25 Februar 2023

It has been a very busy couple of weeks. Julie has been back to the US to visit her Mom while she is in hospital. Julie made it back on Monday, and Wednesday went in Hospital herself for a knee operation. We have gotten a glimpse of both the good and bad of the health care situation in the US as well as here. The strange thing is how alike the two systems really are, yet they are still very different.

Switzerland is one of the few countries in Europe that does not have (and I am going to use the US word here) Socialized Medicine. Honestly I do not like that definition, but I am not sure how else to describe it. On this side of the Atlantic, people use the word National for describing their health care system. Well Switzerland’s system is National. The difference being that taxes are not used to pay for the majority of health care like the UK system. Here everyone is required to buy insurance. The breakdown is that individuals pay about 80% of the medical cost. The government picks up the remaining 20%. One tidbit I find fascinating is that in the US they are proud that health care is not paid for by the government, yet the government pays for almost 70% of the total health care bill!

Here, the insurance companies are required to offer you a basic level of care. In earlier posts, I have expressed my frustration, that Julie was able to get the “better” insurance, but I am stuck with the basic care. She has coverage when we leave the country. I either have to buy a special insurance plan, or just take the risk. So the Swiss health care system is basically (again using the US terminology) running on the Affordable Care Act. This is exactly what President Obama passed in the US on a more limited basis. Of course the system has changed a lot in the US, but some of the tenants are still there.

Looking at the cost the US leads the way with over $12,000 per person spent on Health Care. Switzerland is second in the world at $10,000 per person. The UK with their system is pretty far down the scale at roughly $6000 per person. Of course there are good things and bad things about the different health care systems, and honestly, I am not going to get into much of that here. I mean there have been entire books written about this topic from learned people. All I have are observations and no scholarly evidence to back anything up! 🙂

One of the things in common that Switzerland has with the US is that Insurance companies really do not like to pay. One oddity about insurance here, is that Julie has two different health insurance programs. Companies pay for what is termed “accident” insurance. Now this is not just a workplace accident. If Julie broke her leg skiing, we would pay for the trip to the hospital, but then the accident insurance would kick in and pay for everything else. This is where some of our drama has come in.

Julie first started having knee problems about 10 months ago. At first it wasn’t that serious, it would just occasionally hurt. Like most injuries though, it kept getting progressively worse. I finally convinced her to go see a Dr. Her Dr diagnosed her injury as an accident; so she had to go back to work, and file the claim. It got tricky, because the first doctor prescribed some physical therapy. The accountant coded the claim wrong, and for the next 5 months we would fight back and forth between our private insurance, and accident insurance paid for by her company. We wound up paying all the bills and then the insurance company would pay us back. As the pain got progressively worse, her original doctor sent her to a specialist. The specialist said that surgery was the only option. So far so good, we were actually expecting that diagnosis.

Of course then the accident insurance stepped back, and said “WOOOOAH!!! Are we really sure this was an accident.” The company interviewed Julie multiple times, talked to the different doctors, but never made a call. It got more tricky, because the accident insurance wanted to do a final interview with Julie and it was scheduled the week before the surgery. Of course Julie had to postpone this because of the unplanned visit back to the US. She was finally able to get the interview done the day before the surgery. Here is where the drama comes in. 🙂

The insurance plan we pay for gives Julie a semi-private room in the hospital. The accident insurance her company pays for gives her a private room in the hospital. We learned there is a HUGE difference between the two style rooms. I would call it comparable to flying premium economy vs business class. Premium economy or the semi private room is comfortable, but pretty bare bones. Business class or the private room is pretty darn luxurious. Julie’s room had a balcony overlooking Lake Zurich. She was given a menu to choose what she wanted to eat, and the food was not the typical hospital type food we have come to hate in the US.

The hospital called the night before the surgery, and said there was a problem because the two insurance companies were still fighting over who would pay. They told Julie about the private vs semi private rooms. If the accident insurance would not pay, we would be on the hook for the entire hospital stay. The surgery would be covered by the 80/20 insurance split, but the room difference would be 100% on us. Julie asked the cost difference. We would have been on the hook for roughly $10000 for the one night stay. Again, we would not have to pay the whole room cost, just the upgrade. But the cost went from about $5 grand to $15 grand! Pretty big difference for a one night stay. Julie told the hospital that she would stay in the semi private room, but when we got there she was taken to a private room.

We didn’t unpack or do anything other than ask to speak to someone about the room. Eventually the nurse came back and apologized about the mix up. We were told something we would NEVER hear back in the US. “If the accident insurance does not pay. We (meaning the hospital) will eat the difference.”

The view from Julie’s room.

So Julie was able to spend her time in Hospital as comfortable as could possibly be. The care she got was excellent. The staff was great. The language barrier was not that cumbersome. A lot of the staff seemed glad that they could practice their english with Julie.

I really hope this is our last experience with hospitals while we are here! Julie was able to go for a short walk yesterday, and this morning, she says the pain is a lot better; so hopefully she is on the road to full recovery. We really missed our hikes last summer, and we want to get back to it!

Oh, I almost forgot there was one other big difference between here and the US. Julie made the appointment for the surgery about four weeks ago. That part is perfectly normal, but four weeks ago she was also given her crutches, and the medicine she would need post surgery. No narcotics, but still something like that has never happened in the US. Last time we had a hospital visit there. We had to stop at a pharmacy with young George laying in the back of the truck after his knee surgery! Something like that would never happen here. In fact, when I get my blood pressure medicine it costs me less to get it from the doctor’s office rather than have them call it in to a pharmacy. Not sure exactly how that one works, but I guess the pharmacy has a higher markup than the doctor.

So Julie will be spending the next couple of weeks working from recovering from the surgery; so there will be no travels for the next month or so. Not sure what I will write about next. Anyone have ideas?

17 Februar 2023

This just might be the longest I have gone without writing since we moved here. Since the kids left after Christmas, it has been pretty boring. We have not done much at all. I do have some pictures to share from January. George and I went skiing one day, but that is about it.

I did get a lesson in how quickly government can work. My passport was due to expire at the end of the year. When we renewed Julie’s it involved a trip to the US Consulate in Zürich. Everything had to be done in person; so we even had to have an affidavit signed by Julie, that she knew I was the one renewing the passport. Covid of course changed a lot. Since I am a GOOD UPSTANDING citizen I was able to mail in my renewal. Just like I was still living the US. Though, the default, is to get it returned a LOT faster. It is only supposed to take 2 – 3 weeks for processing, and the government came through. It was actually a little under two weeks before I got my new passport.

I did wind up having to drive to Bern to get it though. Something had happened, and we were really afraid we were going to be making an emergency trip back to the US; so I contacted the embassy and explained our situation. I was told exactly when the passport would arrive in Switzerland, and they would hold it for me. Saving the three or four days of extra processing to mail it.

I did learn that I think the US kind of has a problem with law enforcement types. The people hired by the embassy here, are rude and on a power trip, just like some LEO’s are back in the US. So as you come up to the embassy, there are two entrances. It is very well labeled which door is for personnel. There was another sign that read US Citizens —> and below that Visas —>. Both arrows pointing to the same place. The problem is that the entrance way had some temporary line guides set up, but there were THREE entry points. No sign saying which row was for what service. So I picked one and entered. It snaked around and made a 30 foot walk into about a 100 foot walk. I got to the end of the aisle, and I was 5 feet from the door, but nothing showing what way I was supposed to go next. So seeing the door, I went under the rope and approached the door. The security guards inside. immediately unsnapped their side arms, and were wildly waving at me. The glass was sound proof so I couldn’t hear a thing they were saying. Eventually they signaled that I was supposed to go my right and back under the rope. So I did, and one of the guards came out. He immediately started yelling and calling me stupid for ignoring the sign. I went right back at him, saying WHAT SIGN? He points to the BACK of a sign. So I go under two more ropes to get in front of the sign. There the sign says to wait here and empty all your pockets, etc…. Like I said, the sign was backwards from the way I came in. There was no way to see the sign.

The guard keeps going on about what a privileged American I am to just ignore the signs. I was giving it right back to him. Stating HOW in the HELL was I supposed to know what aisle to come down so I could see the sign? I told him around the corner, someone had set up the ropes; so there were three entry ways into the area. How are you supposed to know what aisle to choose? He still kept going on at me, but I finally just ignored him. This was probably not the right thing to do either, because he wound up frisking me before letting me in, because I could not provide a passport proving I was a citizen. :). I did eventually make it through security, but I was a little worried. The best part, was seeing that one of the guards had at least fixed the entry way while I was getting my passport.

The other interesting thing that happened was watching all of the people renounce their US citizenship while I was there. Out of all the people in the waiting area, I think I was the only one NOT renouncing their citizenship. Now before people get up in arms about this. It is not a political thing at all in most cases. The majority of the people there had the fortune or mis-fortune depending on how you look at it of simply being born in the US. Once their parents left these people had never been back. They were truly citizens in name only. For a lot of people having a US passport is a big problem. For example, in Switzerland, if you have a blue passport there are only a couple of banks that will deal with you. I also think these banks charge more for dealing with US citizens.


In the US we call it Mardi Gras. In many other parts of the world it is called Carnivale. In the German speaking parts of Switzerland it is called Fasnacht. I can’t tell you the literal translation, because I could not find one. However, talking to someone it was explained that fasnacht means “almost night” or “the night before the fasting.” It is that period before Lent starts of unbridled carousal!

Julie went back to the US this week to see her parents; so called a friend and we took the train to Luzern yesterday. The celebration is three days long. It is the Thursday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. I think they take the other three days are off to allow everyone’s liver to recover. On Thursday, the day begins at 5:00 AM with a cannon blast and hundreds of people parade through the streets banging drums and ringing bells.

I found another word that has no translation it is Zögli. I think it might mean roam or meander, because during the Zögli time period, there were small bands and groups of partiers that were just roaming the streets having a good time. There are two parades each day. The parades originally started out with just the guilds participating. The goal of the parade was to make fun of the politicians and other events that happened the prior year.

The mocking of events was something I found strange (as an outsider). There was one float in the parade that celebrated the burning of the Kapellbrücke. (This is the long wooden bridge that crosses the river. It was a HUGE deal and even now the city has not fully repaired some of the damage to the bridge.)

I think for next year, Julie and I are going to have to find some costumes, and head back. It was an amazingly fun day!

Fasnacht 2023 Luzern, Switzerland

It will probably be pretty slow posting for the next few weeks again. Julie was able to get her knee looked at, and she is going to be stuck around home for the next few weeks. Hopefully, it all works out OK. She has been very frustrated to not be able to go on hikes or even walk to the grocery store without pain. We are especially hoping the next treatment works. We have a lot of visitors coming the next few months, and I know she is looking forward to spending some time doing things with friends and relatives!

Enjoy the pictures from FasNacht!

Januar 4. 2023

Well the holidays have officially come and gone. It was strange that we spent another Christmas away from our family back in the US, but at least our children were able to come and see us this time. This is now our fourth Christmas that we have spent in Switzerland. That seems so strange to say. So far we are alternating years in regard to heading back to the US.

We were getting pretty worried if the kids would make it. We started hearing the news reports about the bad storm coming through the Midwest beginning the 22nd, and lasting a couple of days. That was in the travel window that we had set. Our son and his girlfriend left Chicago on the 22nd. He was leaving from Indianapolis. He called us about a week before he was leaving and asked about changing his flight to the very first one leaving Indy that morning. We agreed it made sense; since last year Julie and I got stuck for an extra day and a half because the planes would not fly from Indy to Chicago. So he wound up spending a VERY long day in O’Hare Airport, and he couldn’t even buy a day pass to the lounge because the terminal is still under construction so the lounges are not available.

Our daughter was flying out of Minneapolis. We kind of thought she would be OK, because the weather was predicted to already be past Minnesota and into Indiana and Ohio. She was the one that ALMOST did not make it out. The Twin Cities did not get a lot of snow, but they had very strong winds, and those combined with the bitter cold temperatures meant that her flight got delayed a couple of times. This added some extra stress to her, because she was flying through Paris. She laughed at going through French Customs and airport security. She breezed through without even having a ticket. She made a comment to the security guard, and he replied back something like “Only an idiot would willingly come and stay at an airport on Christmas Eve; so I believe you that there is a ticket waiting for you at the counter.” I don’t think that would ever have happened at a US airport. Anyway, she finally made it about 5 hours later than we originally planned so all was good.

The kids had said they wanted to do Christmas in Alps; so we found a nice apartment in the town of Zermatt. Julie and I have been there a few times. It is one of our favorite places, primarily because of the views!

A picture of the Matterhorn at sunset
This was the view from our balcony in the apartment.

I am going to focus on the positives of our trip, but just this one word of caution. If you ever want to visit Zermatt. STAY AWAY from Zermatt Premium Apartments. I have to say they all look amazing, but our experience was about as far from premium as you can get!

We had a very fun Christmas Eve with everyone together. We lit a fire, and played games. It was the magical Swiss Christmas Eve we had hoped for. Christmas Day came, and the kids went on a nice hike on the mountain ridges around the town, and then we had a WONDERFUL Christmas Dinner at a place called Sonnmaten. The food was exquisite, and the atmosphere was warm friendly and festive.

I had dreams of spending a couple of days sledging (a sledge is like an old style sled with runners except you do not lay down on it. It stands about a foot tall and you sit on it.)

© Can Stock Photo / AndreyPopov

You steer the sled by putting pressure on the runners with your legs, and by pulling the straps in the direction you want to go. Anyway, I have seen a lot of people doing it, and it looks like fun, but all of the sledge runs were closed. It was quite the bummer. We were able to spend a couple of days skiing, and Kaylee and I went snowshoeing one afternoon. Considering the news reports about all of the areas in the Alps unable to open we got lucky with the snow. There was not a lot, but there was enough to make our time spent on the mountains a lot of fun.

Youtube video of some of our adventures on the mountains.

My days of creating really exciting sports videos are over, but you can enjoy some of the scenery! Also at about the 3 minute mark in the video you get an idea of how deep the snow can get on the mountain! I have spent a fair bit of time on snow shoes. I have never seen snow so light and fluffy that I could sink to my waist in the snow. I will apologize in advance for the amount of panting. I am not in BAD shape, but you add together elevation and deep snow; you get a hard workout.

Julie is still struggling with her knee; so while we were out playing on the mountains she was sitting in the apartment reading by the fire. HMMM on second thought she might have had the better idea.

We finally made it to the Matterhorn Museum. Kaylee, of course, knew all about the drama concerning the first ascent, but I had never heard of it until we visited the museum. For a very long time the Matterhorn was considered to be unclimbable. Many had attempted it, but until 1865 the mountain had remained virgin. The first group to make the ascent was 7 strong. It was a race between a team of English and Swiss men vs a team of Italians. The English group won the race, but only by a few hundred yards. On the way down DISASTER. One of the team slipped and fell. He drug three others with him. The Swiss Guide had managed to wrap the rope around a jutting rock, but the rope snapped. Many have claimed the Swiss Guide cut the rope to save himself. I do not buy that, however. The Museum had the rope. Honestly it did not even look strong enough to hold one man from falling. There is no way it could have held four men. The rope is not even as thick as my thumb. Anyway, four of the men died that day; so the feeling of victory was very short lived. Wikipedia lists the summiting of the Matterhorn as the end of the English Mountaineering phase. Another tidbit is that over 500 people have died trying to climb the Matterhorn, making it one of the deadliest mountains in the world.

I realized as we were leaving, that this might have been the last time I see the Matterhorn. We really do not have any plans to go back. I guess if we have some visitors that want to visit we will head back, but Julie and I are starting to realize we are on the back end of our adventure, and there are an awful of countries we still want to visit.

We did have one last adventure on our very last night. WELLLLL adventure might be a little strong. It was more of a stress inducer. So Kaylee had to get back to the US; so she took the train back to Geneva so she could fly out on the 31st. Julie was going with her to get a little Mom/Daughter time since that doesn’t happen much any more. George, Gabby and I were going to drive back to Zurich on the 31st; so we stayed in Zermatt. Julie had packed my carryon suitcase to take for the night, and the rest of us packed some of the big bags and decided to go to the the town where the car was parked with the bags; so we didn’t have to worry about them the next morning. Well we screwed up. As we got off the train we grabbed the two BIG bags, but also my carryon. I knew Julie had packed it, but I honestly didn’t think about it. So we get the things to the car, and head back to Zermatt. Cell phone coverage is not the best on the train between the towns, and the buildings are solid rock. So we didn’t get the phone call until late. When Kaylee and Julie got to the town they were switching trains in they missed the bag. Of course their first thought was that it was stolen. They finally got ahold of us, and we realized our mistake, but by that time it was to late. I could spend 6 hours in the car driving to Geneva, but by train, there was no way to get to Geneva and then back to Zermatt until 8:00 AM the next morning. Julie did forgive me, but I caused way to much stress for their last time together until God knows when.

In the winter, if you are trying to drive from Zermatt to Zurich you have two options. You can take the long way around the mountains by heading toward Geneva, and then up past Bern. It is basically a normal interstate for the majority of the drive, but it is longer. The second way is to drive partway up a really long valley to a village called Obergoms, and take a train under the mountains. During the summer you would drive OVER the mountains, but of course that is impossible after October. We took the long way to Zermatt, but decided it would be fun to take the shorter way back home.

The train ride is about 1/2 an hour long, but it was something new to experience. I boiled the entire trip down to about a 5 minute video.

We are lucky enough that we will get to spend most of January with our son. The Judge he works for has said he can work remotely for a few weeks; so he decided to spend that time with us. I am going to miss my computer set up, though. I figure I have to give him one of my monitors; since I only use them for school, and he has to use one to actually work.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy the pictures from Zermatt. I will write more soon.

20 Dezember, 2022

The first thing I am thinking about is the snow storm about to hit the Midwest in the US. Keeping my fingers crossed that George, Gabby and Kaylee are able to get away. Right now if I had to bet; George and Gabby will get in a day late, but Kaylee will get in on time. George has already been contacted by United saying to expect delays. That is not a good sign when it is still two days before you are supposed to fly!

We have a great apartment booked over Christmas. It is going to be bad in so many ways if it is just Julie and I. Right now the plan is to drive down to Zermatt on Friday when George and Gabby get in. One selfish reason I hope they make it as scheduled is getting things to the apartment. The apartment is “up” a ways from the downtown. I tried to order groceries online, and have them delivered, but I thought about it too late, and all the of the delivery slots are booked. That means I have to carry all the heavy stuff up the hill to get to the apartment. I was looking forward to the two 25 year olds to be able to carry the heavy stuff, and let me worry about the paper towels and toilet paper. :).

The image above is the entrance to Swarovski Museum. The Swarovski Kristallwelten is a few miles outside of Innsbruck in the town of Wattens. We visited the museum on Saturday.

I am not sure what I thought Innsbruck would be like, but on Friday and Saturday, we were not really impressed with the surroundings. The city itself was pleasant, and there was a lot to do, but we could not understand why people always commented about the beauty of the area. Of course Friday the weather was so bad, that at most we had 1/4 mile of visibility. It wasn’t much better on Saturday. We had no idea the mountains were right next to the town until we woke up Sunday morning.

This was the view from our hotel room. Friday and Saturday, you could not even see the tall building on the right. You could tell there were “hills” nearby, but it was impossible to see the top of the hills. We thought it might be like Zürich (ringed with hills, but the mountains were further away). It was good to see how wrong we were.

Innsbruck would normally be a 3 1/2 to 4 hour drive. However, on Friday, it was so bad, it took us almost 5 hours to get there. I could tell Julie was worried, because she kept trying to sleep, instead of “helping”. We got checked into the hotel, and went exploring. Our first stop was the Hofkirche. The Hofkirche was built as the burial place for Maximilian I. It was built by his grandson Ferdinand to hold the large tomb designed by Maximilian. Maximilian had left in his will that he wanted to be buried in one of the chapels of one of his castles. However, he also designed the tomb pictured below.

It was impossible to put the tomb and statues in the chapel where he was buried. So this was created as a memorial to him instead. Maximilian had some strange ideas about life and death. After his death he had all of his hair cut off, and teeth knocked out. His body was whipped and covered in ashes and lime. Apparently this was done to show his penitence.

Maximilian was arguably the most powerful and famous of the Austrian rulers. He was crowned King of the Romans in 1486 and he claimed the title Holy Roman Emperor in 1508. However he was never actually crowned by the pope. He was so powerful, though, that Pope Julius II recognized the title. One historian described Maximilian as “the first Holy Roman Emperor that ruled as well as reigned”. Many other leaders in Europe regarde him as the greatest general of the time. He lost a lot of battles, but most of those losses were caused by lack of finances not any military planning. He was one of the earliest devotees of artillery, and this adoption led to his military success.

Saturday evening we took a tour of the Lumagica Gardens before dinner.

We really liked the garden tour. It was set up as a tour around the world. There were exhibits for all the continents. We did not (of course) take pictures of every single display, but we did take our favorites. The video below, was really neat. In front of the display was a piano like in the movie Big. So when the display was not playing automatically, you could jump around on the piano and change the display. The kids were having an absolute blast!

Sunday we woke up to a perfectly clear day, so we took the train, and the gondola up to the “Top of Innsbruck”.

Just so you know, the city of Innsbruck is actually named for a bridge across the river. The name of the river is the Inn, and the german word for bridge is Brücke. The river starts in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and runs north East into Germany where it empties into the Danube.

On the way back down the mountain we stopped at the zoo. Innsbruck has a very nice, but small, zoo on the side of the mountain. The zoo is full of animals only found in the Alps. Not just the Austrian Alps, but the entire mountain chain. It was a fun visit. Unfortunately, Julie was not able to tour the entire zoo. Up at the top, she hit a patch of ice and went down right on her bad knee. So she was in a little pain trying to walk up and down the mountain.

Our last night in Innsbruck ended with the Christkind Parade. I think I have this right, but I admit I am not 100% sure. The Christmas tradition in this part of Europe, is that Santa Clause visits the Children on St Nicks which is on the 5th or 6th of December depending on where you are from. The Christkind is dressed in white robes and has a golden crown leaves gifts under the christmas tree on the 24th. I will be honest, I don’t quite understand how “Christ child” became an angel like woman with blond hair and wings. Just another example of how Christmas traditions are different around the world. In fact, in a lot of of the Germanic areas. The Weihnachten Markt are called Christkindl Markt.

Anyway, we got lucky this weekend, as Innsbruck has the Christkind Parade the weekend before Christmas! It was a fun way to top off our weekend.

As I close this issue. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas. I will try and write once while we are with the kids, but I won’t make that promise! I hope you all have safe travels, and many good memories from next week. So maybe I will write one more time this year, if not see you in 2023!