Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why German Efficiency is Myth: Reason 107

So I may not have told you about the other 106 reasons that German efficiency is a myth, but trust me, they're out there.  Like how Germans can't queue. Or how bureaucracy, which is never efficient, reigns supreme. Really, the list goes on.

But this morning, something broke deep inside me and I couldn't hold it in any longer, so I decided to share it with you. I went to the pool this morning to swim laps. I was disappointed but not entirely shocked to find that the five lanes open for lap swimming had no dividers. Take a minute. Picture that. Five swimming lanes, no dividers. Kind of like open water swimming. But there weren't too many people there (maybe 7), so fine. I jumped in somewhere in the middle and used the lines on the bottom to guide me. It worked

At first it's fine. But then more people came. And then more people. Pretty soon we were TWELVE people swimming. Even when there was no space, someone would slip in and just start swimming. I worked hard to keep my turf, swimming right on top of one of the bottom lines, but I kept getting squeezed.

The whole time I kept thinking - "What the hell is going on here? Why can't they just put in the lane dividers?!?" The thing is, I swim here 2 or 3 times a week, and it's always different. Some times there are 2 lanes with dividers, and then 3 open, or all sorts of combinations. It always drives me a bit nuts, but it usually works out. This was the worst I had seen it. Utter chaos - in no way efficient. I wanted to get out and tell one of the workers to put in some dividers - but then I would have lost my spot. No way. Not only that, but I have talked to them before about why they don't but in more dividers, and they told me that people like it that way. REALLY? Are you sure?!? If all five lanes had been properly divided, then two lanes could have done circle swimming and the other 3 lanes would have each been divided in  2. It would have been so much more efficient.

I know this is a bit of a rant, but I have always been a bit of a stickler for pool etiquette. And this is not my first such experience, but this was by far the worst. I just want to swim my laps in peace. I am happy to share lanes or circle swim when necessary, but I do not enjoy the open-water-free-for-all where I am constantly fearful of a head on collision. Come on Germans, you can do so much better!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Moving to Engelberg...

Don't be fooled by the title. We are not moving to Engelberg. Yet. I was thinking maybe we should though, and I want to figure out how. It's kind of amazingly beautiful. Like really, really, really, beautiful. One of the more beautiful places I have ever been. Hands down.

The glacier Titlis is the rocky mountain face on the far right - the other side has snow.
I love the mountains, the great outdoors. I feel invigorated by their presence, energized by the fresh air, ready to take on the world! We woke up after our first night at Ski Lodge Engelberg (a hotel on of Martin's old buddies helped start), with Martin hacking up a lung (turns out he had bronchitis) and I had a really sore lower back. Not to mention our son weighs 35 pounds (nearly 16 kilos), so that's a lot of weight to carry around those rather large hills for 2 sadly out of shape parents. So we did things the really easy way (took the cable car up and down), and spent our time enjoying the views rather than putting our delicate health at even more at risk.

Simon bouncing a mile high!
Beyond the magnificent views, there is one other thing that stands out about visiting Switzerland - the prices. The Swiss franc is strong against the Euro, which means that it's expensive for those living and working in the Eurozone. (But not so for Swedes, for example, who use the Swedish kronor.) This might partly explain why we hardly noticed any other Eurozone tourists. It's easy to distinguish the Swiss as they speak their own Swiss-German dialect. But other tourists were few and far between. Given that Germany, Austria, Italy, and France all have pieces of the Alps, it does make sense to travel in the plethora of other amazing mountain villages that are more affordable. And maybe it was the absence of such tourists that made the place all the more pleasant....

The weather was ideal, with clear views and warm mountain sun. I really didn't want to leave. I wanted to traipse through the woods, huff and puff and be rewarded with magnificent views, discover crystal clear mountain lakes. Instead I left kicking and screaming with promises that we will some day return, sans kids.

More pics are part of this album here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Built for the road

Some people are built for the road. Simon is one of them. I don't even know what he does back there in his car seat most of the time, but he's quiet and he's happy so I don't ask questions.

We started the trip out by dragging him out of bed before 6am and hoping to get him to stay asleep. He stayed asleep until I had him all buckled into his car seat and then he opened his eyes and smiled. For the entire first hour on the road he didn't make a peep, and he didn't have a single toy. Just resting, I guess. I was giddy with optimism about how far we would make it on Day 1. Then he had a small coughing fit that resulted in him puking all over himself. We pulled over, cleaned him up, and he was ready to soldier on. (We made it to Bologna by 6pm, where we were able to explore and enjoy the city a bit before going on to Tuscany the next morning.)

I would have expected that he slept more in the car, but I guess it's not his thing. On our long trips he would sleep for only a little more than an hour. After long days in a Tuscan village he would fall asleep in the car and then we would put him down for a nap, and get a little break ourselves.

Totally relaxed.
To keep him occupied in the car, we had small cars, a few books, ipod touch in case of emergency. He had a few games and a few videos on the ipod, and we let him play with it when his patience with sitting in his car seat ALL DAY was starting to fray. Everyone was happy. We also listened to some new Swedish music we got with Astrid Lindgren songs, including Pippi. We got a lot of Pippi requests throughout the trip, and I think Martin thoroughly enjoyed singing along to his childhood favorites.

My attitude going in was that we would probably have to take some long stops to let Simon and out and stretch his legs. On our way down (12 hours) we stopped twice. On the way back (2 6 -7 hour legs) we stopped once. He definitely has the Herwig road trip genes. We took long road trips growing up (ie. MN-> Key West) and we too were built for the road.

Looking forward to the next one with my road trip ready family!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ciao, Bella!

For the second time in less than a year we packed up the car and headed off to Tuscany. We were meeting college friends Palm, Hanna, B, & E at Al Gelso Bianco, the same beautiful place we stayed last year the hills of Barberino between Florence and Siena. We were not disappointed.

Checking out the weather forecast in the weeks leading up to our trip I was increasingly nervous. Highs were over 100F with evenings still hovering close to 90F. This did not sound ideal for exploring country villages with 2 kiddos - we would melt. As luck would have it we arrived with a cold front, but that also meant rain. So for the first few days we enjoyed long (as in 3 hours long) lunches, and managed to explore the countryside without getting caught in the rain once - never even opening an umbrella. We even had a few peaks of sunshine. For the last few days the sun came out in full force, and we slowed down and enjoyed some time by the pool, haven gotten our fill of walled villages and cathedrals.

As a traveler I have noticed that I rely less and less on guide books. Don't get me wrong - I love to page through them to get ideas of where to go (as in big picture - as in Italy or Spain), but I don't use them to guide my day-to-day. At Al Gelso Bianco, the staff is incredibly helpful in suggesting what to do. Each morning we would wake up, check out the weather, and ask Irene or Chiara for some ideas and help making lunch and dinner reservations. I think that now I am more into experiencing a place, as opposed to checking all the major sites off the list. It's an especially practical way to travel with kids, as you have to remain flexible.

When people travel to Italy, no doubt food is at the top of their list. And we were not disappointed. We tried all the local specialities, including pappardelle with wild boar sauce, homemade noodles with rabbit sauce, steak florentine, gnocchi, and....oh yeah....GELATO! So much gelato. I would say that E took the gelato business most seriously, ordering the same flavor whenever possible (nutella) so that she could compare it to previous gelatos. We did eat at 2 world champion gelaterias - and we were not disappointed. I think her rankings were:
  1. Gelatería di PiazzaSan Gimignano
  2.  l'Antica Delizia - Castellina in Chianti
  3. Other place in San Gimignano, maybe E has a picture with the name?

She had an eye for authentic gelato, and was not fooled by fancy displays covered in fresh fruit. She sniffed out the real stuff and we loved her for it. Oh - and I should add that our gelato aficionado had her wedding dress fitting the day after she got back from Italy for her wedding in less than a month. Seriously. E =Awesome. (So sad to miss their wedding!)

At night, after putting the kiddos to bed, we entertained ourselves by drinking wine and grappa while playing the Swedish card game Plump, which is essentially what I know as Up and Down the River. Turns out B is a card shark. The ultimate risk-taker. It worked well for him most of the time.

And the kids. As always, I have to make a comment on traveling with kids. DO IT! I am constantly amazed at how adaptable and flexible children are. Annika - who turns one next week - was an amazing traveler. She immediately adjusted to her new time zone, took naps when she could, ate when we ate, etc. Traveling with 2 kids no doubt means you have to adjust, you move at a slower pace, etc, but it can be done. Restaurants don't start serving dinner until 7 or 7:30 - no problem! We'll just put the kids to bed at 10 or 11. I know it was a lot of work for them, but they were so stimulated by their new environments that they both did really, really well. And I should mention that B & E were amazing with the kids. They get props for traveling with 2 couples with kids and helping to make it all work!
Want to see more pics from this amazing adventure? Click here.