Saturday, May 31, 2008

The best ideas are the simplest ideas!

I need to give a big shout out to Julie Dolan. She solved the 'no garbage disposal' dilemma we have.

Garbage disposals aren't used here in Switzerland - either that or they're rare. Julie's idea was so simple, so natural. She said "just flush it down the toilet".

Monday, May 26, 2008


We took the train to Rome - 1st class. All of us were so glad we did this instead of driving. The trip took about 9½ hours, we had to change trains twice but the layovers were only about an hour or so total. The ride was comfortable and smooth with a subtle and quiet clickety clack from the tracks. It was all very nostalgic, yet very modern. You could get up and stretch, walk about (the entire length of the train if you wanted to), use any of the many bathrooms whenever needed, dine in the restaurant car (we didn't), or have a drink in the bar car (we didn't - I'm such a tea totaller anymore). The windows are large and panoramic-like allowing you to take in the views. Sadly, as we crossed through the Alps our view was obscured by fog and clouds. Happily though this wasn't the case on our return trip.

We got to our hotel completely by train (and just a few blocks of walking) and only slightly stressed. I wasn't exactly sure how to move about the city by subway, but together we figured it out. We were very happy with our hotel. We stayed in Starhotels Michaelangelo. It was just one block south of Vatican City, though we had to walk a few more blocks than that to actually get to St. Peter's Square. It was early Thursday evening and we strolled there to check it out. It was rather empty and looked smallish (TV doesn't do it justice), but we saw it later with more people and that gave us a greater sense of how packed it could really get.

After our quick look-see we went to have dinner. We chose a restaurant near our hotel - Italian of course. Payton was a little tired, but he did eventfully wakeup and eat.

Most of our dining was near the hotel. We didn't want to go far for dinner and we were tired after walking each day.

Friday morning we set out to see St. Peter's Square and Basilica proper. We started early in the morning with the hope of missing some of the crowd. We guessed pretty good and did just that.

The first thing you have to do is go through an x-ray security check. It was easy enough. It isn't like the airport. (About an hour later I had to return because I had left our stroller on the belt. The security didn't speak English (to me) and didn't seem to like being bothered with my lost and found inquiry. I was about to give up and then saw the stoller set aside.) Just past security we passed by our first photo op - Swiss Guards. I don't get the uniforms, but they looked good standing there.

I snapped my group in front of the center door leading into St. Peter's
Basilica. There are 5 sets of doors - portals - leading into the Basilica. Each has a name such as the Door of Good and Evil. This door is the Filarete Door.

The floors everywhere within seemed to be inlayed marble. You see and hear about the paintings on the walls and ceilings, but the floors are works of art too.

This Basilica is probably the largest and best looking church you will ever see. It's big inside, real big. Every surface has ornamentation. There are works of art, statues, alters, etc. everywhere. You really would need a guide book to know what you are looking at.

Look at the people in this picture. They really give you a sense of scale. The dome you see just coming into view rises around 400 ft. inside from the floor and is 136 ft. wide.

There is a tour available to take you up inside and outside the dome. We didn't do this, but if we had had more time I would have liked to go up it.

Kathleen took a nice picture of Payton saying a prayer.

After seeing the Basilica we headed over to see the Cappella Sistina or the Sistine Chapel to you English speakers out there. By mid-day the line was very long - we later found out twice as long as we thought - and it was getting warm. We decided to come back the next morning to see the Cappella.

From the Vatican we headed east into Rome seeking Piazza Navona. Our first stop was down at the Tiber River at St. Angelo's Castle. It was a nice place for a photo with the Basilica to our backs.

St. Angelo's Castle - built as funeral monument for emperors and later used as a fortress.

Payton needed the walk to rest.

From the castle Piazza Navona was just a few blocks south. We stopped there and took a break for lunch. The piazza is about 3 blocks long running north and south. Of course it is dominated by a big church on its west side

Our day was done and we headed back to the hotel. We did the usual nearby dinner. We also stopped for ice cream - gelato actually. The stuff was so good that we stopped at the same shop every day while in Rome.

Saturday morning... We were all showered, shaved or pampered and filled with breakfast. We headed out to stand in line for the Cappella Sistina. A line had already formed. Where the line started was where we thought the line ended the day before. I'd guess our wait this morning was about 4 blocks. It actually moved pretty quick and we were in the shade rather than in the sun like yesterday

We were hounded by street vendors (wanna buy a scarf, post card, all sorts of #$%&@?) and god almighty the tour group solicitors were the worst. If there were 100 people waiting in line then there were 75 tour group solicitors there to solicit them. "Take our tour and skip the line". We must have been asked this a hundred times. No. No. No. NO. NO. NO! NO! NO! After a while you just give them a dirty look and be rude to them.

Some advise - take the tour if you want. It might be a good thing. On your own you won't know what you'll be looking at, but how do you know they do? You'll be on their schedule, not yours. The tour is about $40 USD ($20 for admission and $20 for their services). The museum (and the Sistine Chapel) isn't open on Sundays except for the last Sunday of the month. On this special day admission is free. If you go to the museum on this day and take one of the tours, don't pay $40!

We finally got into the museum and it wasn't long and I was separated from my group. I didn't meet up with them until the exit. Have good walking shoes because you will be walking this way and that way, up these stairs and down those, turning here and turning there. Whew, it was a lot of walking with something to see 360°.

Check out the barrel ceilings. Awesome.

The Cortile del Belvedere (Courtyard of the Belvedere).
The Sphere Within Sphere sculpture in the center of the courtyard.

The Sistine Chapel is near the end of the museum. Sorry no pictures are allowed in the chapel. Afterwards Kathleen bought a nice coffee table book that shows and explains all of the paintings in the chapel. It would have been handy to have while actually in the chapel.

After the museum we took the subway down to see the Colosseum. If you read my earlier post about our trip to Montpellier, France you know that we toured a Roman colosseum in Nimes. We figured this colosseum wouldn't be much different so we just gawked from the cheap seats.

We came, we saw, we were tired! Back to the subway and the hotel. We had time for dinner and one last stroll into St. Peter's Square before dark.

Back at the Square Pope Benedict XVI was working late on Saturday. The Pope's residence and office is high above, and just off, the Square. I understand he speaks from these windows most Sunday mornings.

We were told that if you placed your foot on a paver in the Square and said a prayer, you can then think of that paver as your own.

Kathleen's Dad, Kathleen and Kathleen's Mom
claiming their pavers.

Finally I come to the end of our trip. On Sunday there was time for Kathleen and her parents to attend a nearby church and then we headed for the train station. It was time to go home.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Paris - City of Lights

This past Friday we packed up our VW Sharon minivan and Jack and Julie (Kathleen's Mom and Dad), Kathleen, Payton and me headed northwest to Paris, France. The drive mapped out to be about 5½ hours, but we made a few stops so it took us about 7 hours to get to our hotel.

Our trip was 5 days total with Friday and today being travel days. We arrived late afternoon on Friday and since our hotel was near the Eiffel Tower we headed there for a look-see.

This tower is huge! For being over one hundred years old it looks like new. Sure it's design looks like something really old, but it is kept in great condition. It is a nice bronze color. I didn't see any rust or decay. It is wonderful. There were many, many people there to see the tower. The lines to go up the tower were very long. We sat and partook in some ice cream and then wondered about craning our necks skywards just taking this masterpiece in.

It was early evening so we decided to go have dinner. We would check the tower out again later in our trip. Dinner and some rest was called for because Saturday was going to be filled with a tour of the Normandy beach area seeing and learning a little about D-Day first hand.

We scheduled a tour for Normandy and let someone else drive us around. Good thing too. Traffic in Paris is terrible and very challenging. The circle around the Arc de Triomphe is just total chaos! The drive to the beach was 2½ hours so it was nice to have someone else drive. It was oh seven hundred hours and off we were to Hitler's Atlantic Wall...

German Longues-Sur-Mer coastal battery.

Our guide was Jean-Paul who we just called John. John was from Paris and spoke pretty good English. Normandy and the battle for it is much bigger than one day's visit. Our guide gave us a good overview starting with Bénouville. The battle here started the night before the D-Day landings and involved British troops taking and holding the Pegasus Bridge. From there we went to GOLD beach - the center of the five beach landings on D-Day. The British secured GOLD and the town of Arromanches. It was here that the Mulberry Harbour was created facilitating the logistical supply of the D-Day invasion and the drive eastward into Germany.

Kathleen and Payton on GOLD beach.
Behind them (on the right) are remnants of Mulberry Harbour.

We also walked around Longues-Sur-Mer battery. This was a German bunker complex consisting of four 155mm guns. In the picture above you can see two of the bunkers. This is the only coastal battery to have kept its guns.

Kathleen's Mom and Dad in front of a bunker
at the German Longues-Sur-Mer coastal battery.

From GOLD beach we headed west to OMAHA beach. We were fortunate to be at the beaches during low tide - same as when the invasion started. There is a lot of beach to cross at low tide - as much and probably more than at Hilton Head. The American cemetery for those killed in the Normandy campaign is found here overlooking the beach. Over 9,000 American soldiers are buried here.

We walked around reading the plaques and monuments. I only snapped two pictures of the graves. I took the one above and randomly picked out a single grave. I got quite a surprise when I zoomed in and looked in my viewfinder. Kathleen's Dad's name is John Dolan. Look at the name on the grave. Wierd, freaky and everything else. Jack is alive and well.

Click on the picture to see an enlargement.

From the cemetery we headed back to Paris. It had been a long day and our walking bones ached. Well not Payton's. He rode around in his stroller. He was a real trooper and good boy all day. The rest of us needed a rest.

Later Saturday night around 10:30 I headed out by my self to check out a couple of sights at night. I wanted to go see the Arc de Triomphe and it was only just up the street from our hotel. This monument is really pretty cool. It is massive. At night the traffic around the circle was tame, but during the day it was chaos. There are eight multi-lane boulevards converging here. A huge traffice circle surrounds the Arc. The circle has no marked traffic lanes. I guess that this circle is wide enough for 8 - 10 lanes of traffic. Cars are entering and exiting like bees buzzing around your head. When we left town on Tuesday I drove around this circle in the day. I managed, but I had nervous car load of people.

Naturally the Eiffel Tower is lit up at night. I am not sure what time the lights are shut off, but they're not left on all night (so I was told). The French wisely figured they better conserve a little energy. At the top of the hour for ten minutes strobe lights go off making the tower sparkle. This was done for the millennium and was meant to be temporary - 2 years. The strobes are still there due to the popularity from the locals and tourists alike. The Tower itself was meant to be temporary and she's still there too.

Traffic was light at this time of night. I walked down to the river and set up our little Sony pocket camera at the foot of a bridge. I am not by any means a great photographer, but I'm really surprized at the different shots you can get from this little camera just by using settings other than auto. I snapped away. Hey, it's a digital camera with a big memory card. Pictures are free so take a bunch of them and maybe one or two will look okay.

The next day, Sunday morning, Kathleen and her Mom and Dad went to a nearby church for their Sunday services. I stayed in the room with Payton. Payton had a fever that had been coming and going. He needed rest and I drew the short straw. Imagine that. Our journey for the day was going the be the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

The cathedral was more than a good walk away so we ventured underground to the subway. Kathleen figured out its intricacies and we were soon whisked away. Kathleen and I have seen a few old European churches, but this one has been the best by far. It is a popular tourist spot. People were touring the church while services were being held.

After leaving the cathedral we walked south to a park. The picture below was taken of us by Payton. With a little help from straightening and cropping, he took a pretty good picture of us. The cool thing about the pool we are sitting at is the little sail boats. Kids put sail boats in the water and run around the pool edges with long sticks. Using the sticks they push to boats out into the pool and the wind sails them wherever. When they make their way back to the edge the kids just push them off again.

Well that about all we did. Oh wait, Sunday night Kathleen, Payton and me went down to the Eiffel Tower.
The wait wasn't too long so we went up to the second floor. We didn't go to the top (the third floor). The wait from the 2nd floor to the top was over 45 minutes. You had to stand in the open air and it was windy and nippy up there! You're plenty high enough on the 2nd floor and can see everything in the city. We couldn't go to Paris without going up the Eiffel Tower.

I can't possible describe the city to you. I hope that you can one day see it for yourself. The next morning we packed up and drove home. It was a very nice trip.

My my, I forgot to tell y'all about how Kathleen and I were targeted by a scam. We were out walking, just the two of us, on Monday morning. We were walking across a foot bridge over the Seine River when a guy came up to us from behind. He had picked something up at Kathleen's feet - a thick gold ring like a man's wedding band. With a friendly smile on his face he 'tried returning the ring' that we had lost.

"Not ours" we said. "You keep" he said and put the ring in Kathleen's hand and walked on. He only walked on for about three steps and turned around and asked for money. Kathleen put the ring back in his hand and we stepped around him and walked on. He tried scamming us into buying a gold ring that we probably could have unwrapped and ate the chocolate inside.

We got across the bridge, turned right and a guy bent down in front us an popped up with a big smile and a big fat gold ring in his hand. I doubt that we even walked 50 yards.

Kathleen cut him off and said "Sorry, your buddy just tried that scam on us". He just walked on past us like we weren't even there. We were warned to keep a hold of your purse and wallet deep in your pocket. Guess you have to watch out for the hustlers too.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

We have visitors

We've been in Switzerland about 3 months now. We received our first visitors today. Kathleen's Mom and Dad (Jack and Julie Dolan) arrived today for a 2 week stay. We going to travel to Paris and then Rome. We'll first drive to Paris for a 5 day trip. After resting back at home for a couple of days we'll head to Rome via the train for 4 days. We're all looking forward to these trips. It will be a first for all of us.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to Kathleen. We didn't do a whole lot today. We sat outside with Payton this morning while he played in his sandbox. Then Kathleen and Payton went to a nearby pastry and chocolatier store. They brought back croissants. Me and Payton like ours filled with chocolate. The croissants here are great; light, flaky and with a buttery crust. They're very good indeed.

Our vegetable garden is planted. We have four tomato plants, egg plant, cantaloupe, four pepper plants, and three iceberg lettuce. Hopefully they will grow well for us.

We ended our day lakeside. We took Payt out to the playground. He ran around some, rode his bicycle around and threw rocks in the lake.

We'll have to celebrate Mother's Day more later in the week. Kathleen's gift hasn't arrived yet.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Have you ever wanted to smack someone else's kid?

Watching Payton play at the school playground is such a wonderful site. It just makes me grin to see him running around playing with a big smile on his face. It can also be very shocking too. Payton is one of the youngest at school. Most of the kids are older and bigger. I see him get pushed around sometimes. I just want to rush over and protect him. Heck, I can take any kid in the playground and all at the same time too. I have seen where he got his comeuppance a time or two. He isn't totally innocent, but Kathleen and I like to think so.

Today I saw a kid push Payt in the face. He then chased him down jerking a stick from Payton's hand throwing it over the fence. I don't think the push hurt Payton, but it looked like having the stick jerked from his hand sure did. He started crying after that. Maybe it was because the stick was tossed away, maybe both. I had seen enough and hustled over. I shook my finger at the little bully and said a thing or two to him in a mean voice. He didn't understand a word, but he knew what I meant. He had a couple of accomplices, but he was the ring leader.

That little kid had some cajones. He and his little gang started taunting me! I wanted to reach out and grab him and smack him around a little - no wait - smack him around a lot. I don't know what he was saying. Best I didn't.

So as wonderful as it is seeing Payton play in the playground, it is just a tough to see the playground politics at work.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Expensive new grill

I bought a new grill this past Saturday from the local big box store. I figured the grill would be temporary so I bought a cheap grill. Huge mistake. I used it once and today I left it at the local dump. It was a crappy (repeat several times) grill. The grill was so crappy I had to buy extra bolts, washers and nuts at a nearby hardware store.

While I was getting the extra hardware I noticed that the store sold Weber grills. Man on man I wish I had known this before buying the other grill. I paid $150 for the crappy grill and today I paid a whole lot more for a good Weber grill. I won't say how much because Kathleen will read this. The difference between the two grills is night and day. Today's lesson - buy quality! Experience has taught me this many times before and sometimes it seems I never learn. Lessons learned and forgotten are expensive. Steve, my neighbor back home, taught me better than this.

I'm looking forward to the weekend so I can break this new grill in. I know I won't be disappointed.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Our day trip to Genève

We took advantage of a beautiful day on Friday to take the train down to Geneva. I have been craving a cup of coffee from Starbucks as well as the old familiarity of an American Chain that is such a big part of living in America and not at all present in our small town of Neuchatel. We took full advantage of public transportation, as well as old fashioned walking, to get around. We walked the mile down the hill to our local train stop and made our way to Geneva. As you can see below Stanton mapped out our day for us in Geneva.

View Larger Map
(Go ahead and click and/or drag on the map. It is fully interactive just as if you were at Google Maps.)

As we arrived in Geneva we picked up some fresh bread at a local stand to sate our appetites a bit. Payton had fallen asleep on the train so we took the opportunity to visit a local book store we found with a large English speaking section. Payton slept for well over an hour in his stroller which allowed us to browse for quite a long time and find a few books we decided to pick up.

Once Payt woke up we made our way for Starbucks to get my coffee fix and a chocolate milk for Payton. We passed several local coffee shops on the way that offered nice small European cups of coffee, but I wanted my mega huge venti Decaf-Latte! We all enjoyed our drinks and the familiar surroundings, even Payton who spent his first 3 years getting chocolate milk at the Starbucks in our local Barnes & Noble. He was a bit disappointed though that there weren't any trains to play with.

We then strolled around town visiting a few parks, a merry-go-round, and then a local playground. A good mix of adult sightseeing and child friendly entertainment. We made our way back down to lake Geneva to walk out to see a huge water spout on lake, the "Jet d'Eau". It's been there since 1891 apparently, although I can't believe it was shooting water as high as it does now way back then.

With a full day of walking around town we were ready for a good dinner. We went to the local Spaghetti Factory and had our fill. Payton gobbled down a full serving of Spaghetti bolognese. So we aren't very adventurous with our eating choices, but it was a good meal. We then grabbed some ice cream at a local stand and I got a coffee to go for the train ride home. The walk up to our house is quite a hike and we were both surprised that Payton made it the whole way without asking to be carried or complaining that his feet hurt! He's becoming a better traveler every day!

Damage for the day -
Train ride: $80 (this is half price!)
Bread: $6
Starbucks : $24
Dinner: $100
Ice cream: $10
Merry-go-round: $3
2 Books: $62!!
Total: $285, but worth it.

The 2 cups of Starbucks will have to last me for awhile!