Friday, May 24, 2013

I get to bike to work!

My commute starts with getting my bike out of the "bike garage" in the ground floor of my apartment building, folding up my right pant leg to avoid the bike chain, and pedaling down to Lake Geneva.  I bike along the lake, passing a lot of famous sights - the Jet d'Eau, the English Gardens, the Bain de Paquis.  On a sunny day (which have been scarce recently, unfortunately), it's a glorious ride, most of it off the road or on bike paths.  There's lots of pedestrians, but it's actually kind of fun to avoid them - it's like playing a "dodge 'em" type video game.

On the way to work - looking north on Lake Geneva

I'm on an old clunky bike, so lots of people pass me - even ladies with skirts and high heels, sometimes.  (Yes, some women here bike to work in skirts and high heels - and I've seen plenty of men in suits, as well.)  Maybe I shouldn't blame the bike - maybe it's me that needs to get in better shape?
On the way home - Jet d'Eau and Mount Saleve are visible
There's substantial amounts of other bike commuters sharing the path with me.  And almost nobody wears a helmet while biking.  A few more than in Amsterdam, perhaps, where from what I saw, literally no adults wore bike helmets (and yet, they have by far the highest percentage of people biking to work and school).  

We had a few days of rain last week, and I got absolutely drenched on my way home.  I didn't mind so much my jeans getting soaked, though maybe I would have if my bike ride had been longer (it's about max 20 minutes).  But my hands did get very cold.  So until the weather gets a little better, I'll be bringing my rain pants and gloves with me.  Even in the rain, it's an enjoyable bike ride, except that the fun of dodging pedestrians is gone because they stay inside.  Another bonus - I don't need to work out anymore, except a bit of strength training here and there.  I figure with 40 minutes of biking on the days that I work, I'm good.  

My route to work now is pretty settled, but for the first few weeks, I constantly tweaked the route to try to make it shorter, safer, and find the shortest waits are at intersections.  Here's the route via Google Maps.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

More random notes - German vs. French Switzerland, tourists in Lucerne, tops at the grocery store

Some more random notes:

- We just spent the weekend in Lucerne, in the German speaking part of Switzerland.  It's a really noticeable, the difference between German speaking and French speaking Switzerland.  I specifically noticed this in the area of women's shoes, which I was looking at because I wanted to buy some. In the German speaking part of Switzerland, women wear much more comfortable shoes when out and about.  Another thing - the setup for bike lanes and pedestrians is much more advanced in the German speaking part of Switzerland (though any part of Switzerland is far better than the US in this regard).

- Lucerne is packed with tourists.  The two biggest easily identifiable groups are the Indians and the Chinese. However, the Indians seem to always travel with their family, while the Chinese travel with tour groups.  I assume much of that has to do with the fact that the Indians speak English very well, whereas the Chinese don't.

- A Chinese couple in Lucerne wanted for whatever reason to get photo of them with my kids.  I didn't understand at first - I thought they were offering to take a picture of me with the kids.  But no, they wanted a picture of themselves with the kids!  Strange.  I took a picture too.  Also strange was the fact that they were grinning like mad when talking to me, but when it came time to take the picture, they got all serious.

- Peter was talking to me, and forgot another English word - this time a pretty darned important one, "boy".

    Peter: "What's that word, for what I am?"
    Me: "You mean, a boy?"
    Peter: "Yes, that's it, I forgot!"

- The grocery store Migros has new marketing campaign.  For each 20 CHF worth of goods that you buy, you get a top similar to this, which elementary age kids are absolutely wild about collecting.
For the day-to-day things that we need, we go to the other big grocery store chain, the Coop, so we don't get the tops.  But when we were in Lucerne, there was a Migros grocery store at the train station, which was open American style hours (i.e. not closed on Sundays and holidays).  We arranged our sightseeing around visiting this grocery store.  A couple times a day, the kids would go in, buy two small cartons of chocolate milk, and the generous cashier would give them 2 tops each.  We did that a few times, and came home with quite an accumulation.  I asked for one today at the Migros, but without the kids, and my cashier refused, saying it had to be above 20 CHF.  But the cashier next to her just handed me one!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Kids and Travel

We have 2 boys, ages 5 and 9.  Do they like to travel?  Well...hmm. Not nearly as much as I do. And I have occasionally heard the complaint, "I want to stay here this weekend!".  I don't know when kids develop a desire to see "sights", but it certainly isn't yet.  No, travel with kids this age involves a lot of compromises, and a lot of slowing down.  Here's some of the things that make it work better for us:

  • Screen time.  Normally, at home, screen time is pretty limited.  But on trips, when we're in the car, or flying, it's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of games and movies.  The old iPad is pressed into service, as well as the Nexus that was supposed to be mine, and occasionally, my phone.  
  • Breaks!   Lots of them, and frequent.  Take a little break, open the snack bag, sit down for a while.  Basically, do things at the kid's pace.  
  • Candy.  What more can I say?  I have a little container that I fill with Skittles, which I call "walking pills".  When Peter gets tired of walking, a walking pill will pep him up considerably.  Then negotiating when he gets the next walking pill can consume the time until the next real break.  
  • There's things my boys can spend hours doing. For instance, throwing rocks into a lake.  Go ahead, spend an hour or two doing just that.  The museums can wait.
  • Bring toys.  Whenever we go on a longer trip, I have the boys both bring a small mesh bag with little toys, like little Lego characters, etc.  They can spend a remarkable amount of time playing with them.  
  • Books.  I bring Kenny's Kindle along, and also load some children's books onto my Kindle, to read aloud to Peter.
  • Games that can be played while walking.  For instance, "I'm going on a camping trip and I'm going to bring a ... ".  Each person then adds one item, and has to remember the previous person's item.  It gets tricky!  Form teams as appropriate for the younger kids.  Another favorite was going through the alphabet, trying to think of an animal name that starts with each letter.  And the perennial favorite, 20 questions, made a easier for little kids by choosing a category (like fruits, or animals).

Things that are important to me, are not important to them, and vice versa.  For instance, Peter saw an old bent earring on the sidewalk.  At first I told him not to pick up that old dirty thing, but then I reconsidered, and he happily played with it, washed it at the next fountain we saw, etc.

It's interesting to note the kind of things that kids remember.  For instance, there was a particular cafe we went to in Lyon, at the Basilica of Notre-Dame.  When we went there the second time, he remembered that the first time we were there, he had his favorite "Twisty" popsicle for the very first time.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Starting job at the UN

In the spirit of, "when one door closes, another door opens", last week was my first week of work at the UN, working for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  The UN has such an aura about it - perhaps a bit tarnished sometimes, but still - that I'm excited to be working there, at the "Palais des Nations".  There's so much history here, so many dreams and plans for peace, so many delegates and diplomats in the hallways. Geneva is a very multi-cultural, international place, but the Palace of Nations in Geneva is the very epitome of international.

A few first impressions:

The offices are enormous!  I'm in the E building (the "new" building, though it was built in the 1970's).    Here it is.

I share an office with one officemate, and it's literally about 30 feet long.  Other offices in our group are also extremely spacious.  You can't even really chat with someone while leaning on the doorway, because their desk is usually so far away from the door.  At Expedia, we just had rows of desks, facing one another.  I would conservatively estimate that Expedia packed at least 5 or 10 times as many people to the square foot.  That's more efficient and much cheaper, of course, but it is kind of cool to have massive offices like these.

My office
On the ground floor of the E Building is a large cafe/lunch area.  It looks like it could be from a 1970's James Bond film - it has scores of low-slung leather chairs, looking out over the lake.  Very pleasant place to hang out.

My desk is a massive sturdy old thing that looks like it's from the 1970s, same as the building.  Very solidly built.

There's a curious lack of any kind of common or public space in the office building.  I walked around the other day for a bit of a break, and in my walk along the entire lake side of the building, there were nothing but offices with closed doors.  You have to go down to the first floor cafe (pictured above) for a common area.  I'm used to smaller offices (desks, really) but pleasant and plentiful common areas.

The view is great - the building is set in a big grassy park, with views of the lake and mountains.  My boss has a great view of Mt Blanc.

The grounds are beautiful, especially on a sunny day.  The whole area has a wonderful view of Lac Leman, the huge old trees - it's just gorgeous.

The Palais des Nations is a very impressive old building, with extremely high ceilings.

There are 2 massively long corridors going from my building to the Palais des Nations.  One is on the 3rd floor, and one is on the ground floor, which on that side of the building is underground.

Third floor corridor
The UN cafeteria is a great deal, with great food at prices that, for Geneva, are reasonable.  That's probably why it can get very crowded - also with the constant conferences and meetings, things get very busy.  They have great fancy desserts as well.

There's peacocks everywhere!  Apparently the original owner of the property that gave it to the League of Nations made as a condition of the bequest that the peacocks were to be there perpetually.  The first day that I biked in, I saw two, a male and female, just on the loading dock area where I lock my bike.

The people are such an incredible mix.  I don't think I've met 2 people from the same country yet in my office.  Let's see...Greece, Italy, Serbia, Hungary, India, Great Britain...nope, so far everyone I've met has been from a different country.

Looking up towards the Palais des Nations