Nature

Fall is amongst us; I fear it is about to take over and drive away the idyllic, mid-70s temperatures. Today’s weather was perfect for a walk and I knew just what to do with my free time this afternoon– this was also a way to continue to “get my fitness on.” After a special Skype sesh with Courtney (who arrives in 18 days, not that I’m almost wetting myself with excitement) I caught the PostAuto bus to take me to the base of a trail leading to Etzel. I had been told recently by my new friend Crystal, also an au pair in my village, that this was a must-see location. Etzel sits 1,098 meters above sea level, which is roughly 400 meters above my house. I set off this afternoon with my ever-increasing sense of adventure and almost Lewis-and-Clark-level enthusiasm.

The peak in the distance is my final destination

Currently, I am sitting at the table in the dining room, drinking a Hell Quöllfrisch Appenzeller Bier (Hell means “light”– get your mind out of the gutter), and feeling my muscles get progressively sorer. I feel my pictures can do a much better job, at this point, telling you about my afternoon.

On the road again...

Getting started on the trail

The trail quickly turned into an "off-roading" experience

Must be sure to follow the yellow diamond road... Doesn't have the same ring, does it?

Hopp Schwiiz! Cool flag along the trail

Upon reaching the summit (can I even call it that? I might be exercising my poetic license here) I turned around and much to my Shock and Horror, uttered an expletive. One that often follows “Holy,” which it most surely isn’t. I was just completely blown away by the scenery. I had been hiking for an hour at this point with only my playlist to keep me company. I had been stuck in the trees, and as cool as it was there, I didn’t have much chance to look around. “Wildcat” by Ratatat was playing as I reached the top (could there have been a more perfect song? I think not.) and I was truly amazed at how beautiful it was. I knew I would be able to see a great chunk of the Alps from here, but I was still taken aback. I kept snapping pictures in the hope of capturing what I was seeing, but as is the problem with landscape shots, they just never seem to turn out right. The visibility wasn’t 100%, so this also lent to the problem. Below are a few samples of what I saw, but just know they don’t do the view justice. It was just an absolutely perfect afternoon.

The joyous reception at the top.

Aerial view of Rapperswil

The reason the picture looks completely manipulated is because it is. I had to adjust it like crazy for you to see the awesome mountains in the background.

Ditto on the manipulation bit.

This is my village, settled in the mountain.

Check out the Hot Air Balloon in the corner.

On a completely unrelated note, my friend Pei Wen left Switzerland today and returned home to Canada. I met Pei Wen at my first meeting, and to say it was strange would be an understatement. She had just finished purchasing an absurd amount of candy for a party for one her charges and had (smartly) filled a bag for herself. She then proceeded to give away the pieces of candy to the little kids at the meeting in exchange for a kiss on the cheek. She was essentially paying for friendship… from three-year-olds. I knew this girl was one to keep my eye on. From then on, however, I found her to be an amazingly great friend. She is one of the most open-minded and adventurous people I know. She knows no boundaries and lives to explore– waaaaay more than I do. She has a great, infectious laugh, and one can’t help but feel at ease in her presence. I never tire of her travel stories and always have a good time hanging out with her. I will miss her tremendously. Looking forward to seeing you soon, Pei Wen, as I am positive our paths will cross again.

That’s so Sweat of You

After a two week self-induced state of bed-rest I finally decided to venture to the gym on Monday. I know they missed me there based on the signs they crafted by hand and the thunderous applause that roared around the room as I entered.  I hadn’t been to the gym in over a month due to my Carmen San Diego-esque travels as of late. That, plus the time I spent laying in my bed wanting to cry of boredom, lead to a lengthy hiatus from my workout routine. I knew to take it slow so as not to throw myself right back into an injury zone. I mostly sat on the stationary bike and threw around a couple of dumbbells. Tuesday had the same agenda, although this time I hit up the gym in Horgen as I’m allowed to have my way with the eleven different locations scattered around Zürich. I pushed the pedals on the bike a bit, laid on the ground and engaged my abs, and finished my sad little routine with a visit to a few circuit training machines.

Here I am, sitting on an instrument designed to give me Hulk-like quads and the kind lady from the front desk approaches me. “Germangermangerman?” she asks, following the question with a surprisingly genuine smile. “Um, sprechen Sie englisch?” I reply, all American-like. “Ah, yes. Do you have a towel? For the seat? With the sweat?” WHAT?! I’m not even sweating! That was the whole point, not to exert myself to minimize injury. “Entschuldigung. Tut mir leid. Ich habe nicht towel.” Excuse me. I’m sorry. I don’t have a towel (yes, apparently I still couldn’t figure out the German word for towel). She smiles and says no problem as she scampers back to the desk to get me my own towel, with which I can cover the seat. I graciously accept my new accessory and continue to buff up. When she turned her back I couldn’t help but furrow my brow in puzzlement. An emoticon to describe my feelings would be: confused, insulted, and feeling like this woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about face. Maybe a bead or two of sweat escaped, but honestly, this is nothing compared to what I am capable of. Kind of reminds me of another time at the gym…

It was c-r-a-z-y hot, this day, and I couldn’t stand the thought of putting on a t-shirt to hit the gym (which doesn’t have air conditioning thankyouverymuch). I have seen other women doin’ their thang with just a tank top on, so I thought, Be bold. Join the other women who shun the t-shirt rule. Picture me, fresh from the eliptical, lifting weights and sculpting my guns. I’m thinking to myself, Look at me breaking the rules. Good thing no one cares I’m a wild sweat monster and am sweating all over the place. Just as the words begin floating around my brain I see an employee headed my way, t-shirt clutched in his fist. With daggers in his eye and a smile that looks like it’s physically hurting him, he asks me to put a shirt on. Apparently, I was exposing too much flesh (Too Hot for TV!) and purposefully rubbing my sweat on all the machines. I donned the men’s large t-shirt and turned back to my biznass that was the dumbbells. I glance in the mirror and check a view of my front side. The shirt reads “Top of the World,” on which was the last place I was feeling. I had just been humiliated in front of all my cool, popular, chic, and dry Swiss friends. I promise I’m not a (total) weirdo, I just have a high metabolism! From now on I’m thinking about just wearing a terry cloth robe to workout and saving all of us the trouble.

Sweat it Out

I can say this with almost complete confidence: The Swiss Do Not sweat. It’s almost as if they are programmed to be unable to do anything that would look embarrassing or unsightly. I, on the other hand, have been wired to make up for all the sweating the Swiss don’t do. I’m not sure why, but it’ always been like this. One day last fall when I was working with a personal trainer he said, “Alright! Look at that sweat, you must really be working hard!” It was probably 5 minutes into our session. I told him that, unfortunately, I always sweat a decent amount when I’m working out. He said that the sooner one starts sweating the faster one’s metabolism is. Wahoo! I’ll take it. He was actually a great trainer as he was previously in the Army and liked to use his drill sergeant training to kick my butt during our times together. Unfortunately, he also referred to said butt as my “booty” and I don’t know if I hate a word more than that one. He had to go.

The Mom and I worked out a deal prior to my arrival that would arrange for me to have a gym membership for the year in exchange for ONE night of free babysitting a month. In the end, this means I am missing out on about 700 Fr. but I’m still grateful for the deal. I enjoy going to the gym for several reasons, a main one being it’s a great way to get out of the house without costing money. Upon arriving at my first appointment with ActivFitness I noticed a sign that displayed the proper attire for gym-goers. It simply stated that all shirts must have sleeves and pants must fall below the knees. Ok, the gym I just came from allowed women to wear hot shorts and sports bras only (not that I actually wore this), so this was quite a deviation. Generally, I like to wear shorts and a tank top whilst getting my fitness on. These restrictions are a little frustrating. It’s just too much clothing. Cut back to my first meeting, after my consultation with a staff member was finished and he had concluded showing me how to use all the equipment he gently asked me to “please bring a towel next time” and gave me a sheepish smile. Ouch. I looked around and noticed that yes, all the other patrons had towels. Why? I’m not sure; no one was sweating. I think it was just a prop, like, “Hey, if for some freak-of-nature-reason we decide to sweat one single drop at least we’ll have these beach towels!” Now I always try to bring a hand towel to use.

I am convinced that everyone at my gym knows that I am American. There are two reasons for this: the English writing on all my t-shirts and the fact that I sweat. Because of this I enjoy taking my running outside. I often meet friends, particularly Danielle, down by the lake to run in the afternoons. This still doesn’t completely solve my problem of looking like an outsider. I’ve seen a passerby or two give me the stank eye. For instance, on Tuesday Danielle and I went running. It was chillier up here on the hill than by the lake so I ended up wearing clothing that was too warm, namely a long underwear shirt and a jacket I used to wear under my coat for skiing. I know, not sure what I was thinking when I got dressed. Basically, I felt like a wrestler trying to sweat out extra water weight in order to make it in my weight class. Embarrassing. I’m not exactly sure why all this is relevant other than the fact I find it comical. I remember once when I was still living in ADPi and rooming with Madison, Kasey, and Kara I came home from the Rec in an especially ferocious state. Madison says, “Oh man, is it really raining outside?” “No, but apparently I just made it rain at the gym!! But seriously, the weather is fine.” It must be the way I am built, but I am not alone. My sister, Courtney is the same way. Speaking of…

Courtney just made it safely to Africa! I’m not totally sure what she is up to there but she will be in Kenya for a couple weeks working on projects that are in no doubt much needed. I’m so impressed with her go-get-it attitude and desire to help others. Whenever you read this, Courtney, give yourself a hug ’cause you rule!

Courtney & I

Don’t you just love those cans in the background? Classy.

The Hills Are Alive…

…with the sound of my labored breathing. Seriously. I feel like lately I have been huffing and puffing my way around the city. My pedometer is racking up some serious mileage (kilometerage?). This weekend is a perfect example. It finally warmed up around here and I almost don’t recognize the city. The Swiss have  come out of hibernation and are traipsing around like they own the place. Saturday was filled with plenty of aimless wandering, as Jill’s friend was in from Milan and we were giving her a tour of Zurich. The day happened to be my “anniversary” of arriving here. That’s right, it’s been 3 months and they a have flown by faster than any I can remember. I try to treat myself to something on these joyous occasions and this day was no exception. I truly indulged and awarded myself with a Diet Doctor Pepper, which cost me a cool CHF 3.50. Yes, you are correct, that translates roughly into $3.50, which is hands-down the most ludicrous amount of money I have paid for a pop, but let me tell you it was absolutely worth it. Seeing as DDP is my all-time favorite I thought it was a worthy treat, if not ridiculously over-priced.

Yesterday, however was the real gem of my exercise. If I had a dollar for every time someone made a reference to me either becoming Mary Poppins or living in my own “Sound of Music” I could actually afford to live here. Sunday Jill, Gabri, and I decided to hike up Üetliberg and see the city from a bird’s eye view. One can either hike up or take a train, and being an thrill-seeking trio we decided to gear-up and walk the trails. I had some sense and wore Converse shoes, but Jill was in her Topsiders and Gabri in moccasins, so one could say we weren’t necessarily dressed the part. That didn’t stop us, however. Without actually realizing it, we took the path, out of several, that was the most steep and heavily wooded. About 200 meters up the climb I peeled off my cardigan and the elusive sweatstache was making its appearance. I feel like I am equally justifying my physical fitness and and dispelling it through my writings. The hike wasn’t the hardest thing I have ever done, rather I just didn’t mentally prepare myself. About halfway up when we were all re-evaluating not only our decision to come on this journey, but also our friendships, Jill, with her identical twin, Positivity, began to sing “Climb Every Mountain.” I had to grab onto a railing for support as I was laughing so hard. It was exactly what I needed to hear. The remaining trek passed in alternating fits of side-splitting laughter and animal-like grunting. Finally, a little over an hour after take-off we reached the summit. We were quite the group as we approached the other patrons at the lookout site. Thankfully my white tank top hid the “make it rain” effect my sweat glands tend to have. I’m almost positive people could smell us before they saw us, and if not, they would notice the big black cloud of bugs that had somehow become our climbing companions. We were a full-on nasal assault. I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but one can assume it was not my finest moment. The view was great though, and definitely worth it, as was the celebratory beer. It was on the list that sits on my desk of things I want to accomplish whilst I’m in der Schweiz so I am very proud of myself.

On an equally exciting note, I booked more travel today! I will be in Manchester and Cambridge June 4-8 to go to a couple of concerts: John Mayer and Band of Horses. I know what you’re thinking, “Going to John Mayer, what a sell-out.” But, this is not true as I am not 14 years old with an irrational crush on his brooding, self-deprecating, and semi-obnoxious persona. I just happen to like his music. And Band of Horses is amazing and I have wanted to see them live for a while, and what better opportunity than abroad. Looking forward to a weekend full of melodious sounds.

Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

Lately I have had a pretty serious case of the “I Wants.” I couldn’t really make up my mind on all that I wanted but I knew I needed to make a purchase and it needed to happen fast. One such buy was something I have wanted since I came over and finally got around to buying: a pedometer. I do a ridiculous amount of walking here and I was interested to know how far I travel each day. I like comparing distances at the end of each day especially if I have decided to go for a run, or spent the majority of the day wandering around town. As of 2:00 this afternoon I had already walked 4.47 km. I went on a run this afternoon, which racked up an extra 5.5 km. So, in a typical day I walked/ran 10 km.

With all the aimless running I do around here I have debated training for some kind of race. I miss the occasional 5k that took place in Manhattan. And I figure it would be wise to give myself a goal to work toward. I just need to invest in a new pair of tennies as the ones I have are so worn out there are rubbing fiery blisters on the arches of my foot. I will spare you the details but if I don’t take care of this little problem soon I am surely in danger of losing my feet entirely.

I’m looking forward to tearing up the streets of Schindellegi and putting a decent amount of mileage on my legs. If I’m not careful, however, I will be able to “Hulk” my way out of my jeans with my trunk-like quads. Which is exactly why I have been keeping up with my yoga. Thankfully the Mom and I worked out an arrangement so I could have a gym membership and also a few pieces of workout equipment, including a yoga mat. I just close the heavy curtains on my window, choose one of the many playlists I created for class and next thing you know I have my own private ashram. Taz walked in on me doing Half Moon one day and has ever since been entranced by the idea of exercise. (Now that I think about it, I think Taz and I need to have a conversation about boundaries…) Ever since last summer I have really missed teaching yoga. As much as I love to practice, I especially love teaching. Even so, I have been enjoying practicing here and desperately need the stretching so I don’t end up looking like one of those bodybuilders who always seem to be covered in Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil. Yikes.

Yesterday was a special Zurich holiday called Sechseläuten. In a nutshell, it’s a celebration to welcome summer and in a Groundhog Day sort of way, determine the length and pleasantness of the season. This is done by burning a large snowman after a lengthy parade, honoring the guilds and tradesmen of the city. The shorter the burn time, the better the summer. This year took 12 minutes and 54 seconds. As I stood with thousands of others, watching the burning, I was struck by the oddness of it all. First, there was the fact that the Swiss were cutting loose and enjoying a day of relaxation. This is so unusual that it is noteworthy. Secondly, I haven’t been in a crowd that intense in a long time. The only other comparable experience was going into the KSU-KU basketball game two years ago at Bramlage (in case you forgot, we won). At one point I was actually lifted off my feet and carried by the people around me. “Think skinny!” I thought to myself. Lastly, I was watching a frighteningly human-like form burn on top of a large pile of kindling. Raucous cheers went up as the explosives inside were detonated and the snowman was engulfed in a fireball. Hands down, this was the weirdest festival I have ever been a part of. But, when in Rome… or Zurich… In any case, it was fun to take part in the tradition. A few hours after the burning the coals die down enough that you can gather them and create a makeshift grill. Some au pairs and myself were graciously invited to a BBQ by some new friends, and incidentally enough, a couple of them were most recently working in Kansas City–small world. They had the all the supplies, hospitality included, and we enjoyed sausages, bread, and beer with countless others who also wanted to “make a party.” With such a short “burn time” I’ve got visions of a warm and pleasant summer dancing in my head!

Burning of the snowman and coals. Yikes!

–Funniest thing my sister said during our Skype session today: “Hang out, I need to get a bobby pin, my rat tail is driving me crazy.”–

What I Saw Today

An acrostic poem for you:

  • White people everywhere! I almost forgot about the complete lack of diversity here.
  • Hangover-free-me. Surprising… But, hey, I’ll take it.
  • A horse manure obstacle course in front of me at one point during my walk this morning with the baby.
  • Tan lines! Oh yes, the sun is beautiful thing.
  • Incredible amounts of candy by my desk. Thanks to my mom, my sweet tooth has reared it’s ugly head.
  • Seasonal depression leaving my system. Seriously, winter was far too long.
  • A couple making out on a street bench. Oh wait, make that 50 couples.
  • Woman walking a bichon frise in her heels at 9:00 A.M.. France called and they need you back!
  • Tractors heading toward me as I navigate a pram on country roads. I am basically a Gladiator at this point with my hand-eye coordination.
  • One stack of Swiss Francs on my desk–payday was yesterday. Now comes the easy part, spending it.
  • Danielle heading toward me on the running path! I’m sorry we didn’t meet up sooner!
  • Apples on the counter. Coupled with peanut butter, it’s the new POWER SNACK. According to Shape magazine, that is.
  • You all on my Stats! Apparently people actually read this thing. Thank you!

Soundtracks

Between train rides around the city, working out, and the general walking around I do on a daily basis I have a lot of time to listen to my ipod. Thankfully, right before I left a friend added just over 400 songs to it to keep things fresh. I’ve made several playlists while I’ve been here to keep me entertained during my various activities and I thought I would share some (consolidated versions) of my favorites.

THURSDAY*

  • “Mountain Man” -Crash Kings
  • “Assassin” -John Mayer
  • “Kings and Queens” -30 Seconds to Mars
  • “Armistice” -Phoenix
  • “The Runner” -Kings of Leon
  • “Seaweed” -Passion Pit
  • “Fight Test” -The Flaming Lips
  • “Love Affair” -Copeland
  • “You and Me” -Dave Matthews Band
  • “Policies” -Pete Yorn
  • “We Sing” -Vedera
  • “Undisclosed Desires” -Muse
  • “The Funeral” -Band of Horses
  • “Make this Go on Forever” -Snow Patrol
  • “The Man Who Can’t be Moved” -The Script
  • “1234” -Chairlift
  • “I Couldn’t Explain Why” -Citizen Cope
  • “Samson” -Regina Spektor
  • “Breathe In Breathe Out” -Mat Kearnery

WEDNESDAY*

  • “Our Swords” -Band of Horses
  • “Three More Days” -Ray LaMontagne
  • “Dig” -Incubus
  • “Daylight” -Matt & Kim
  • “Who Says” -John Mayer
  • “The One I Love” -David Gray
  • “Life in Technicolor II” -Coldplay
  • “”Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” -Ryan Adams
  • “Crooked Teeth” -Death Cab for Cutie
  • “Island on the Coast” -Band of Horses
  • “9 Crimes” -Damien Rice
  • “Fans” -Kings of Leon
  • “Control” -Mute Math
  • “Finer Feelings” -Spoon
  • “The Last Stop” -Dave Matthews Band
  • “Shiver” -Coldplay

WORKOUT 2

  • “Lisztomania (Alex Metric Remix)” -Phoenix
  • “Boyz” -M.I.A.
  • “Fancy Footwork” -Chromeo
  • “The Reeling” -Passion Pit
  • “1985” -Crash Kings
  • “Bulletproof” -La Roux
  • “This Must Be the Place” -Miles Fisher
  • “Just What I Needed” -The Cars
  • “Easy Love” -MSTRKRFT
  • “Sinnerman (Felix Da Housecat’s Remix) -Nina Simone &Felix Da Housecat
  • “Run This Town (feat. Rhianna)” -Jay-Z
  • “Call On Me” -Eric Prydz

It might seem silly to include you all in my kickin’ DJ skills but with as much music as I listen to I always appreciate finding something new. The website http://www.runhundred.com sorts good workout music by category, BPMs, artists, etc. and it has been very helpful in the construction of playlists. I find that it’s much easier to push through those last minutes/miles of a workout if I have something energizing blasting into my ears. It’s been a pretty slow day around here, for which I am so thankful. I’m now headed back to House Rules by Jodi Picoult–Thanks again, Mom! Is there anything better than a rainy, Sunday night and the only activity on the agenda is reading a good book?

*Title of Playlist refers to the day it was made. Creative, right?