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.

11 November

I realized today that I have not written in a while. I have a hard time simply writing about daily things. I guess the life I lead is simply not very exciting. We do have a lot coming up, though. I will tell you a little about the future later.

The election is “over”. I have that in quotation marks, because there is still a lot up in the air. It seems strange to me that places in the US cannot count ballots within a day or two, but that is the case. As I am writing this no one really knows if the Republicans or Democrats will be in control of the House or the Senate. I think states in the US need to take a lesson from Switzerland. The majority of ballots are done by mail. The Swiss start counting these as soon as they come in. Election Day is a Sunday. So the majority of citizens have the day off. (Side note: I would be a big fan of making election day a Holiday. That includes the primary elections. At a minimum though the general election in November.). Somehow the Swiss always announce the results within an hour or two of the polls closing. I think that is because, again, the majority of the votes have already been captured before election day.

My only political thought, is that I was glad to see the majority of the crazy people lose. I realize that crazy depends on your outlook, but to me crazy are the 2020 election deniers, and others that talk about similar views. I was a little disappointed in my two home states, though. Indiana for electing a guy as Secretary of State that was fired TWO different times by the department he will soon run, AND has been credibly shown to have committed election fraud. Wisconsin, for being the one state that sent someone who actively participated in the Jan 6th attempt to over throw the election.

In other news… Young George is officially an attorney. He passed the bar exam and was sworn in this month to the Indiana Bar, He is currently working as a clerk for Judge Weissmann’s Court in Indianapolis. It was another day that we missed by living here. I am really glad my parent’s are still healthy and able to travel, though, because they have been making it a habit of filling in for us!

I am still trying to recover from COVID. As long as I am not exerting myself I feel fine. It has made riding my bike really difficult, though. I can ride for 90 – 120 minutes without a problem as long as I keep my heart rate under 120 beats per minute. However, if I really try and exert myself I pay for it almost immediately. I went for a ride around Lake Zurich two weekends ago. I told myself I was going to go slow and easy. BUT I got on the street and immediately started riding faster than I should have. I made the first 35 miles in my normal time; so I was feeling good. I stopped for a bit ate and rested, and then got back on the bike. The last 35 miles was a mistake. I should have just taken a train home. The first 35 miles took about 90 minutes. The last 35 miles took double that. I had to stop multiple times and rest. As I was coming up the last hill to the apartment, I had to stop and walk the bike up the hill. I was so “BONKED” that after a shower, I passed out in the hallway. Not once but twice. Julie was just a little concerned. :). Even today. I did 20 miles on our balcony. I rode 15 slowly, and then picked it up the last five miles. That was again my mistake. I didn’t pass out or anything, but I had to sit down and recover for about 30 minutes. Before COVID I never had any of these problems. Hoping that being able to use the trainer this winter will help with the recovery. I just have to remember to NOT push it. I have signed up for the ride I was not able to do this past fall, but honestly, I am not sure it will ever happen.

I learned recently the Swiss government is really serious about the language requirements for accompanying spouses. Some friends were on holiday in Poland, when they got an email from the Gemeinde (Town Hall) asking about the language certificate so they could extend their resident permit. Unfortunately, the company handling their move gave them bad information, and told them they only had to attend a class, not actually pass the test. So the government gave them extension to get the test done. I have spent the last few days working with him and making sure he will do OK. However, it turns out the tests are not as standardized as I thought they were. We did our studying pretending to take the same kind of test I did. Pretty straightforward test. You introduce yourself, and give a little background. Someone would ask you to spell your name, or ask for your phone number. Just simple commands and responses. The second part of the test (that I took) involved flash cards. You would randomly select a card, and you had to make two statements and ask two questions about the object pictured on the card, or the word on the card. For example: The picture might be of an apple. So you would have to say two things about the apple, and ask two questions. The word might be Buch (book). So again two questions about books and two statements.

My friend’s test was completely different. He was shown a picture, and he had to come up with a story about the picture. Then he had to have a “pretend” phone call with the proctor. That test is a lot harder than what I had to do. Asking two simple questions is pretty easy, but coming up with a story is on an entirely different level. If you have ever lived in an area where you are learning a language, you learn to dred the phone ringing. You never know what the discussion is going to be about, and I never knew how much I relied on lip reading, because I can almost never understand the person talking on the phone. I hope he did well on the test, but he is very worried. The other thing about his test, that seems unfair to me, is the proctor told him she gave him things from more advanced language levels.

There are actually 7 levels of language mastery:
A-1: The most basic. Can understand simple sentences is the best way to explain it.

A-2: One level about basic. More complex sentences able to use tense correctly.

B-1: Can understand more complex situations. Able to describe events and give simple explanations

B-2: Can maintain a conversation on regular topics with native speakers without strain on either side.

C-2: Can understand and express a wide range of topics, and can use language in social and academic standards

C-2: Can express themselves spontaneously and fluently even in complex situations

In Switzerland you just have to be at the A-1 level for the basic level residency permit. You do not have to maintain B or C level unless you are looking for a permanent residency or citizenship. However, my friend was given things from the B-2 list. That just doesn’t seem fair to me. I hope he is able to get it worked out, because it would stink to have to go back to your home country and leave your spouse here. I do think the language part would be easier if we lived in a different area of the country. All my friends say the hardest part about trying to learn the language here is that everyone just immediately starts speaking English as soon as we utter a Hello. I think if we lived in the French or Italian areas it might be a little different.

What is coming

Well normally I would getting ready to fly off to WI for a week of Deer Hunting, and then down to Indiana for a few more days of hunting and Thanksgiving with my parents. However, since I have already gone back to the US two times this year I decided to not buy another transatlantic flight. So Julie and I are prepping to visit Christmas Markets.

We leave the day after US Thanksgiving for Prague, Czech Republic. We are going to take a long weekend and explore some of the SIX different Christmas Markets located in the city. That should be a fun weekend. Prague is one of the cities on our “must visit” list. I have to figure out how to get some money though. Even though the Czechia is in the EU they have not adopted the Euro. I certainly do not want to get a lot of cash, though, because then I have to worry about exchanging it back for Euros or Francs. We are very excited about this visit.

We are going to spend another weekend heading back to Colmar France. Colmar is only a couple of hours away, and we have visited a couple of different times, but it is a beautiful little place, and we are excited to visit their markets as well.

Our final Christmas Market trip will be to Innsbruck, Austria. This is going to sound strange, but even though Austria is very close, we have only driven through the country. Innsbruck is another city that has multiple Christmas Markets and I know that Julie will have a wonderful time exploring them.

That takes us up to the week before Christmas. The kids both said they wanted to do a “Christmas in the Alps” while we are here; so this year we will also be staying here for Christmas. George and Gabby (his significant other) fly in on the 23rd. We pick them up at the airport and drive down to Zermatt. Zermatt is the Swiss village closest to the Matterhorn. Kaylee, has a different work schedule, so unfortunately, she is not able to get in until the 24th. She flies into Geneva, and will make her way up to the mountains to join us some time on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. We are then going to spend the next week enjoying our children, skiing, eating, and snowshoeing (assuming Zermatt finally gets some snow). If there is no snow, then we will do a lot of hiking, and exploring the countryside. Unfortunately, Kaylee has to get home right after New Years; so she will be flying back on the 31st to the US. George and Gabby get stay over a little longer. I think they will be coming back to Zurich with us for New Years, but then they are going to visit some friends in Germany. George has a very kind hearted boss, so she is also letting him work from “home” for a week or two, so we will wind up having one child over for about a month!

So that is what we have coming up.

Oh and if you didn’t notice, I changed the name of my website. I finally came to the conclusion that I was not ever going to have anything to do with education while I was over here; so I changed the name to reflect my new occupation! So as I close off for the evening. Thank you to everyone that has followed this for the past three years. I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing this.

Talk to you soon.

13 Oktober. 2022

We have been back from London for a couple of days now. It was a great experience. Well it was great except for the 2nd half of the football game, but I will talk about that later. 🙂

We got lucky again with flying Swiss. They asked for bids on upgrading to Business class. I put in an insane level low bid, but we got the upgrade anyway. I think some of it has to do with the amount of flying we have done this year. Multiple trips back to the US really make the miles and points add up quickly. The ability to sit in the Lufthansa/Swiss lounge for an hour or so and have all the free food and drink we want makes getting to the airport early an enjoyable experience. I have a story about why you don’t wait until the last minute at the end of my writing today.

This is probably going to sound strange, but it felt weird to get off the plane in a “foreign” country and be able to read all of the signs. We did have multiple reminders that the English Julie and I learned is different than ENGLISH ENGLISH. The first came as we were looking to take a “Train” to get to our hotel. We completely forgot that in the UK the Underground is Not a train. So as we were looking at signs in the airport, we went way out of our way, and actually passed the station we needed looking for the train to go where we wanted. We had a few laughs at ourselves once we finally got on the right “train.” Our next lesson on English happened the following morning. I wanted to go see the Globe Theatre. The last time we were in London we only had time to walk by the outside. I wanted to see the inside; so after breakfast we went for a stroll along the Thames where we came across this sign.

We thought it was something risqué!

It turned out that busking is singing or playing an instrument in public. If the sign had read no Straßenmusik I would have been fine. A quick Twitter request, though, and we learned a new word in a matter of moments.

One of the most fabulous parts things about London are the Museums. We visited three of them during our weekend: The Tate, The British Museum, and The Natural History Museum. I was shocked to learn they are FREE. This was an amazing discovery for me. I was a little disappointed to find out that my main reason for going to The British Museum was out on tour, but it was still a fascinating place. I don’t think we will ever be able to take our kids to any of the museums, though. We would not be able to do anything else!

Our first trip to London we spent time going to all the traditional tourist destinations. This time, however, we were able to see Big Ben in all his glory! The last visit the clock tower was still under scaffolding; so we really didn’t see much.

Big Ben at night

Another lesson we had re-enforced is that there is a difference of living in a city of about 1 million vs a city of over 9 million. DINING OUT! The choices for dining were so much more extensive than anything we have near Zürich. The choices were almost staggering. We had an amazing seafood dinner at La Petite Poissonnerie, and we found an Asian Tapas bar in SOHO called Ping Pong. We were blown away when we found out that place was actually one link in a chain of restaurants. The atmosphere in Ping Pong was excellent. We were probably the oldest couple in the place! I think what was even more

Ping Pong SOHO

astonishing was how inexpensive it was to go out for dinner. Of course we often feel that way whenever we leave Switzerland!

The reason we went back to London last weekend was to watch a football game. When we left Wisconsin, we knew that it would be a LOOOONG time before we ever got the chance to watch the Green Bay Packers play live again. Well, thanks to a heads up from our financial planner back in Milwaukee we learned that Green Bay would be playing in London. We managed to get some tickets without having to auction off our first born grand child, and jetted off to London. The game was played in Tottenham stadium. This is a place designed for football, just not the American kind. The stadium is really big. When we first got to the inside I thought it would seat about 100,000. I have been in some big stadiums and this appeared to be one of the biggest. The reality though is that it only holds about 60,000 people.

Panoramic view of the stadium

The crowd was certainly very Packer centric. It sounded like a home game at Lambeau Field. Easily the crowd was 3:1 wearing Green and Gold. We were surprised to see the number of cheeseheads in the crowd. Some friends brought some over for us, and we thought we would be unique. NOPE!

We had a great time. The only issue was getting back to the hotel that night. London has an awesome public transportation system, but it seemed like the one weak spot was Tottenham. The underground station is about a 30 minute walk from the stadium. We were able to catch a bus to the stadium, but there were so many people trying to go to the same station that catching a bus on the way back would have been next to impossible. We had to walk, which in itself wasn’t bad, but Julie has been having some knee problems, and the walk exacerbated those so the next day she could barely walk. What was even more frustrating was someone tried to segregate the walking traffic going to the underground from the walking traffic going past the station. In theory this would work. The problem was that one block from the station there was a break in the fence; so the hundreds of people that had been there before knew to bypass the gates, and just keep walking until the last block. That of course set off many people when they had been standing in the queue for 30 minutes, and then they watch someone just walk right past them and get in line. Julie made the comment that if she doesn’t get Covid after the underground ride she must be immune. Block Party in Zürich was the most dense crowd I had ever seen; until the underground going back to our hotel. I didn’t know that you could pack people that tightly together. No one had to worry about holding on or falling, because you could not move more than 1/4 of an inch until the doors opened at the stadium. Of course the trip back probably would have been a lot more enjoyable IF the Packers would have won!

I promised a little story at the beginning and now it is time. This is certainly not any kind of life altering story, but I found it a perfect example of why US Americans are not always viewed kindly around the world.

One of the advantages of flying Business Class is that at some airports you are given preferential treatment for going through security. This is the case at Heathrow. The security line was at least 300 meters long, and it looked like it would take hours to get through. The “Fast Pass” line was only about 25 meters long when we queued; so already a significant difference. In front of us was a family, dad, mom, grandma, boy, and nanny. The mom was making a scene about getting to the Fast Pass line, and bypassing everything else. She gets out her phone and calls her daughter. It turned out they abandoned grandpa because he had trouble walking; so they could get to the line and “hold” spots for them. Mom is telling daughter to hurry up, and just to cut through everyone in the line telling them “My family is just up ahead.”

This alone was causing everyone around the Mom to get irritated. Queueing is an art everywhere and apparently everyone but this Mom knows cutting the line is one sure way to get everyone upset.

So we get up to the last gate before we go through security. It turned out that Mom had tickets for everyone but Grandma. Mom tried bullying the guard to let grandma through, but he held fast. I honestly cannot imagine even trying that one. So the family leaves grandma standing by the gate, and continues through security. Mom promised she would text grandma the ticket when they got to the gate. As the family is getting ready to put their bags on the belt to be scanned, the daughter and grandpa show up. Mom starts yelling at the girl to cut the line, but the security guard stops her, and comes over and tells mom that she must “ask” everyone around her if it is OK that the daughter cut the line. I really wanted to be an AH and say of course she CANNOT, but Julie convinced me to be nicer. Julie and I both got a chuckle from the security guards talking about the family that abandoned grandma at ticket check. They were simply aghast that someone would leave their family member standing there with no way to move forward.

They finally get through the bag check, well almost. When I got through the metal detector, mom was running around yelling about her “bag” and her “coat”. It turns out she had something in the coat or purse that could not be identified; so her bin got pulled out of X-ray for a hand search. Once she realized what happened to her coat, she starts yelling to her family to “RUN” it turns out that boarding for the flight started in 10 minutes. 🙂 You have to remember that grandpa can barely walk. Run is not something he is physically able to do. It is stuff like this that causes people to think poorly of US Americans. Travel is stressful, and many times people see us at our worst and think that is normal.

So yeah, getting to the airport three hours before my flight leaves seems like overkill, but I will take that cold screwdriver at the bar anytime over leaving some of my travel party behind as I race to get to the gate!

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