Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It finally happened!

After such a long time waiting, I could hardly believe when the moment arrived.

My parents came to Switzerland!!

(haha, gotcha readers. don't worry, I'll soon provide the next post that some of you were expecting here instead!!)

A lot of you know that I have been waiting and waiting and WAITING for my parents to come visit me. My dad came to visit in January for a few days and we made a new friend in Zermatt:

But I really wanted them both to come and see my life and my home, and experience all the things I love about Switzerland. As you might imagine, my parents were not exactly thrilled when I told them about moving 5,000 miles away for two years. I get along very well with my parents (now that we are all adults) and disagreeing with them on something which was so important to me made the decision to move quite difficult. But in the end of course I am glad I came over and especially now, in year two, things are really good over here.

My parents arrived on May 1 which was fortunately a holiday here in Switzerland (Ascension Thursday). Unfortunately, as you well know by now, this meant that everything was closed. I picked up my parents at the airport along with beaucoup de baggage. The first thing we did was take Switzerland's excellent public transport towards my apartment. A little old lady came and sat next to me on the bus, speaking in French. Somehow she and everyone else must have known that these were my parents, because random people were speaking in me in French all week, allowing me to show off to my parents! Random people always talk to me - I must either look nice or like I know directions and timetables to all transport connections. However I used to freak out that someone would ask me a question in France and would always immediately answer "non."

Anyway, my dad tested the sleeping conditions in my apartment while I took mom to into town to check out the lake and window shop. After a nice lunch and a trip to a tea room, we headed back home to regroup and had a fairly lazy night, which extended into the next day. Around 1pm on Friday, I announced that jet lag was over and it was time to get up! Needless did we know the fun that lay in store for us that night...

As painful as this will be, I have to recount this story. A little context first: Before Rustbucket came into my life, I took the bus/tram roughly twice a day, every day. Having been here for 17 months at the time my parents arrived, and accounting for the time I spent outside of Switzerland when I didn't take the bus, that's roughly 950 or so times I have taken the bus. And my ticket has been checked 6 times. That's about 1/2 of 1% chance that you get your ticket checked. Now, where am I going with this?

Here's my adorable p's in Montreux. So unspecting of the impeding drama...

My parents and I went to Montreux on Friday night since it is pretty and has the Chateau de Chillon right on the lake. It was a beautiful night with the sun setting on the lake. We got to the bus stop and did not see a ticket box outside of the bus. However normally when this happens, there is a box on the bus where you need to buy the ticket. So we get on the bus and my parents obviously had no clue what to do so sat down. I was trying to figure out what zone we needed to go to and how much to pay on this weird machine, unsuccessfully, and freaking out that I probably didn't have enough money for us to get a return ticket. This took about 30 seconds and the bus stopped.

So gentle reader, a probability question: If your chance of getting checked is less than 1/2 of 1%, what are your chances of getting checked when you have 2 other people with you and none of you have bus tickets? You would probably say well, it might be slightly increased, to like 1.5%. WRONG.
The answer is, of course, 100%.

I figured I could just explain to one of the nice Swiss men that I was trying to buy a ticket but the machine I used ne marche pas and I was just about to go to the normal one. I did this in French. "Come with me," he said in English (never a good sign), and made me and my parents get off the bus and take our passports. We were then told that we were EACH fined 80 CHF for riding without a ticket and if we didn't pay at that moment, we would go to jail. Yes, jail. I confirmed later in one of my Swiss books that this really does happen.
Obviously things got ugly after that. Let me just say that Switzerland is not America. I love Switzerland, but if you think you can appeal to rulemakers with sweet talk, bribes, flirting, stripping, idle threats, real threats, or klondike bars, forget it. I tried explaining 100 times that I always carry a ticket and was just confused and my parents didn't know, etc. My dad used a bit stronger tone and the one guy started speaking very angrily and as fast as he possibly could in French to my dad specificially so he couldn't understand and to piss him off (sorry Dad, but actually I understood what he said and it was really funny that he did that). My dad wanted to test the threat that we would be arrested, but I refused and handed over 240 CHF. Then promptly made my parents take me to a nice dinner to pay me back. Needless to say, I think this is VERY bad for tourism in Montreux and left a terrible taste in my mouth. So BOO to you stupid city with your smoke on the water. I take Geneva (which gives free bus passes at the airport for tourists) any day of the semaine.

The rest of the trip, thankfully, was much more fun. On Saturday, we went wine tasting in Dardagny. My dad who denies he can speak French, had no problem obtaining numerous tastings of this delicious cabernet sauvignon which we later purchased. We went home and took a much needed nap and then had a fun night cooking in. My mom and I watched "Charlie Wilson's War" on my HUGE screen tv (read: 17in laptop) while my dad watched the Cubbies on MLBtv.

On Sunday we went to Interlaken! We checked into the Hotel Bellevue and got an awesome triple room (yes, all in one room, we love each other!!) with an adorable balcony and to die for view of the river and mountains. Nice photo below by Mom!We took a boat cruise on Lake Brienz (the cleanest lake in Switzerland in 2005 until flooding; still looked pretty clean to me) and then had a nice dinner in a square on a quiet side of town. We decided to take a walk after dinner and that's when I noticed...the bugs. The BIG SICKASS bugs. I put my sweatshirt hood up and my parents thought I was nuts. They looked like cicadas though and I HATE bugs. Snakes or rats, throw em at me. Just not a bug of any kind. So we got back to the hotel safely and decided to open the window slightly. I was a bit worried because the screen wasn't super substantial. But we were on the 3rd floor right?

I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and hear my mom yell AHHHH!!!!! IT'S IN THE ROOM!! Immediately I scream and lock the bathroom door. "Kill it Dad!!!" I yell from inside. "You're the one who likes the outdoor stuff! Carol, kill it!!!" He yells back. My mom yells a bit more but bravely somehow manages to get him outside. "Ok J, it's fine." I continue brushing my teeth. Warily. Very waaaar... "AAAAHHHH THERE'S ANOTHER ONE!!!" "AAAAHHH!!!" I yell again. "I'm not coming out of this bathroom until they are all gone, I'll sleep on the floor if I have to!" My brave, wonderful parents conspired a plan where they trapped the bug with a jar, then slid a piece of paper underneath, and then put the sucker outside on the patio. Such a good team!! Thanks for saving my life from the cicadas Mom and Dad.

On Monday, we went to the Top of Europe, which I went to with Justin in August. It was really cool to see it this time because there was a TON more snow. My parents loved it, and we had a lot of fun goofing around and taking pictures on the mountain. And we had an amazing lunch in this gorgeous resto on the side of the glacier. Nothing tastes better than Swiss french fries at 11,000 ft!

We were back in Geneva on Monday night and on Tuesday, I went into work to "regulate" while my parents stayed home - Dad to catch up on some work of his own, and Mom to take care of me by cleaning some things in my apartment (eg my oven, which you will recall was subject to a minor grease fire). That night we went to a traditional Swiss restaurant with my friend Ingvill which was really fun. We had fondue and filets de perche and Ingvill educated my parents about lots of Swiss food and customs. I know this too by now, but it's a little more credible coming from her since her husband is Swiss.

Sadly my dad had to leave on Weds and my mom and I went to Rome. It was the first time in probably a good 6 or 7 years I have been on a vacation with my parents and it was so much fun. They are both threatening to come back before they leave and I really hope they do!!
Here's some more pictures:

Family fun on the Jungfraujoch:

Mamoo and me

Finally Mom and Dad in the Ice Palace!

My family rocks.

The Plant

OK, I don't know why it's bothering me so much, but it is.

About two weeks ago, I went into the bathroom at work.

Let me backtrack a little and say that I really love our bathrooms. It is one of the few nice things about my office (the others being view of mountains and ability to watch all the planes taking off, and the recently installed teeny vending machine on the 4th floor). The stall doors shut all the way so you have complete privacy. There are air fresheners (broken at the wrong times unfortunately, but generally effective). And the lights are the energy saving ones that take a long time to come on. Needless to say sometimes when I am super hungover, I just go and shut the door and sit in the nice, quiet, dark, generally good smelling bathroom and take a moment to close my eyes and will away my headache. It's like a sanctuary.

So I went into the bathroom two weeks ago on a Thursday which was a holiday so the office was pretty much closed, and there was a disgusting smelling plant in our bathroom. In the sink, looking like someone had abandoned it. I figured that it would be gone shortly and just held my nose and ignored it.

The following Tuesday, I had to come into work and regulate on some people who decided to slack while mother hen (aka yours truly) was on vacation. I went into the bathroom and lo and behold, yucky plant is still there. This time on the counter, looking like he has made a home for himself. I asked one of my co-workers, "Who put that nasty plant in our bathroom?" But no one knew. It's kind of tall and leafy so how it made it in there without someone ,"what are you doing with that kind of tall and leafy and bad smelling plant?," I don't know.

I came back to work this Monday and guess what is there. Looking SAD I might add. Because let's think about this. Plants NEED sunlight, do they not? This is not some jade plant that you can give like a teaspoon of water and a drop of sunshine and it will grow. This is some random leafy plant which A) is being exposed only to artificial bathroom light and B) someone is REALLY overwatering. With each day, the plant looks worse and worse. Now it is about half covered in dead brown leaves and the rest are wilted. It is making me really angry. Who would be so stupid to put a cast-off plant somewhere that it would obviously die, and then make a mess, in one of the only nice places in our office?

Who does this?

And would I be a terrible person if I led the plant to its natural home (ie garbage dump/compost pile)? Maybe I should rescue it and take it to my office which gets lots of sun? Help??

Monday, May 12, 2008


Yes it's been a while, I know! I have been incredibly busy.

Things I find myself doing much more than a normal person:

a) sprinting down the street at full throttle, often in heels, to catch a tram/train
b) crying in airports
c) buying lots and lots of vegetables, and throwing them all away a week later (very bad I know, but I do compost them)

Lately I feel my life is a big jumble of racing from bed to work to french to bed etc and not much sleeping. And a lot of traveling. Let's start there.

Two weeks ago, I went to Krakow, Poland to meet up with Abby and Melissa (2 friends from college) and Cara. I LOVED Poland. The love affair began instantly, unexpectedly, like these things often do.

I exchanged some euros at the currency counter and received a neat stack of Polish zloty. "And this is for you too" she said, handing me a candy. When was the last time you exchanged money and got candy (ok I always got candy at the bank when I was little, I mean, as an adult)?? Then I got in a taxi with a driver who spoke about 10 words of english. "Hello" "Please" and "Tip I keep?" being half of that. Although we could hardly communicate, I told him that I was from Chicago, which is practically part of Poland, there are so many Polish people there. This was very exciting. Things heated up when I told him that my grandparents were Polish AND I knew how to say thank you in Polish! I was beautiful, I was told, because I am Polish. Score!

I had the wonderful fortune of arriving after the girls tried to check in to our first hotel, which was apparently a cross between a halfway house and a boxcar circus train from the sounds of it. So I arrived at the beautiful Sheraton in Krakow and showered my friends with hugs, kisses and of course, imported swiss cheese. Yum!!! You can read about some of the adventures we had on Abby and Cara's blog here.

Krakow was cheap, the food was good, the people super nice and the beer was outstanding!! I think we tried around 5 or 6. My favorite was called Dog in the Fog, a darkish local Polish beer. The slogan was "he will not lose his way" or something like that. I've looked for some stuff on google about it but have come up empty handed. You'll just have to trust me until I can get my hands on Abby's photos which prove it!

One of the interesting things we did while there was take a trip to Auschwitz, about an hour away. Why would anyone, on a sunny, fun filled vacation, choose to spend the majority of a day going to a concentration camp? We pondered it too. But we were compelled to go see it. It was one of those things that you don't necessarily want to see or do, because it is painful and heartwrenching. I visited Ground Zero earlier this year, which is different but the same in the way that it was the site of a tremendous atrocity and not something that you really want to do on vacation. In New York, I felt extremely emotional and near tears, maybe because it was something that happened during a critical time in my life and I still remember every minute of that entire day - and although it's in the past, for most people my age it is a memory that we live with constantly. At Auschwitz, it felt more like history, and while it was shocking, it was in some ways more difficult to comprehend everything. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the barracks looked more like college dormitories than places that used to house thousands of people. At one point we stood near a wall where many people had been shot, and a group of girls began simultaneously praying (what sounded like the our father to me, although it was in Polish so I couldn't tell). That stayed with me throughout the day, as did the hundreds of photographs we saw saying how long people remained alive there. Some were a year or more. Some were five days or less. I don't know if I forgot from school or I never really knew the extent, but I didn't realize the intent to basically eliminate the entire Polish population, regardless of religion. The quotes and photographs were truly mind-boggling and shocking, and I couldn't decide what astounded me more - the fact that people could actually think and act in such a manner towards fellow human beings, or the fact that other people could stand by and let them get away with it. The other thing which stayed with me for the day was walking through a barrack called "Evidence of Crimes against humanity" where you saw articles left behind from the holocaust victims. A room the size and depth of a large swimming pool filled with pots and pans. A large window, filled with thousands of pairs of spectacles. And another room, high and deep, and on either side, thousands and thousands and thounsand of shoes big and small.

I don't mean to be depressing, but the main thing I personally took away from the experience was that it is ok to feel uncomfortable and depressed and kind of angry about these things that happened, and to allow yourself to feel that way. Because it was really, really awful, and we should feel that way about it and work to ensure nothing like that would ever happen again. If you try to just glaze over it and numb yourself...well I think it was put best by one of the quotes at the site: "he who forgets history is condemned to repeat it."

Anyway...I had to get that off my chest. Back to the fun parts of Poland.

Going to Poland and experiencing everything was cool for me because I am half Polish, and it was the first visit I had to a country of my ancestors. The other fun trip we had was visiting a huge salt mine!! It was about 130 m underground and we had a super funny and cute guide to show us around. Salt is bad ass and was the world's first major trading commodity. There were a lot of really cool sculptures and an entire church which were completely carved from salt. However I think my personal highlight of the entire tour was when Abby licked the wall, and excitedly proclaimed, "It's totally salty!!"

After all the pierogis, beer, Polish history lessons (man they have had a rough time with the neighbors) and adventures, I felt more proud of my Polish heritage than I ever had. Which I commemorated by purchasing a super tacky bright red POLSKA t shirt with a huge eagle on it. Love you Poland!!! (thanks for letting me steal your line Cara!)