Sunday, January 29, 2012

Weekend wanderings in Geneva

This is a blog, but it's also partly my diary, that I'll look back through to remember what we did in Geneva.  So, without further ado or apologies, here's what we did his weekend.

Friday night there was a potluck for families in Peter's class.  I really like his teacher, she's very engaging and always has a smile on her face.  Plus, she does stuff like this.  There was a fair bit of awkward standing around, trying to figure out who to approach, but it all worked out okay, and we met a few new people, and Peter got an invite to a birthday party.  The teacher had the kids sit down together for a photo.

Peter is the one facing the wrong direction

Saturday morning we checked out a thrift store.  I'm a thrift store fan back in the US (the Mercer Island Thrift Store was my favorite), and so I've wanted to see what they're like in Geneva, too.  I found an article another expat wrote up about thrift stores here, and realized that one of her favorites is within walking distance - the Armee du Salut on Route du Chene.  It was kind of interesting.  I was thinking that the kids might find something to buy here - and Kenny actually did find a toy fire truck that he wanted to buy, but we actually told him he couldn't, it was just such a bad value (10 Swiss francs).  He was VERY disappointed to not have gotten anything, though I know the truck wouldn't have held his attention.  It was just the thought of buying something.  

We hadn't made any particular plans for the day, so I decided we should go look at the Art and Science Museum.  It's one of the many free museums here.  There was a friendly volunteer there who cornered us as soon as we came in, and told us we head down the hall on the left, that's where all the guns and swords were.  Obviously he knows little boys!  We had an enjoyable time there, especially considering that all the displays were only in French.  

A set of medieval extension ladders, that were used for scaling city walls
On our way to Old Town, we passed by an elevator to a parking garage.  But the problem is, you can't excavate for a parking garage in a place like Geneva without hitting something old.  And so we have here a combination parking garage/archaeological site of Saint Antoine.  What they were excavating is the old fortifications of Geneva, that you can see in the map below.  The city was was surrounded by massive defensive walls up until the mid 1800's.

The kids in front of the fortifications

The stonework looked very hastily done.  I guess it didn't need to be pretty, just strong.

We continued on our way to the Archaeological Site of St Peter's Cathedral.  We'd seen this before and were about to go in, when we realized that it wasn't free, so we decided to give it miss.  Ever since then, Kenny has been asking to go there.  So, we went.  And - it was great!  There's a HUGE complex of excavations underneath the cathedral, and extending far beyond it.  The excavations range from a tomb from right around 200 AD to the late medieval period.  And the whole area is covered with these neat catwalks, that actually lead you OVER dug out areas.   There's some Roman era wells that were dug out, cathedrals built on top of other cathedrals. There's lots of little dead-ends overlooking various parts of the excavation, and staircases leading down into little cellars where they found something special.  It would be an awesome (but scary) place to play hide and seek.

Whew...lots of archaeology today! We had dinner at Chez Ma Cousine - a restaurant in Old Town that we went to the first few days we were here.  It's one of the few reasonably priced places here, and has a menu of...chicken.  Roast chicken and roast potatoes.  I tried branching out once to the thai style chicken salad, but that was a big mistake.  Now I just always get the standard chicken.  Fast and friendly, and they don't mind bringing you tap water to drink, as I've heard some places do.

I had told Kenny how glad I was that he pushed us to go back to the St. Peter's Cathedral Archaeological site, even after I originally thought it wasn't going to be worth the entrance fee, because we ended up liking it so much. During dinner that topic kept on coming up, as in, "Mom, aren't you glad that I pushed us to go to the archaeology site even after you thought it wouldn't be worth it?"  It was cute.

Sunday the plan was to do a big grocery run to one of the grocery stores across the border in France.  We'd reserved a Mobility car (short term car rental) for the occasion.  Normally all stores, even in France, are completely closed on Sunday.  But apparently, the Carrefour was open from 9 to 12:30.  At least, that's what their website said, but when we actually went there, it turned out they were closed!  I was SO pissed off.

On the plus side, we had gone by another grocery store on the way that looked open.  We stopped in - it was not that large, perhaps two thirds the size of a normal grocery store in the US.  But of course it's much larger than the stores that we can walk to, so we stocked up on things. We'll probably end up going there frequently.

In the afternoon we took the scooters across the lake with the ferry again, another very rough ride because of the wind.  This time instead of going up the lake, we went down to the Jetée des Pàquis, a little peninsula jutting into the lake.  It was so cold out there in the wind that my cheeks felt like they were burning.  We didn't stay long!  But long enough to see some people...completely naked...jumping into the water!  Apparently there's a sauna there, so they were cooling down.  The rest of the afternoon we stayed in, I napped and the kids watched cartoons.  Hey, it was in French...educational, right?

Map of playgrounds in Geneva

The kids have been enjoying the playgrounds as we've been out and about in Geneva.  The city of Geneva has a  list of playgrounds, but they didn't have them in map format.  So my husband set them up in Google maps.  Here they are for your enjoyment!  Feel free to write up your favorites in the comments section.

View Playgrounds in Geneva in a larger map

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bois-de-la-Bâtie playground and zoo

Wait a minute - aren't playgrounds pretty much zoos anyway?  Well, this park playground has a real zoo, with lots of farm animals and a few others found in the Swiss Alps.

The playground was also the largest and nicest we've seen here.  Also there's easy access on bus #2.  So, we'll probably be going here frequently.

On the way back, Kenny sat next to Swiss solider in uniform.  He studied him intently until he got off.  The soldier was very amused.

This ... thing, don't know what to call it, was a huge hit

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Our first sledding trip

Finally, we got out into the snow here in Switzerland!  I've been hearing everyone at the office talk about their marvelous ski weekends for months now, and while we haven't yet gone skiing, we at least went sledding.  We took a train up to La Givrine - first we took the train to Nyon, then a tiny narrow-gauge train up into the mountains.  The train portion of the trip took about an hour and 10 minutes total, but it's mostly because we didn't plan well, and so had a long wait in Nyon.  We had better connections on the way back and it was much faster.

Anyway, there was a little rental station there, right next to where you get off the train, where you could rent all kinds of winter sports gear - sleds, snowshoes, cross country ski gear.  We rented 2 huge heavy sleds and headed to the hill across the train tracks.  The temperature was just above freezing, unfortunately, but at least it wasn't raining.

We inaugurated a sled run down the steepest part of the hill.  There were very few people when we got there, and it was tough going getting the sled down.  We got stuck in the snow a lot, but eventually we had a nice sledding hill.  By the time we left, there was a large crowd (lots of expats) sledding down what we proudly referred to as "our sledding track".

The kids did pretty well, though it turns out we brought two left handed mittens for Peter, from sets that looked very similar.  I put them on him, but it wasn't comfortable, and he took them off often enough to get his hands pretty cold.  On the train ride back I let him put his hands on my stomach.  I was happy to warm his hands, but it's clear why having something icy cold on your warm stomach feels so uncomfortable, even if you're relatively warm - it just sucks the heat out of you.  I felt weirdly cold from the core for a while afterward.  

In other news - last night we went to a party here, hosted by our neighbors from the 4th floor.  It was fun- my first Swiss social gathering, and I actually spoke a lot of  (primitive, halting, grammatically incorrect but enthusiastic) French. Today I realized (slapping myself in the forehead, it was a "doh!" moment) - the reason I was so talkative was because I was a little tipsy!  I'd had a few swallows of wine, and I'm such a lightweight that it really affects me, and made me far more voluble in French than I otherwise would have been.

The neighbor's girlfriend spoke English (actually she's British and doesn't speak French) so Eric had someone to talk to as well.  It was a little uncomfortable meeting our neighbor from directly underneath us, since his wife knocked on our door angrily one morning a while back, telling us the kids were too loud.  But I apologized again, and he said, "no problem", and we got over it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A sunny, cold weekend

We didn't get out of town much this weekend, but we had an awesome time in Geneva.  Saturday we went shopping at the big Migros grocery store in Annemasse (just outside Switzerland, in France).  We rented a Mobility car (short term car rentals, like Zipcar) to get there, and stocked up on some things.  Next time I'll try going a little earlier, it was quite crowded when we went, and by the time we left there was someone waiting for our parking spot.  That's the thing when you limit the store opening hours as dramatically as they are here (usually places close at 6:30 PM, and are closed all day Sunday), people have to do all their shopping during very limited hours.

Maybe I'll try online grocery shopping here.  I did check out the Migros online shop, and their selection seems a lot more limited than it is in the stores.  Grocery shopping sure can be a hassle, though, when you don't have a car.  Perhaps I'll look into some of the other online shopping options.

Saturday afternoon we took our scooters (Kenny and Peter have their own scooters, and Eric and I shared one) up to the Geneva Plage ferry station, and took the ferry across the lake.

 The kids LOVED it because it was very windy, and the ferry was tossed around by the waves.  I immediately started imagining that I was feeling seasick, but luckily the ride wasn't very long.  We scootered up to the World Trade Organization, with cold wind from the lake finding every little gap in our clothing.  On the way back down, we stopped off at the History of Science Musuem (one of the many free museums in Geneva) to warm up.  I like going back to these places again and again - every time it seems like we discover something new.  We took a different ferry on the way back, and Kenny in particular was very disappointed that we weren't tossed around in the boat as we were in the previous one, because the ferry didn't go so far out into the lake.  Then home and hot chocolate!

Sunday we went to the kids school (very close by) to test out the ping pong set we'd bought in France the day before.  There's a ping pong table right at the school, in a little wind-sheltered corner.  It appears that the school playground is a teen hangout (or some kind of hangout) on the weekends, there was trash everywhere!  It was a little too cold in the shade to play ping pong, but we'll definitely go back for it.  One thing that struck me in looking at the playground is how efficient they were in using the space.  They squeezed in a small sized soccer court, small basketball court, of course the ping pong table, and lots of of playground equipment in a very modestly sized playground.

After lunch we walked to the Parc de Bastion, which has a free ice skating rink.  Kenny went there last week with his class, and really wanted to go again.  The ice skate rental was only 2 Swiss Francs each!  That's shockingly cheap for Geneva, and would be quite cheap in the US too.  I'm sure it's subsidized.  After a few rounds around the rink, I got used to it again, and Kenny got better too.

Then we went to the Tavel House museum, another a free museum.  This one is a house which is supposed to be one of the oldest (or THE oldest?) in Geneva.  It was a fun walk through, there's a lot of interesting maps and models of Geneva.  The most interesting thing I learned is that Geneva, up until around 1850, had an elaborate system of earthen fortifications for protection against attack.  They also had a huge elaborate cellar with all kinds of passageways and chambers.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A school field trip in Geneva

The past few days, Kenny had been really excited about the upcoming field trip with his class, to go ice skating. They went today, and he loved it.  He was also very happy to get out of going to his French learning class, which he says is boring.

The differences between field trips here and in his school in Bellevue are immense.

  • There's more of them.  Kenny spent half the day today, and will also go the next two Fridays, ice skating with his class at a free outdoor ice skating rink, at Park des Bastion.  
  • There were no permission slips to sign, just a notice to have your child bring warmer clothes with on the day of the field trip.  
  • No parent volunteers.  They had the teacher, and a lady who normally substitutes for the class, and that's it, for about 25 kids.  
  • The kids walked to the Parc de Bastion, where the ice skating rink was.  It's about a half hour walk, through the middle of downtown Geneva, lots of cars and crossing of busy roads.  Kenny said that they all walked more or less in groups, got somewhat separated occasionally and the teacher would wait for everyone to catch up.  He stayed close to the teacher, because he was worried about getting lost.  
I'm really glad he had this experience.  It also goes to show that so many things that we take for absolutes (i.e., it would be too dangerous to take a large group of young kids walking through a city) are not at all.   I believe that in the USA, we're far too cautious and let our kids do too little, limiting their life experiences.  A good book on this topic is Free-Range Kids, Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry

Here's a picture we'd taken previously of the ice skating rink they visited.

EDIT: Peter's 4 and 5 year old pre-kindergarten class just took a field trip as well.  They went to the same parc, Parc de Bastion, but instead of walking the whole way, they walked to the bus stop and took the regular city bus.  There were 2 parent volunteers helping out the teacher.  The kids went to some kind of community center and watched some kids movie shorts.  

EDIT 3/5/2012
Kenny went on another field trip today - unannounced, no permission slips, nothing.  He just mentioned at dinner today that they'd gone on a field trip. They walked to the bus stop, took the regular city bus, and then went to a church where they listened to an organ, and were allowed to play it.  I can imagine that there would be a LOT more field trips in the US if it were this easy.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday evening at the emergency room

We're all good now, but we were very worried last night about Kenny.  We had taken a trip to Annecy yesterday (summary - about 45 minute drive there, beautiful town, interesting market, chilly to walk around, lunch at a very mediocre restaurant).  On the way back, Kenny complained of stomach pains.  We actually pulled over because he thought he needed to vomit, though he didn't.  He continued to complain of stomach pains, then right in front of the elevator of our building, he vomited all over.  We got him to bed, he continued to complain of massive stomach pains, was groaning and crying and couldn't find a position that didn't hurt.  Meanwhile, I'm researching online on the symptoms of appendicitis and food poisoning.  We called the emergency line, they suggested some ibuprofen, and then to come into the emergency room if it doesn't help.  I gave it an hour, and he was in as much pain as before, so Kenny and I took a taxi to the emergency room.  We waited there, with Kenny tossing and turning on a bed, for about an hour before seeing a nurse and then a doctor.

The doctor tried to do an abdominal exam, but couldn't get very far, because Kenny was in so much pain.  He ended up giving him pain medication in a suppository format, then did another exam which indicated to him that it might be - get this - constipation!  That's something that I would NEVER have thought of.  Kenny was finally able to move his bowels, with some help, and within an hour was as perky as ever.

Whew!  Certainly a much better outcome than gastroenteritis or appendicitis.  Overall the experience left me with a positive impression of the health care system here.  They discovered the problem, fixed it, the wait wasn't too horrendous even in the emergency room, and Kenny is healthy again (though with strict instructions as to diet).  I thought we ate plenty of fruit and fiber, but apparently not.

Other happenings this weekend - we went to CERN, the research facility here with the particle accelerator.  We got there around 10:30 and thought that the visitor center was closed, because it looked empty, but it was just early.  Eric ended up talking for hours with a retired physicist there.  He had worked there for 30 years, then had been retired for the past 10, but volunteered at the visitor center regularly.  I don't know a whole lot about physics, but Eric was very curious and interested, and the volunteer ended up talking to us at great length.  Luckily, with mobile phone games and movies, the kids were occupied.  We had brought a packed lunch with, but it didn't appear that there was anywhere we could sit and eat it.  So, we asked the retired physicist where we could go, and he told us that he'd take us to to the staff cafeteria.  Okay, sure - sounds interesting!  He brought us over to another building, let us in with his cardkey, and told us where to go, moving a garbage can aside which was blocking the staircase going down.  He said something like - oh, they're probably mopping.  He went back to the visitor center, and we walked down the staircase and down a hallway.  Then we encountered a custodian, who scolded us vigorously, so we retreated.  It turned out that they weren't just mopping, they were applying some kind of (very smelly and slippery) waxy coating to the floor, and that we were definitely not supposed to be there!  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Having less clutter = using our things more

I've noticed since moving here that the kids - Peter in particular - are doing much more arts and crafts, even though we have only about a tenth of the materials out that we had back in Bellevue.   I think it's because having less things can make it easier to use them.  For instance, previously we had a whole bin with arts and crafts but simply because there was so much of it, it wasn't immediately accessible.  To get things out, you'd have to dig through drawers, past a bunch of supplies you weren't interested in.  But now, we have a small carrying tray containing markers, crayons, colored pencils, scissors, and things like that.  Peter can get at it very easily, and thus he spends a lot more of his time coloring, and making little projects.

The house we're in now is about 112 square meters, or 1205 square feet.  It's about a third of the size of our house in Bellevue, but I don't find that it's too small at all.  It proves to me that you can live happily in a much smaller space than you think.  There's definitely some things I'd like to improve about it, but they're more along the lines of decorating, and making it homier.  Like perhaps a large potted plant, and another rug.  I originally though that we'd need a lot more storage, but at this point I've changed my mind.  We bought two 3-drawer dressers from Ikea, and I think what with the built-in storage, the dressers, and a cabinet that was previously in the office, we're going to be fine for now.