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.

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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.

A Cheese to Remember

I love cheese. I always have. I must admit, however, that I didn’t have the most respectable start with this fine dairy product. See, I am one of those special brand of people that really likes radioactive cheese: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, American, Nacho. It’s not pretty.

As I’ve matured in age though, my palate as become more refined. I introduced such concepts as smoked, fresh, and even goat. Now I like to think of myself as a cheese-fanatic-addict. With every country I visit strive to sample some of the local flavor. This always involves trying various cheese. Need a snack? Grab a chunk of cheese! Hoping for good dreams? Think cheesy thoughts!

The choice of Switzerland had only part to do with the fact that this is a cheese-lovers paradise. Psych! It was actually a total chance circumstance that I moved here, but still. Being here has done wonders for my commitment to cheese. I feel this will be a lifelong affair.

Today as I was strolling through the Niederdorf after a glance through the Helmhaus Museum, one of my favorites, I happened upon a Raclette stand. Honestly, I was walking, the booth came in sight, and I was powerless against my feet. It was a gut reaction: See cheese, close in for the kill. Raclette is a Swiss tradition, one that I will most certainly enjoy. It’s a giant hunk o’ cheese that is warmed by a flame. The resulting melted gift from the gods is them poured over bread or potatoes. Each patron can decide how much Raclette seasoning to put on top and whether one wants pickles and/or sweet onions on the side. It’s amazing. Warm cheese over carbs? What the what?!

You probably need a bib right now.

I waited 2.5 seconds for it to cool down and then I dug in. At first bite, an involuntary, “Mmmm” escaped my cheese-covered lips. Had anyone else been around, well, no, even then I wouldn’t have been embarrassed. It’s that good. All social-graces go out the window. Just focus on the food. I chose the potatoes and enjoyed my afternoon snack, while watching the shoppers stroll by. Certainly the perfect mid-day pick-up for a frigid day like today.

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.”

 

Secret Santa

In the past I have taken part in many “Secret Santa” gift exchanges: dance team, dance studio, ADPi pledge class, groups of friends, education organizations, you name it. I was a little bummed to be missing out on the tradition this year. Never fear, however, because Michelle had the great idea to do it within our au pair group. So eight of us got together and using Elfster, picked names and began shopping.

Last night was our exchange. It was originally designed to have an ugly sweater theme, but that proved a little difficult to find in everyone’s closet or in Zürich. So the limits were loosened and one was allowed to wear a Christmas sweater, bought or homemade. I stretched the boundaries a little more and did away with both the “ugly” and the “Christmas” part of the sweater description. Instead, I wore mom’s San Fransisco sweatshirt from over a decade ago. This sweatshirt has some spectacular illustrations on it, including the Golden Gate Bridge, anchors, a compass, and a sailboat. Maybe not festive, but definitely awesome.

We met at a beer hall inside the main train station (where else would you exchange holiday gifts??) and enjoyed trading gifts over some brews. Thankfully, Nicole is such a good sport and found humor in the “wrapping job” of the present I gave her. It was cleverly wrapped in a “Drinks of the World” shopping bag, with the handles tied in a bow to give a least a little flair. It’s the thought that counts, no?

Rachel was my Secret Santa and she gave me a most incredible gift. As a reader and fan of my blog (thank you!), she will be editing it and turning it into a book. I heard this was possible, but hadn’t looked into how to go about it. Thanks to Rachel I will have an amazing keepsake of my travels here this year. Thank you many times, Rachel!

Nicole, Rachel, Michelle, and Rebecca

Anna, Shelley, Me, Whitney, and Zoe

Another special part of my day yesterday was visiting the store, A Cupcake Affair (read more about it here) in the Old Town. On Wednesday my friend, Anna, and I went looking for this store, searching high and low. We walked the Niederdorf three times and were out for well over an hour trying to find this confectionery. We had to give up and go our separate ways for the day, but I would not lose hope. That night I looked up how to get there, and turns out we were within 100 feet of the place numerous times throughout the day. Yesterday I finally went there and was not disappointed.

This little shop is run by a woman originally from Basel. Her store is unique, as little cakes like these are not traditional desserts for the area. It’s only been open for three weeks, but after chatting with the owner, it turns out business is doing really well. Her treats include specialties such as chocolate with raspberry frosting, a seasonal gingerbread, vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, and the one I had yesterday, vanilla cake with passion fruit frosting, aptly titled, “Casanova.” If you are looking for a sweet treat to help you re-energize after a long afternoon of shopping for presents, or just a way to unwind, I certainly recommend one of these little delicacies.

Cupcake Affair
Spitalgasse 12
8001 Zürich
Switzerland
http://www.cupcake-affair.ch
+41.76.461.04.64
Monday to Friday: 11am to 7pm, Saturday: 10am to 5pm

Finally, a new holiday song to put you in good cheer. If you listen to the lyrics, they are not what you are used to hearing in a Christmas song. I like the melody, however, and I can’t resist a good Coldplay tune. Enjoy!

What Is For Time?

This happens to be one of my favorite phrases. It’s a direct translation from German to English (Was ist fur zeit?) and the kids use it all the time. I’ve picked it up and use it in everyday conversation, along with, “I have a hunger” (Ich habe hunger) and many other turns of phrase. If I had a Franc for every time I said, “genau” (exactly) I would be able to buy out all the banks in Switzerland. I know that these phrases will stick with me long after I leave.

Speaking of zeit, I have recently come into a wealth of watches. For mein geburtstag the family gave me a very nice Swiss watch. I have mentioned once or twice that I really wanted to buy one this year, yet I never seemed to budget well enough to afford one on my pauper’s salary. Who knew you couldn’t save money working as a live-in servant in one of the most expensive cities in the world? But that is neither here nor there.

What are here are two new watches. Why two? Well, unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of the watch they gave me. I wear a watch like I wear my skin, it would be freakish to be without it. (Too far, again? Anyone else noticing a dramatic flair coloring my posts recently? Not sure what it is…). I suppose I’m a wee bit particular on what I strap to my arm. When I opened the gift at the table in front of the whole family I believe I was genuine in my enthusiasm for the watch. It’s a nice watch. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just not my style. I know it’s something the Mom would love, and apparently Little Bean also because she helped pick it out. In any event, it was incredibly generous of them to get me such a nice gift.

Today, though, I set out to purchase a watch I’ve been looking for for about, oh let’s say, two years. I have been wanting a gold men’s watch sooooooo (dramatic) bad, but just haven’t found the perfect one. A few special people made it possible for me to run out and find the timepiece of my dreams, and this afternoon I made the big splurge. After trying on a few uhren and sleeping on it for a couple days I decided on this Tissot watch. I have wrists like a baby (literally, Little Bean and I have the same circumference of wrist) so finding a big watch was difficult. I didn’t want anything comically large that would inevitable cause me to drag my knuckles. At the same time, I wanted a statement. So, here it is. And thank you once again Mom, Dad, Aunt Winne, and Uncle Ken!

I have thought about doing some hand modeling. Thank you for asking!

I had two other indulgences today. The first occurred on my way into town. I stopped by a little bar called La Stanza located on Stockerstrasse. This little gem of a hangout has been mentioned in magazines and newspapers around the world as the perfect place to grab a cup of coffee in the morning or a drink in the evening. Courtney was able to grab a few drinks at the bar when she was here in October so she can vouch for it’s kEwLness (who just had a flashback to middle school?). I’ve come once before for a cup o’ joe and I couldn’t resist another visit with my eminent departure so close. It is truly the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. The foam on top is like velvet, so smooth and thick. I wish we could all sit at La Stanza and drink coffee and talk about intellectual things. Wouldn’t that be the life?

I have a soft spot for "coffee art"

Mein andere indulgence of the day was shopping in the Christmas Market in the Hauptbanhof with fellow au pairs, Michelle and Rebecca. All over the city vendors are set up selling their finest wares and trinkets. It’s so much fun to walk around and see what’s on offer. Definitely got plenty of ideas and a couple gifts strolling through the aisles. In the middle of the market is a giant Christmas tree adorned with Swarovski crystal ornaments. This massive, sparking, jewel of foliage is the perfect centerpiece for the bazaar.

What a beaut.

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.