So, It’s That Time

It’s over. The family just left for the opening weekend for ski season in Laax. I said goodbye to the Dad this morning, and my farewells to the kiddos and the Mom this afternoon. Surreal is the only way to describe it.

At this time last year I was a freshly minted college graduate and felt full of accomplishment and the desire to discover what was next. I was in high anticipation of what was to come in the following year.

One year. It felt like such a big chunk of time. I’d never been away from home for that long and wasn’t sure what to expect. But, like most everyone said it would, it went by in a second. No way does it feel like I’ve been gone for 11 months.

This past year was one of the most incredible in my life. I learned a tremendous amount about other people, little children, fluctuating patience levels, navigating public transportation, how to battle walking uphill in blowing snow, and most of all, myself.

In order to avoid falling into the sneaky trap of overwhelming you with clichés, I will wrap it up. What I know is that this year, this experience, was one chapter in the monster, can’t-put-it-down, page-turner book of my life. There is so much more waiting for me when I get home. I don’t know what the next year will look like, and I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but after the whirlwind of 2010 I know I am prepared to take on anything.

Until we meet again…

 

“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of too much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Tschüss!

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All Across the Land

SWITZERLAND

Laax

Lac Neuchâtel

Sierre

Photo courtesy of Adam

Zermatt

Etzel

Rhine Falls

Zürich

My Village

Not Pictured: Basel, Einsiedeln, Luzern, Rapperswil

ITALY

Pidemont

Milan

Como

Cinque Terre

SPAIN

Granada

Not Pictured: Cadíz, Madrid, Seville

ENGLAND

Manchester

Cambridge

 

IRELAND

Dublin

Belfast

Not Pictured: Galway

 

SCOTLAND

Edinburgh

 

PORTUGAL

Lisbon

 

Photo Courtesy of Adam

Porches

 

Photo courtesy of Adam

 

GERMANY

Munich

 

TURKEY

Istanbul

 

FRANCE

Paris

 

Photo courtesy of Adam

 

AUSTRIA

Vienna

 

Photo courtesy of Adam

There it is. Ten countries in eleven months. At least thirty cities within those countries. I may have had some really tough days in there, when I seriously questioned the sanity in choosing this job, but in the end, it was worth it. Absolutely, one hundred percent. Look at all I’ve done.

This One Goes Out to My Girls

Today was my last au pair meeting. All my friends were there, including bottles Champagne and Orange Juice. It’s so sad to think about these meetings not being a part of my weekly life. This is where I’ve made most of my closest friends in der Schweiz. I come to these meetings to vent about the frustrations of this “job,” the annoyances of the kids and parents, to socialize with people older than 6 and less than 40. They were something to look forward to every week and I will miss them. But more importantly, I will miss the people who are there.

Dear Au Pairs,

You are amazing. You do the work of three people: yourself, the Mom, and the Dad. You raise children who are not your own, and adjust to a lifestyle that is completely different from the one in which you grew up. Battling tantrums, ironing underwear, playing imaginary games, and grinning and bearing it are a part of your daily life. If it wasn’t for you, well, their life would still be fine. Because you are a luxury. Unfortunately, you are not treated as so. The pay is that of a pauper, the respect is non-existent; you are actually looked down upon by many Swiss people, who cannot believe you would do the job of a servant. And for the most part, you are one in a long line of au pairs for the family. That is, you are disposable.

That being said, you have taken on the role of live-in help to help fuel your quest for world domination! Well, perhaps not domination, but certainly conquest. Because of this job can live in a centrally located, efficiently run country, giving you access to numerous countries in the continent. Some days your hardest task is wrestling a child into sports gear. This is not a brain-busting job. No deadlines, homework, exams, or progress reports. Your friends at home are envious of your carefree lifestyle, as they should be. You have the life. I salute you, child-rearing domestic worker. Your job is hard and trying and can sometimes make you want to set your hair on fire and run, screaming out of the house. But, this job comes with the ability to explore the world at your every whim. Take hold of the opportunity, and seize all those free hours you have. The time to leave comes all too quickly.

Because you might not get it from the family: I appreciate you.

All the best,

Swisstina

In my mission to check off any remaining “must-dos” on my list, today I went to Viadukt with my friend Nicole. Despite the brrrrrrone-chilling cold, we strolled down the sidewalk peeking in and stepping inside some of the stores. The Viadukts were created many a year ago to help expansion of the city. Now,  SBB rails sit on top of the shopping center, continuing to shuttle patrons in and out of the city. Located in the Hardbrüke district, the area has a cool vibe and is a great place to spend the afternoon. Nicole and I popped in the shop on the very end of the line, Restaurant Markthalle. I had a delicious meal of wild boar in a ragout sauce over the creamiest, cheesiest polenta I’ve ever had. I’m not usually a big polenta fan, but this one will make anyone change their mind.

Viadukt

Plus, I had great company. Nicole is so much fun to be around. She ranks pretty high as someone who willingly spends her weekends with another au pair’s family, in order to help with a Scottish-themed party. Sounds pretty specific, and it is. I will be forever grateful for her help that weekend in Laax. I always have side cramps after being with her from all the laughter. Like I said, I’m really going to miss my friends. Such a great afternoon!

Nicole dazzling everyone with her amazing artistic skills. Immediately, she was the children's favorite.

Fill Me Up With Love, Love, Love

This past weekend I went to Laax with the family for the last time. As much as I would have liked to have my last weekend off, and be able to spend time with friends, I was happy to get to see this beautiful place one more time. As I walked through the woods on Saturday afternoon I couldn’t help but be in awe of the amazing natural beauty. I can’t believe I’m trading in these towering mountains, blossoming one after another into the distance, for the flat lands of Kansas. I’ve become so used to the scenery here, yet always astounded at how the warm winds of the föhn can make the mountains look as if they are sitting on your doorstep. As someone who is vehemently opposed to cold weather, I’ve come to appreciate the snow here and the way the giant wet flakes fall gracefully from the sky. Saturday afternoon was the perfect opportunity to absorb the view one last time before I make my way home this weekend.

The song today comes from mein älterer Bruder, Matt, who reminded me of this tune last week. Matt and I have a shared love (obsession) with Dave Matthews Band. We started going to concerts together when I was in high school and this year marks the first that we haven’t been to a show together. A “Christmas Song” is a gentle ballad about the arrival of Baby Jesus and the rest of his life on earth. Dave’s versatility is admirable. He can go from top-of-the-lungs tunes like, “Rhyme or Reason,” to the sexually suggestive, “Say Goodbye” while still maintaining his “Dave-ness.” A sweet song like “Christmas Song” is more than welcome and always helps to get me in the holiday spirit. And like Matt says, “in true Held fashion, it brings a tear to the eye, every time.”

 

The Time is Drawing Nigh

Today is my ten month anniversary of living in der Schweiz. I cannot believe it has been that long. Honestly, it is not to be believed.

When I think back to where this year has gone and the places I’ve gone with it, I am shocked at all I have accomplished. It simultaneously feels like it’s flown by and yet moved with the rapidity of snow melting in January. How did I squeeze so much adventure into such a small amount of time? Or, how have I managed to go this long without seeing my friends and family on a regular basis? I view these opposing evaluations of the past ten months almost equally, though I tend to favor the zoomed-past-me-and-was-over-before-you-know viewpoint. It looks a little like:

  • Before coming: Romanticized view of what it’s like to be an au pair. The children won’t cry, because when did they do that when I babysat? Rarely. (Psych!) The kids and I will sit around playing intelligent games and enjoying witty repartee and quips… in German. (Bahahahahah) The family and I will become fast friends and I will enjoy lounging around the house, chatting about mutual interests. (Mmm…no) I will attack the continent of Europe and explore every city imaginable. (yes, Yes, YES!)
  • First month: Excitment! Wowza, I live in a foreign country! The mountains are everywhere! The snow is waaaaay more gorgeous in Switzerland! If I thought I liked cheese before… The beautiful picture the family painted of their life, and then discovering the one that actually exists. Wait, I just sit and play for five hours a day? That’s it?
  • Next two months: Homesickness, especially missing my friends. Relearning how to make friends at the au pair meetings in town. Uncertainty pertaining to my sanity when choosing this job and all that it in entails. Overwhelming frustration with Little Bean as she screams bloody-murder any time I come near her. An exciting, new appreciation for skiing. Planning and participating in a trip to Spain (ya Jillatinous!) and realizing that I can easily make a life for myself here that doesn’t have to involve children.
  • Next several months: Reached a “comfort level” with the family. The job has lost all appeal and I completely comprehend the difficulty of living with and caring for other people’s children. Establishing said “personal life” and truly appreciating how amazing it is to live in this city, in this country, on this side of the world, as an expat.
  • Last two/half months: Sadness at the departure of several important friends. This loss exacerbated my irritation with the job as I felt I was losing some of the things that were keeping me above water. Pervasive sense of “how the h-e-double hockey stick am I going to do this gig for x more months.” Gratefulness that new au pairs started coming, and happiness that I really enjoy them and have such a great time hanging out with them. Continue to establish meaning here in the city, as well as explore and get to know more of Europe.
  • Now (Beware, things get HONEST): Extreme excitement when thinking about seeing friends, holding and embracing them like the sweet, integral parts of my life that they are. A rumbly stomach just imagining all the food establishments I am going assail upon arrival (Blue Bird Bistro, Lulu’s Noodles, Okie Joe’s, Jack Stack, Foo’s Frozen Custard, Latte Land, Blanc…). Ecstatic joy imagining never having to take orders from the Mom. Ever. Again. Heartbreak at leaving this beautiful, centrally located country. A feeling of trepidation returning to a country that even my dad says, “is in really bad shape. Things are not good here, especially in the job market.” Reluctance at having to put a halt to traveling at a moment’s notice: no more zipping to Paris for the weekend, no trips to any city in Switzerland in less than 4 hours, no skiing in the Alps, forget about laying on the beaches in Portugal, wine tastings? not likely. A small amount of worry when thinking about transitioning to life in America–whatever that means. Sadness at having to leave behind this life I have created for myself and the people who are incredibly important to me.

Everyone has asked me recently, “Are you SO excited to go home?” Of course, I am looking forward to going home. Please don’t get me wrong. As I said, I want to see my friends so badly it makes my heart ache a wee bit every time I think of it. On my birthday, Monday, I was choking up reading the emails and messages I received from friends and family back home. I know it’s only been ten months, but it’s difficult. Sometimes I want to send Elizabeth a BBM telling her how awesome the risotto I just made was. I want to call Madeline and tell her how out-of-control, road-rage-mad I am at some people on the road who clearly haven’t learned to drive in the snow. I want Stephanie to text me and tell me where she’s going out tonight because I know, no matter what, it will more than likely be a good time. The reunions will be tremendous. I know this. But, still, in the end, I have loved so much of these last ten months and will be sad to see this world-wise, travel-saturated year go.

 

Oh yes, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY ADAM!!

I really like this picture.

Weekend o’ Birth (or C’est Magnifique!)

Jealous right? You have one measly day to celebrate while I’m claiming an entire weekend. Well, in this case, I think you will understand why I feel I am entitled to this extra-large birthday time. The celebration started at 2:00 on Friday afternoon…

But, prior to that I had to get through one little challenge–the GRE. Thursday night and Friday morning I was psyching myself up and giving myself encouraging pep talks. “You can do this!” “You will OWN the GRE” “Exams ain’t got nothin’ on you!” OK, so my internal dialogue is a little informal. I concede. Anyway, by the time I arrived at the testing center at 8:00 I was ready to Attack and Destroy the test. Registration was scheduled for 8:30, with the exam to begin at 9:00. 8:30 comes and goes without an administrator. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty-five minutes, an hour, nothing. No one comes to administer the exam. Finally, a girl more likely dressed for a night of clubbing than a day at school comes to the examinees’ rescue. She contacts the administrator and find out that he is “stuck in a traffic jam,” which I think is French for “overslept.” Two hours after the initial sign-in time, the young, disheveled man shows up. I lost a little bit of focus and some of my pep talk was misplaced in worrying about the rest of the day’s schedule. Ultimately, I took the test, and it’s over. And, I’m pleased.

Post-test I made my way back to the hotel in a haze of brain fatigue and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. I was so happy to have finished the GRE and be on my way to Paris. I picked up Adam at the hotel and we exchanged our tickets for the train we had missed due to the administrator’s faulty alarm clock or late night of klubbing. A little while later we boarded our train and were on our way. What could make a train ride to Paris better? What makes everything better? Champagne!! I love champagne, just about as much as I love the Matterhorn. And this bubbly was perfect. When we arrived at the train station, we (he, for the most part) worked the Metro like the back of our (his) hand and made our way to Montmarte, where we were staying that night. Our restaurant for dinner was a couple blocks from the hotel so we stopped there first. At Chez Toinette, we indulged in one of the best French meals of my existence (whoa! bold statement). Veal tartine, lamb shank that fell apart when I looked at it, crusty french bread, all washed down with a delicious bottle of wine.

And that’s about what the rest of the weekend looked like. Tumbling through the streets, eating amazing food, and drinking champagne and wine until we burst. It was perfect. We walked around and saw sights, but didn’t push ourselves. We’ve both been before and seen many “touristy” things, so we could cut a few out. We walked around Montmarte and saw the artists hard at work, painting and peddling. Making our way up the hill, we arrived at Sacré Coeur. The day, beautiful, warm, and sunny was perfect for walking to the top and taking in the breathtaking city.

Taking it easy at the top of Sacre Coeur

Gargoyle eating a car

From the hill, we ambled to the other side of the Seine to the next hotel, at the base of Saint Sulpice. After absorbing the magnificence of this hotel we went to Notre Dame. What an amazing cathedral. I kept peering in corners and glancing into alcoves, hoping to see that sexy Hunchback, but he remained as elusive as ever. More French food, wine, and atmosphere completed the night.

Street art. Some people call it graffiti?

View of Saint Sulpice from the hotel room. What's that in my hand? Yes, more champagne.

Sunday is for culture. Fueled up on breakfast, Adam and I took to the streets on a rainy and chilly afternoon. The Museum d’Orsay was our destination and the art in this remodeled train station was outstanding. While I’ve always enjoyed looking at art and visiting museums, I have gained much more appreciation over this year. Museum d’Orsay is heavily influenced by French artists and it was wonderful to see the extensive collection of Impressionist paintings, sculptures, and architecture throughout. A pleasant couple of hours were spent strolling through the rooms.

Dinner for the train ride home. In case you wondered, the goat cheese is wrapped in a leaf. How quaint.

And so, all good things must come to an end. Now do you see why it was a birthday weekend and not just a day? Oh, and did I mention we were celebrating not one birthday, but two? Adam’s is on Wednesday so we had zwei mal the birthday fun. I had the absolute best time. It was different to not be able to spend the day with family and friends from home, but this was an incredible way to share it. Danke viel, viel mal, my trusty travel companion.

I Love You, Matterhorn

Seriously, I do. I love this gigantic hunk of rock jutting into the sky, dwarfing all surrounding peaks. This mammoth mountain towers over Zermatt, a small village (read: exclusive ski resort where Snow Bunnies and Sugar Daddies abound) in the southern part of Switzerland. Neither Adam nor myself had been and knew we would be remiss in failing to see the magnificence of the Matterhorn.

When we arrived on Saturday we departed the train station eager to see Monte Cervino (In Italian). We begin  casually walking down the main street in Zermatt (cars are not allowed in order to keep the air as pure as possible [only in Switzerland…]) just taking in the sights, when BLAM!!

 

Just doing it's Matterhorn thing.

 

 

The mountain! It absolutely towers over the town. And it’s amazing. Every time it was obstructed from view and then came back into sight I was taken aback by it’s size and majesty (yeah, I said it). Never mind the fact that it looks cool! With it’s distinctly pyramidal shape and four sides representing the cardinal directions, it is easy to spot. And with an elevation of 14,692 ft. how could you not notice this beast?

According to my au pair friend, Whitney, it is essential to take the Gornergrat Rail, a small train that takes you to a record altitude of 3,100 meters, or just over 10,000 ft. The final destination of the line is the Gornergrat glacier, directly acorss from the Matterhorn. After settling down with a brew to do some serious people-watching, Adam and I headed up on the train. Funnily enough it was the last train of the day and would only allow us ten minutes at the top. This actually turned out to be a great thing since there was so much snow and ice at the top, not to mention a crazy-cold temperature. I don’t know what we would have done had we stayed any longer; we took our pictures, we saw der berg, and we froze our buns off. The rides up and down were definitely worth it, as was the view from the top. On our way down the sun was setting and casting incredible colors and shadows across the sky. I can say this with complete honesty: The sunset with the Matterhorn was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Awesome–in the true sense of the word.

I am an Alpine Woman!

An evening with the Matterhorn

I told my dad the word "awesome" was created after seeing this

The Matterhorn is the most photographed mountain in the word. I’m pretty sure we helped contribute to that number with all the shots we captured; this is the Matterhorn at 1:15; this is it at 2:29; here it is at 4:42. I just couldn’t get enough of that glorious peak. Mont Cervin (in French) is an official candidate for the New Seven Wonders of the World (who said there can only be seven?). The mountain’s unmistakable shape, it’s ability to change color based on the weather, and the fact that it is still growing are all reasons it has been nominated for such prestige. Certainly has my vote!

Oh you, silly Matterhorn.