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.

I’m On Call, To Be There

Vienna, that is. This magical city is where I spent this last weekend, with two strapping travel companions. This is not the first trip I’ve taken with two dudes, though this was much shorter than Portugal. Despite being outnumbered, we really had a tipp topp super time.

The gang's all here!

Jill sent a extensive list of sights for us to see whilst in the city, which was sehr useful. With all the goodies on that list we would have been set for at least a month of “touristing,” but alas we only had two days. When Nick, Adam, and I arrived on Friday night we made it a point to get our rumbling tummies to a restaurant for some legitimate Wiener Schnitzel. We scooted over to a place Jill’s dad recommended, but unfortunately they stopped serving food 20 minutes prior. We hopped around the corner and fueled up at a Bierhof, stuffing ourselves with local brew, schnitzel, and potatoes. We were ready for the next day of traversing Vienna.

 

Our dining companion for the evening

The Graben lit up at night

Invigorated by an impressively early start to the morning, we left our ho(s)tel and set out for more food. Jill name-dropped her favorite restaurant in the city, which happens to be a French joint, Le Bol. It was a super suggestion, and we were fully satisfied with our meal. Not to mention it was the perfect brunch haunt. If we hadn’t been kicked out for a reservation taking our table at 11, we could have stayed there for the rest of the day.

After grub we went out into the bitter cold. It was tremendously cold. I am fully aware I have a teeny tiny tolerance for cold, but this was absurd for anyone. Not only were there frigid temps to combat, there was also a generous layer of snow and slush on the ground from the previous day’s precipitation. It made for difficult walking around, but we managed to visit several sights throughout the day. St. Stephan’s Cathedral, the Rathaus, Graben & Kärtnerstrasse, Parliament, and the Kunsthistoriches and Naturhistoriches Museums were some of our stops. Naturally, we needed to spend some time at the extraordinary Christmas Markets, dispersed in various squares and streets. I managed to pick up a few gifts along the way.

 

St. Stephan's

 

Brrrrrrrr... but schööööön

One of the highlights of the afternoon was a most spectacular snack: käsekrainer. This delicious, artery-clogging treat was the perfect mid-day warm-up. A sausage filled with melted cheese? Served with a side of mustard? Accompanied by a little fork? Yes, please! I could have eaten many more of these, but didn’t want to embarrass the dudes.

 

My mouth starts to salivate just looking at one of these hearty beasts.

 

Rathaus and "cheesy" Christmas Market (according to our Viennese friend)

 

Our trio finally had to wave the white flag and surrender to the cold. We headed back the hotel for a power(cat) nap before the concert. After a wee slumber we were revved up for the show. We met up with a Viennese gal who bought Jill’s ticket (tear emoticon) at the venue and headed in for the concert of our life!! Perhaps that is an exaggeration as we have all been to some pretty great gigs. But, to be honest, this one goes high on my list, simply because I have been waiting so long to see these fellas. But first, we had to suffer through the most horrendous opening band I have ever seen in my entire life (requisite dramatic moment of the post). I mean this. They were terrible. The lead singer actually had a fan in front of his face so his hair would blow back while he was singing in the mic. When he wasn’t enjoying the cool breeze he was swinging his arm like a maniac, pumping out power cords and jumping on one leg, while tucking the other one into his body. Honestly, it was embarrassing.

After that frightening display of musicianship it was time for the real deal. They came out with a bang, “Crawl,” and the show only got better from there. I think they must have sifted through my “Most Played” on my ipod and created the setlist from there (similar to the Band of Horses concert I saw in Cambridge). Favorites such as, “Fans,” “Closer,” “Knocked Up,” “Pyro,” “The End,” and “On Call,” melted my face off as they were performed. Kings of Leon are such outstanding performers. They bring an incredible energy to the show and look like they are genuinely having a good time. In one interview frontman, Caleb Followill, said that when they record a song they do it two or three times. After that, if one of the sound guys (super technical, I know) asks them to do it again they say, “Why? You’ve already got all you’re going to get. It’s not going to change any.” I like this so much about this group. They are what they are; no pretense. And that’s how their concert sounded: genuine, honest, and face-melting good.

 

Doodes at the show

Kings of Leon

Final Trip

Oh man, oh man, oh man. I am about to depart for my final trip of the year. And if I do say so myself, it’s going to be stellar.

A few weeks ago I mentioned the release of the new Kings of Leon album, Come Around Sundown, in this post. I checked out their website in the hopes that the stars would align and KOL would be playing a show near Zürich. Unfortunately the dudes aren’t making an appearance anywhere in der Schweiz, but they are coming to Vienna this weekend. What are the odds?! So, I rounded up a few comrades and we made immediate plans to go.

Jill was supposed to come, but due to the suicide bomb in Taksim Square several weeks ago, she had to ship out of Turkey and is now living at home until her big move to Norway in January. Of course, this means that she won’t be joining us, which makes me terribly sad. She studied abroad in Vienna and has a wealth of knowledge about the area. And natürlich, I would have loved seeing her one last time before I move home.

In any event, Nick, Adam, and I will definitely have a b-last and enjoy ourselves and all the city has to offer. I can’t wait to see these guys live. I think this will be the perfect last trip to round out my year.

This song is from a couple albums ago. Check out how awesomely long his hair is.

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.

This Weekend is Going to be GREat!

I can’t believe it’s already here. Tomorrow I take the GRE. How did this come so quickly? I feel as though just last week I was sifting through testing dates and deciding whether or not to pull the trigger. Alas, the time has come.

I’m definitely nervous. Not in the I-never-cracked-open-a-study-guide-or-took-a-practice-test sort of way. Rather I feel this is a big deal and I really want to do my best. I think a little bit of pressure is right for this sort of occasion. I feel prepared, though. I read through the monster-size study guide, I took the practice tests. I made vocabulary flash cards, and I went through the flash cards on just about every train ride to and from town. Obviously it’s impossible to memorize everything that might show up on the exam, but I made a valiant effort to reteach myself some math concepts I haven’t visited in about, oh let’s say, four years. For as many words that I just can’t seem to retain in my brain, I have memorized and held on to just as many. While impugn and I just aren’t going to have that kind of relationship, pusillanimous and I are sticking together.

Anyway, tomorrow is the big day, so send intelligent thoughts my way! I’ll report back on Monday.

Why must you wait until Monday? Well, immediately following the test I am boarding a train with my trusty travel companion and we are making our way to Paris for the weekend. What a perfect way to unwind after a couple months of stress preparing for the GRE. And, if my birthday happens to fall on Monday the 22nd, then so be it. Scooting off to Paris to celebrate my birthday? How did I get this life?