Wed-nes-day

There’s nothing quite like the juxtaposition of running through a corn field set amongst the hills and the lyrics “Shorty droppin’ to the ground like she ain’t got manners” (ah hem) filtering through your ears. It’s yet another aspect I love about living in Switzlerand; I get to run through some of the most beautiful scenery. I often trip over myself as I’m galloping through the fields because my eyes are preoccupied by the Alps impressively looming in the distance. Or maybe it’s the wildflowers blinding me with 1,000 different colors. It could be the cows idly chewing their afternoon snack by the side of the road, mooing at me in their own special way of encouragement. All the while music cycling through my head. The aforementioned song is “Get Buck in Here” by an assortment of DJs brought to me by none other than the dudes from the Hunting house. They always provided the craziest music for both pre- and post-bars gatherings. If I had a nickel for every time we jammed to STS9 I could quit this money-maker of a job. I miss those guys and those jam sessions.

I finally went and explored the pond and field area in Samstagern. It’s one train stop away and I’ve always wanted to check it out. I continue to encourage myself to pursue these little adventures because time is going to slip away faster than I know it. I want to make sure I get in all the activities I can. The run was great. It feels so right to move again; feet pounding pavement; upper body sometimes moving to the music on it’s own accord. I thoroughly exhausted myself, but in the best way possible.

Finally, another video for your visual pleasure. This was sent to me this afternoon from Adam (who obtained from a friend back home) and I would be remiss if I didn’t pass it along to as many people as possible. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. Often it’s not always what is said but how it is said. In this case both are hilarious, but it’s the voice that really kills me. The dramatic timing is perfection. Just awesome.

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“24” noch ein mal

This weekend I was treated to another solid 24 hours with the kiddos, all by my lonesome. The parents were in Zermatt for a business weekend, which left me with the rugrats. When mentally preparing for events such as this I find it useful to plan for the worst. I begin to think of the weekend as the most miserable I will ever face. In this way I set myself up only to be surprised at what a success it turns out to be. This weekend was no exception. I had grand illusions that I would be plotting ways to flee the house without the children (and eventually the parents) noticing; I imagined clawing at my face in an attempt to escape reality. All this in the hopes of concluding the weekend on a pleasant note, shocked at how well-behaved my little angels were.

The kids were dog-tired when I started my shift on Saturday. After a lunch, in which Rapunzel was so exhausted she sat with tears streaming down her face because she no longer had the strength to turn off her own waterworks, we all went for a much-needed two-hour nap. Hard as it was to do, I managed to rouse the kids enough to go outside in the afternoon for fresh air. We rode bikes and drew with sidewalk chalk. Rapunzel and Taz wanted to draw the outline of my body in chalk and then color it in, effectively dressing me up in outfits far more fashionable than my leggings and zip-up. After we finished, the courtyard looked like a crime scene, dotted with bodies in various positions. I looked a little worse-for-wear as Little Bean didn’t understand the assignment and preferred to instead draw all over my person rather than the ground. The rest of the night passed rather uneventfully and the kids were grateful for a carb-heavy meal (think simple sugar coma), a Barbie movie, and an early bedtime.

Sunday morning came über early when Rapunzel woke me up at 6:20. She asked if it was time to get up. I promptly sent her back to bed and told her not to show her face until after 7:00, preferably 8:00. She showed up at 7:15 and began stroking my arm and whispering my name to wake me up. She often does this and it always creeps me out. I usually wake up with a start and am a little horrified to find her looming over me, petting my exposed arm that’s carelessly flung out to the side. The rest of the morning was a mix of catering to Little Bean who is once again sick. The sweet baby angel’s fever sky-rocketed and I called the Mom to see what I could do. She instructed me to encourage her to drink plenty of water and to administer, get this, two suppositories. Come again? I have to do what?! I have never given suppositories before and I wasn’t anticipating becoming a member of the elite groups of moms who do stuff like this. I don’t what it is over here, but they love those things. The kids are getting them all the time when they’re sick. The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully and the grandma showed up at 2:00 to take over. I was finished. That was that; certainly not a painful experience. This whole setting rock-bottom expectations may have something to it…

With my free time in the afternoon I decided to hit the running path by the lake. I’m slowly re-introducing myself to exercise (“Fitness, this is Kristina, Kristina, this is Fitness…) after weeks off my regular routine. Yesterday was gorgeous and I knew I had to be outside. I walked and ran along the lake and eventually made my way to Hurden, where the footbridge stretching across the narrowest part of Lake Zürich connects to Rapperswil. At 841 meters, it also happens to be the longest footbridge in Switzerland and used to be a part of a very important pilgrimage to Einsiedeln, where the Black Madonna lives. I’ve been wanting to walk across it for quite some time as I’ve seen it for months and have never tackled it. Yesterday was the perfect day for this and I’m glad to be able to cross another “want-to-do” off my list. Continue reading

Feeling Broken

You know how after a holiday you tend to feel a little abnormal? Maybe your sleep pattern is off; perhaps your clothes fit a little snugger than you would like; occasionally you may feel so dehydrated it’s as if a desert has taken permanent residence in your mouth. For me, returning from my four weeks of holiday led to all these symptoms combined to make one unfortunate combo platter. To sum it up, I was not feeling too hot. Monday was another Disaster Day of Travel, the details of which I will spare you. Basically my flight home was cancelled on Sunday night so my friend Phil and I were granted one night’s stay in Madrid and a seat on another flight returning to Zürich on Monday morning. I don’t know what it is with Madrid, but I seem to have no luck when coming home from the city. Clearly we are not meant to have the special friendship I was looking for.

Back to my predicament. I decided to take Monday off from all activity more strenuous than climbing my stairs to my princess suite. Tuesday, it was time to get back into my routine. After a solid 2 hour nap immediately following lunch I laced up my brand-new tennies (thanks mom!) and decided to head out for a run. Since leaving Neuchâtel I had yet to break a sweat that was caused not caused from the sun being turned on full blast in Portugal. My mind was still back in the rolling hills of the French part of Switzerland where I could run 4 miles and not be fazed. My body, however, was still in the sleep-til-11-and-do-nothing-more-than-sunbathe-eat-and-drink phase and was not prepared for the Body Blast I was giving it. I ran and ran and ran some more. When I couldn’t run, I changed to walking and interval running. I knew about 3/4 the way through that something wasn’t right; I was tired and my form was all out of whack. The only way home is on foot and I knew I could get home faster if I ran. It didn’t feel good, but I did it anyway. The yoga teacher, who preaches “listening to your body,” hauling herself home despite the dull pain throbbing in my feet– trust me, the irony is not lost on me now.

Over the next three days this dull pain has turned into an ugly monster residing in my feet and lower legs. It rears its nasty and deformed head any time I walk or put pressure on my feet. Imagine the pain of a thousand samurai swords stabbing my soles and sides of feet. I know I have a flair for the dramatic, but seriously, it hurts. I have hardly been able to walk. I do this awkward, stiff hobble that makes most people around me uncomfortable. Seeing as though walking is my most basic form of transport my family and I decided I should see a doctor. So I went to his office this afternoon and through a series of examinations, foot prodding, and grunting, he decided to take some x-rays. His overall diagnonsense: I have the pain and symptoms of a stress fracture in both feet–without the actual fracture. So, I am walking/hobbling around with more or less two broken feet. He supplied me with a cream to massage into my feet 3-4 times a day and a tablet to take twice a day. Hopefully, he says, the pain should be gone in a week. A week! That is quite a while to wait, but there is clearly nothing I can do about it. Except sulk, sigh dramatically, and read. I just bought The Help on my Kindle as mom (and it seems the rest of the world) can’t stop raving about it. I’m looking forward to starting it tonight and reading it while we’re in Laax this weekend.

Please forgive me if I seem a little more snarky than usual. I’m miffed that my Get Back into Shape and Order plan backfired on me so tremendously. Here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery!

It’s ALIVE!!

Phew! I can’t believe my personal game of Cruising the Continent has finally come to an end. I remember sitting down in May with the Mom and planning the calender through today. As we put our planners away I thought, Self, this summer is going to fly by and all the sudden it will be mid-August. And here we are. I’m not sure where to start as there is simply so much to cover. Chronological order has worked for me in the past so I suppose that is the route I will take. How does one compress the past four weeks? I figure pictures will do the job better than even my master wordsmith-ing could.

IRELAND & SCOTLAND

I anticipated this week for a couple months. I can’t fully explain how excited I was to see my family. It had been six months since I last hugged dad and although I adore our regular Skype sessions, there’s nothing like a big bear hug from him. I last saw mom in March, but again, I just wanted to give her a hug and have her call me her “Angel Bunny.” Of course, I always enjoy hanging out with Matt and Courtney and it was so great seeing them as well. We were long overdue for a dinner triple date. They put together a stellar holiday and it was so nice to just sit back and experience what they had in store. Ireland and Scotland are rife with history and stories. I loved seeing the new countries and, guiltily, hearing my Muttersprache was an excellent change of pace. Overall, it was exactly what I wanted: a chance to put some distance between the host family and I for a bit and, forgive me for the blatant cliché, “recharge my batteries.”

After discovering the art of Guinness brewing. Who knew I loved it so much?

Location of a tradition High Tea we had in Belfast

Edinburgh Castle; pretty major.

Dad, Mom, and I in front of Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh. Dad and I climbed them the next morning.

Sir Walter Scott Monument that Matt, Dad and I climbed up. Over 200 steps if you were wondering.

Dad and I in the largest private collection of Whiskey in the world--over 3,000 bottles.

LAKE NEUCHÂTEL

High on a week spent with my family, I boarded a train bound for the western part of Switzerland. The family has a holiday home on the lake that was built by the Dad’s grandfather. In previous discussions, this location, which I never been to prior, was referred to as a châlet. Now, I have never taken French, but if I am to use any deducing skills based on what I saw I would have to presume that this translates roughly as “camp cabin.” The house was hardly larger than my room here at the house. When someone walked in the hallway-width kitchen, I could feel it in my room located on the opposite corner. But it wasn’t the indoors that mattered so much, as the outdoors were simply too good to be true. This is what a lake should be like. Before you go defending the Lake of the Ozarks scroll down a bit and see for yourself as that public toilet bowl has nothing on this lac. The two weeks I spent here were some of the most relaxing I’d had in quite some time. We laid around in lounger chairs, took baths in the lake, lazed about, and life generally felt much slower. It hardly felt like work. I also had a lot of time to go running. I averaged about 3-5 miles a day and loved having some new territory to explore. Each afternoon the parents would ask where I had been running that day and I was lucky enough to tell them a new route almost every time. I was cutting through fields, running along the highway, and jaunting down the marina. In some languages I think this type of running might be called “trespassing” but I prefer to write it off as “exploring.” True to fashion the Dad thought of some ingenuous adventure I could take. One morning he asked if I wanted to take the bike out for a spin. Oh that contraption hanging on the side of the house? Yes, I thought that might be fun to cruise around on. The words were barely out of my mouth before he had it down on the ground, tires pumped up, seat adjusted. No turning back. I wasn’t sure where to take it, but thankfully the Dad had the perfect place. I kid you not, these were the directions he gave me: “When you get to the roundabout by the post office take the road on the right and go uphill. You will go for a while and then take a left. After that you should take a right. Then go some more and at some point take a left and then there will be a right some time after that. Then just keep going and you will be there.” Riiiiight. So I set out with my rudimentary directions and the spirit of adventure. Turns out, it was a great ride. I almost forgot how much I enjoy pedaling around. The bike only had one operable gear so no matter the incline I had to pedal with the same ferocity. This made for some comical huffing and puffing as  I made my way up the first, and only, steep hill. When I got to Estavayer I found that I had covered 13 kilometers. Not bad for an amateur. The way home was without incident and it was the perfect day for a ride. All in all, it was a great holiday with the family and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to spend time relaxing such a beautiful location.

View of the lake from the front porch

Another view from the front porch

Final Destination of my bike excursion

The kiddos watching a movie in bed. One of the quieter moments.

PORTUGAL

After three weeks of holiday one might presume I would be burnt out on travel. But one would be WRONG. I was beyond ready for this trip to Portugal for many reasons, one being that I had not taken a trip with friends since Italy in May and I was ready to macht a holiday with others. Another au pair, Allie, went on Friday and my friends Adam, Phil, and I met her on Saturday in Lisbon. For the next couple of days the four of us cruised the (mostly uphill) streets and took great advantage of the thriving after-hours scene. The lifestyle demands a late dinner, which usually didn’t start until 9:00 or 10:00. We were treated to many a great meal including a memorable steak with peppercorn sauce (Phil’s) and slow-roasted pork cheeks (mine). After a pre-dinner ritual of drinking local wines in our apartment and snacking on cheese picked out by our own cheese monger (Adam) we headed out to take on the night. This usually consisted of us finding a bar (or three), picking up some drinks, and dancing like maniacs. Besides the castle and, oddly enough, the Oceanarium, we didn’t see too many sights, but needless to say we enjoyed the nightlife enough to make up for whatever we passed by during the day. Unfortunately, Allie had to come back to Zürich so Adam, Phil, and I stole a rental car and made a run for the southern coast. OK, so we didn’t steal it, but we definitely headed down the coast and made our way to a little beach town, Porches. We spent the following four days tripping along beaches and soaking up as much vitamin D as possible. At the beach closest to our apartment the guys decided to follow in the footsteps of some local youth and cliff jump. After extensive research and mathematical equations it was determined that their jump was approximately 60 feet. Pretty impressive if I do say so. Their level of manhood jumped about at an equal distance in my eyes as well. The nightlife was considerably more quiet and we contented ourselves to sit in the apartment, drink more local wine and play cards. We ended the week with a bang by venturing to the nearest “big” town and cruised up and down the streets with a couple with befriended that same night at Albufeira’s finest kebab shop. Somehow karaoke got mixed into the night and although I made a tremendous fool of myself, it was still great fun. In the end it was a great holiday, filled with good company, food, drinks, and memories. It was the perfect end to a string of holidays and prepared me to settle back into the routine of work.

Lisbon crew: Allie, Phil, Adam, and myself, tearing up the streets.

Cool "wall-art" outside our apartment

Beach platz for the afternoon

This is the cliff off of which the dudes jumped. Yikes!

Sunset on the beach

It Never Gets Old

I am referring to the view here in Laax, and in fact, all of Switzerland. Having come from an absurdly flat state I find the element of elevation completely captivating. The Mom, kids, and I came out to Laax for a little change of scenery. Emphasis on the little as we will be here for less than 36 hours. We made our way out here this morning and set up shop. We picnicked outside to a lunch of pasta salad, and while the kids drank Sprite, the Mom introduced me to a trendy beverage amongst women around these parts. It’s a combination of 3/4 beer (in this case Feldschlössen ICE) and 1/4 Sprite. I’m not one to mix spirits by any means, but I will say that it was quite refreshing. She emphasized that no man would ever be caught drinking it, lest his masculinity be questioned.

This afternoon I hit the trails. They are incredibly well laid-out and marked, and are great for wandering. Whenever I go out for a run or hike I usually fail to make a plan. I prefer to just explore and see where the wind takes me. Since I’ve been here I’ve traversed through many a random field, once dodging a flock of sheep. I’ve passed by numerous “Beware of Hound” signs and Verboten posters. I like to think of those as more suggestions than actual enforcements. And I’m still here, right? In any event, I headed out today Falera bound. It’s the town right next to Laax, about 2 km away. The run there was great, the perfect mix of hills and flat bits. Once I arrived I spotted two churches, one of which dates back to the 11th century. It had some beautiful frescoes decorating the walls and one of the most impressive alters I have seen here. Outside the church there is an open courtyard lending itself as an excellent vantage point. From here you can see mountain after mountain, layering back until they disappear. As I was looking around I made a conscious effort to burn these images in my mind: a pine tree blanket covering the chilly side of a mountain, the Rhine river gushing and frothing below, a columbia blue sky dotted with cotton ball clouds. I’m trying desperately not to take these views for granted.

The run back was equally satisfying as a I took the long route and passed through Larnags. There was one point on this leg of the journey when I was running uphill, listening to one of my favorite running songs, sun streaming through the trees, and I kid you not, a whole host of butterflies were soaring around me. As the song reached it’s peak my skin turned to gooseflesh and I was immediately reminded that I am lucky and fortunate to be here. There are rough days and trying weeks (and right now the kids are downstairs competing to see who can scream the loudest for the least viable reason), but this is an experience I will never forget and for which I will always be grateful.

This Cinderella Wears Running Shoes

I feel like I am constantly running for trains. It hasn’t always been this way, though. I think I’ve steadily become more cocky about the amount of time needed to get to my locomotive. When I arrived I was advised to give myself at least 12 minutes to get to the train station from my house. It’s a half kilometer, uphill. I have a pretty decent fitness level, so I thought this was enough time, if not more than, to make it. For the first couple of months I stuck with this schedule, especially given the odds it was snowing and/or there were unfavorable weather conditions. Slowly I began to shave off more time. I could leave with only eleven, and eventually ten minutes to spare. I found that if I up-ed my pace I could book it there in 8 minutes. As the temperature began to increase I found I was arriving to the banhof a little out of sorts and usually sweaty. This is intensely distressing if I have just showered and am planning to go out with other humans. I then have to spend the ride cooling myself down, which involves airing out my underarms–gross. If I thought the Swiss looked at me funny sometimes before, then this sealed the deal. Only two weeks ago I hoofed it up the hill in 6 minutes. This is a personal record.

I don’t limit myself to running for trains up in my tiny town. This happens to me with regularity in Zürich as well. In order to get to and from town I have to take two trains, which connect in Wädenswil. The last train to that will get me back home leaves Wädenswil at 12:04. Therefore, the last train I can catch out of Zürich leaves at 11:38. In a nutshell, I have a curfew; something I haven’t hassled with for years. If I really want to extend my stay in town I can swing by my new favorite station, Enge, and pick up the train there at 11:44. I started having to do this because I missed my last train. Now I use it as a crutch. Not that I need to be up late as I stroll down to the kitchen at 7:00 the next morning, but just the restriction of a Cinderella-esque curfew makes me want to stay out all the more. I find that I am pushing it to the last minute and running to catch my train. There was one instance recently when I was running for my last train in a dress and flip-flops, previously having shed my cardigan from exertion. With approximately 30 seconds to spare I bolted across 4 lanes of traffic to tuck and roll onto the train. Just last night the tram doors shut in my face with the blinking lights on, signaling the tram is taking off and not allowing on any more passengers. The kind soul driving this tram graciously let me on and spared me the need of taking a 5:40 a.m. train back home. I have a love hate relationship with pubic transportation. While it’s convenient and efficient, I still struggle with not being the master of my time.

Completely Unrelated Bit: Whilst surfing blogs this morning I came across this quote on John Mayer’s and found it to be quite helpful for my current predicament. He often answers question posed to him by his fans (don’t worry, I’m not working on my own juicy inquiry) and shares them on his blog. This was part of his response to one (probably 13 year old) girl who asked, “What do you do when you have a bad day?” He said he “time travels” and continues to elaborate. Part of his answer reads:

You can’t travel through time, but you can send your thoughts and hopes into the future to camp out and wait for you to arrive there, where you’ll meet up and hug and decide that everything is alright again.

I like the way he put that. I’m probably not alone when I lament that I can find myself stuck in a rut, stewing in my own misfortune, as in these past two couple weeks. It becomes quite burdensome and usually leads to a downward spiral that leaves me want to call my mom–childish I know, but true. If I can imagine myself on the other side of the problem, removed from the situation at hand, I think it will help me recover. I don’t want to wax poetic on the matter but I just thought I’d share that tidbit of advice. For now, I am projecting myself to next Friday…

The Only Souvenir I Forgot is the Accent

It took me approximately 19 hours to fold and put away laundry this morning. This is due to two things: it is my least favorite step in the entire laundry process and I was Skyping with Jill. It went about like this: fold a shirt or two, type some witty quip, read her response, roll on the floor whilst laughing, put said shirt (or two away). A sample interchange is as follows:

  • Jill: So if I’m eating a yogurt that expired, ohhhh 6 days ago, what are the odds I’m going to die?
  • Me: Slim to 50%
  • Jill: I’ll take it.
  • Me: So I may or may not see you for running today? Is that what you’re saying?
  • Jill: Yeah, I don’t think so. Or ever, because I’ll be dead.
  • Jill: See ,people that only see our hilarious wall posts don’t even know that these are like all our conversations. We’re this funny all the time.
  • Me: How do we put a trademark on our hilarity?
  • Jill: Two words: Comedy Troupe.

Jill and I have dreams of becoming a Dynamic Duo, taking our shtick on the road. I can see us now, jumping on a tram doing the double-wave screaming, “Hoizame!!!! Wie geht’s?!”  (Hello All! What’s up?!) After our routine is over and people are slowly stitching their sides back up, we will once again throw the double-wave and exclaim, “Thank you Banhof ______!! You’ve been awesome!” But, for now this is just an aspiration I often alight on while riding home on the train. Until then I guess we will have to settle for clever commentary via Skype, Facebook, and face-to-face communication.

Now for more important things: I just got home from my trip to England! It was great. I really liked seeing the country again, as well as checking out a new city, Manchester. And to be totally honest, it was nice to be in a place where I didn’t feel guilty for speaking my Mother Tongue. I arrived in Manchester on Friday night and set out to do some exploring. My hostel sent me a handy guide with places to see and visit. I started with the first place in the “Nightlife” section, Trof. It’s a three-story bar located just down the street from my hostel, which sits in the Norther Quarter. The NQ is Manchester’s trendy and upcoming neighborhood. I’m really glad I ended up staying here because not only could I glean some tips on how to become cool someday, but it also had a hip vibe and I enjoyed seeing the area without many tourists; it gave me more of a native feel. I grabbed a pint at the bar at Trof and started talking to the Manager. I asked him if he had any suggestions of where to go and he sent me to The Ruby Lounge, a sort of underground club around the corner. A couple bands were playing there, and although the crowd was considerably younger, I still had a good time.

The next day was for sightseeing and aimless wandering, both at which I have become quite proficient. Manchester is definitely a place you want to see with others as it’s a very social scene. I got along fine, however, browsing through vintage clothing and record stores and perusing the streets. The Manchester Art Gallery was also a good stop with an especially interesting photography exposition. The weather was great and I managed to relax in a park with Mancunians and travelers. As I mentioned earlier, the John Mayer concert was cancelled (cue me shaking my fists at the sky) so I had to find other means of entertainment. The bar Night N Day across the street from the hostel was having a concert, similar to every other joint in the city. Seriously, you couldn’t walk down the street without hearing live music. So for £6 I could listen to 6 different bands, including: Polka Party, The Books, Loubeta, and Rubika. They were all surprisingly good and it was great to listen to the local sound, which differs slightly from what I am often drawn to.

On Sunday I headed to Cambridge for another concert and more exploring. It was a soggy day, which made my 6 hour bus journey a little more palatable; at least I wasn’t missing any sunshine. I arrived and was picked up by my Couchsurfing host. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this experience, basically people can connect all over the world by offering up their place of residence. This is a great way not only to meet people, but also save money while traveling by skipping the expense of a hostel/hotel. After I explained it in further detail to mom she also said I could have died doing this, but that is not what I chose to focus on while finding a host to stay with. It’s actually a great idea and offers a great way to see an area with a local who can often show you interesting bits about the city you might have otherwise missed. For example on Monday, Mark, my surfer, offered to take me to the Evensong service at King’s College Cathedral. It was an amazing experience that I might have otherwise missed out on. In any event Cambridge was great. I hadn’t been there since my high school trip so it was fun to see it again. It was fun to watch students exploding out of buildings as the finished their end-of-term exams. Champagne bottles were being popped and there was a general air of celebration. The night was topped off by an out-of-this-world show by Band of Horses. It was almost as if they came up to me before the show and said, “What would you like to hear tonight? And in what order?” Seriously, it was that amazing; all my favorite songs were on the menu.  They played at a relatively small venue, which gave it an intimate feel. Overall, I was very pleased with their performance. Tuesday was reserved for travel, and thankfully I made it home with no incident. And how great was it starting the work week on a Wednesday?!

To only add to my joy this week, the weather has finally improved! It is beautiful and sunny, and today I will enjoy a run by the lake. The following song is one of my favorites to run to. It’s so upbeat I can’t help but smile as I run. That action combined with the inevitable sweating make for quite a sight.

Manchester Cathedral

Canal Street in Manchester

Trinity College in Cambridge

King's College Cathedral, the place of the Evensong

Cambridge is known as "Cycle City"

Excellent spot for people watching

Students on Cambridge grounds