Monday, August 31, 2009

Everything I Knew About Wrong

This past weekend was fun & filled with sports.

Friday I went to lacrosse practice and as I was walking in another girl from the team, who I wasn't there the week before, introduced herself. When I responded to her, "So where are you from?" inquiry I was surprised to see her eyes light up when I said Minnesota--turns out she was an exchange student in Brainerd four years ago! Bizarre. After practice I got a beer with the girl and a couple of the guys from the men's team, they invited me out with them that night and against my better judgement, I had to get up at 6 am on Saturday to go to a lacrosse clinic, I decided to go. I raced home, showered and then they picked me up and we went into Zürich. We met up with my friend Allison and another tag-along (a New Zealander who was too drunk and too annoying for our liking) and went out, had a blast but arriving home at 4:30 and getting up at 6 wasn't exactly a great decision.

Saturday I peeled myself out of bed, missed my 6:14 bus to the train station in my town, missed the 6:17 direct bus to Zürich (should have been an omen to just go back to bed), so I decided to run to the train station in the next town to try and catch my train. So Saturday started with a nice 1.5 mile sprint (in flip-flops no less) to the train, which left the station right as I got there, also should have just cut my losses and gone back to bed. Met up with a girl on our team and we drove to our coaches house just outside of Zürich. Our coash wasn't there yet and ten minutes later she rolls up, still in her clothes from the night before and looking worse than me! (She had gone to Germany for the night to go out with her sister) Five of us get into her car and make our way towards Bern, the capital city and 1.5 hours away. Well 2.5 hours later we manage to pull up to the field... The woman running this clinic is from Ohio, and has never really played on a lacrosse team before (another omen to turn and run). All day was spent sitting, waiting, and doing drills that were of no benefit to me--not saying that I'm a wonderful player but this was below my skill set, and the coach kept calling things on the field the incorrect names so pardon me if I wasn't going to take her coaching advice! I was kicking myself for spending the money to go to this, but at least I was outside all day! I decided to take the train home (opting out of the car ride that was destined to get lost again) and went out to dinner with two friends (Mexican!) which was infinitely more enjoyable than my afternoon in Bern.

Sunday I decided not to go back to Day 2 of the clinic, one of my friends invited me to learn to play Touch Rugby, and since there was no fee nor travel time it seemed like a better plan. Well touch rugby (rugby without all the manhandling plus a lot, a lot of sprinting) was great fun & exercise, but all of my prior sports experience seemed null and void. You have to stay behind the ball to be open for a pass. Defense has to sprint back 5 meters (pretty much constantly) well it's difficult to explain the whole game but take my word for it--it was quite a learning process! We got to play a scrimmage after learning all the basics and then the men & women who are on the team showed us what the faster paced play looks like. It was really fun and once I un-learned all my old habits I got the hang of it--I think I've found a new sport! (Funnily enough, the Kiwi that Allison & I left at the bar on Friday, showed up to play too! But fortunately I don't think he had any clue that we met on Friday!) After the touch scrimmage we headed down to swim in the lake and then I went to Allison's house for dinner (she had baked and gave me some! I knew I kept you around for a reason!)

This week I will have been here for two months--I can't believe it! And this upcoming weekend a friend from home is coming to Europe so we're headed to Milan! Good thing we're not renting a car because I think my mother is black-listed from renting cars in Italy now.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Compare & Contrast

There's nothing like a little comparison to make you appreciate (or resent) what you have.

Tuesday I had to take Stephanie and my French tutor's son, Peter, to swimming lessons. I had taken Stephanie to her last lesson, my first week, and she was really hesitant to go because she didn't want to be in class with Peter. "Peter is all the times splashing me," she would say ("All the times" is something that she says all the time), "I don't want to go because he's all the times splashing and he won't stop." I assured her that if she asked him to stop nicely, he would stop. Well that was clearly before I had met the kid. Peter, would undoubtedly be referred to by my father as either a "booger picking spaz" or a "butt-monkey."

This five year old boy reminded me how capable, alert, and less-annoying Stephanie is than other children, it almost (almost) made me feel "motherly pride," because my child was the least annoying and best swimmer of the bunch. Lucky for Stephanie too, for she passed out of his level while Peter did not, so they aren't in the same class anymore--because he is most definitely, a splasher.

After they had showered and re-dressed we walked out of the pool to see that it was pouring down rain. Wonderful--we had no rain gear, and we had parked further away (so I could avoid a teeny-tiny parallel parking spot). I couldn't leave two 5 year olds by themselves while I made a mad dash for the car (although I had thought, quite a few times, that I should just make a mad dash for the car and leave them there and drive away and never come back--but, then I remembered that all my clothes were at their house, and of course the need for my clothing won out over the need for my sanity!) so the three of us ran through the storm towards the car. I dropped Peter off at home and immediately felt bad for their nanny. When she opened the door Peter ran in and started yelling while his naked younger sister ran out the door like a wild animal. I felt for the poor nanny but was happy to be rid of Peter, until next Tuesday! Of course when I picked up Mark he was in a foul mood and incredibly rude and surly--what goes up, must come down.

Wednesday at the weekly "English Speaking Au Pair Meeting" in Zürich (I met a girl from my hometown in Maryland--I haven't met an au pair from Minnesota...yet. I'm sure it's bound to happen) I was talking with two girls and one asked "So how long does it take for you to get to your family's house?" My ears perked up, "Wait what?!" I asked. "Yeah, we're live-out au pairs," they replied. My ears burned. Live-Out au pairs! Why the hell didn't I do that?? They have their own place to live? And set hours? And own place to live? I keep kicking myself for not doing that--I thought that I would have to set up a place to live but it turns out that most family's do that for you. Shoot. Granted these girls had already spent one and two years living with other families before learning you could be a live-out, so I guess it's a slow learning curve! I also work half the time that they do... God bless school.

This weekend I plan on going to a lacrosse clinic/camp thing in Bern--I'm not sure if it will be a learning experience persay but it will definitely be fun to play all day! I'll let you know how it goes

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Burning The Candle At Both Ends

I've heard that phrase uttered by my parents more times than I can count, and now it's finally coming true. I'm getting sick--yuck--but I definitely know why.

Friday around noon I had to pick up Mark from school to take him into Zürich where his mom was meeting us to take him to the airport (he was going to London for the weekend--a belated birthday present from an aunt--lucky kid). I was chatting with his teacher as we located his German classroom and she asked me where I was from, and lo and behold guess what state his teacher is from? I'll give you one guess...

Friday afternoon I was playing with Stephanie when Anna told me that they were leaving soon and I didn't need to be "on duty" anymore. I looked at the time and realized that I could make it to lacrosse practice (finally!) . Despite having already worked out and showered (which as most of you know I hate to do just once a day, let alone having to do it twice) I decided to check out the practice. I grabbed all my stuff, casually forgetting my goggles, and ran to the bus/train/tram to make the hour trek out to practice. I was a little nervous as I walked onto the field and the girls (and a men's lacrosse team which practices at the same time... yes) because my German is pretty dreadful and my Swiss-German is essentially nonexistent. The coach remembered me from my earlier e-mail and introduced me to the seven other players. We started off with a job, stretching and then sprints, I didn't want them to think I was some lazy American so I ran like it was the lacrosse team's fitness test at Denison. It was great to play again, and since there were only nine players I got to run and play the whole time. I wore my trusty pedometer and counting my two miles from earlier in the day I ran 8.47 miles--no wonder it hurts to bend my legs... I left practice around nine feeling tired but great (even after one of the 17 year olds on the team told me I am "really, really old" for being born in 1986) and went home, showered and came back to Zürich to meet Allison for a girls' night.

We went to this one bar and were catching up (we hadn't seen each other for almost three weeks but it felt like months with all our stories--also thanks again for the raincoat and book M, D & A!) when a couple of Swiss boys came over to introduce themselves. They said that they were headed to "the coolest club in Zürich" so how could we refuse? We headed over with our new friends and stayed until 3:30--at which time I'm fairly certain I became a walking zombie--but when we left it was pouring, but it didn't matter because I had my raincoat again! I got back home around 5 am (I had forgotten how much fun that uphill walk was), made a Skype call to Cait & Molly to complain that I had to get up in 3 hours and fell asleep. 

When my alarm rang around 7:45 I literally wanted to die. I was sore, tired, and even though I didn't indulge in too many "cold adult beverages" (as Mr. Howie would call them--Hi Mrs. Howie, thanks for reading this by the way!) I felt like I had a hangover. Unfortunately, before I even arrived in Switzerland Will asked if I wanted to join Anna for a first aid course. I felt it would be good to refresh my skills, and like I shouldn't refuse re-learning anything that could help their children in an emergency, so I accepted. Thankfully Anna and the family went to France again for the weekend so she didn't have to see me in my disheveled state, but, Mark's best friend's mom was picking me up so she did... She asked if I had a fun night on the town the night before, stating that my 2L water bottle was a dead giveaway, but she didn't seem to mind. The class was a private lesson at a doctor's house about 15 minutes away and there were five other parents in attendance (I was the lone au pair). The day did not start off well: the moment I walked in I spotted a cat (I'm allergic), "Great," I thought, "Red eyes and a runny nose are going to add to my lovely state." The doctor put out some snacks which was thoughtful, but unfortunately they were all of the very crunchy variety. Now I know I am complaining a lot in this post but hearing people chew their food is my biggest pet peeve. Ever. (Molly you know what I'm talking about--all I wanted was to be able to text you about the noises!) I could hear every bite, chomp, slurp, and gulp that these people made and I literally thought I was going to pop a blood vessel. The booklet that was our rubric for the day was 34 pages long and, I kid you not, by 2 pm we were on page SEVEN. Yes, SEVEN. Not only was the doctor especially gregarious but all the parents were asking stupid questions and telling stupid stories about their children's illnesses or issues. (Seriously I don't care if Bella holds her breath until she passes out, I think that is more a parenting problem, and I don't care who you called when your son had the Pseudo Croop, I just want to know what to do if Stephanie or Mark has it!--Clearly my patience was nonexistent). Since I had all this first aid training before and only three hours of sleep my eyelids became heavier and heavier. I found myself doing the falling-asleep-head-bob that I perfected in my Freshman year 8:30 classes--which was embarrassing seeing as how there were 7 people seated around a dining room table. We finally ended NINE hours later and I got home around 6:30. 

I had planned to go out again but I knew my body could not take it so I met Allison, her boyfriend and some of his friends at a Carnival further outside of Zürich but I didn't last too long. I was definitely glad to make it home to my bed! 

Sorry for the excessively whine-y post... I'm not good at being sick.

Funny though that in Switzerland the phrase "burning the candle at both ends" translates to having an extramarital affair!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I know that many of you probably think Christmas is "the most wondeful time of the year," but that is just untrue. The most wondeful time of the year is Back-To-School. The kids started school yesterday and I could not be happier! I think that parents (and au pairs) have much more goodwill when school resumes than at Christmas-time...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

'Til Death Do Us March

I wanted to name this post: Friday France, Saturday Switzerland, Sunday Spain—but since I technically arrived on Monday it just didn’t have the same effect!

So as most of you know I made it out Sunday and bought my tick
et(s) to Spain. The direct Zurich to Barcelona train only runs a few days a week so I had three transfers and an extended trip. I didn’t mind because when I studied abroad I loved the trains—perhaps that’s because I was on a train with two of my best friends but I was sort of excited to go solo. My friend Allison told me that when she took the train to Barcelona she met a group of peers and they stayed up all night drinking and having fun, so I guess I was expecting more of the same. The first part of the trip was a breeze but when I landed in this dingy station in Mullhouse, France I started to get nervous... Then my overnight train pulled up. It looked like it should be the train to hell. Literally I thought at any moment the thing was going to break apart—so much for making friends, I was just praying that the train would make it. There were a few good things though; I was sitting next to a French woman though so I got to practice my French and we were near the bathroom which should have been a good thing but, because it was me traveling, it wasn’t. There was a group of about 5 guys who went to the bathroom area to smoke cigarettes, well actually I don’t think they ever really left the area (these guys were smoking as if the stuff they were inhaling was air). They stayed until about 5 am when I hear the distinct sounds of wretching… I guess all that smoking and whiskey drinking really took a toll on one of the guys. So I spent the last couple of hours trying not to breathe the fetid air. I was definitely glad to be off in Cerbere, France the next morning, except I didn’t have a ticket from Cerbere to Barcelona.

I went to the ticket counter to try and get a ticket for a train that leaves in 10 minutes when I hear the girl in line behind me go, “Shit.” I knew that A) she had to be American and B) she must be trying to go to Barcelona. So I struck up a conversation and we chatted the whole ride to Barcelona. We made plans to meet up later that evening at her hostel and I went off to find mine. Now, as many of you know, I have a pretty great sense of direction. I’m not boasting, it’s just a natural talent. So I read my map and found my way to the hostel no problem. I was loving Spain! I checked into my hostel, dropped my bags off and decided that my jeans weren’t going to cut it in the heat so I was changing in the bag room (couldn’t get into my room until 2) and naturally someone decides to walk in right when I’m at the critical stage of jean removal. Luckily this 40 year old Japanese woman didn’t seem to notice my lack of pants, she just kept telling me to keep my bags zipped because she got pick-pocketed the day before… So with that friendly reminder I set off to see some of Barcelona’s sights. Of course my first stop was shopping. Everything in Spain is really inexpensive (compared with Switzerland) and everyone was having a sale. So in my first half hour of being in Spain I had found my hostel, embarrassed myself, bought a cute belt and managed to communicate to the shop keeper put four more holes in it so I could wear it higher—I was feeling great. Then, of course, things started to go down-hill. I went the wrong way EVERY time (I think it was my faulty map and not me) and I realized I know NO Spanish so I didn’t know how to get on the public transportation (what usually saves me) so what else could I do but stop in the cute boutiques and shop? Finally I sat down at the Place Espanya, hot, sweaty and annoyed—though happy with my new cheap purchases. This Spanish man came up to me and though he spoke no English he did manage to whistle the entire American national anthem. So having had a good laugh I decided to find some Gaudi! I took the metro (careful to hold my purse) and eventually found the Sagrada Familia and a new dress. (Now you’re probably wondering why, a girl who’s luggage was 30 pounds overweight to begin with needs more clothes… but how neat is it going to be when you say, “Jill! I love that dress!” And I can say, “Oh this? Oh I just got it at some boutique in Barcelona… for 3 Euros!”). Later that evening I met up with my American friend and one of her friends from some travel website who is from Paris—more chances to practice my French! We went out for tapas and sangria right on the bay and when we had finished dinner I was surprised to see that it was 1:30 am—not much like the Swiss who are in bed by 11 on a wild night! I walked back to my hostel and was thinking that I felt pretty safe walking by myself in a strange city when all of a sudden a homeless man stops at the bin in front of me, digs out a cup and proceeds to drink the rest of it’s contents…

Tuesday I met up with Alisha and we went to Park Güell, another park that Gaudi designed, with plans to meet her French friend to head to the beach in
the afternoon. While we were trying to find her friend I realized just how Type A I am. Now the signs were always there—I distinctly remember staying in our kiddie pool while Jack & our neighborhood friends ran around the lawn to clean the grass that they had trekked in—but I couldn’t believe just how anal I was! We were late and lost, the two things that give me the most anxiety in life, and I couldn’t find the corner where we were supposed to meet him. The miraculous thing is the second we found his car (he rented a car so we could go to the beach) and I wasn’t in charge of getting anywhere I couldn’t have cared if we ended up in Portugal! I think living in Germanic-countries has really spoiled me: everything’s on time, clean, and definitely not crowded. But we had a lovely day at the beach and I started to work on my tan! I was moving hostels to one that was further from downtown Barcelona (in Badalona) but closer to the beach and, of course, the metro line that takes you right to the hostel was not working. So they had a special bus (free!), but of course I got off at the wrong stop, walked about a mile trying to find the street, passing by murals promoting peace between people and the neighborhoods and started to get a little nervous about my surroundings. I finally went into a bakery to ask a girl and she pointed down the road and said “mucho, mucho”—even with my terrible Spanish I understood. I was seriously on the verge of a nervous breakdown and decided to just get back on the bus, which I then realized I hadn’t taken far enough and ten minutes later I was at my hostel—I didn’t think my poor map reading skills could have taken any more stress in one day! My hostel was really great though—exactly what one would think and hope a youth hostel would be, with events and tons of friendly people! I met up with Alisha and others again and we went out to some club (clubbing’s really not my thing) but we had a good time!
Where I spent most of my time
I beached again on Wednesday and in the afternoon we drove to Girona to another beautiful beach. That evening I decided to stay around my hostel. I really hate to be alone (as Howie & Caitlin can attest to) so I did what I do best and struck up a conversation with some English speaking kids and invited myself to have a drink with them. The girls were from Australia and leaving the next day, but the two boys were from Ireland and staying through the weekend. We ended up finding a big group from around the world and headed to the beach where, despite Britt’s shark week facts, we went swimming. Thursday was more of the same beach time and drinking on the beach, and Friday was a beach day (hey, I was on vacation) and we all went out again in Barcelona. It was such a blast, but I think a lot of it was because of the group I was with!My beautiful Brazilian friend, Gabriela

Saturday I had another overnight train but I decided to skip the last afternoon in Barcelona and head to Cerbere, a town right on the border and on the coast, to practice my French some more.
Although I had no map I managed to find my way to the city center (I think it was Spain that muddled my sense of direction) and spend a lovely afternoon in France. My overnight train home was a little better (no throwing up and not so horribly terrifying). I arrived in Mullhouse France at 7 am with almost a two hour layover until my next train. I was reading in the station when this man stumbles (literally) up to me and sits down. He begins to chatter away to me in French, and since I figure I can use all the practice I start chatting with him. The alcohol was still fresh on his breath and I couldn’t find a polite way to end our conversation and I was willing the board to tell me what platform my train would be leaving just so I could leave, but he did tell me I have a nice face (reminded me of when Ellen says, “I like your face”) so I guess it wasn’t all bad! Finally, after two announcements that you cannot smoke in a train station, a large French man (who knew French men could develop muscles) told him he needed to leave, a quick “Merci” and I ran to the closest track to avoid Jean-Claude in case he decided to return! What a way to end a great trip!

Despite being directionless I had a great time in Barcelona and I am definitely excited to return to Spain to see Cammie & Gill! I think I’m staying here this weekend—my first full weekend in Zürich I think!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Have Phone, Will Travel

My dad always tells me, "Jill, you could go down the shitter and come up smelling like roses."

Will just got home from his holiday and asked what my plans were for the week, when I told him that I couldn't go to Spain until I had a new phone, [and I apologized profusely for losing it since they did, after all, give me the phone]. He said, "No big deal, they're like 10 Francs for a new phone. Oh but here's an idea..." and he comes downstairs with the mobile phone that they give to guests. So now I have a phone, an extra night at a different hostel and a 7:30 train to Barcelona!


Street Parade Casualty

Yesterday was the Zürich Street Parade and despite being rainy and semi-chilly there were thousands of people and very few articles of clothing. The Swiss seem to be pretty straight-laced but one would never guess it at the Street Parade. Everyone dresses up (althought I wouldn't exactly say that they are dressed) and just basically goes crazy. I was meeting up with a friend and some other ex-pats and the theme was "Angels & Devils," so I wore a pair of white shorts and a white shirt and some wings (and my yellow rain boots, thank you Cait--and M&D for sending them!) and I think I was the most-clothed person there. I was feeling a bit self conscious in my all white getup while I was waiting for the train to take me into Zürich City Center, that is until I saw a woman, definitely in her 40s, wearing a white fishnet dress with a white bathing suit top and thong, with white go-go boots and a white wig... At first it was hard to not stare but
eventually you just get used to the scantily clad throngs of people--sometimes, well a lot actually, I couldn't even tell who was a woman or a man... They all just blended together on Street Parade day! I didn't bring my camera (no surprise there) because of the rain, but hopefully I'll get some pictures from my friends that I went with. (The pictures are of my friend Nicky, the devil, and me, the yellow-rain boot wearing angel, and then me with just another average Street Parade goer...)

We arrived a bit afte
r one but the parade didn't start until 3:30. Around 6 I met up with my American football playing friend for his last days in Zürich and his teammates and friends. We danced in the streets, and drank in the streets, and danced and drank some more and then the unthinkable happened: I lost my cell phone. Now everyone that knows me knows that I am in a permanent state of text messaging so this loss has been deeply felt. I seriously do not know how I lost it because it always seems to be in my hand and in use... This is definitely a bummer. It is also delaying my trip to Barcelona because everything is closed on Sundays so I need to get a new one when the shops open tomorrow.

But I will be off to Barcelona tomorrow evening, arriving Tuesday and staying through the weekend. I booked a hostel that's kind of further out of the city but right by the beach so I'm excited for some rest and relaxation. (Not to mention I'm adding a new country to my list--watch out Jack, you may have me beat on continents but I've got countries for sure!)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The French Frat House

I returned to Zürich yesterday from a week spent at L.C. in France. It was just Mark, Stephanie, and their extended family (who do not speak English) so it got to be a semi-lonely week. (Especially when I ran out of money on my cell phone on Wednesday--I could receive texts but I couldn't send them... The horror!)

So at this incredible house in France where nothing totally matches but everything seems to go together (when you are feeding 24 people one needs a lot of plates) I practiced my french, read a lot, and this time, didn't get stopped by the border patrol on runs. A few entertaining moments:
-Since I was the "new person" the family was very interested in asking questions about my life, family, school etc. Now I'd like to think I'm fairly proficient in French, when I lived in Vienna and decided to take a cab home at night our cab drivers were usually from French speaking Africa, so I'd try to give them directions to our apartment in French--and we always made it home! but, after Stephanie telling me that my French leaves something to be desired I was a little nervous to speak. [The only time(s) I speak French freely are after I've had a few drinks and I care less that I'm getting things wrong]. I can understand it pretty well, even their grandfather said that I understand almost everything and was impressed, so I knew what their questions were, but unfortunately my answers were a little off. So this family thinks that: my father is a lawyer for a company that may or may not sell strollers in airports, my brother is an English professor in South Korea (you're welcome for the job upgrade Jack), and that my mother is a chef at a small restaurant near our house. Whoops.
-The children, since I've been here, have had to do homework every morning. They do: English, writing, math and Mark also does French. Anna said that everyone in France has their children do it, and since she had to, her kids have to also. It's a vicious cycle but the person it hurts the most is the au pair. I seriously think having your au pair make your children do summer homework is a means to punish the au pair and not the children. Well at least Stephanie now knows how to count on her fingers!
-Their grandfather brought his girlfriend (of around 10 years or so) who is this incredibly fashionable, glamorous, and beautiful French woman. She's everything you imagine a French woman to be, so naturally every clumsy action I did, I did in front of her. She always happened to be seated across from me at meal times, and if I dropped something, spilled something, or did something incorrectly, she always witnessed it. At least she was kind enough not to laugh at me!
-Meals were wonderful and terrible at the same time. There's this book or diet or something called, Why French Women Never Get Fat, well I was with the exception(s) and I know why. Our meals were incredible--filled with bread, butter and cheese. We would have an appero, lunch, salad, cheese, dessert and coffee for lunch and dinner. But, if anything, these meals strengthened my faith--after every one I always prayed, prayed that my pants would button the next day. So far, so good.
-I definitely realized that I take things for granted. A week or so ago (I can't believe I've been here over a month) I was talking to my friend Cait and she said, "I can't believe you are actually there," and it made me stop and realize that I am in Europe. Living in Europe. Unfortunately though I was still ready to be finished with my week in France because next week I have off! On Thursday I found myself humming and singing while I was with the kids took me a couple minutes to realize that I was humming "One Day More" from Les Miserables (the irony because I was in France) and "Tomorrow" from Annie... Guess I'm just excited about my vacation!

Today is the Zürich Street Parade, the one day when the Swiss allow themselves to have fun. It's supposed to be pretty crazy and I'm definitely looking forward to it. Tomorrow I think I'm headed to Spain (but now I'm thinking Greece or Croatia?) but I'll keep you all updated on my travel plans.