Sunday, November 27, 2011

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

We Moved!

We enjoyed a day at a water park (Parc des eaux vives) in France with Kirt’s co-workers.  On the way there, this little chap hopped on the train.  Note T-Shirt.  They were Americans living in Basel but had just been to Big Bear Lake.  We had a nice chat and Junior was thrilled to pose for us. 

We were the last to arrive at the water park and it turns out that I was the only woman going into the water park with Kirt and seven of his coworkers.  We changed into our swimsuits and walked over to a big warehouse where we were fitted with wetsuit, booties, PFD, helmet and what was to be our craft of choice - a boogie board with an enclosed bow where you put your hands and forearms.  Mind you when I agreed to accompany Kirt to the “water park” I envisioned slides, fountains, children running through sprinklers, etc.  At this point it is too late to turn back and it turns out this is really a river, where features have been added to create waves and from what I got in the translation, the ultimate goal was really to “surf these waves”.  Oh, did I mention we were sharing the waves with whitewater kayakers?  We had a good time, two hours was plenty and although we came out unscathed, a guy in our group broke his foot. Afterwards, we had a nice barbeque at a park and I had the opportunity to meet some of the people Kirt works with.

A friend of ours, Nathalie Loftus, from Laguna Beach was in Switzerland visiting her family.  I took the train down to Bern and had lunch with her.

Moving day came and went on September 1 without a lot of drama.  Not for us anyway.  The elevator broke after about an hour with one of the moving guys in it.  It took an hour for the repairman to come and the elevator needed a part in order to be fixed.  So unfortunately for the movers, they had to climb three flights of stairs with our belongings.

Apartments in Switzerland do not come with overhead lighting or closets.  We used our headlamps and candles for a couple of days until we were able to shop for lights.  Kirt did a fabulous job with the installation.  We couldn’t really unpack our clothes without the closets so after the lighting weekend, the next weekend was spent at several area “brockis”.  A “brocki” is like a second hand store and they are loaded here. We managed to purchase three armoires and a kitchen cabinet at the same brocki and had them delivered.  My favorite purchase is the old kitchen piece which I have transformed into my craft center in the office. It has a great wood counter and little glass drawers.

We have hardwood floors which creates an incredible echo so we are buying rugs to cut the noise a bit.  We still need to purchase a guest bed and television in addition to hanging pictures, but it is starting to feel like home. 

In late September we hosted a fun fondue night with some guests from the U.S. Tom and Kaja Caldwell from California and Barry Cohen from Ohio.  Kirt worked with Barry in Vermont and he was in Switzerland on Omya business.  Tom has ridden Peak to Peak several times and was in Switzerland for vacation with Kaja.

Tom and Kaja Caldwell
 October was a busy month.  I went to Big Bear October 3rd and rode in my 17th annual Peak to Peak bicycle ride to benefit United States Adaptive Recreation Center.  I borrowed a road bike for the ride and had a blast.  After pedaling a hefty mountain bike with road slicks for sixteen years, I could not believe the difference!!  It felt so efficient and effortless.  OK so you still have to pedal it but thanks to Tony from Cervelo for the sweet loaner all decked out with Sram Red components.   Had a windy ride but the Owens Valley and Sierras were as beautiful as ever.  My friend Karen Witt from Truckee joined us in Bishop and rode the last day from Bishop to Mammoth with me. The ride generated over $100,000 for USARC! Thanks again to all of my sponsors out there reading this blog.

KelLe and Karen high tailing it into Mammoth Lakes
After Peak to Peak, I went to Truckee for a couple of days where I enjoyed a beautiful paddleboard session on Donner Lake and got caught up with some old friends. Next stop VT for a couple of days. Had a fun Halloween Party with the Wilson’s and ran into the Querrey’s at Roots! They just happened to be in town before returning to their nomadic life aboard the Quest.

Judy and Dan Querrey taking a break from the Quest in Vermont
I was able to see Irene’s devastation, enjoy the foliage, good friends and fine food.  My favorite part was speaking in English for two weeks straight. While I was in Big Bear, Kirt traveled to New Jersey for work.  He was able to take a few days off to tour the Statue of Liberty and visit his Uncle Jim and Aunt DiAnna.  They just bought a place in Hoboken so Kirt was able to help with yet another move :)

I flew home the 16th and the next day, Pongo and I went with Kirt to France. He was working at a plant in the Omey region.  We stayed in a cute little town, Chalons en Champagne somewhere between Nancy and Paris.  Kirt worked during the day and Pongo and I explored.  Pongo particularly enjoyed the art show in the park displaying the local children’s work.  We had some great meals including Sushi one night and Tunisian another.   Pongo was allowed in the restaurants.

I enjoyed the flowerbeds in the park and was particularly intrigued with what I believe is an Amaranthus.  The flower is huge and in my opinion resembles a well know gesture.  I'll leave it up to your imagination as children are reading this blog :) I'll include a photo with Pongo in it for scale purposes.

Two weeks ago, while Kirt was in Spain, my friend Jackie Hilton and her two girls, Kate and Shane visited from Germany.  We know Jackie from our days in Southern California and her husband Chris works for Sram. Jackie was a volunteer for USARC and completed Peak to Peak alongside me several times as did her husband.  Jackie was my hairdresser for fifteen years when I lived in Big Bear. We had three busy days of the zoo, hiking, picnicking and exploring.  Plus Kirt and I both got haircuts.

Kate, Jackie, Shane and KelLe
Last week, Kirt had work in Italy so I hopped on the train and joined him. We were in the Tuscan region in a village just south of Cinque Terra called Marina di Massa.  I took my laptop along and accomplished some grant writing, I’m enjoying that it can be done from anywhere. I went beachcombing in search of beach glass but was quite pleased to find polished pottery shards instead!  I couldn't believe what treasures I found.

Marina Di Massa

Pongo wasn’t invited on this trip so I dropped him at the kennel.  He doesn’t seem to mind and we’re guessing he actually enjoys the companionship of the other dogs.  In Vermont, we had a neighbor’s dog that virtually lived with us, plus several dogs that we did our daily walks with so we suspect he is missing that company.

I am still in German class.  This semester runs through the beginning of December.  I will attend again after the holidays.  It is a challenging language and I look forward to potentially being able to converse at some point.  I don’t anticipate that this will be any time soon. I go Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 – 10:30 and have homework that I am “supposed” to do.  Luckily, the answers are in the back of the book.  There are 4 others in the class, one woman from Japan and another one from Australia, then a man and woman from the USA.  The teacher is German.  The Swiss actually speak a dialect called “Swiss German” which unfortunately doesn’t really sound like German.  This, as you can imagine, complicates matters. 

Over the weekend we were invited to attend a fundraising event for the international school.  George Pilcher’s (Kirt's co-worker from Vermont) kids go there so we supported the digital scavenger hunt which was intended to familiarize us with Basel.

Fall is definitely in the air and we are looking forward to seeing what winter has to offer in Basel.  Kirt has a lot of travel coming his way with Romania next week followed by Arizona and Lucerne Valley.  He plans to stay in Big Bear while he works at the Lucerne Plant.  He will take a couple of days to visit his mother in Missouri after Big Bear.  My mother will visit us in Switzerland for her 75th birthday celebration on December 31.  She will be here for a couple of weeks.  That's it for now!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Great Escapes

I was walking back from the grocery store and heard an inordinate amount of howling coming from our apartment building.  As I got right beneath our apartment I realized that it was not coming from OUR apartment (phew) but from the apartment building next door.  I walked into our apartment, put the groceries down and when I looked in the living room, Pongo was "absent".  Panic immediately set in and when I looked on the back patio, this is what I saw. . . . the remnants of our tomato plant and NO DOG. 

I immediately called Kirt as I was racing out the door as I was still hearing the howling.  As soon as I got out the front door, I located Pongo inside the fenced area where he landed after jumping off the back deck.  He launched about 10 feet off of the deck but didn't try to get out of the fenced in area.  Although anxious, whining and clearly aware that he had done the wrong thing, he is still with us and seemingly uninjured.  Let's just say we don't offer him unsupervised access to the back deck at this point.  This happened the day before we officially "registered" him as a Swiss dog which is supposed to be done within 10 days of entering the country.

Kirt and I managed to escape to Annecy France for a weekend getaway.  Annecy is a quaint little town located in the foothills of the Alps on a beautiful Lake. We took the train to Geneva where we were to transfer to a bus for the final leg of the trip.  Things weren't so clear when we got to Geneva and began searching for our bus.  Luckily I spotted these teenagers whose job it was to steer us in the right direction!! How perfect is that?

Once in Annecy I realized that I had left my rain jacket on the bus (oops) and I stayed with our suitcases while Kirt made a valiant attempt to get my jacket back, unfortunately to no avail.

In Annecy we toured a very old prison, enjoyed the old town area and I loved all of the beautiful flower boxes.

Saturday morning we took a 9:00 bus up into the Alps and got out at Semnoz, a ski area.  We had no map and no real plans other than to take a nice hike so off we went.  We had hoped to get a view of Mont Blanc but that never happened as it was quite foggy and cloud ridden most of the day.

 We entertained ourselves by ending up in a field of bulls with no real clear escape.  But we were drawn there by this spectacular view of the valley below.

PHEW, Safely on the other side of THAT fence!!
We had a quiet lunch in a farmers field (no we weren't trespassing) and I climbed a lift tower.  You know what they say, "do something that scares you every day!"
Look Closely, I'm waving from the top :)

The hiking was a lot of fun as we just meandered on work roads at the ski areas, followed signs into farmers fields and took in the vastness of the trail system.  There were hundreds of cows grazing, each numbered and wearing a noisy bell on an elaborate leather collar.  Meet 8920.

We had a little snack at the restaurant at the top while waiting for the bus back to Annecy.  Soon after  boarding we made a stop at what we all know as the alpine slide.  And look at what we have here. . .  a bachelor party!! The groom to be is in the "swiss casket painted like a cow".  We saw the party in Annecy later in the evening. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.  

Groom boards the bus in casket!

So to finish the Annecy story.. . .  I had our hotel in Annecy call the lost and found at the bus company to see if someone had turned in my jacket (yea right) but they weren't able to get through.  We went a few minutes early on Monday to the bus station so that I could check in at lost and found just to satisfy myself, no jacket.  We boarded our bus to go back to Geneva and guess what?  My jacket was exactly where I'd left it in the overhead rack.  YAY!! 

So back at home in Basel, Kirt has been commuting by bicycle to work, it takes him about 30 minutes.
 We have a private blackberry patch that we've discovered where we pick berries regularly.

We were invited to a Sunday brunch by some people we met while walking Pongo.  The story goes that this man hated dogs.  He walked everyday along the Birs river which is where we walk Pongo.  After 15 years he finally decided that dogs were not going away so he started to be friends with the dogs and the owners.  He created a club (seriously) and they socialize a couple of times a year.

Kirt walking Pongo along the Birs River.

Dog Brunch on a rainy Sunday under the bridge along the Birs!

We usually go into Basel on the weekends and last time really enjoyed this German musician playing a Didgeridoo (Australian) and a Hang (Swiss).  The Hang we had never heard of before and it appeared like a pod made out of symbols with dimples in it.  We really enjoyed his music and we purchased a CD.

I must give an honorable mention to my brave nephew Max.  He was walloped in the cranium by his cousin with a golf club.  Clearly an accident.  But it did manage to fracture his skull and require emergency reconstruction at his local trauma unit.  He has over 100 stitches (and proud of that number I might add) and is doing very well.  This picture was taken Friday, one week after the incident.

Looking forward to September 1 when we will move into our "permanent" apartment.  Our new address is: 
Eichgasse 2A
4105 Biel-Benken

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 9 and Slowly Adjusting

I thought I'd be more diligent about my entries but obviously I haven't been.  Every little thing, including walking Pongo, takes so much time to accomplish that there never seems to be enough time in the day.  This is primarily due to the language barrier and my German hasn't gotten any better.  I have a consultation with the school where I will take my German lessons next week so am eager to get some information on my start date.  It is clearly vacation time here so it may be September before I can really get started.  Since you all understand English and before I forget everything that has happened, I'll put it down here.

Figured out that online banking is very secure here.  It takes SEVEN pieces of information to actually login to online banking.  So much for my birthdate pin code which was really easy to remember.

Now I need an efinance account number, efinance password, efinance user id, efinance PIN, ATM PIN, a battery operated gadget that my ATM card goes into and spits out a different number every time I log in, was that seven?  And on this note, I received some sort of certified mail slip in the mail but the next day the post lady delivered certified mail. This was our residence cards that we were billed 300 CHF for.  I tried to give her the slips but she said she didn't need them and had me sign. . .I (incorrectly) assumed that I no longer needed the slips so tore them up and only when I tried to login to our online banking did I realize that there was YET another secret code coming.  I dug the pieces out of the trash, (put them together like a puzzle) great for a recreation major, haven't done that in years and showed up at the post office trying to get our FINAL passwords.  The look on the post lady's face was priceless when she saw my taped puzzle of a certified mail slip.  Good thing I took Kirt's passport as there was no way I was getting his envelope without it :)

First big excitement in our (temporary) neighborhood was the Iron Maiden and Pink Floyd Concert.  Unfortunately we were unable to obtain tickets. Our tram stop is normally SPOTLESS and here is a picture of the morning after.

By Noon, it was once again spotless, gotta love the Swiss.

I traveled to Germany to visit the Hilton's.  Jackie was my hairdresser in CA and her husband is Chris Hilton that works for SRAM, a bicycle components company.  Kate is 7 and Shane is 9 and they live in an apartment in a GREAT, old castle.  I enjoyed my weekend.

Kate KelLe and Shane

Kirt has been working long days and enjoyed his trip to Spain.  He has project assignments in Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia and France as well.  Still on a steep learning curve but he figures out something new nearly every day.  

Other upcoming work related activities include application for a second passport at the US Embassy in Bern.  Some countries require a visa in order to enter the country, which requires submittal of your passport for several weeks.  Since the passport is also needed for current travel, a second passport book is often required.  It also helps in segregating which stamps are in which book.  Many of the countries that he will have to travel to do not "get along" with some of the other countries.  So it helps to avoid problems at passport control stations if the "wrong" stamps are in the other passport.  

Pongo continues to be very good off-leash at our green space walking areas.  Its typically the small dogs that exhibit aggressive behavior ... Napolean complex.  The tennis ball is one of his favorites now and if his timing and the throw are just right, he leaps into the air to catch it.  Not bad for a dog who will turn 11 next month.  

He continues to think he is entitled to sleep on the couch when we aren't around, so I've added a sheet to the couch to collect all his hairs.  He has been caught on numerous occasions with one front paw on the couch as we make our way to the front door. 

Pongo lounges on couch when we're not home - don't tell the landlord!
He goes everywhere with me, he can't come inside the grocery store but there are dog "clips" outside each store where I can clip him in while I shop.
The yellow "poop" bags are provided by the city; here he is while I grocery shop! 

We have one tomato plant, basil and some cilantro growing.  I am really glad I brought along cilantro seeds which are coming up nicely as I haven't seen cilantro and there is NO FRESH salsa. We can get Pancho Villa's and Old El Paso in a jar, which .........there are children reading this blog so I need not describe the flavor. 

We think we've found an apartment but it is not available until September 1. Need to confirm that this week.  Ciao for now! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pongo Makes It Through Customs!!

Well, it is Day 19 and we're still here.  First a word about our Blog's name.  Kirt's sixth (maybe seventh) cousin, Paul Henning was THE producer of the Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.  It just seemed right since we were thrust from our 21 acres in Vermont into Basel city life in a matter of seven hours and fifteen minutes on Swiss Air that we somehow incorporate the two.  So there you have it.

Since everyone seems more concerned about Pongo than us, I'll update you on him first.  After three vet appointments, one chip installation, one feces sample, two notarized forms, one rabies shot and a $400 plane ticket, Pongo was ready to go.  The vet did not recommend any sort of a sedative for him so instead we used what our dear friend (thanks Jackie Hilton) had sent us, some natural DAP, Dog Appeasing Pheromone.  This we sprayed in his kennel prior to the trip. Kirt took him on one nice long last run in the open fields of Hampshire Hollow prior to our drive to Boston and was able to walk him at Boston's Logan Airport as well.  Then we checked him in with our baggage which was great (for us).  When we arrived at baggage claim in Zurich, he was already there along with, hallelujah! all of our luggage.
Kirt convincing Pongo to "Get In"

Ready to Check In at Logan
Next we had to clear customs which involved an inspection of Pongo and his paperwork by a Swiss Veterinarian.  I probably spent a total of fifteen hours on phone calls,  paperwork and vet appointments to ensure that we had everything in order. In the paperwork they clearly tell you that if you don't have everything needed, they will quarantine your dog and put it "down" in ten days if you aren't able to sort things out.  Needless to say, I was motivated to have everything in order.  Much to my amazement, the Vet never looked at Pongo but his assistant did read his chip. He "glanced" at the paperwork, swiftly collected our 88 Swiss Francs (US$104.32), officially stamped (this theme will repeat itself) the paperwork and sent us out the door.  Great, all we wanted was to get him in.

Our relocation agent Hanna Biedermann was there to collect us and Kirt gave Pongo a quick walk in the parking structure before the hour or so drive from Zurich to Basel. So we landed at Lehenmattstrasse 332, 4052 Basel, Switzerland (that's the mailing address) right on schedule.
Kirt's Birthday came and went on June 13, impressive that he can still blow 39 candles out in one breath!

Kirt is pleasantly challenged with his new position designing versus optimizing.  He has traveled to France twice and leaves for Spain on Monday for three days.  Russia to follow in July. We've registered ourselves, gotten a bank account and made an attempt at our personal liability insurance, however, the offer and terms came in German. . .such is life as we know it today.

I have been busy grant writing, walking Pongo, grocery shopping and recycling (both take on a new meaning on foot) and walking Pongo.  And then there is walking Pongo and the apartment hunting.  We're eager to see one on Friday in the most rural area we've found :)   Details in the next post!