still a ton of people enjoying the Saturday blue skies and even a crew team practicing in frigid Lake Annecy below snow capped mountains.

The next day, we ventured to Chamonix & Mt. Blanc. We took the Auguille du Midi to the top, the world’s highest vertical ascent cable car. Gabe and I had done this back with Henry Birmingham on July 4th weekend, but boy, what a difference winter makes.

Everything was snow covered and beautiful. We were in awe of the off-piste skiiers.

After the dizzying adventure up Mt. Blanc, we had a nice warm raclette meal in Chamonix, the base village. Very soon, there will be a cheese tutorial on The Swiss Watch Blog so you can learn more about this fabulous Swiss dish. It’s soooo good.

The famous French ski town was bumping at dusk and into the evening, full of skiers and snowboarders returning from the mountain.

You are probably wondering why we keep taking Pascal and Giselle all over France when we live in Switzerland. Actually, because Geneva is surrounded by France, the alpine areas of France are much more accessible to Geneva because of the topography. See my ski map, complete with flags, to check this out.

Don’t worry, we’ll take them around in Switzerland soon. Stay tuned….

*When you visit us, we will also do such mean things as to not allow you to sleep and force you to be in the daylight to reduce your chance of jet lag.

Celebrity Hideout

Post by Lauren

Switzerland is a great choice for celebrities to own homes because of its characteristics of discretion and privacy. The Swiss would never start a conversation with a stranger in line or on a bus, much less invade someone’s privacy by asking for autograph.

Here are a few celebs hiding in the hills:

  • Yoko Ono lives in Geneva since 1968.
  • Shania Twain lives near Montreux on Lake Geneva.
  • Phil Collins lives on Lake Geneva
  • David Bowie lives in Lausanne on Lake Geneva.
  • Tina Turner lives on the lake near Zurich

Sometimes the privacy is a nice benefit. Since I am not yet a fluent French speaker, its nice not to have people continually starting conversations with me and not able to properly answer them.

Sometimes its not so nice. One of my friends had her hand slapped by an elderly lady when she was trying to assist her getting her grocery cart on the tram. And, since US me was quite a chatter, this new lack of human interaction can be lonely sometimes.

However, I certainly understand why celebrities would find this environment a pleasant change to their over-exposed lives. And for that matter, any other wealthy folks trying to keep money in secret in the Swiss banks!