Saturday, December 31, 2011

London for Christmas!

Just got back from a trip to London with the family for the holidays.  We stayed for a week in a 2 bedroom apartment in the Notting Hill neighborhood of London, which I found on the AirBnB website.  AirBnB is a site that allows owners to rent out rooms, or, as in our case, whole apartments or houses to travelers, with a whole suite of tools (payment online, reviews, communication with the landlord, etc).

This is the place.  It's an interesting experience, renting an apartment where the occupant is just traveling for the week.  Overall it was a positive experience, and I'm planning on using AirBnB again, but there's a few things I'm going to remember for next time:

1.  The photos that are posted online are just an approximation of what the place really looks like.  It's like photos that someone posts on a dating website - very carefully chosen to make them look good!  In real life, it will ONLY ever look worse than the photos.  In our case, the apartment itself looked fine, but the entryway was very grungy, and the photos don't show that the faucets rocked back and forth.

2.  Location is very important if you're going to be a tourist somewhere (and, frankly, in every case).  Based on some comments and reviews, I had assumed that it was pretty central.  It was reasonably central, but not enough.  Every day we made the same trip - southeast, into the central touristy area of London.  We probably should have found something closer.

The positives were - it was great to have 2 bedrooms and a kitchen.  We always ate breakfast at home, and had a few dinners at home as well.  There was one really memorable restaurant meal - a Thai place just down the road.  I'm drooling, remembering the yummy, spicy Thai food, which I've really been missing here in Switzerland!  They had a great kids menu as well.

We did a good amount of the major tourist attractions.  The highlights were the British Museum, which Kenny absolutely loved - he's very interested in Roman artifacts, and has asked me a few times, "Mom, how lucky would you have to be to find a Roman coin?"  Peter wasn't nearly as interested and as a matter of fact, was asking to go home continually while we were there.  I guess there's not much to see at his eye-level, plus he has a cough and probably hadn't slept too well.  I picked him up quite a lot, but he's not so light anymore, and I can't do it for very long.

We went to the Tower of London, but if I had to do it again I probably would have skipped it, because the lines were so very long - not just to buy tickets, but to get into various attractions inside.  We didn't see the Crown Jewels because the line was too long.  This is Peter waiting while Eric buys tickets.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getting started on an exercise routine again

I had a very well established exercise routine back in Bellevue.  Pretty much every morning, I would go downstairs where we have a treadmill, and do a brisk walk at an incline for about half an hour.  This routine was totally integrated into my schedule, took almost no extra time, no driving to the gym, no extra shower.  Plus, I had an old laptop set up on the treadmill, so my exercise time was also my web surfing time.  I really enjoyed it.

Here in Geneva, I've just managed to set up a little bit of a routine again.  We have no exercise equipment, but before I left Bellevue, I ripped some exercise DVDs and copied them to my laptop.  Just in the past week, I've been working out in the morning to the exercise DVDs.  One in particular - a kick-boxing routine - has been keeping my interest.  I get a better workout and exercise more muscles than when I was just working out on the treadmill.  But I really miss surfing the web during my workout.

It strikes me how important it is for me to make the routine EASY to follow.  Things like exercise clothes always being in the right spot, not needing to go out of my way too much.  It's ironic, because after all the point of exercising is to get a workout, and working out is basically doing a bunch of movements that have no practical application, except for health.  But it matters nonetheless.

EDIT 3/5/2012
Actually, I've been slacking on this routine pretty consistently.  It's just so boring to work out to a DVD.  I do walk to work and back (about 6 minutes one way).  Plus I walk up the six flights of stairs every day to our apartment.  But yes, I need to start something more structured.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A stormy weekend

It's gotten an lot colder and we had some snow yesterday (nothing stuck, though). This is going to be a quiet weekend, setting up the Christmas tree and continuing to get the house in order, organizing the kitchen, etc. And hopefully we'll also do some planning for next week's trip to London. It's getting dark quite early, I'm looking forward to the days lengthening again!

There's an endless list of things I should do in the apartment. Organizing the kitchen, setting up something to prevent drafts at the bottom of our doors (we have glass doors from 1930 in this apartment, they let in quite a lot of cold air!), making Kenny a little book holder to hang off his bunk bed, setting up something to organize the paperwork here (in the US we had far less paperwork because everything was online, but Switzerland is far behind in that area, and everything is still paper based), organizing the kid's toys so that they're not laying all over the place. Whew!  And that doesn't account for the daily activities of taking care of the kids and the house.

On the plus side, I did set up all the kids books in the new bookcases that we got from Ikea to go in their room. They're excited to be able to read some of their old books again. And I was excited to not have all the boxes of books hanging around in their room anymore! I've gone completely paperless for my books (have I mentioned yet how much I love my Kindle?) and regularly get books from my home library system on the Kindle. I've been checking it out, and there's actually a fair number of children's books that are available on the Kindle. I think for kids the experience of having paper books is better for right now, but after we get bored with what we have, maybe we'll start getting children's books on the Kindle as well. 

Yesterday we took a walk along the east side of Lake Geneva. It's neat, because you can walk as far as you want, and as long as you make sure you're on a bus route (not too difficult here, the transit system is great), you can get back pretty easily by taking a bus. It was a decent walk, but I'll definitely need to find a book or website with some suggestions for walks to take around town. We stopped at a small Coop grocery store to pick up some croissants for a snack/bribe, and made it home in time to do some grocery shopping for the week.

Friday, December 2, 2011

We've moved!

I'm really excited to report that we've moved to our new apartment in Eaux Vives!  Moving day (yesterday) was extremely stressful.  I woke up at 4:30 to make sure I got a good hour of worrying in before getting the kids ready and taking the bus, with rolling suitcase, some backpacks, the kids school backpacks, and various other bits and pieces to our new apartment.  I'm sure we must have looked like quite the vagabond family.

But it wasn't just the move that was happening, it was also the kids first day of school at their new, permanent school!  I feel bad that they need to make another transition so soon after starting at the first school, but it can't be helped.  So far I'm very pleased with their school.  Most importantly, it's at most a 3 minute walk from our apartment!  Also, during my meeting with the principal at 8 to get the kids registered, I got a very good impression.  She seemed very kind and competent, and also seemed to have a good rapport with the kids, and knew their names.  She spent a good hour with me, made sure that I knew what was going on, and also got the kids registered for the lunch program for the day, since it was our moving day and it would have been hard to have them here with us during the move.

In Kenny's classroom, the teacher sat him next to a kid who spoke English well.  I think he may have been British.  He'll be starting the French welcome class next Monday, which - oh joy! - is just down the hall from his regular class, not in a whole different school like previously.   Peter's classroom looked very different from his previous class, which was very barren looking.  This one was packed (almost to the point of clutter) with all kinds of materials and games.  The teacher was very warm and welcoming.  She had a little girl lead Peter by the hand around the room, showing him the points of interest in the class.  Also, there's only one teacher, the class isn't split between two teachers like in his old school.

After I got the kids settled in their new school, I walked back (only 3 minutes!) to our apartment to see this outside:

We're on the 7th floor (called the 6th here), and this is what they do, whenever possible, to move people in and out of apartments.  It's like a mobile elevator without walls.  There were a team of 5 men here, working pretty steadily with about an hour and a half lunch break, and they were in by 8:15, and gone by 1:30.  I expected them to just leave all the furniture and boxes and go, but it turns out that they also assemble the furniture and unpack boxes.  That worked out very well, Eric helped them assemble the kids bunk bed, which is quite a chore, and they also did some Ikea tables and chairs, and a bed.  They had a guy unpacking in the kitchen as well, which I'll have to completely redo once I figure out how I want things in there.  But it was still great to get rid of those boxes and papers - they ended up hauling a huge load of packing material away.

Our apartment looks like this now

It'll take a while to get everything set up, that's for sure.  Right now we have boxes everywhere.  Thank goodness there's a little storage space in the basement, we'll be putting lots of stuff down there.  Tomorrow we're headed to Ikea to buy some kind of storage unit for the entryway, just some place to hang coats.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We found a permanent apartment!

For the past 6 weeks we've been living in a temporary apartment in the Champel area.  It hasn't been that bad, except for when the internet was down for multiple days two weekends in a row.  Also needing to go down to the basement to do laundry in the communal laundry area (very common in Switzerland) has been really inconvenient.  But we're very close to a nice playground, and there's a Coop grocery store just around the corner.

During our apartment search, I think we saw about 9 apartments with our agent.  Geneva is well known for being very difficult to find housing in, and there was so little available that she just showed us what there was, most of which was not suitable for a number of reasons.  The eighth apartment, in the Champel area like our temporary apartment, was the first one that was reasonably close to what we were looking for.  The apartment search here is kind of like a job hunt—you "apply" and either are successful...or not.  Well, when we applied for this one, the owner apparently didn't like our application for one reason or another, so our agent showed us another apartment that had just come up, this time in the Eaux Vives area.  This is where I work as well, and my commute would be a 5 minute walk—nice!  That, plus the fact that this apartment was less expensive and there was a third additional (very) small bedroom, made it worthwhile applying too.  The extra bedroom is an old maid's room, off the kitchen. It's tiny—you can stretch out your arms and easily touch both walls—but we could use it for an office or guest bedroom.

Anyway, after lots of back and forth, our application to the Eaux Vives apartment was accepted , and we'll be moving in next Thursday.  On the same day, the kids will be starting at a new school (their commute will be much shorter as well)  And—oh happy day!—they'll be in the same school all day, and we won't need to walk Kenny to another school for his French welcome lessons.  That was the HUGE hassle of our current situation.

We'll still be pretty close to a playground, but it's not quite as nice as the one in Park Bertrand, in Champel.  However we'll be quite close to the lake, where there's another playground.  And shopping (all the major grocer chains, such as Coop, Migros, and Denner) are very close.

The apartment does have some negatives.  We'll have to put the dining room table in the entry, because there's no other good place for it.  And—this is the big negative—there's no shower, just a tub.  Hopefully we can fix that by putting up a shower curtain, and putting up a fixture to hang the shower head up so we don't need to hold it.  But all in all I'm VERY much looking forward to being in permanent housing, having the kids in a permanent school, and being more settled in general.  We went to Ikea today because there's quite a few things that we'll need to buy, and we want to get a head start on them.  For example, lamps.  When you rent an apartment in Switzerland, the light fixtures are missing, and there's just bare bulbs on the wall.  Somehow I think it must be a big scam by the electrician's union (you need an electrician to install the lights, no DIY allowed) but what it means is that we'll be buying quite a few lamps.   Also something for coats and jackets in the entry, a small table for the kitchen, etc.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Picking up a visa in Paris

Eric's visa came in to the Swiss embassy in Paris, so that was as good an excuse as any for a visit.  And really, it wasn't an excuse, because without the visa you can't get a permit, and without a permit there's a number of things you can't do (i.e. get a cell phone plan, etc).    We stayed at the Novotel in Les Halles, a very central location just about 7 minutes walk from Notre Dame (triple that time for walking with the kids, though).  The kids loved the breakfast buffet - and what's more fun than a breakfast buffet for a kid?  With croissants, all kinds of breakfast cereal, hot chocolate, fruit salad, and all kinds of other yummies.

We spent a lot of time in the playgrounds!   Our favorite was the one at Jardin de Luxemboug, where you actually had to pay to enter (2.5 Euros each for the kids. 1.5 for the adults).  They loved this spinning carousel there.

While we were in the tourist areas, scammers were all over the place.  While walking along the Seine, somebody tried the gold ring scam on us (bend over, pretend to find a gold ring, offer to sell it to you at a discounted price because they're in the country illegally and can't sell it themselves, of course the ring turns out to not be gold).  They were pretty easily put off by us just walking on and ignoring them - they must not have been real pros.  Kenny was very impressed by the whole thing after we explained what had happened.  It may be the first time that he's ever seen a real, honest-to-goodness "bad guy".  He went on and on about how it was just like stealing.

I wonder why the police don't crack down on this kind of activity.  I've read online that since most of the perpetrators are minors, they can't arrest them, but surely there's something they can do?  Even just to have a sign in English warning about scams at some of the tourist hot spots would be something.  I did see one man taken in by another scam, the deaf-mute one (a teenage girl indicates with signs that she's deaf, asks you to sign her petition, then at the bottom of the petition is something like "Minimum donation - 10 Euros").  It's usually kindly, good-natured people who get taken in by these scams - the ones who don't want to just ignore people that might need help, or tell them to buzz off.  And once you've done anything other than completely ignore them or rudely put them off, they know you're a potential soft touch and just won't let go.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Volunteering at the Expanding Your Horizons event at the University of Geneva

I was poking around some Geneva specific websites (I think it was Glocals) and found a reference to the Expanding Your Horizons event this weekend (event link), at the University of Geneva.  It's a set of workshops for girls ages 11 to 14, designed to interest them in pursuing science and technology careers.   I contacted the woman responsible for organizing it late on Thursday evening, saying that it was too late for this year, but perhaps she could put me on her contact list for next year.  Lo and behold, she emailed me back, saying it wasn't too late and that I should come and volunteer this Saturday!  So I did, and it was a very interesting and worthwhile experience.  I got up and ready earlyunfortunately Kenny woke up just as I was leaving, and was a little distressed about my not being around today.  I managed to distract him with permission to play on his Nintendo DS.

I started walking towards the University of Geneva, where it was held, around 7:00 am, as the sky lightened (it was fairly dark when I started).  The bus connections would have been really inconvenient, so I just walked, and that worked quite well, using my phone's navigation.  I had missed the orientation the night before, so I was coming into the situation without much background.  The main task for the last-minute volunteers such as myself was to help with registration.  I pity the girls that I helped with the registration, though, because other volunteers who spoke French far more fluently were doing a much more thorough job.  I was hoping that there would be some kind of forum where the girls could ask questions of the women who were working in science and technology, such as myself.  But it was all workshops, such as "The Kitchen as a Laboratory", "Build your own Solar Car", and "Robot Academy".

I can't say that I helped further the girls interest in science and technology very much (my French is too limited for something like that) but I did help out a bit with the registration, and made some good contacts with some very friendly local women, whom I'll try to connect with later.  I also met a lady from Zimbabwe, whose parents left that country (with nothing, but she's happy they made it out—about half of their friends died under the Mugabe regime) when she was 12 years old.  She told me about her planned trip to the west coast next summer, where she planned on climbing Mt. Rainier.  I was a bit taken aback, and told her that it was a pretty serious mountain to climb.  But it turns out that she had been a climbing guide in Uzbekistan for 7 seasons, so I think she'll do just fine!  You meet a lot of interesting people here.

I came home a bit earlier than planned, because I didn't want to leave Eric and the kids on their own all day. We ended up taking the bus to the Perle du Lac park, where the Museum of the History Of Science is located.  It was a little difficult keeping the kids engaged, but the old scientific devices and instruments were quite interesting.  What they like best are the parabolic sound reflectors just outside the museum, where you can whisper to one another quite easily from about 30 meters apart.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The kids are going to Swiss public schools

Yet again, unbelievably, the internet is down at our apartment. It went down Friday around 7 PM, which means (remember nobody works on the weekend at all) that we won't have any internet, except what we have on the phone, all weekend. Incredibly frustrating, because we have so many things we need the internet for. But in the spirit of looking for the silver lining, and all that jazz, here it is - if I did have the internet (read - web surfing) , I probably wouldn't be so diligent with the blog posts (I write them up in Notepad and then post online). So, there you have it. 

Anyway - back to the kids and schooling thing. Both Peter and Kenny are in the public school system here. This is, of course, a huge adjustment for them because they don't speak French, and in the schools here, all instruction is in French. We enrolled them a few weeks ago, and so far they've had 2 weeks of schooling (even though we've been here 3 full weeks, one of them was the autumn vacation). Also - every Wednesday is no school. I had a hard time believing that at first, but that's the way it is - it's just a no school day. Apparently that's the day when the activities (that would in the US be after school activities) occur. 

Peter, even though he just turned 4 in June, is in a class at the same school that Kenny is in. It's called 1P - which is kind of like preschool, except a bit more formal. He's one of the younger ones, but there are 4 or 5 that are younger than he is. At the beginning the parents were allowed to walk him into the classroom. But now that they've beein in school for a while, they're supposed to go in all by themselves, and he's been doing that. He hangs up his backpack on a hook, takes off his shoes, puts on slippers (right now he's just using his crocs), then goes into the classroom. 

When they go into the classroom, they shake hands with the teacher and the teacher's assistant, and say "Bonjour". That's a big deal, and they're quite formal about it - the kids stand in line to do it. He has two main teachers, one teaches on Monday and Tuesday, and the other on Thursday and Saturday. There may be more overlap than that, because I've seen the Monday-Tuesday teacher around on Thursday. We're supposed to buy him a smock to cover his shirt for when they paint, and they've mentioned it a couple times, but even after looking at a couple places, I couldn't find it. I think it's one of those things that is only sold at the beginning of the school year. We also had to buy a special pair of very thin slippers that are used in their dance class, I had no problem finding that at a shoe store close by to where I work. 

Kenny needs a gym shirt and shorts, we'll try to find that this weekend. Kenny was started in the 4P class, in which all the kids seemed quite small, but after they gave him a math test, they transferred him to the 5P class. His classmates are his size and age, and even older now. They split the kids differently by birth dates here than in Bellevue. In Bellevue, Kenny was among the oldest in his class, but now he's one of the younger ones. His 5P teacher is a man (Kenny likes that!) and speaks English quite well, so that's good. I don't think his 4P teacher spoke English at all. There's 1 kid in his class who speaks some English. I thought that there would be many more international kids who spoke some English, but no. Maybe everyone else is going to private international schools. 

Kenny has done a lot of what in the US would be after-school activities - for instance, they go to a flute class, and they also go to a swimming class as part of the regular class activities. He's also started German class, which is not necessarily something that's good for him now - yet another language. 

I try hard to wring some more information out of the kids about how school was when I come home from work, but I've been about as successful as I was in Bellevue - that is, not very. I do hear from Kenny frequently that school was "great". Peter has generally been saying school is "good". I ask Kenny if he plays with other kids at recess, and he says, "of course". So I guess he's not being excluded from things. Apparently one kid in Kenny's class has been assigned to work with him on things like making sure he stands in the right spot when they're lining up, telling him what's going on. This is not the English speaking kid, though, so Kenny says that he uses a lot of hand signals. I need to be a little smarter about getting information out of the kids about their day. I'm thinking bribery - specifically, I just bought a bar of chocolate which I think I'll use. I'll sit them down, say "tell me an interesting tidbit about school and you get a piece". I think that could be quite effective in jogging their memory. 

I ask the both of the every day, "What words have you learned in French". And I usually get back, "nothing!". Not what I want to hear. But then Peter told me yesterday that he learned jeuene and bleu (yellow and blue) so that was good. Of course those are words that we went over in French kids dictionary too. I'm sure they're learning things, just perhaps not articulating it too well. 

Kenny told me a story about how the boys in his class took a girl's jacket, and kind of played keep away with it. He seemed a little shocked. Did that kind of thing not happen in his old school? Also he said boys chase girls sometimes, but they don't seem to mind. The school itself is a little dingy looking. Or maybe it just seems that way because when I'm there, I'm dropping off Peter in the morning and it's a large covered area that doesn't get much light. 

The playground has more interesting equipment than his school playground in Bellevue. I'll have to put some pictures in, but there's an interesting concrete pit/depression that the kids are always playing ball in - bouncing it off the sides to one another. Also there's an outside ping pong table that always has kids playing on it. And I haven't seen it yet, but there's a zip line that Kenny is really excited about. 

So up till now Kenny has been going to regular classes with other kids, with no special French language instruction at all, at a school called Ecole de Contamine. Starting next week, he'll be going half time to a different school, I think it's called Ecole Crete Champel. That's the only place where they have the French language instruction. I'm hoping it'll really jump start his French learning. For Peter, they don't have anything like that - I guess they figure at age 4, he has plenty of time to pick it up before things become too academic. 

It's great that Kenny will be getting special French classes, but it also poses huge logistical difficulties. The school schedule is from 8:00 to 4:00, with a 2 hour break in the middle for lunch. During this 2 hour break, Kenny needs to switch from one school to another, but of course Peter will still be going to the original school. We're still figuring out how this will work, but I know it will cause major hassles, probably including me needing to come home from work during the day. Not something I'm looking forward to. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Thank goodness for a sunny weekend

This past weekend was very kid-centric, with lots of playground time.

On Saturday we took a roundabout route, through Parc Bertrand to a "toy library" or Ludoteque.  It was supposed to be open Saturday morning, as per the online calendar, but it turns out that it's actually closed this Saturday because of special hours for the week long autumn holiday.  That was disappointing, but at least the playground outside was good.  There was an outdoor ping pong table, which I've seen in a few places around here.  I'll need to buy some ping pong paddles and balls and make use of them.

Later we walked to the Natural History Museum, very close by.  The kids and Eric had already been there once, and they had lots they wanted to show me, especially the 2 headed turtle!  That was the only live thing there, everything else was basically stuffed animals, or mineral displays.  It held the kids attention astonishingly well, considering how old-fashioned and non-interactive it was.  But it was free, so that was good.

After lunch and some downtime at home, we went to a small playground with old fashioned equipment just below old town - I think it's the Treille Promontory.  It also has what's hailed as the longest continuous bench in the world.  Then we went down to the Parc des Bastions.  The first thing we saw there was something that was apparently an "Occupy Geneva" protest.  Lots of people camping there, with tents, lots of anti-capitalist signs, lots of holding of hands in circles.  Then we walked over to the playground (of course) where the kids entertained themselves very well.

Two friendly students from the nearby University of Geneva came by and did a very lengthly survey on what we thought of the idea of using playground equipment (such as the kid-powered merry-go-round that our kids were cavorting on) to create electricity.  I think we were the first people that they talked to about it.  Apparently it all had to do with the Global Sustainability Jam (  I stomped on the idea pretty well because I thought it was so impractical, but they didn't seem to mind too much.  However, they did say that now they needed to find someone who actually thought the idea was good.  I was a little self-conscious, because they were videotaping my answers to their questions on their iphone.   I was surprised at how little English they spoke.  I speak some French, and so I understood most of what they were saying, but they tried switching to English so that Eric could understand, and it was pretty limited.  I believe in Switzerland, for the French speakers, the next language they learn in school is German, and not English like it is in the rest of the Europe.

Just after that, Eric was throwing some apple cores from our snack into the garbage.  As he did so, he saw what looked like a wallet in there.  He pulled it out and found a white leather woman's wallet, filled with identity cards, receipts, insurance cards, but no money.  The victim was a retired woman from Germany.  I've heard that pick-pocketings are very common, and that we should be very careful.  Here was some first hand proof.  We looked around for some police, but there were none to be seen.  I also realized that we haven't seen any police at all, walking around.  I found a non-emergency police number on the internet, called it, and was told to go to a police station nearby, in the Old Town (Vielle Ville).  We went there, but it was closed (though I had asked the police officer who answered the phone if it would be open, and he said yes.  I guess we'll probably just bring it by to some police office on Monday, when they should be open again.

Later we bought some roasted chestnuts (Peter and I liked them, Kenny and Eric didn't) and viewing St Peter's cathedral, with an intricate set of carved choir chairs from the 1400's.  Then we had dinner at Chez Ma Cousine, where we went our second day here with Paige and other friends from work.  And then a quick and convenient bus home, to relax and decompress.

There's STILL NO INTERNET here at our temporary apartment.  God, I hope we find something permanent soon.  Eric is grumbling about the work ethic here, where they leave essential services (to us, anyway, the internet is pretty essential) broken for the whole weekend because they just basically do not work on weekends.  At all.  Ever.  That's what it seems like at this point, anyway.  Maybe customer service is a uniquely American skill.  I'm gathering that most of the impressions that I've gleaned over the years about the Swiss (efficient, hard working, etc) are actually traits of the German speaking part of Switzerland, not the French speaking part.  They take it a lot easier here.

On Sunday we took bus #1 to the Botanical Garden - we didn't need to change buses at all, and it left just a few blocks from our house.  It was almost empty - not much happens here Sunday morning.  We walked around, saw a very tall persimmon tree with a lot of ripe looking persimmons higher up.  I've seen persimmons in the stores a lot, it's one of the more common exotic fruits they have here, considering the fruit and veggie sections are usually quite small in these small stores.   We also went into a greenhouse with a lot of exotic plants, that reminded me of the one at Volunteer Park.  Then we found the playground - as usual, a focus of our trips!  The kids had fun using some sand-moving pulleys and buckets.  We had brought some food along for a picnic  (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, leftover pizza, oranges, and Kenny's birthday cake). There was a mini-zoo with a herd of deer and a few other animals.  We also chatted for a long time with a family with 3 boys, the wife is from New York, the husband from Spain, and the kids are completely trilingual, in French, Spanish, and English.  They moved in August from Paris to just inside the French border, outside Geneva.  The kids go to a public school there, that's also kind of a magnet school, apparently, and has multiple days of the week that are focused on different languages (i.e. Wednesday is English).  They were quite friendly and we exchanged phone numbers.  Maybe these will be the first people that we meet here that become friends with us!

We walked from the Botanical Garden to the UN European headquarters, which was locked up tight, unfortunately.  And from there to La Perle du Lac, a beautiful lakeside park that also has a science and technology museum which we'll need to go visit.  Like the Natural History museum, it's free.  There was a pair of parabolic sound reflectors that you can talk into, and hear someone hundreds of feet away very clearly.  Kenny and I used them quite a bit, even experimenting with the softest whispers we were able to hear eachother.

Then we went down to the lake, where we took a ferry (no extra charge, since we've already paid for monthly passes for the public transport system) across the lake to the walkway along Quai Gustave Ador.  Lots of people were out and about, enjoying the sun and warm weather.  Then to the kids beach that has a playground area made out of old bicycle tires.  I'll put up some pictures soon, it's a very unique playground that the kids really enjoyed.  It would NEVER be allowed in the US, because we Americans are so paranoid about liability.  But the kids were nuts over it.

We were pretty hungry by this point, so had a panini, croque Monsier, and a few ice creams for the kids at a little food stand next to the walkway.  It was the only place that was open, it was really crowded and the quality of the food wasn't good at all.  Plus it was a long wait.  Next time I'll bring more food with. We took the bus back home, though it probably would have been just as fast to walk.  But it's good in any case to get to know the bus system.

The internet is still down here at the apartment.  No surprise there since I knew they don't work over the weekneds, but it's amazing what a gap it is in our lives, even though we still have our phones with internet.

So, this weekend was pretty good.  Hopefully it's a sign of things to come, because truthfully, the first few weeks have been quite difficult for a lot of reasons.  I'd like to think that as we get adjusted here, get to know some people, find permanent housing, etc, things will get easier.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Week two in Geneva is over

Week 2 in Geneva is over.  This was a week of school vacations, which means that Eric had the kids all day - challenging for him.  We also saw about 6 apartments, with so far nothing that appeals to us.  Not to mention it's all crazy expensive.

The simple act of doing the laundry has been difficult.  The laundry machines are all in the basement, very unfamiliar, and with no instructions in English.  The property management company that owns this building has some onsite people, whom I called to come over to the laundry room to help Eric, but apparently they didn't know how it worked either.  They just put in some credits and turned it on to a setting that's the equivalent of prewash, that just left the clothing soaking wet.  And they didn't speak English.  He said it took all day, both the first time and today.  Today he knew how to do it, but the machines were occupied when he went there, so he had to keep on checking for free machines.

The first time he tried doing laundry, last week, some people at work heard me talking to him on the phone about the laundry and tried to help - apparently we're not the first to have some issues with it.  A guy who sits a few seats down from me said his wife had problems for 2 weeks before she finally figured it out.  He was very helpful.

Overall, I'd say the people here are quite friendly and certainly extremely polite.  Especially considering that we're in a city, it's amazing how people will say (in French) pardon me, have a good day, etc.  Email and any official communication is what Americans would consider extremely formal, with flowery salutations and formal well-wishes.

I feel self conscious in the grocery store here.  Not just for the obvious reasons - we probably stand out like a sore thumb here - but because I'm talking, probably fairly loudly, to Eric and the kids, and I'm probably the only one  who is.  Most people seem to just glide through the store silently.  I never noticed this so much anywhere else.

The internet is down here at our apartment.  It's been down most of yesterday, and will in all liklihood not be up today, because nobody does any work on weekends at all here.  So if it's down, that's it until Monday.  It makes me realize how dependent we are on the internet!  It's no longer just an option for modern life, it's something critical like water and power.

Speaking of not working on weekends - nobody works outside regular work hours, either.  What this means is - instead of the office being cleaned silently and efficiently sometime in the evening or during the night, you have people poking around you with a vacuum cleaner, or wiping your desk, while you're trying to work.  Or (like yesterday for me at work) you have to leave your office at 1 in the afternoon because somebody needs to work on the air conditioner in the ceiling.  I've also been told that no road work happens during the night, like you have in the US, it all happens during regular work hours.  Which would go a long way towards explaining why traffic is so bad here.

So, this weekend I have some things planned - a trip to the local toy library should be fun, and also to the citiy park that's quite close, with the old fashioned play equipment.  It's also in the middle of old town, which we saw on the first or second day, but we were so dazed and confused and jet-lagged, that we really didn't take anything in.  Unfortunately because we don't have internet now at home, it's difficult to do any research on where to go.  I hope I can get by with using the notes I took in Google docs, which I should be able to access on my phone (really inconveniently and awkwardly, but should still work, hopefully)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Whew! We're here...

Well, we've been here for about 10 days now, and I've completed my first week of work, and our first non jet-lagged weekend.

We're still in a bit of culture shock here.  The prices (outlandish), the fact that we're basically living in the middle of a large city, everyone is speaking French.  I speak enough French, and have a good enough accent, to make people that speak to me think that I can understand everything they're saying when that's absolutely not the case.  In general I just pick up a few words, here and there.  Bless Peter's preschool teacher, because I understand almost every single word she says in French.  It must be all the practice she has in saying things slowly and using simple words.

Working full-time is a big adjustment.  I've worked 3 days a week for 8 years now, and full-time work definitely requires me to be more efficient and directed during my time at home.

Another thing that still shocks me in walking around and taking the public transport is the amount of graffiti everywhere.  Most flat surfaces are covered in graffiti, and there doesn't seem to be any effort to paint over it at all.

The kids completed a week of public school this past week.  They started Tuesday, and then Wednesday is a day off!  (Amazing, every Wednesday is completely off).  So really only 3 days.  Also this next week is a holiday, so they'll be with Eric all week.  Peter has adjusted pretty well, he says, "It's great!" when I ask him how it is.  He's pretty positive about things in general, though.  Kenny is a little more circumspect, he says, "it's good", but then also says he's bored.  The week after next he'll start a half-time French learning program.  It sounds great, but unfortunately it's at a different school, so I'll have to help with getting the kids there and back (did I mention that they need to come home for a 2 hour lunch?).  Logistics will be pretty challenging.

We just started taking public transport this past weekend.  So far we've taken trams and buses, and every single one of them have been very punctual.  Just today we took the #8 bus out to Saleve, which is a nearby mountain, with some very impressive cliffs, just over the border in France.  We took the cable car up, with a friend from work.  It was quite foggy in the morning, but then got a lot nicer as the day went on.  We had a bit of a view just before we took the cable car down - could see the Jet d'Eau and all.  Kenny and I found some old ruined rock walls up there - would be interesting to know when they're from.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Going away party

Had lots of people over for our going away party - here's a few photos.  We'll miss everyone!  Hope lots of people will come for a visit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Checking out library books on the cloud, via my Kindle

I got an Amazon Kindle about a week ago, specifically for our move to Geneva. It was the cheapo $114 special, with only wifi and no 3G. But for me, it's absolutely awesome. When I got it out of the box, the first thing I thought was - wow, this is so incredibly light! It really is quite a bit lighter than a regular paperback. And the next thing was - how do I get this sticker off the screen? I finally figured out that - there wasn't a sticker on the screen, that's the screen! It doesn't look like other screens, because it's not backlit.

Then I started downloading books to it - mainly public domain books from the Amazon website. I had heard that the King County Library System (KCLS) was going to have books available sometime in 2011. That was really the motivation to buy a Kindle right now.

This morning I read in the Seattle Times that the library system is up and running with Kindle books. No sooner had I read that, than I tried it out, and voila - I'm the proud borrower of 8 ebooks on the Kindle! The first one I'm reading is Red Azalea by Anchee Min. So far it's great. The reading experience on the Kindle in general is just superb. I hadn't realized what a pain in the rear it is to actually turn pages in books, and hold them open. Seriously! It's so much more convenient to just read on a Kindle, you can move around much more easily, one tiny little click to turn the page. When I have a choice, I'm definitely going to be using the Kindle instead of paper books. This will be so handy when we're overseas

Thursday, September 8, 2011

We're moving to Geneva, Switzerland!

It sure has been a long time in coming, but now it's final - we're moving to Geneva, Switzerland this within the month! We're flying over sometime around October 12th, and I'll be starting work with the Expedia Partner Services Group around the 17th. It's a huge move, of course for all four of us - husband Eric, son Kenny (7) and Peter (4). Kenny and Peter will be going to public school over there, so hopefully they will learn French very quickly, being immersed in it.

Why the move? Well, I've always been interested in travel, and have done a fair bit in my life. But with kids, you're not going to be able to travel nearly as extensively or exotically as before kids. As a matter of fact, our travels have become very sedate recently. So if exotic travel is out, how about a wholesale move overseas? That way we still a regular, settled home base, but we still get to see the world. Some good friends of ours went to Mexico a few years back, to teach at an international school there. That was the beginning of us taking it very seriously, and trying hard to develop some opportunities overseas. This opportunity eventually came about, and so here we are, in the midst of planning and packing.