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Well, that's kind of annoying. So he comes back with my ticket and says that now I'll fly straight to Zurich. Great, that's a big improvement. (Saint Stuart - patron saint of airline upgrades.) The only little problem is that I have to somehow get them to retag my luggage which is bound for Malpensa in Milan. So at the ticket desk, I was assured that this had happened.
I said good-bye to my dad who was now going to London and I was off to Zurich. The plane ride was pretty good. I got a Zurich newspaper which had a big computer section with a big article on Linux. Hey that's a good sign. I also got to see the new computerized map and display that shows exactly where you are at any given moment in the flight. That's pretty nice.
When I got off the plane, I went down the cattle chute marked Swiss and EU. No problem. On to the baggage collection. While I'm standing there waiting, some guy comes out and starts telling everyone, in German, that the baggage from our plane will be delayed for about 1/2 hr. and that we could all wait in the special people lounge. Wow, twice in one trip. Ok, after about 20 minutes, we were informed that the baggage was here. And so it was, except mine. Grr. Well, at least I didn't have to carry it.
Since I had hung around filling out a missing bag form, by the time I got to the customs area, there was no one there. I just walked through alone wondering if it was some kind of trick. Nope. Next I just followed signs to the Bahnhof and pretty soon, I was in the adjoining train station. At the train information desk, they all spoke English (and I suspect many more languages) just fine. I got my ticket to Wolhusen.
Now I had about half an hour to kill while I waited for the train. I decided to try and call Susan and/or Hanspeter and let them know that I was way ahead of schedule. They have these really neat phone book replacements in the phone booths here. They are basically extremely rugged little computers that can spit out any information that a phone book can and, of course, they can be updated constantly. Well, they weren't home, so it really was going to be quite a surprise.
I got on the train bound for Luzern from Zurich. I think that's about a 30 mile trip. When I got off of the train in Luzern to get the next train, I was walking around the station for a few minutes and I had to go outside and gawk at the bicycles. There were thousands of them. It was like the transition area of a big triathlon only these were commuter bikes with lights and fenders and racks. Wow. Anyway, I then found my train and after some error and trial, found the non smoking section. And then I was standing at the trainstation in Wolhusen which is a town about the size of Mariemont or Ocean Beach.
I also foolishly had no local currency. I was thinking that I could get a better rate in the train station in Luzern, but I didn't have time. Hmm, so there I was in a very little place with no money and no clue. That was dumb. Well I went into the fine phone booth and put my credit card in and luckily my call went through and Susan was home. Whew! I stood there for about 15 minutes and she drove up in a Suzuki Samuri type vehicle. They are very popular here and pretty big as far as cars here go.
Since Susan had made the trip down with the car, we went to the grocery store and to a cafe for some very real coffee (which came with a little piece of chocolate - now that's civilized). Then we started the drive up the mountain to the house. It was quite a climb (the one that Hp does on his bike ride home from work). Near the top was the micro town of Sigigen. Beyond Sigigen is Stäublig which is the farm owned and run by Susan's family...and my new home for a little while.
Susan's brother, Urs and his wife, Marlis, and son, Nickoli, live in the big house. In the Stöckli, which is also quite huge, are Susan's parents on the first floor and us on the second floor. It has it's own facilities like an apartment, but to relate this place to an American apartment would be like saying a rose is like a dandilion.
Everything in this place is made of wood. The walls are all wood panels and most of them are raised panel construction like cabinetry. Same for the ceilings. Cheap crappy construction is just not the mode here. Could this be why the date cast into the wall in one of the bedrooms is 1885?
This is a working farm with emphasis on the word working. These are some highly industrious people. There are 22 dairy cows. Incredibly, this is big dairy farm here. These cows live in a special barn that is optimized for them. They are fantastically huge as well. Each cow has a place for it to stand or lie down with its name over it. Yes, every cow has a name. No numbers I was told, names - like "Lisa". Every morning at some time that is too early for me, they get milked and the milk is taken to the Käserei. And the same routine occurs again at about 17:00. When they go to the Käserei, they use huge vacuum pumps to slurp the milk out of the milk cans and then they fill the cans back up with liquid left over from the cheese making exercise. They bring this back and pour it in the troughs for the pigs. I didn't count the pigs, but there must be about 30 or more of them. There's also a special maternity wing of the pig area where the little piglets and their mothers live. So some grains are added to the cheese making left overs and they eat it like it was the best stuff in the world. I now know exactly what it means to eat like a pig.
There are also some younger cows that wander around from field to field. They control where these cows go with charged wires - which are rather tricky to see when riding a bike. And a few of the cows will be wearing bells of different pitches which make a rather nice windchime-like sound when the whole herd decides to wander off to some greener grass. There are some sheep that live in one of the fields too. There is an old car in their field which I think they can get in for shelter or maybe they use it to feed them. Anyway, it is pretty funny to see this car out on a steep embankment where the sheep live. There is also a chicken house where many hens and a lucky rooster live.
And there are cats - lots of cats. My estimate is that there are around 20 cats living here. The interesting thing is that none of them ever come indoors. They live in the hay in the barns and hunt for food out in the fields. All over the countryside, cats can be seen sitting in open fields staring intently at the ground waiting for some little creature to make a move. If you go to the balcony and whistle, about 10 cats will emerge out of the darkness and wait for you to throw down some scraps. That's called recycling here. And there is the dog Simba who is very nice. She likes to come and sit on your foot and implore you to pet her. Like the cats, Simba is an outside animal.
In addition to the dairy and other livestock enterprises here, there are plenty of fields with things planted in them. I think there are potatoes and some others. They definitely have elaborate vegtable gardens and quite a few fruit trees. You can imagine that they really didn't need to go to town all that often back in 1885. That's a good thing too since it's quite a climb.
Once in possesion of my stuff, I set about setting up my computer environ. This basically entails getting the preloaded hard drive I brought to work with the excellent hardware I found waiting for me. Anyone familiar with such things will imediatly realize that this is no trivial matter.
Here's an example sub-project. Somehow, I managed to lock myself out of my hard drive (how did I do this? Hubris...anyway...). Like a fool, I didn't have a boot disk. I tried to download one, but since Internet time here is precious, I was only able to find and get one that I was unfamiliar with. It actually was really great except for the fact that it only supported hard drive partitions 1-4, my stuff is on partitions 6-8. Soooo close. So I figured that it would just be easier and ultimately cheaper to go buy a CD with what I needed. I rode a bike to Luzern and found a computer store and got a book with a CD in it. When I got back, I went to get the cd out of the book and it had been sliced by the book binding process. AHH!! Well, miraculously it worked anyway - could that be an undocumented feature of Linux?
And playing with the bike I've been loaned is quite a little hobby. And riding it around is something that is really great here. Yesterday, I rode to the end of the farm and crashed through the woods down the VERY steep hill into the neighboring farm and then out on the the tiny short cut road that features a VERY steep paved section. The scenery is fantastic. On my expedition yesterday, the tiny road I was on ran into an under cut that was behind a waterfall. Very nice.
There are bike paths all over the place. It truly is amazing to see so many people riding bikes here. I had never seen a female under the age of 20 ride a bicycle in the rain. Here, it happens thousands of times, every time it rains. And when you have to get out on the busy streets, it is really incredibly how much respect the cars give. In fact, here, it is apparently against the law to kill a cyclist or pedestrian with an automobile. Incredible, isn't it? One little problem with that for me is that even on a humble bike, I am a menace to society. Like in Canada, a pedestrian at a cross walk must be given the right of way - this means that you must stop your car or bicycle. Unlike Canada, the population density and the number of pedestrians is MUCH greater and this situation pops up very frequently. And the pedestrians just take it for granted that the cars will stop. I have a hard time walking around with Susan and Hanspeter because they just wander out onto a busy street like Madisonville extreme-saunterers and sure enough all of the cars just stop. Amazing.
So I've been riding around the neighborhood and doing the touristy sightseeing stuff in Luzern. I'd have to say that seeing a 1 day old calf is more interesting to me than whatever it is that many tourists came here to see.
Ok, so I've been getting my computer situation ready and riding around getting myself acquainted. Well, now my computer is pretty much ready and I am pretty much familiar with the layout here and how things work. The other major thing I've been doing, of course, is learning German. This is a huge project and I am VERY lucky to have very patient helpful people around who are very supportive of that project. Susan and Hanspeter speak great English, a couple of people here speak very little English and a couple speak English medium well. It is helpful to interact with all three varieties.
I'm watching TV a lot more than I usually do. For one thing, it doesn't suck. That's simple enough. Yes, the programming is MUCH better. Do you know what's been on the news for the past week or so? The news. Incredible isn't it? I could hardly believe it myself. Oh and the commercials! Wow, at first, I would wait for them to make a trip to the bathroom - bad plan, you'll wet your pants.
Let me describe sports coverage succinctly for Americans. Take the amount and level of organization and money spent on American football coverage and then consider the same for American Winter Olympic coverage - here they are inverted. I suspect that the same is true for cycling in the summer. They keep reminding me when a big ski race is on TV. I keep pointing out that there will probably be another one tomorrow. Seriously, they show curling!
Ok, the other reason I like to watch TV is because it is in German. Go figure. Actually you can get Italian and French if that's what you like, but I find it very helpful to hear a lot German spoken in conjunction with some visual context. Here's a funny story. The three of us went to a small cinema in Luzern to see a movie from Scotland called "My Name Is Joe". It's a junkie movie (á la Trainspotting) and it was ostensibly in English. There were German and French subtitles and here's how it went for me. I actually understood about 50% of it. I could use the German subtitles about 30% and the French (which I wasn't really paying attention to) about 5%. So, I missed about 15% of it. Incredible, eh?
So zillions of people ride bikes. It's wonderful to see. They have lights and racks and useful things on their bikes. I've seen very young kids riding and I've seen some impressively old people riding and everyone in between. Both men and women ride and the ratio is not really obviously skewed one way or another. They ride in crappy weather, darkness, fog, and up hills that most Americans couldn't walk up.
And when they park their bikes, they just usually, if it's a nice bike, lock a wheel to the frame! That's it. There are so many bikes, that being a bike thief would be both easy and unprofitable. I personally haven't really been able to shake my "lock it to steel" paranoia. Sometimes, however, it's hard to find a spot to lock it to since there are so many bikes already there.
This is such a radical and fundamental difference in culture that it would be easy to imagine that the Swiss and Americans are different species - I know which phylum I belong to. Indeed, this experience has really demolished the American excuses. No - no more. You're lame or you're not.
Ok, there are lots of wonderful things here. The Alps are a no-brainer. I can sit here and look out the window at a beautiful valley with beautiful snow streaked mountains all around. The sunsets are wonderful. There was a nice layer of snow on the ground when I got here that was absolutely wonderful.
Another amazing thing is that there is almost no litter here. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but when you really think about it, it's quite profound. I am a serious authority on just what artifacts can be found on the sides of the roads in North America and I can tell already, that here in Switzerland that would be, relatively, nothing. Stunning.
One thing that I am very fond of is the attention to detail in thier buildings and towns. Every town seems to have a spring (which I'm told contains potable water) that is adorned with a very pleasant peice of sculpture. Think of the Hyde Park Square fountain.
A very strange fact makes itself clear here. I am a sports fan. If I grew up here I would be a Kelly-caliber sports fan - no doubt. It's a matter of taste, but I don't like American sports. I was invited to see the Football Club Luzern's last game of the season and it was great. There were exactly 0 TV timeouts.
Well, you might think in a land where cabbage is king that I would really have a problem with the food. No... I don't like cabbage; that's simple. I have a problem with American food; that is complex. I hate the mentality of low fat, fat-free, sugar free etc. Here, there is none of that shit. I saw the dieting section in the bookstore today - about 10 books, one of which was about the fasting habits of saints. Ok, America - here's the big shocker - YOU'RE FAT - the Swiss are NOT. I think it might be a downward spiral for the U.S., in other words, it will only get worse. I just hope that it doesn't infect here in the near future.
The Swiss that I'm in direct contact are, of course, fantastic cooks. I have eaten cabbage...There you go, that's all that needs to be said. Maybe they like these horrid vegtables because they know what to do with them. Anyway, all of the food here is, at the very least, impressive - at best, it is the best I've ever had in my life. Examples:
Milk- this is a dairy farm and when we don't have milk, we wait for the next milking time and go out and nab a litre. We bring it back, pour it into a pan and boil it and then have the best hot chocolate in the universe (Yes Switzerland is, in fact, it's own cliche).
Chocolate- that brings me to choki. I don't know how to spell that, but in Swiss-German, it's always Shoki (Swiss-German isn't generally a written form of the language.) Well, anyway, it's good. Damn good. It's my favorite section of the grocery store. Ya, it's delicious and there's about a billion different flavors of it. I'm going to try them all.
Jogurt- Well, it's cheap and it's wonderful. The other night I had the best yogurt of my life. It was rhubarb-vanilla or something like that. Damn was it good! I kept telling S&Hp, "This is the best yogurt I've ever had in my life." Low fat yogurt? Here? Ha ha, you'd be about as likely to find motor oil flavored yogurt.
Bread- Anytime we start to run low on bread, the magic bread elves will wait until we leave and then slip a new fresh baked loaf of some sort of wonderful bread into the breadbox. There is a kind of bread called - wait I have no idea how to spell that- anyway, it is braided and Susan's mother makes it every week and it is "The best bread I've ever had".
So the food situation is not too much of a problem. They have really good fruit here which is a bit odd. They are also very masterful with salads and potatoes.
To be sure, the Swiss are some fabulously unique and wonderful people, but they are getting blasted with culture from the Ausland - mostly the US. In a day, the radio might play 3 or four songs with no English in them - those would be in French. It's like listening to an MTV retrospective. It's a pretty bizzare mixture. Even the local Swiss and German bands sing their popular songs in English. The TV has many shows in English that have no subtitles or translations.
And I am amazed when I am watching a Swiss show and I hear (like a Gary Larson cartoon dog) blah blah blah blah blah blah blah pin-up girls blah blah blah. What?! I'm compiling a list of German words and phrases that everyone in America knows - "come-back" "full-time job" "last but not least" "snowboard" "computer" "fan club" and my favorite, the classic "Made in Switzerland". This can lead to some Three Stooges conversations. "How do you say 'tip' in German?" "Tip." "Ya, tip." "Tip" "Ya, in German." "Tip" "Ya, how do you say it?"
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