Random Geneva Blog

Living abroad, as much as we’d like it to be, isn’t all peaches and cream. I mean, there’s definitely cream, and it’s really thick, sweet fattening cream, but the peaches are more like grapes, although some days when the weather is nice, they’re raspberries. What does it all mean? Probably that raspberries and cream are pretty darn good, although it costs a lot.

One of the things about living in a foreign country is that to truly enjoy it, you need to put yourself out there quite a bit. We’ve been fairly successful in this regard so far, as we’ve made a lot of friends, had some great experiences, and I expect many more of those to come. But like everything else, sometimes the best of intentions are met with dismal failure. One such instance occurred the other night when I went to a wine tasting; seemed harmless enough, right? Well – this “wine tasting” – not “vin degustation” – which was advertised in English and promoted to an English-speaking crowd – was conducted entirely in French, and everyone spoke conversationally in French, except for the one guy in attendance who doesn’t yet understand French (I’ll let you guess who that might have been). And yes, I realize I’m in a French-speaking country – or rather, a French-speaking canton of a country with four official languages and multiple dialects within each language – but still. Anyway, it’s kind of funny, and it shows that, sometimes when you take a risk, things don’t work out and you end up feeling like a complete idiot for a few hours.

I’m feeling very motivational right now…

On a lighter note, or rather, a “puffier” note, Soph has perfected the French delicacy known as the puff pastry. Took her a couple tries, but they make for an excellent dining experience. And, on an even better note, she has not yet perfected the Korean, umm, terribalicacy called kimchi. Yes, try as she might, that most foul-smelling of foul-smelling foods is eluding her culinary skills. She’s trying to convince me to get a giant bathtub that we can use to ferment it, but for now, I’m not biting. Did you know there are people in Korea who actually have bathtubs specifically dedicated to kimchi? Crazy as it sounds, it still doesn’t compare to some of the oddities witnessed in Switzerland.

And speaking of Switzerland (since that’s what this blog is technically about), we had our second fondue dinner the other night. And this time, there was even a yodeler and a guy playing one of those super-long wooden mountain horn things. Yodelers are cool and all, but the best vocal performance I’ve seen in Geneva to date was some random guy belting away opera tunes in a deep baritone on the street in front of my office building the other day. For whatever reason, we get some very interesting street performers, a fact I find mildly amazing for reasons I won’t go into. I’ve only seen the baritone opera guy once, but one of the more common performers is this father and his two under-twelve children who play classical music on violins. They’re pretty good, but they only really have two songs they can play, so they’re not as respected as this other violin trio that just flat-out knows how to go to town. Also, every month or so we’ll get one of those people who dresses up like a statue (they suck), and sometimes a 4+ piece acoustic band with instruments other than violins. But the guy who absolutely, positively rakes in the most money, without question, is this old dude (who doesn’t appear to shower), who has what’s got to be the world’s laziest cat. I’m not sure how you could measure the sheer laziness of a cat, but if there were a way, this one would break the scale. The guy just pushes his cart, cranks a wheel that plays terrible circus music, and children flip out and come in droves to pet the cat, which causes their parents to hand the guy money.

Switzerland can be a weird, weird country if you pay attention.

Oktoberfest 2007!

Sophia: “This is great. I can be as loud as I want, and no one cares!” And that pretty much sums up the Oktoberfest experience.

One of the great things about being in Europe is, obviously, being relatively close to so many places. To a certain degree, you can just fill a backpack and go on the road to a well-known destination/event – such as Oktoberfest. And this is exactly what we did.

The story begins with us hanging out with a few of our friends earlier in the week, and one of them mentioning that their cousin lives in Munich. We all joked about how great it would be to go there and have a place to stay, etc., and then we all went home that night and forgot about it. Well, the next day, we get an e-mail with a rental car confirmation; split five ways, how could you say no? I mean, literally you could say no, but I’m speaking more figuratively…anyway, the point is, we ended up getting ahold of another friend who’s from Germany, who was also going and staying with one of his old college friends, and as a result, we had the perfect excuse for a last-minute getaway.

Now, before we start talking about how great everything worked out, let me just throw in that there were three of us squished into the back seat of a small Peugeot, on what was supposedly a six-hour trip but in reality was an eleven-hour drive each way. Not the most comfortable of conditions.

Back to the story…so once in Munich, we decide we’re going to get up early on Saturday so that we can get into a tent. We wake up at 6:30am – and anyone who knows me knows I don’t joke about getting up early –and head to the festival. When we get there around 8:00, there are masses of people standing outside each of the tents waiting to get in (doors open at 9:00). Unbeknownst to most of you, Sophia has a surprisingly developed skill of getting to the front of large crowds, something I’ve never perfected; so on her lead, we got pretty near to the entrance. Looking back, this probably was a bad idea, because there were a couple moments when the crowd was so restless that I thought someone was going to get crushed (apparently, a couple people fainted due to anxiety attacks and not being able to breathe; it was pretty crazy. And by crazy, I mean “totally sweet”). Anyway, when we were about 200 people deep, they stopped letting anyone else into the tent, which actually was okay because the whole being-in-a-massive-seething-crowd thing had completely lost any semblance of an attraction. On a stroke of quick thinking, though, one of our friends (who we had lost in the crowd) had the foresight to grab a bench right near where we were standing outside the tent. Considering it was a beautiful day, and they were serving both food and drinks outside, it turned out to be just as good, if not better, than the tent would have been.

The fun part about Oktoberfest is that it’s so easy to meet random people from all over the world. While we were at the bench, we were joined by a handful of other demographics; there were the 17 year-old Germans, who when combined with us were easily the loudest table of the festival (they taught us German cheers); some early-twenties Brits, who were also a lot of fun; some Italians, who were completely sketchy; and then some more Germans who were dressed in Lederhosen. Lederhosen rules.

A little note about Oktoberfest; there are a few things going on there. First, you have the tents, which are where the serious party happens. Even the tents are segmented, though, between the open parts, where the drinking occurs, and the reserved parts, where families / groups of people / etc. hang out. It all mixes nicely, of course, but the middle of the tents tend to be filled with people standing on the tables singing and cheering to the oom-pah bands, while the outer rings are people sitting around just chilling out and talking. Good stuff. At the same time, outside the tents is completely different. Hundreds of thousands of people – literally hundreds of thousands – are just walking around. Most of them are there to do just that – walk around and look at stuff; then there are also a bunch of carnival-style rides, and surprisingly a lot of families and little children. Lastly, there are a handful of extremely drunk people sitting wherever they’re able to find a space; they tend to have no idea what country they’re in, and don’t realize that people stand next to them making faces while taking pictures.

On Sunday, one of the people we were staying with had been smart enough to reserve spaces in the Hofbrauhausen tent (eight months in advance), so we were finally able to get in. The tents, as mentioned above, are a lot of fun, and have a lot of energy; a wave of cheers will break out every five minutes or so and you can’t resist joining in and yelling “Prost” while clinking beer glasses with everyone around you, including the strangers. Each tent (and there are twelve main ones) has its own personality, although all of them are huge and surprisingly ornate considering they have to be broken down and put back together every year. After hanging out for a couple hours in our original tent, we did a “tent crawl” and checked out some of the others - fun stuff.

All in all, Oktoberfest definitely lived up to the hype. If you’re interested in going, I’m pretty sure we’ll be back next year, with tent reservations, hotel accommodations and Lederhosen in hand. It’s hard to compare it to anything I’ve seen before, because it really is a unique event; everyone is just so happy and friendly! But I guess that’s the magic of German beer. Also, what we saw of Munich was fantastic – can’t wait to go back there and explore it a bit more, as the public transportation was great and it has a lot of elements of old-school Bavaria.

No more trips for the next few weeks…but still more entries to come!

Moving Weekend!

The first night walking in the park around our new apartment, we saw some mice go scurrying by. Normally, this would bother me a little bit, but they were kind of small, and as far as park-mice go, on the cuter end of the spectrum (the rats in Baltimore could probably eat us, so mice are no comparison). And in true European fashion, one even had a giant piece of cheese in it’s mouth as it was running across the path! Soph said she thought she saw it wearing a beret, but I think she was just being silly. You never know, though.

So – regarding our new apartment – it rules. It’s a duplex on the top two floors of a building in Plainpalais (one of the fun parts of Geneva). 3 bedrooms, has a nice balcony with mountain views, a great upstairs with lots of space, large kitchen, spiral staircase separating the floors; easily the coolest place we saw, and I’m completely shocked we got it, what with the way the Geneva housing market is (not so much a housing “market”, as a housing “crisis”). So we’ll have plenty of space for visitors in the future. More importantly, we’ll also have plenty of space for parties! And as Sophia has quickly taken to becoming the party-organizer for a measurable portion of the Geneva expat community, we’ll probably get a lot of use out of the floor space. The last point I need to make is that I’m only a short, eight-minute walk to work; the sweetness of that statement oozes from my fingers as I type.

Up until now, we hadn’t really done any true shopping since our arrival. Therefore on Saturday, we went out to what is considered a mall, and “got a little crazy”. Ahh, shopping. It really is both an art and a science when done correctly. Among the items we needed to buy were: A) clothes B) adapters (electricity plugs) C) an ironing board D) a microwave E) groceries. That being said, you know that feeling when you’re arriving home from the store, and you don’t really want to get out of the car yet because you know you have to bring in about 15 bags of food and drinks, and if there’s a flight of stairs involved it’s just a pain to make more than one trip, so you try to carry it all at once and the handles on the plastic bags start to dig in because there’s too much weight, but that’s still better than going back out to the car because you just want to sit down again? Well, after three hours of shopping and completing most of our purchases, a feeling very similar to that set in, except instead of just lugging it from the car to the kitchen, we had to somehow get everything on a bus, then after about 10 minutes transfer to a tram, complete a five-minute walk, and then ascend a couple flights of stairs. To me, I felt a serious lack of motivation and dread. Sophia, however, had her mind on our sofa that had newly arrived, so she cared only about the fact that within an hour she would be laying on it. Further proof it’s the little things that matter...

Anyway, we bought some pancetta, grated some parmesan cheese, and had a nice little dinner on our balcony as the sun set above us, turning the sky a pinkish-purple with the mountains in the background. The only thing we could think to disagree about was whether or not the snow-capped mountain far in the distance was Mont Blanc or not, but some things are better left unresolved.