31 Mai 2023

First off:

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag meiner kleinen Schwester Trisha Doyle!

Last weekend Julie and I went back to one of our favorite places. We spent the weekend up at the top of Mt Pilatus just outside Luzern. We have been to the mountain a couple of different times, because it is one of the places that almost every visitor wants to see. We even stayed up at the top the second fall we were here, and woke up to about 8 inches of snow on the ground. No snow this time, but it was still just as magical. Now a little history:

The mountain takes its name from Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who, according to tradition, sentenced Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion. According to a local legend, Pontius Pilate’s body was thrown into a deep and remote alpine lake near the mountain, and his ghost was believed to haunt the mountain.

Long before it was named after Pilate, the mountain was steeped in ancient myth and superstition. The early inhabitants believed that the mountain was inhabited by dragons, and stories of sightings and encounters are numerous, feeding the mystique of this majestic peak. The notion of dragons living in the mountain caves was so strong that in the early 19th century, the government of Lucerne even banned ascents to prevent disturbing these legendary creatures.

The first successful recorded ascent of Pilatus was in 1585 by Jost Burgi, a Swiss clockmaker, mathematician, and astronomer. However, the mountain remained relatively inaccessible to the general public until the 19th century. That changed in 1889, with the construction of the Pilatus Railway, the steepest cogwheel railway in the world. This monumental feat of engineering transformed the mountain, making it a popular tourist destination. The railway was initially steam-powered but was converted to electric operation in 1937, making the trip up the mountain more accessible and less environmentally impactful.

Despite its relatively modest height of 2,128 meters (6,982 feet), Mount Pilatus continues to captivate visitors with its stunning views, unique history, and legendary folklore. Its craggy peaks and deep valleys remain a symbol of the natural beauty and cultural richness of Switzerland. I think the view from the eastern side of the top plateau is one of the most beautiful views in Switzerland. This part of the grounds was closed off this visit, but this is a picture from October of 2020.

There is a type of mountain goat that lives on the mountain called the Alpine Ibex. We have looked for these goats every time we have visited and never saw any until this visit. After breakfast we went for a last walk and I happened to catch some movement out of the corner of my eye, and there was a family (Mom and three kids) just hanging out on the side of the mountain having breakfast. It was a fantastic ending to a great weekend!

I also learned last weekend, that I am approaching the “GET OFF MY LAWN” phase of life. I was very irritated about part of our stay. The hotel dining room has a dress code posted. Even though we were only going for a weekend, I packed a sport coat, dress shoes, etc… Julie did the same. On Friday night, the dress code was enforced. Every man had either a sport coat or sweater, every woman was dressed equally as nice. Saturday, however, was a different story. There were only two of us in the whole restaurant with a coat. The majority of people were in jeans, t-shirts, hiking apparel, or in one case pajama bottoms and an overly large sweatshirt.

You can see by the picture I wasn’t going to the Oscars, but I did dress a little better than normal for dinner. I was very irritated that people would ignore the dress code, and even more irritated that the restaurant went ahead and sat everyone. Don’t get me wrong. If there was not a published dress code, I would not have cared one iota. Of course I also would not have brought dress shirts and a sport jacket either. 🙂

One of the things we had not had a chance to visit was the play area about 1/2 way up the mountain. When you go to the top of Pilatus you have three means of transportation. You can take the train up one side of the mountain. (It was not running last weekend.). You can hike. (If you know my son ask him about this. He did it last summer!). You can take a gondola. This was our method of travel last weekend. Anyway, at the last gondola area before the top they have a wonderful play area. There is a rope course, a great playground, a zipline style ride, and a toboggan run. I have always wanted to go on one of the toboggan runs so last weekend was my chance.

The Dragon Glider and Toboggan Run

One final video. Another thing I had not been able to finish at Pilatus was the Dragon Way. This is a short trail around, over, and through the mountain. Please ignore the heavy breathing. I am an old, overweight man! I still had fun on the train, though!

Well that was our weekend. We are getting ready to visit Austria and Hungary this next week. We are driving through Germany and Austria to Vienna. We will be spending 4 days there, and then we drive further east to Budapest where we will spend another 4 days before driving back to Switzerland.

Enjoy the pictures.

26 Mai 2023

Lake Geneva near the Lausanne Harbor

Julie and I visited Lausanne last weekend. Lausanne is the 4th largest city in Switzerland, and is best known as the Headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. The city is on the banks of Lake Geneva or Lac LĂ©man. This caused a bit of a headache for Julie and I. She kept insisting it was Lake Geneva. I kept insisting it was Lac LĂ©man. It turns out we were both right, but Julie was more right than I was. She had never heard the French name, and I thought the two names designated different lakes! The lake is referred to by two names due to historical and linguistic reasons.

The name “Lake Geneva” is derived from the English language and is widely used in English-speaking countries. It stems from the city of Geneva, which is located on the western end of the lake. The English name helps to differentiate the lake from other lakes that might bear the name “Geneva.”

On the other hand, the name “Lac LĂ©man” is the French designation for the lake. The word “LĂ©man” originates from the Latin term “Lemancus,” which was the name used for the lake during the Roman era. Over time, the name evolved into “Lacus Lemanus” in Latin and later into “Lac LĂ©man” in French.

As for why Geneva isn’t called “LĂ©man,” it is because “LĂ©man” specifically refers to the lake itself, not the city. The city of Geneva has its own historical significance and identity, and it has been known by the name “Geneva” for many centuries. While the French name for the lake is “Lac LĂ©man,” the city continues to be called Geneva in both French and English.

Therefore, the two names, Lake Geneva and Lac LĂ©man, are used interchangeably depending on the language and context, reflecting the cultural and linguistic diversity of the region.

Lausanne was a great place to spend a long weekend. We did some hiking around town but there are also some really good museums. We toured the Olympic Museum and we

also visited the Palais De Rumine. The second actually houses multiple museums, but we concentrated on the archaeology exhibits. We were fascinated to learn about the discoveries on Mormont Hill.

One of the most significant discoveries at Mormont Hill is the presence of a Gallo-Roman sanctuary, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. Excavations have uncovered numerous votive objects, including pottery fragments, bronze statuettes, and coins, suggesting that the site held religious and ceremonial importance for the local population. The highlight of this discovery is an exceptionally well-preserved stone altar, adorned with intricate carvings and inscriptions, offering a glimpse into the spiritual practices of the time.

Beyond the Gallo-Roman period, Mormont Hill bears evidence of earlier human occupation. Archaeologists have unearthed remnants of Iron Age settlements and fortifications, dating back to the 5th century BCE. These findings suggest that the hill served as a strategic stronghold, providing a vantage point for observing and defending the surrounding landscape. Excavations have revealed traces of dwelling structures, storage pits, and defensive earthworks, offering valuable insights into the daily lives and societal dynamics of ancient communities in the region.

The archaeological exploration of Mormont Hill has also shed light on the hill’s natural landscape and environmental changes over time. Sediment samples, pollen analysis, and geological surveys have provided valuable data on past vegetation, climate patterns, and land use practices. These interdisciplinary investigations contribute to our understanding of the relationship between human populations and their surrounding environment throughout history.

Mormont Hill’s archaeological significance extends beyond its immediate vicinity. The discoveries made at this site have implications for our understanding of broader regional interactions during antiquity. The artifacts unearthed provide valuable evidence of trade networks, cultural exchanges, and religious practices, offering glimpses into the social, economic, and religious fabric of ancient Switzerland.

One of the most fun things we did was visit the Cathedral for the 10 PM call of the Nightwatchman. The Nightwatchman has been calling out “ALL CLEAR” from the top of the cathedral for over 600 years.

Assuming the mantle of the nightwatchman involves a deep-seated respect for tradition, an intricate understanding of Lausanne’s rich history, and an unwavering dedication to the city and its people. Regardless of the season’s temperaments, be it the chill of winter or the warmth of summer, the nightwatchman dutifully fulfills his responsibilities, highlighting the resilience inherent to this age-old tradition. There is only ONE primary Watchman. However, there are seven apprentices. Julie and I both remembered reading how the “glass ceiling in Lausanne” was finally getting some cracks because they nominated a woman for the very first time about two years ago to be an apprentice.

The nightwatchman serves not just as the city’s guardian of time, but also as a physical connection to the city’s past, embodying its historical essence. In a world increasingly driven by technology and modernization, the watchman stands as a poignant symbol of Lausanne’s commitment to its heritage, a reminder that even in the face of progress, tradition holds a timeless value and an irreplaceable place in the collective identity of a community.

The video below has the recording of the nightwatchman if you are interested.

As we were heading back home we decided to make a detour to Montreux. We had visited Montreux for a day two years ago, but we learned there was a Freddie Mercury statue in town. This is kind of fitting since another musical icon that adopted Switzerland died this week.

The relationship between Queen, Mercury, and Montreux began in 1978 when the band bought Mountain Studios. The studio was already famous, having hosted artists like Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. For Queen, it was more than just a recording space; it was a creative sanctuary. Between 1978 and 1995, Queen recorded a significant portion of their music there, including parts of their iconic albums “Jazz,” “Hot Space,” and Mercury’s final vocal performances on “Made in Heaven.”

Mercury at first hated Montreux. The small quiet town was the exact opposite of what the flamboyant front man wanted. However, Mercury eventually fell in love with Montreux’s peaceful setting, eventually making it his home in 1987. Montreux gave Mercury the tranquility and privacy he craved, away from the intense media scrutiny that came with his fame. He often described Montreux as his “own little paradise,” where he could find solitude and engage in his passions, such as painting and collecting art.

Even as his health deteriorated due to AIDS, Mercury continued to record in Mountain Studios, showing his dedication and love for music. He was discreet about his illness, and the people of Montreux respected his privacy, further deepening his affection for the city.

Mercury’s death in 1991 left a profound impact on Montreux. In 1996, a larger-than-life statue of Mercury was unveiled on the city’s lakeside, serving as a constant reminder of his connection to Montreux. Each year, fans from around the world gather at the “Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Day” to celebrate his life and music. The city, much like Queen’s music, is forever intertwined with the legacy of Freddie Mercury, the extraordinary musician who found peace and inspiration in its idyllic surroundings.

As I am writing this, Julie is packing for the weekend. We are heading over to Luzern. We have already stayed in the hotel on the top. of Mt Pilatus, but we had such a magical time, we decided to go do it again. This time, though, Julie has said we can go down the mountain on Saturday so I can do a summer bobsled run! This has been one of the things on my Swiss bucket list the first time I saw someone going down a mountain.

Enjoy the pictures, I will have more to say next week!

11 May 2023

It has been a pretty quiet last few weeks. Most of my time has been spent finishing up my school work. I am officially 1/2 way through the Masters Program for CyberSecurity Risk Management. I have actually enjoyed most of the school work which is very surprising to me. Even more surprising is that I am maintaining a 3.95 GPA. For those of you that may have known me 30 years ago, I hope you have someone to help you up off of the floor after reading that! 🙂 I mean I did graduate college, but I graduated with a B- average. Nope, I was NOT a good student.

I did get one nice bike ride in before the rain has come. One my Tik Tok Friends talked me into a long ride last week. I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the whole thing, but I was able to ride for about 80 miles before catching the train back home. We did ride through a beautiful part of Germany, and sometime soon I will be taking Julie through a drive in the Black Forest.

The first major climb wasn’t that bad. I was slow, but I got up the hill OK. The problem came in the second climb. It wasn’t that steep, but you can see it was pretty long. I made the mistake of letting my heart rate get up to about 160 and that was practically all I had left.

The last bit of the ride was great though. It was over 20 kms all downhill! I am really hoping to get stronger soon. Of it has rained every day this week, so I am getting a lot of miles in riding the basement. It just isn’t the same.

Julie and I have got our travel lists for the next few months together. We have some weekend trips planned here in Switzerland, and I just made reservations for what will be our longest drive, yet. We are going to drive to Vienna, Austria and then on to Budapest, Hungary. In addition some of our closest friends are coming for a week in July, and we are going to the Lauterbrunnen Valley here in Switzerland, then to Salzburg, Austria ending in Munich, Germany. This fall we also have another trip on the books for Munich. It will be our last chance for Octoberfest! Speaking of which we have to get busy on our outfits!!! I think we are going to try one last big trip late summer as well. We are thinking about a drive to Berlin, on to Rotterdam, and then back home. So I should have some good travel pictures to show you over the coming months.

Spring is finally coming, but it is coming slowly and as mentioned previously is very wet. However, last Saturday was a beautiful day so Julie and I decided to go see what was happening downtown.

Zurich is a very pretty city. We went for a stroll through the Old Town and along the river. We had lunch at our favorite restaurant, and then we finally went to visit the Police Station.

The Police Station is something I have wanted to see for a couple of years now. Most people don’t think of a police station as a tourist attraction, well sometimes Switzerland is a bit different! In the early 1900’s Zurich was experiencing a lot of growth; so they re-organized part of the Government offices. Including in the reorganization was closing down an orphanage and expanding the police station. After some more time Zurich decided to spruce up some of the government buildings; so they ran a contest for ideas on sprucing up some of the government offices. A man by the name of Augusto Giacometti won the contest, and he did fresco paintings on the vaulted ceilings in the entry hall of the police station. I think you will agree it does not look like your normal police station.

The entry hall is open to the public but only for a couple of hours each day. This time I was adamant that we were going to get inside. We learned that, as usual, the Swiss people are very clock conscious. We got there about 90 seconds early, and of course we were told to go back outside and wait for the right time! 🙂 I was very happy we finally got there to see the painting. It is magnificent.

The other bit of drama we had was that our ice machine broke down. Ice is something that people in the US take for granted. Here it is a bigger deal. We bought a counter top ice maker about three years ago. It is really nice having ice in our cocktails or water. 🙂 I had forgotten how expensive ice is here. A bag of ice costs 10 CHF. Of course since the bag won’t fit in the freezer, and I didn’t bring my really good cooler along, we wound up spending a large chunk of money for frozen water. At the rate we were buying ice, the new ice maker will be paid for in two weeks!

One update from our Eurowings debacle. Another week has gone by with no response. The gentleman that I ride with a lot gave me a website that will file a lawsuit against them for 30 Euros, and then they get 10% of the money. I have to decide if it is worth it, or not. I am leaning towards filing. I find it apalling that they won’t even respond.

I will talk to you soon.

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 ZĂĽrich. 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.