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.