Gratitude Friday: UNESCO World Heritage List

This Gratitude Friday goes out to UNESCO.   I actually had no clue what UNESCO was before we moved to Geneva.  However, because of the sheer volume of places in Europe, it became something of note during our travels.  UNESCO helps identify and protect the places in the world that are most important to humans, both culturally and naturally.  There are currently 962 places in the world on the list.  Roughly 80% are cultural while 20% are natural.

unesco

How wonderful that there is an organization which makes it their mission to preserve and recognize these sites?   While sites like the Notre Dame in Paris might not have trouble gaining support, think about those in underdeveloped countries like Angkor Wat in Cambodia that can now have the financial and administrative resources to preserve and protect these special sites for the world to appreciate?

And also, I wanted to express our thankfulness for being able to visit over 30 new UNESCO sites during our time as ex-pats.   This is something that neither one of us thought we would do in a 1.5 year span.   While our travels will be slowing down with our move back to the US, I wanted to find a way to archive the sites that we had been to, both before this experience, and then after.

So, I have created a page in the main menu of the blog listing Our UNESCO Tracker.  I’ll keep this up in the future as well.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

Advertisements

European Fashion: The Man Bag

While I admit that I don’t quite “fit in” here when it comes to fashion, I do enjoy checking out the trends.    What’s different than the US?    Overall, men dress in more tailored gear here in Europe.     They often wear dark skinny jeans, tees, and man scarfs.     They rarely ever wear baggy clothing, polo shirts, any logo gear, or athletic shoes / clothing in public.

Today, we are going to explore the fashion phenomenon of the “man bag”.

Man bags come in many shapes and sizes.  They are prevalent across Europe.   Sometimes they are large, for carrying gym clothes and other odds and ends, and sometimes they are small, more like a purse, or as I like to call it, a “murse”.

Here are a few shots from day-to-day life in Europe so you can get an idea of the variety:

Man Bag #1.   I’d say it is more of a “murse” than a man bag.

Man Bag #2.  More of a work messenger bag.

Man Bag #3. Dublin, Ireland.  This athletic style is very popular.

Man Bag #4. Dublin, Ireland.  Another fairly common black athletic style.

Man Bag #5. Montreux, Switzerland.  Making the USA proud.

Man Bag #6.  Man travel bag, Frankfort airport

Man Bag #7  Guy making out with his girlfriend wearing a mix-tape designed man bag

Scotland visit man bag.  We think this guy was from Italy though.

Man bag #8 Bag seen on Scotland trip. We think this guy was from Italy though.

A duo of black man bags in Vienna

#9 – A duo of black man bags in different material in Vienna

#10 - Handled man bag in Vienna's train station

#10 – Handled man bag in Vienna’s train station

If you have a man bag, what do you carry in it?   If you don’t have one, what would you carry?

A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: Duties of Swiss Citizens

Many say Switzerland is said to have the most trained army in the world.  For a neutral country, you might find it surprising.   However, with their central location and a century of world wars, they had a need to be prepared.

Even today, as a Swiss man, you must serve in the military. If you aren’t qualified to be in the military or don’t fit the requirements, you can be exempted.  However, you must pay an additional 3% income tax until the age of 30.

As a Swiss woman, you can volunteer to serve, but it isn’t required.  It also isn’t required for foreigners.

My 86-year old French teacher, E, has told us on multiple occasions about the potato patches that apartment dwellers were allowed to cultivate in city parks.   She went on to say that if you own land in Switzerland, you are still required keep a potato patch.  Thus, if the country goes to war, there is a food supply to rely on.  I haven’t been able to find much evidence of it online, but I find it interesting that it could be still residual from WW2.  Although, a simple trip to the grocery store shows that they are in full agreement of supporting their own food infrastructure as a result of the wars.

You may recall from our post on our basement, that all buildings must have bomb shelters.  In fact, Switzerland can house 114% of its citizens in these fortifications if something happens.

Today, you can tour many of the secret fortresses built in the World Wars.  Many of the links below detail more about the cool places you can visit.

Related Links:

Rick Steves – Swiss Military Secrets

Wikipedia – Gun Politics in Switzerland

The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People – In Plain Sight: Villa Verte and Villa Rose

Schwingen in Switzerland – The Swiss Army – Ready to Blow Their Country to Smithereens

Schwingen in Switzerland – The Tobelerone Line, One Sweet Barrier

Schwingen in Switzerland – Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?

Schwingen in Switzerland –   Fun in the Alpine Fortress of Furigen

The Swiss Rule Book: Drinking in Public

Drinking in public isn’t a big deal in Europe.    We are constantly reminded of this with our guests.  We bring along a bottle of wine to a picnic or on a train and they ask us, “you can’t actually drink that here, can you?”.     The answer is yes.      Europeans are far more lax about things like this.  As a result, there are actually far less drunk people because it isn’t so taboo.  In fact, the Swiss can start drinking wine and beer at 16.  It’s 18 for hard liquor.  And, we have never seen drunk teens.

Here are a few photographic reasons to further demonstrate the point:

Recently, in Italy, we had a glass of champagne at a risotto fair.   They gave us cloth glass holders to string around our neck so that we could take it “to go”.   This has become my favorite new accessory.

Me with my champagne glass necklace, walking around town

They  put reminders up about the legal drinking age:

Babies can't drink in public.

Babies can’t drink in public.

However, some don’t pay attention.

Before….

After….

Sorry little guy.  You have to wait a few years.

And, those ‘on duty’ don’t mind enjoying a cold one.

This guy might have just had his 16th birthday

People drink in random places.   It is most common on the bus to see a guy in a suit enjoying a beer on his way home from work.   I prefer this photo of a lady in her 70’s opening up her bottle she purchased grocery shopping and drinking it out of the bottle at the bus stop.  There is no time like the present.

It’s 5 o’ clock somewhere.

Here’s hoping that this New Years Day, you didn’t have too much to drink!

The Apéro or Après-Ski….Two Alternatives to What We Know As Happy Hour

When we lived in The States, we frequently had “Happy Hour”.   Whether it was with colleagues or friends, it was common to get together after work, enjoy a drink and catch up.  In the US, it is also common for bars and establishments to have Happy Hour Specials such as dollar beers or half priced glasses of wine, etc.

In France, they have a similar tradition, however usually without the discount.  We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing them before but while in Morzine for Christmas, we feel like we’ve really gotten a lot of practice!

The first is “L’Apero”, or The Apero.    L’Apero is the French bridge between your normal busy day and the start of the evening.   Enjoying an ‘aperitif’ before dinner is classified as a gesture of health or well-being, to start your appetite.   The typical aperitif consists of :  champagnes, martinis, vermouths, sherries, or a light or sweet white wines, as well as small snacks like olives, chips or nuts.  A fruit juice is also an alternative to the alcoholic beverages.

Having Champagne for an aperitif

Having Champagne for an aperitif

In ski towns, the apero has a fun spin in terms of the “Après Ski”.   Literally translated, it means ‘after the ski’.  Crowds gather at the most popular bars to start the night.    Here the drink selections are more broad, including beers and mixed drinks.

The Après Ski buzz

The Après Ski buzz

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends, including a special birthday celebration

Finally, after dinner, it is common in France and other European countries to be served a digestif.   Many times this is included with the meal, and is intended to help your food settle.   In Greece, it is raki or ouza.  In Italy, many times it is limoncello.  Here in France, we had homemade apple and pear liquor as well as a hot rum digestif.

While I have heard of “the night cap”, an alcoholic beverage consumed before going to bed, in the US, I typically know it as a sleep aid vs. a digestive aid.

It sure is hard to do this research, but we are happy to do it for the benefit of the blog!  Happy New Years Eve, everyone!!

Skiing Portes du Soleil

While I didn’t ski, didn’t want to deprive our readers of the skiing experience in Portes du Soleil, so I have harassed  asked our fellow holiday-goers to help add some flavor with their photos & stories.

Our Hotel Tremplin provided two lifts with direct access to Morzine / Les Gets.   These two villages are a part of an overall area is called Portes du Soleil which includes 12 resorts with 8 in France and 4 in Switzerland.  There are over 209 lifts in Portes du Soleil, allowing complete exploration of this region of 650km of slopes.

Image courtesy of avorinet.com

Image courtesy of avorinet.com

Having a central hotel was nice so everyone could break and re-group.   Plus, it was nice for them not to have to walk far to hop on a lift or rent/return skis.

Ready to go after a lunch break at Le Tremplin

First day….ready to go again after a lunch break at Le Tremplin

There was a hotel above ours, at the top of the Pleney lift.   I sat there on the terrace one day soaking in the sun, as the lift didn’t require you to be a skier to take it because of the hotel guests also needing access.

The positive to this hotel is that you could really ski directly into it.  However, the cable car stopped at a certain time which would limit your Morzine nightlife access.

The views at the top of Pleney, the furthest I could go on foot

The views at the top of Pleney, the furthest I could go on cable car + foot without being a skier

The area at Pleney was also where the ski school was headquartered.  Out of the five skiers in our group, four ended up taking lessons of differing levels to improve their skills.    This is a really good practice for skiers of all levels, to brush up and learn more.  By taking them early in the vacation, they could apply the learning.

Morzine offers lessons in English, either private or shared.  Everyone found them helpful, indicating about 2-3 things that they learned that really helped their technique the rest of the week.

Gabe at Pleney

Meeting Gabe for lunch at Pleney before his lesson

The group preferred exploring the top of the mountain, where they said it was less crowded and the views were magnificent.  Later in the week when there was rain in the village, it became more and more important to ski the top where the altitude resulted in snow vs. rain.

Slopes at Morzine, captured by Gabe

Slopes at Morzine, captured by Gabe

Riding the lift

Riding the lift, captured by J

Gorgeous snow image by B

Gorgeous snow image by B

 

Image 1

J, conquering the mountain

Image of M courtesy of B

M gazing out onto the slopes.  Image courtesy of B

Image 2

IMG-20121224-00052

Gabe, M & B, ready to descend from the top.  Image courtesy of J. 

Time for a beer!  Image courtesy of B.

Time for a beer! Image taken by M.

IMAGE_226CD6A4-EC5D-463E-B8E4-C2A892B45273

B enjoying his beer, taken by M

Each day the group came back exhausted but happy.  They were very content with the ski area and had a wonderful time.

The Christmas I Visited The French Trauma Clinic

I’ll spare you the details, but my feet have been having some growing pains getting used to winter boots from their new post-surgery shape & size.   I’d seen the podologue for it, but it seemed not to get any better.

We arrived to Morzine for Christmas holiday on Saturday and through the night had a hard time sleeping with the pain.  The next morning, Sunday, I realized we were in France and the pharmacy might be open on a Sunday, unlike Switzerland.  I visited but they couldn’t give me an antibiotic or anything to help (it’s common in Switzerland that pharmacists can prescribe meds) but advised there was a trauma doctor nearby I could visit who had Sunday hours.

I found the office and sat down and waited my turn two hours for the doctor, hearing the screams of those getting their shoulders readjusted into sockets and cuts cleaned up & stitched from the ski slopes.  Yikes!!

After meeting with the doctor, he frowned at my feet and said, “mumble…mumble….petit operation”.    The receptionist took me downstairs to the basement ‘operating room’, made a bath for my feet to sterilize them, started arranging a variety of instruments and indicated it would be “cinq ou dix minutes pour le docteur” (5 – 10 minutes).   It was over an hour wait.  Guess some more skiers had come in.  My comfort and peace of mind did not build during that hour.

They gave me anesthesia and so didn’t feel much as he removed the nails and a lot of the skin surrounding them which had grown very infected and bandaged me up.  But they said no skiing in the near future, at least until they could see me again at my check up Tuesday.  Which happened to be Christmas morning.   I thought it was incredible they put me in that day, but the lady indicated that they had to work on Christmas because the skiers still got hurt, so it didn’t bother them any to see me as well.

They wrote me many prescriptions to fill after the operation.   I tried to fill them immediately while still hopped up on the anesthesia but the pharmacy closes for a daily lunch break for two hours so hobbled back later in the day.

When I filled it, I was given painkillers, antibiotics, and a variety of bandages.   You don’t have to wait…French pharmacy techs fill immediately vs.  saying come back in 20 minutes.  I like this about France and Switzerland.  The bizarre thing was that she said my prescription called for a fresh bottle of anesthesia, but she couldn’t dispense it to me because I didn’t have a fridge in my hotel.  She said I’d have to come back and get it right before my follow up appointment.     I was a little confused why I would need more anesthesia anyhow, but with the language barrier, I just figured I’d go with it.

Hanging out the day of

Hanging out the day of petit operation

I brought all my supplies back to my Christmas morning appointment, including the fresh bottle of anesthesia I’d just picked up.  The nurse used my supplies to fix me up, then took the anesthesia and kept it as well as some of my bandages.   It was then that I remembered something N mentioned when she was pregnant…she always had to go to the pharmacy before her routine shots and bring the medicine to the doctor.    This French doctor’s office was kind enough to “lend” me the anesthesia and bandages after my petit operation, but I had to reimburse them for it instead of them charging me like the US would.

After my follow up appointment, with my bag of stuff

After my follow up appointment, with my bag of stuff.  It’s BYOB (bring your own bandages) here.

I ended up with a third appointment on our last day, for the final check up, where she ended up giving me a bottle of iodine, after I said I didn’t have one, and knowing we were leaving town.

All in all, it cost 150 euros cash for my little petite operation and 30 euros for all my meds and supplies.  Unbelievably cheap.  Just grateful for the French doctor and the fact that my French is more up to par to handle these situations better!