Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Before trip to America

This weekend was very different and for once we have no pictures!

On Saturday we went to a barbacue to Carmen and David's house outside Zurich, in a town called Birri. We had fun and managed to prepare spare ribs and baked beans.... it was a success! and our friends (she is from Peru, he is Italian Swiss) are really growing a taste for American cusine. JP and Syd played with little Maurizio and didn't come back home until 10PM.

On Sunday we went to another barbacue to Jo and Chris' appartment where JP and Syd played with twins Carolina and Siena and their little dog Paco. We had tastety burgers made with beef and lamb and we had brownies for dessert.

It was a nice chance of pace for us since we are always on the go. Thanks to our friends for inviting us.

I will try to post some pictures while in America but I can not promise anything. To out friends and family.... see you tomorrow and in the next 4 weeks.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Scandinavian cruise

May 1st is labor day in Switzerland as well as some other countries. As May 1st fell on a Tuesday, we used the opportunity to string together a long weekend and took a five day Scandinavian cruise. The cruise left from Amsterdam, Holland on Friday, arrived into Copenhagen, Denmark on Sunday, and ended in Oslo, Norway on Tuesday morning. We took an overnight train to Amsterdam on Thursday night and arrived bright and early on Friday morning. The cruise was not scheduled to leave until 5PM so we had the whole day to explore. We wanted to see one of the famous tulip fields; however, the fastest trip would have taken 4 ½ hours so we decided to make better use of our time exploring the city. We started the day with a canal cruise. Amsterdam is actually much like Venice with its system of canals. There are approximately 2000 house boats all along the canals, which thanks to a government program a few years ago, all have gas and electricity running to them. The number of house boats is now fixed, so if someone wants to “park” his boat on the canal, they have to wait for someone else to leave. Another unique thing about Amsterdam is the construction of the houses. They are very narrow and steep, which made it difficult to get furniture and things to the upper floors. For that reason, all houses have a beam sticking out of the gable with a large hook on it. Pulley systems were attached (and are still used today) to move large items in and out of the house through the upstairs window. The gables of the houses are also very interesting, with some of the more popular styles being the clock, neck, step gables. After finishing the canal tour, we took a walking tour of the city, and saw among other things: The Westerkerk, which is the church where the famous painter Rembrandt is buried, the Anne Frank house, and the Royal Palace. We cut our walking tour short and raced back to ship to start our cruise. On our way, we took a wrong turn and ended up walking through the red light district. Its actually a charming part of town, but as we walked, we realized that the girls standing in the windows were not mannequins and we high tailed it out of there and got to the ship.

We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas and it was the biggest ship in the world at the time it was built 20 years ago. It can hold about 2,500 passengers and another 1,500 crew. In general, we had an incredible time. JP was old enough to join the Aquanots playgroup and did so when he was not enjoying family time in the indoor pool or playing in the arcade. For Sydney, there was a separate playgroup requiring parental involvement, so we participated in this playgroup with Sydney while JP was next door in his playgroup. We did casual dining for breakfast and lunch, but ate in the formal dining room for dinner. We had a three course meal every night, but since the kids eat like birds, Sandy and I ended up eating almost 2 three course meals every night – we must have gained about 10 lbs each! At night, we put the kids to sleep, and went to the nightly show or the movies, and finished off the night in the casino – we were ahead at the start of the cruise, but lost it all by the end.

Our first port of call was Copenhagen, most well known for the famous writer, Hans Christian Andersen, for whom the Little Mermaid statue in the harbor pays tribute. It was a cold day, so we took a bus tour of the city. In addition to the Little Mermaid statue, we saw “The Thinker” statue by Rodan, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek art museum, National Museum, Christiansborg Palace, and Amalienborg Palace (winter residence of the Royal Family) where we observed the changing of the guard. Copenhagen is also home to the Tivoli Gardens, a beautiful landscaped amusement park filled with restaurants, rides, and games. The spent the better part of the afternoon in the Garden’s playground before returning back to the ship for dinner and another late night.

The final stop was Oslo, Norway, probably the most expensive city we encountered in our travels (even more expensive than Zurich). After having breakfast, we departed the ship and made it to the train station where we put our luggage in a locker before starting our tour of the city. We started with a short walking tour of the city and passed the Oslo Cathedral, Parliament building, and City Hall, which is beautifully frescoed on the inside. We made it back to the port area, not far from where our ship pulled in, and took a ferry to Bygdoy, a peninsula where some of city’s more popular museums are located. We toured a Viking ship museum which displayed the remains of three Viking ships found in burial mounds by the Oslo fjord. The ships were buried more than 1100 years ago to carry their royal owners to “the other side”. Close to the Viking ship museum was the Norwegian museum of natural history, which is an open air museum displaying 155 traditional houses from all over Norway, including Gol Stave Church from 1200 AD. We spent some time at the museum’s playground, before catching the ferry back to the city center. On the way, we could see the Holmenkollen ski jump tower (Norway’s most visited tourist attraction), built especially for the 1952 Olympics. We concluded our tour with a stop at the Royal Palace, did some souvenir shopping, and caught a train to the airport where our hotel was located. The next morning, we hopped on an early flight back to Zurich so that I did not miss another day of work.

We probably got 5-6 hours of sleep per night, so with all the activity, light sleep, and heavy eating, we were ready

Before the cruise April 21-22

It was the weekend before our cruise vacation, so the kids and I went to the gym so that Sandy could stay back and pack. The sauna at my gym is for women 3 days a week, men another 3 days a week, and mixed on saturday. Saunas in Switzerland are linen free (no clothes - only a towel). I was determined to take a sauna bath after my work out, so I did, only to find it unexpectedly populated with naked men and women - the Swiss are apparently not shy. It was a summer like Sunday so we ventured down to oue local beach front. Each town along Lake Zurich has a park along the lake - some have board walks, beach areas, playgrounds, restaurants, grassy parks for sunbathing, etc. Ours is very nice with everything except a boardwalk. We were fortunate enough to find an apartment practically on lake Zurich, so our local beach is only a few steps away. We brought along a picnic lunch, spread out in a nice shady area and enjoyed the unseasonably warm temperatures (it was snowing just a few weeks earlier so we had a week or two of spring before jumping right into summer). The kids played on the beach and even ventured into the lake despite the cold temperature (around 60F). We were surprised to see many people swimming and playing in the lake, young and old. After finishing lunch and building a few sand casles, we strolled back to the apartment for some front yard soccer and a little BBQ.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Sechselaeuten Fest (April 14-16)

This weekend we attended Zurich's centuries-old festival called Sechselaeuten, which stems from the tradition of driving out evil winter spirits and welcoming the longer, milder days of spring.
The event is always held on Monday and everyone gets a half day off from work to attend the event. On Sechselaeuten-Monday, some 3,500 colourfully-costumed guildsmen, over 350 horsemen, 50 horse-drawn wagons and around 30 bands parade through Zurich to the Sechselaeutenplatz for the burning of the Boegg, a straw snowman atop a 13-metre high bonfire.

The procession to the bonfire is a huge spectacle and attracts thousands of spectators. The bonfire is lit at precisely six o'clock in the evening and horsemen then circle the blaze three times to the accompaniment of the Sechselaeuten March. Tradition says that the faster the Boegg burns, the sooner summer will arrive and the longer and sunnier it will be.

Going back home on the boat
The boegg before being set on FIRE!

When we came back from Italy, we found a package from grandma Lori with tons of goodies including easter egg coloring and stickers. We invited Mea for the activity and the kids really enjoyed it... thanks grandma!