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!

6 Dezember 2022

Well we had a good week since I wrote last. I finished up the Fall Semester and started the Winter Term at school. We had a wonderful weekend in Colmar, France. Julie got the house all decorated for Christmas, and I think we have all the plans finalized for the kids coming in two weeks! Below is my contribution to the Christmas Decorations. I wrap the lights around the balcony rail and hang the star. Well I also carry up the rest of the decorations from the basement.

I have to admit it was a good but strange feeling know that as long as I do no worse than a C- on the finals I had an A locked up in the classes. Well one of them that is a guess. I have never seen a class where it took so long to get grades back. Many of us have complained to the professor this semester how long it has taken. In fact two of the assignments from the first weeks of class have not been graded. I had a problem with the last lab and wound up having to delete my virtual computers and re-create them. I told the professor that I am very angry that because he is 4 weeks behind in grading that I had to redo three of the previous labs. He worked with me, and decided that with everything I had already turned in for the computer labs, there was no reason to access the virtual computers. So that was helpful. I only had to re-do one computer lab. I am really glad that class is over. I learned a lot, but it was a disorganized mess from the very first. The class I am taking this winter term unfortunately means I will be waking up at 2:30 multiple Wednesday mornings to attend the lecture.

The lectures are always recorded but there are times I prefer to attend live. For example: There is a case due this coming weekend. My group is struggling a little so I want to attend live to ask questions so that I can work on it tomorrow afternoon. I have learned that the time difference does make this school thing harder. If I wake up in the morning, and need to ask a question I know that I will not get an answer back until late afternoon. Well that just means I have wasted a good 5 or 6 hours!

We have been to Colmar before. It is a cute little town about 100 miles from where we live. We had been told that Colmar goes all out for the Holiday celebration so we wanted to see for ourselves. It turns out at least the old part of town does go all out. The majority of the buildings are well decorated; so it is really pretty during the day. At night, though, it almost seems magical. The picture above is of the Cathedral. Many buildings have fantastic light shows that begin as soon as the sun goes down and lasts through at least midnight. (Maybe later, but we are getting old, so staying up past 12 is a chore!) I finally stopped taking pictures, because I realized none of the pictures were really doing justice to how great everything was displayed.

Julie really liked the markets. It seemed like every plaza big enough to have three or four booths had a market going. The ONLY problem is that they closed at 8:00 PM. Thinking about it, though, what a GREAT idea for all the permanent bars and restaurants. They get extra traffic because once the Glühwein and Grog booths close for the night everyone wants to keep the party going! The markets stalls were not at all like Prague. The majority of the goods seemed to be local, or at least within Europe. Whereas in Prague it seemed like every booth had Made in China everywhere. She didn’t buy much, but she did have a blast looking. Julie did make me go shopping though. 🙁

She has a Christmas party with her Boss next week, and she made me go buy a sweater because the only sweaters I own are over 10 years old. Once again I learned that I hate clothes shopping here. Back in the US I rarely even need to try something on. I know my size, and brands I like; so I just go pick something off the shelf. That doesn’t work here. We went into a men’s store, and a clerk came over to help. Julie told her what we were looking for, and she went and grabbed a size. She seemed surprised when I tried it on, and told her it wouldn’t fit. She had grabbed an XL. It turned out I bought two sweaters, and had to buy two different sizes. They were that different. I almost didn’t try on the second sweater because I figured it would be like in the US a size is a size. NOPE. The second sweater in the same size could have held two Georges. It was that much bigger. I hope I don’t gain much weight this year, because since I won’t be back in the US until next November, I have a long time to go if my clothes don’t fit.

We had a fun adventure Friday getting to the town. We normally stay in hotels, but since we decided to do this late, I could not find a room in the city limits. I did find an apartment we could stay in, though. The apartment was on the small side, but it was smack in the middle of where we wanted to be. It came with a parking space; so I thought it would be perfect. I did not account for how big the Christmas Markets are, however, nor did I account for the city closing all the streets that would let me get to the apartment building. It was one of those times I disliked modern technology. All of the mapping programs showed me only one way to get to the building. I tried driving to a different part of town, hoping Maps would re-route and show me a different way, but my hopes were short lived. We wound up having to park about a kilometer away from the hotel and walk in. In one way this was a good thing, though, because it meant I would not have had to fight the streets two times Friday evening. Once going to the apartment, and then having to leave because the remote control for the garage was not in the lock box it was supposed to sit. So I would have had to drive OUT of the mess because there is no street parking at the apartment building. I think what irritated me the most out of the parking was when I got a message Saturday morning from the rental company. Letting me know that all of the roads into the building would be closed unless I came in after 9:00 PM….. I kept asking myself where was this information last night when it would have helped. We would have either delayed our arrival, or just made a plan to find a parking spot. Oh well, sometimes a little adventure is good for the soul.

Saturday evening we found a nice place to eat dinner. I think we have eaten better in France than any other country we have visited. Italy would come in second, but I like French food a little more. I was glad that neither Julie or I speak French. We had a small issue with our waiter. We ordered a really nice bottle of wine. As the waiter was opening it he swore and I saw that the cork was in pieces. He went and got a second bottle, but he managed to tear the cork in that one as well. I admit to not being truly aware of what our response should be. If I were at home, I would have simply gotten the cork out, and strained the wine into a decanter to catch the cork. But he didn’t do any of that. He took both wine bottles away so we could not see what he did with the remains of the cork, and came back and tried to serve one of the bottles. I refused the bottle, and told him not worry about it, just bring us a bottle of water instead. He brought out a THIRD bottle of wine. At least he was able to get the cork out of that one, but I really do not want to know what he was saying about me as he opened the bottle. I got back home, and went to the internet for guidance. I have learned that what I should have done was taste the wine that was offered. If I could taste the cork, then I should have refused the wine, but not until I tasted it. Julie and I kind of thought since they took the bottle away we should not drink it. After thinking about it, though, that doesn’t make sense. They make mixed drinks away from the table, and they are certainly not cooking our dinner in front of us; so why would we think they did something nefarious with the wine? I just hope they don’t take the cost of the wine out of his paycheck.

This weekend we are staying around home. We are having dinner with some friends on Saturday and going to some of the local Christmas Markets on Thursday evening, and Sunday. In two weekends, we are heading to Innsbruck, Austria for the weekend. That should be fun, it will be our first real visit to Austria. I say real visit, because we have driven through the country, and visited for a day, but never longer. After our Austria trip, we have a couple of days to prepare, and we get to see the kids again. We are both excited about that.

I hope all your Christmas preparations are coming along, and that. you enjoy the pictures from Colmar. Talk to you soon.

30 November

We made our first Christmas Market visit this past weekend to Prague, Czechia ( or to utilize my German Tschechein). Prague was an amazing city. Julie and I both were amazed by the architecture of the Old Town. Prague is also known as “The City of 100 Spires” but I think that is an understatement. We were shocked not only by the number of churches, but by the number of churches that have multiple steeples!

Those of us that went to school decades ago know the country as Czechoslovakia. My daughter informed me in an earlier post even calling it The Czech Republic is not correct. I did not know that the government of the country has adopted the simple English name of Czechia until I did a little research. It is hard to change old habits, but I am really trying to refer to the country by the name they desire.

From the picture above, you kind of get an idea why it is called the City of 100 Spires. I counted 15 steeples in just this one image!

Czechia has a rich history. It was originally known as Bohemia. It is bordered by Austria, Germany Poland and Slovakia. The area was founded in the 9th century and around the year 1000 was recognized as a state by the Holy Roman Empire. The county was slowly integrated into the German monarchy, and then in the early 1800’s was part of the Austrian Empire. After World War I the country became part of the “First Czechoslovak Republic”, but then in 1938 became part of the German Empire again. After World War II, the country became part of the Soviet Union and in 1989 the Velvet Revolution led to Czechia becoming its own country again. In 1993 Czechoslovakia was dissolved and two countries Czechia and Slovakia emerge. Czechia has been a strong allay of the US since the Revolution and even joined NATO in 1999.

One thing that did take us by surprise was the currency. Czechia joined the EU in 2004, but due to economic reasons they did not adopt the Euro. Because we planned on visiting Christmas Markets we knew we had to get local currency. Our experience has been that the Christmas Market Vendors prefer cash to credit, so we needed to get cash. Normally, this is a bit of a pain, but there are ATMs everywhere make this process easy. The exchange rate is roughly 23 Crowns to 1 Euro. On the surface it seemed like everything was SO expensive, and they we remembered “divide by 23.” We did learn about a brand new HIGH you get from traveling. That high comes from leaving the country with absolutely zero currency. It meant we guessed exactly right, and did not have to deal with trying to exchange back to Swiss Francs when we were all done.

Our visit even started out wonderfully. Our choices for flights were either 7 AM or 4 PM; so we chose 7 so that we could have a full day exploring the city. The hotel was going to hold our bags for us until we could check in, but when we arrived they had a room ready to go. It was so nice to be able to check in, get up to the room, and THEN go explore.

We were even lucky enough to get the room with the balcony!

Even though it was a little chilly we took advantage of the balcony and had some wine overlooking the plaza! If we had a west facing room we would not have even needed the jackets, but in the shade it was just a little cool!

We spent Friday walking from our Hotel across the Charles Bridge and up to the Palace. We were lucky enough to time it exactly right for the changing of the guard (see the video) and then we walked through the Jewish Quarter before going back to the Hotel to rest for a bit.

The Jewish Quarter is very interesting. The Jewish Quarter was started in the 1400’s when all the Jewish people were ordered out of their homes and forced to reside in one area. The area became even larger because Jews were expelled from Germany, Austria and Spain as well. All of these people came to Prague and settled in this one area. We were surprised to learn that the only reason the area was not destroyed by the Nazis was because of Adolf Hitler. His goal was to preserve this area as a museum to an “extinct race.” In some ways knowing the history of the area made me wonder how religion was able to play such a large part in the town knowing how they treated a good portion of their population.

Prague really got religion around the year 1000 BC. The Catholic Church was far and away leading influence on the country for the next 4 or 500 years. Now Czechia is considered to be the least religious of any country in the EU. Of course that explains why many of the churches have charges for admission. There just are not enough people to support that many churches. Of course I do not even really comprehend how they were able to build so many back in those days. Of course a lot of the building did take place over a period of time. In fact, the large cathedral in town took almost 600 years before it was finished. You will see a lot of pictures of churches at the end of my post. I have not been in that many places of worship since we visited Rome a few years ago. The churches in Prague may not be as large as some in Rome, but they are every bit as beautiful.

One of the famous churches is The Church of Our Lady Victorious. The outside of this church is not that remarkable, but step inside and WOW!!! The church was built in 1613 and is probably best known for the Infant Jesus of Prague. This is a wooden and wax statue of the baby Jesus. The statue is clothed by the nuns in the church. The statue has been venerated by three different Popes.

I put these pictures side by side, so that you could see the entire shrine, and then the closeup of the statue. I realize the pictures do not do it justice. We actually went to Mass in the church and it was hard to keep my eyes off the statue. It is fascinatingly beautiful.

Julie and I did determine the Christmas Markets in Prague do not live up to the hype we found online. There are many of them, but there was almost nothing unique. Out of the 6 markets we visited we bought three items. We did find an awesome art store near the Lennon wall, though. I was actually ready to spend hundreds of dollars on some of the things we found in that store, but Julie had to talk me down. We did wind up buying a beautiful hand blown vase to replace one that I broke this fall. Speaking of the Lennon Wall.

This is a throwback to the communist rule over the country. The wall is just across the street from the French Embassy. In the 60’s the wall was used as a form of protest and declarations of love, but following the murder of John Lennon the wall has been a symbol of love and peace. The original picture of Lennon is buried under layers and layers of paint, but it seems every time the wall gets painted within a few days there is another image of the artist.

We also ate very well, and even tried one of the local delicacies!

Trdelnik reminded me of camping with Boy Scouts. We would make something similar with Pillsbury rolls and a stick over the fire. These were delicious!! We also decided there must be one recipe that is followed for Glühwein. This amazing sustenance tasted identical to the wine we have had in Germany, France, and Switzerland! All of these countries are pretty close together, but we thought there would be some difference.

Below is another video I made of our visit to Czechia. Next weekend we are visiting a market in Colmar, France.

I hope your advent season is starting off well. Our has started GREAT! Enjoy the pictures.