Monday, February 23, 2009

Glimpses of Carnaval

1. It snows all morning. The ground is covered in slush and confetti - it actually looks pretty cool. The colors don't run when wet.

2. The town charges admission this year, but make up for it by offering reusable warming packs for your hands or, in Dani's case, rear.

3. Mr K stands in line at a tent to buy a round of beers. An obviously drunk guy approaches him, and on hearing Mr K talk, starts slurring "Where you are from! Where you are from!" When Mr K answers he is from the US, the drunk guy begins to gleefully shout "OBAMA OBAMA OBAMA" while furiously fist-bumping Mr K. He then hugs Mr K and poses for a picture with a bemused companion who might have been his mom.

4. A trailer is selling MGD and Mr K and Dani immediately join the line to buy some. This is a foreign treat here. A small girl in costume and bright make-up bangs on the metal sides of the trailer with drumsticks. Nonstop. Kids here have some really impressive costumes.

5. A group of meticulously over-made-up teenage girls stand near a wall, giggling. Suddenly, a group of similarly-aged boys appears out of nowhere. Engaging in the age-old technique of displaying-amorous-intentions-through-torture, the boys tackle the girls and throw massive fistfuls of shaving cream directly into their faces. The boys run off as the girls stand in wide-mouthed shock. I contemplate tossing confetti at them to watch it adhere to the shaving cream, but opt to eat some churros instead.

6. Nipun and Dani perform a perfect demonstration of the differences between Americans standing in line and Swiss standing in line. In the 20+ minutes it took Nipun to get churros (caused by his allowing the ever-watchful Swiss to wiggle in front of him because he's polite and thus, in their eyes, weak) Dani made it across the most crowded section of Carnaval ground, walked two blocks, bought a sausage, found beer, walked back to us, finished the sausage and beer, and disposed of the trash. The churros were worth the wait..

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Anatomy of a Grocery Receipt

For the purposes of this post, one CHF (Swiss Franc) is currently worth about 86 US cents.

Most Americans (especially families) go grocery shopping once every week or two for the bulk of their food with just a couple small trips for odds and ends peppered in between "big" grocery days. When I was growing up, grocery day was a BIG DAY and the whole family went - we had to because shopping in the military grocery was such a phenomenal pain that mom and dad would fill two grocery carts to keep the number of these trips to a minimum. If mom and dad both went (one cart per parent) that means my little sister and I also went. This brings us to the story of the canned mushrooms and, on a related note, the possible reason I didn't like mushrooms until about a year ago. That story, however, may have to wait for another post because this post is about grocery shopping in Switzerland.

People here typically go to the grocery shop every day or every other day, excluding Sunday, when everything is closed. Most people use only small shopping baskets - if you're shopping for a crowd and need a cart, it's going to cost you a 2 CHF deposit (which is return when the cart is.)

The first item (1) on my receipt ties in to one of the biggest differences between grocery shopping here versus the US - my 30 cent grocery bag. The grocery here does have very very small bags you can use for free, but they're like the bags you use to bag your produce in the US - you might as well carry your groceries in a piece of tissue paper. I always bring my own cloth bag with me, however on this trip I needed an extra bag as I ended up purchasing just a little more than I had planned.

The reason for the extra bag is... there was a great sale on MEAT! (See items 2 and 3) I acquired a pound of ground beef for 7.95 AND 6 chicken breasts (Just under 2 pounds) for 9.85. The chicken breasts I buy are normally about 7 CHF for two, so you can see this is a great deal. Everything is divided and stowed in my freezer now - yipee! The item you might notice hiding between two and three is the 106 grams (or 3.7 ounces) of sliced ham I bought for 4.20. Ouch.

Moving right along, item 4 brings us to the spoiled rotten kitties. 7.95 for a bag of litter and 2.20 for a four-pack of kitty wet food, turkey-flavored. The kitties split one pack of wet food a day for dinner and have dry food to snack on, so the four pack lasts four days, unless they get whiny-cute and I feed them an extra packet.

Item 5 takes us to produce - a box of cherry tomatoes and my other find of the day - a kilo (2.2 pounds) of clementines for just 2.95! Item number 6 is a tasty loaf of fresh bread - it was still warm when I picked it up.

Thanks to today's shopping, we're good on meat for a couple weeks. Hurrah! Have any grocery-adventures of your own to share?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What almost was would have been bad...

So if you've been with me since we first ended up in Switzerland, you might remember way back in October 2007 we were going through the stress of trying to find a place to live. Mr K's company was kind enough to provide us with a realtor of sorts who lined things up and served as our translator as well. We went to a total of seven or eight properties with the last one we saw being the place we ended up picking. Halfway through our hunt we saw a property unlike any home I've ever seen in my life.

The apartment was a loft-style two level layout in an old Swiss barn that was being converted into apartments. All the others were already taken but this, the most special one. We were told that the owner had been renovating this place to be the dream home for he and his wife - a project that had been ongoing for about two years. Each and every detail had been picked out by hand, from the hardwood cabinets hand-carved in France and then imported to Fribourg to the two side-by-side bathtubs with candelabras and a shelf for your wine. The kitchen was huge, with a built in steamer, coffee machine, and wine storage fridge. Even the front door was covered in hand-carved decoration. The whole downstairs was open. The upstairs was only an open bedroom and the massive bathroom, complete with an antique toilet on a stone pedestal - the potty-throne. However, in the time it took the guy to renovate the place, he and his wife had a baby and were forced to choose a more traditional home. You can check out a whole set of pictures of the place here.

Just as there was a lot to love about this place, there were also several factors that weren't so great. It was expensive, even by local standards, coming in at about 2600$ a month for a one bedroom. It was also located in a kind of suburb of Fribourg, meaning Mr K's morning commute would have taken about three times as long and involved changing buses a couple times. There was also no storage - no closets, and no cave (the bomb-shelter space that most people use to store their skis and wine). Mr K and I have a fair amount of random "stuff" that needs a home and, short of us spending a few thousand at IKEA, this place wasn't going to accommodate our things. Also, our furniture (being mainly IKEA) would not have begun to do this place justice and would have needed replacing - it was that kind of swanky. Lastly, we have to admit that the whole concept of a potty-throne turned out to be just a little bit scary - if you fell off the thing, you would break an arm or leg. (And yes, falling off a potty is a valid concern.)

So, after several agonizing nights, we decided that the pros and cons were too close on this one and we needed to go with something a little more practical and a little less unusual. When we first moved, I wondered on and off if we made the right choice. Our apartment now is completely amazing and utterly perfect for us, but something about that other one just stuck with me.

Today we found out that, right before Christmas, the other place burned to the ground.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Swing kids

This past weekend neatly squished several of our favorite things about living here into a pleasantly compact two days.

It started out boringly enough with Mr K having a late work meeting on Friday night, causing us to miss jiu jitsu class. As always, I was both relieved and disappointed.

Saturday we ran a couple errands, did a ton of laundry and lazed around the house until the evening. Steph picked us up a little past six and the wonderfulness began - we headed to Peter's for fondue-eating, tv-watching, and music-discussing. We talked about best and worst concerts and the price difference between seeing shows here ($$$) and seeing shows in the US in the 90s and 00s ($). After dinner we had a wonderful sweet cake-thingie that I completely forgot the name of even though Steph told me twice. I made a fruit topping for it with berries and Grand Marnier and brown sugar - it was a nice combination. Well-stuffed, we headed home and to sleep.

Sunday we woke up to a surprising six inches of snow where there had been no snow the day before. We were slow to get up, slower to have breakfast, and slower still to get dressed and out of the house. We bundled into our snow gear for a walk because Mr K wanted to take some pictures.

Though we intended to walk downtown and possibly to the river, we made it less than half a mile from our apartment as we got distracted by the playground right across the street.

No wonder kids who play outside stay skinny - it's exhausting work! We took turns taking pictures of each other swinging on the swing, which led quickly to taking pictures of us jumping off the swing and into the snow. At this point, we started really regretting leaving the snow pants at home for fear of looking too dork-tastic. We swung and jumped and snapped and jumped for the next 45 minutes until we had compacted all the snow as well as our ankles and knees past the point of being fun. Next to the swing is a slide that, in summer, is truly terrifying. Now it was covered in snow, so that was our next stop. We spent another 15 minutes playing on the very wet and snowy slide before our jeans reached the snow-saturation point that we couldn't bear it anymore.

We headed home, but it was too early for cooking dinner. All our jumping and running and launghing in the cold had us famished though, and Mr K's throat was as dry as his jeans, well, weren't. I'm sure I mentioned several posts ago that pretty much everything but restaurants is closed here on Sunday. As it was just past three in the afternoon, the restaurants were also not serving food yet, so our choices were McDonalds or the small, overpriced shop at the train station. Since the train station was both closer and had beer, it won out. We grabbed a big bottle of Coke Light, a single beer, and a gigantic piece of pizza that tasted almost exactly like "pizza day" in middle school! Thusly provisioned, we headed back to the apartment to whittle down our 200+ playground photos to the few you can find on Mr K's page.

There you have it - recipe for a perfect weekend: food, friends, snow.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Anatomy of a Night Out

Today we present another lesson in Swiss Life - the Irish Pub.

Saturday night our friends called around 9:30 and asked if we wanted to join them at the Irish Pub near our house for a drink. Taking a quick inventory of our wallets, we decided we had just enough for one round of drinks and a little bit of conversation.
You're probably glancing at the receipt to the right and realizing we may have misunderestimated our friends' beverage-consumption prowess. You would be correct.

Back to the topic at hand - how a night at a bar is different in Switzerland than a night at a bar in the US. We'll start with the prices. Corona - almost eight dollars each. Vodka and Coke (that's me!) just under nine dollars. Each. Kilkenny and Kronenbourg (two more beers) from 6.50 to 8.00 ... depending on what time they were ordered. Apparently drinks either get more or less expensive depending on the time of night - but I'm not sure which.

Annnnnd then there are the shots. Before our parents book flights to stage an intervention, I would like to add this was a tab for seven people,not just Mr K and I. The shots were tequila... and the first time they came out accompanied by a plate of lemon slices. Mr K and I LOL'd. Many people here are from the citrus is citrus school of thought and don't understand the importance of LIME in key situations. And speaking of limes, I think the 3 DASH 3 entry at the bottom of the bar is the charge for the limes/lemons to go with the shots. But maybe not. For all I know that was our foreigner surcharge or a tax on glassware or the cost of the table for three hours - I'm really just not sure.

What I do know is I had to provide my own aspirin the next day and this country really needs a Waffle House.

PS If you're thinking about what I said earlier about the state of our wallets and one round... well we have some really good friends. We love you, M and D and S!