Monday, September 25, 2006


A Typical Late Summer Day in Zurich, Switzerland

Little things can make a simple day very special. Near the Zurich Lake there is Strandbad Tiefbrunnen, a public swimming area. After August, there is no admission fee and it makes for a nice walk. We had a drink at a wobbly table near the lake and enjoyed the sunny weather and the view of the shimmering water with sailboats cruising by. Afterwards, we fed the always hungry swans some stale but apparently tasty bread. Then we had a walk along the lake and found an acrobatic family performing for the crowds. The family is from Morocco. A father and his three children entertained their captivated audience. Afterwards, I spoke with them. The little girl he is holding in the video above is only seven years old. There were two talented boys, 6 and 10. They were real crowd pleasers and while their performance only lasted a few minutes it left a smile on our faces for the rest of the day.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Uetliberg: The Perfect Day Trip From Zurich

Why is it that we always travel to far away places, but forget about the cool things right next door? When I lived in Buffalo, New York, I was amazed by the number of locals who had never seen the Niagara Falls. As a resident of New Jersey, I frequently met New Yorkers who had never seen the Statue of Liberty up close and personal. Well, I am guilty of the same crime. We have been hearing all about Utliberg since we moved here. We heard it had the best views of Zurich and was a great day-trip; close by and easy to get to. Nevertheless, it took us over a year to get there. And you know what? They were right. The only pity is that the day we picked was a bit overcast, so our view was partially obstructed by hazy weather. But it is so close it will be easy to make a return visit.

The Swiss are amazing about adding man-made convenience to nature. For example, you can venture into the wilderness, hike up a long lonely trail, and when you get to the top, you may find a cafe waiting for you so you can enjoy a nice coffee and desert with your view. Utliberg is not exactly wilderness. It is a mountain that overlooks the lake of Zurich. There is a train that runs from the Zurich Central Station, which will get you near the top in about 20 minutes (S-10 leaves from the Zurich Central Station, track 2, every half hour, round trip ticket is currently around Sfr 15, or about $12 depending on the exchange rate).

As you step off of the train, you can walk directly into a small restaurant offering self service style eating, with indoor and outdoor seating. From this restaurant there is a view from the west side of the mountain. We shared a small meal of schnitzel and fries, a salad from the salad bar, and apple wine before hopping on the train back to Zurich.

Nearby the train station, you will find a small hiking trail. After a very easy 10 minute walk, you will reach “The Top of Zurich”. The Hotel Uto Kulm will be waiting for you. It is a very beautiful hotel and restaurant located directly on the summit.

In front of the hotel, there is a viewer’s platform, with outstanding views of the Zurich Lake to the east. There is also an observation tower that you can climb, in case you want to go a bit higher. A small kiosk sells drinks, snacks and junk food. There are tables, park benches, even wooden sun beds in case you get the sudden urge to work on your tan.

If you are more adventurous than we are, there are plenty of hiking opportunities. If it is a nice day, you can take the train up and hike down. The Utliberg is a very Swiss mixture of nature and civilization. It would probably be considered dull by the adventurous types, but it is perfect for non-thrill seeking adventurers like us.

For more about Zurich and some additional pictures go here

Friday, September 22, 2006


Traveling Across Europe in a WHEELCHAIR!!!

Imagine traveling from Romania to Spain, a distance of 5200 km, (3,300 miles) in a manual wheelchair using only the push power of your hands. On 10 September 20, 2006 Vasi Stoica a Romanian athlete completed this challenge. Then after a 5 day break he continued his journey from Spain, up through France, with a final planned destination of Düsseldorf Germany where he hopes to arrive just in time for Rehacare, a major disability trade show.

This is such an accomplishment that I can not even begin to imagine it. Vasi is unaccompanied and unaided. He does not take any other form of transportation other than a wheelchair. When he gets a flat tire, he fixes it himself. When he needs more provisions he rolls into a grocery store and buys them.

I can not imagine the courage and determination it must take to embark on such an adventure. Vasi certainly has my respect and admiration. I have had the honor to interview Vasi. Next week (probably Wednesday) I hope to distribute the interview. I will post a summary and a link to the interview here in the blog. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we are looking for the opportunity to take a quick few days break in Paris. I am thinking about Vasi currently pushing his way there in his wheelchair and I almost feel guilty about taking the train. Go Vasi Go!

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Traveling in a Wheelchair

Traveling can be challenging at times. But imagine the challenges of traveling in a wheelchair. We found an excellent video that gives tips for travelling by plane and for traveling to countries where the infrastructure is less than optimal and accessibility is minimal. He has traveled to Brazil, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam. Pay particular attention to the tips about getting an upgrad from an airline.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Zermatt is a tourists dream. How often have you traveled in a city only to be dodging cars or even worse noisy motorcycles or scooters? In some places they are so frequent and annoying that you feel that you are caught in a swarm of buzzing mosquitoes. Zermatt is one of the few places in the world where motorized vehicles are strictly verboten. Instead the only vehicles in Zermatt are the electric kind, which look a bit like golf carts, and are used as taxis to transport people and luggage to nearby hotels. But unless you have a great deal of luggage, you should walk to your hotel. It is village that has been developed for foot traffic. Small, walk able and charming, Zermatt is a recommended excursion.

Not what one could call a typical Swiss village, Zermatt has been developed mostly for the skiers which flock to the nearby ski resorts. It has remarkable number of restaurants, club and nightlife offerings. But the freshness of the air and views of the Matterhorn and other nearby mountains make it worth coming for. Like many Swiss destinations it is expensive, so it might not be a priority destination for someone on a tight budget. Zermatt can be reached by cograil from the Swiss town of Brigg.

The local language is Swiss German and the dialect spoken here is so unusual that many Swiss from other parts of the country have difficulty to understand it. But like many tourists destinations, English is well understood. There is a tourist office near the train station that will offer you maps and give you suggestions for short excursions. Zermatt is quite small, and can easily be seen in a day or two. However, if you want to enjoy some of the surrounding sites, you might want to consider staying a bit longer.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Luzern (Lucerne) Switzerland: A great day trip from Zurich

Luzern (also spelled Lucerne) is one of the most popular towns with tourists in Switzerland. It is easy to see why. It is beautiful, historic, lively and easy to reach.

Luzern’s most famous landmark is the covered bridge that connects the old town to the more modern part of Luzern. The bridge is the oldest covered bridge in Europe. Unfortunately much of the bridge was burnt in 1993. Inside are paintings that date back to the 17th century. Many of those were damaged or destroyed in the fire as well. The pictures have writing on them that describe the history of Luzern. The problem is that the script is old Germanic script and even if you read German, it is very difficult to read this old fashioned script.

Like many Swiss cities, Luzern’s setting is on a beautiful lake with lovely mountains in the background. But in addition, the city is split by the beautiful Reuss River.

What is striking about Luzern is the mix of feelings that it evokes. The old town is distinctly Germanic. It is beautiful and stoic, but reminds one of other pretty Swiss German old towns, such as Zurich or Bern. However, there are buildings that are tall, thin and gabled and remind one of the canal houses in Amsterdam. Other buildings seem Venetian in style. Unlike many Swiss cities, there is long strip of restaurants and cafes along the river in the old town and the lively atmosphere is reminiscent of Mediterranean cities. The walk along the lake of Luzern is very peaceful and relaxing and is reminiscent of walking along the Lake in Zurich.

Many people who visit Luzern combine it with a trip up either the Rigi Mountain (1800 meters or 5900 feet) or the Pilatus Mountain (2132 meters or 7000 feet). From the top of each you have beautiful views. The Rigi mountain is the site of the world’s first cogwheel railway, built in 1871. The Pilatus Mountain is serviced by the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. Amazingly it was first opened in 1889 and with a 48% grade. Over a century after being built it is still the world’s steepest. At the top of each mountain are cafes and restaurants where one can enjoy a drink together with the view.

The best part of Luzern it is only 45 minutes from Zurich and 1 hour from Basel by direct train. So, even if you are coming into Switzerland for a short stay, Luzern is a highly recommended for a short excursion.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Bears and Fountains of Bern, Switzerland

A couple of days ago, we had to travel to Bern to visit an embassy. Everytime we go we take the chance to see a bit more of the city. At least we can combine something pleasant with the chore of having to go to the embassy. Bern is a lovely city, and this time we visited the Barengraben or the Famous Bear-Pits. Bern's mascot is the bear, and the bear is even featured on Bern's Flag.

We had mixed feeling from the Bear Pit. On one hand, we saw the bears running and jumping in the small pool. One of them, obviously the male, looked like he was having a great time, while the female sat quietly and stared at him as though he were crazy. Then, later we saw that she was right, he was crazy; he began to pace back and forth, back and forth. I guess being put in a Bear-Pit will do that to you.

The pretty city is famous for its 15th century arcades, or covered side-walks. Arcades are sort of medieval shopping malls. When they built the city, they extended the second floors of the buildings to cover the side-walks on the ground floor in order to protect them from rain and bad weather. Lining the arcades on one side are shops, cafes and restaurants. On the other side are a series of columns and arches which give the arcades and the city a charming appearance. While many European cities will have some arcades, Bern's are everywhere.

There are also old and usual fountains which date back to the 16th century decorating the streets of the city. The fountains have interesting figurines or statues on the top. For example, there is lady Justice, blind-folded and holding her scales. This is the obvious one that everyone understands. Another is a figure of a Bear in a helmet no doubt giving homage to warriors of ancient times. Yet another is the famous Kindlifresser or child eater. Legend has it that this fountain stood guard at the city limits to warn children not to leave the city or they meet a terrible fate

The large clock tower is perhaps the most striking thing in the city. It seems ancient and imposing. We saw a crowd gathering a few minutes before the hour, apparently waiting for the clock to chime and entertain them. They were wrong, the stubborn old clock made a couple of rude sounds and a few minutes past the hour, the crowd slowly dissipated.

The city of Bern is listed in the UNESCO world heritage list and is only one hour from Zurich by non-stop train. The city offers a very useful tourists information site, where you can find direct links to all of the cities hotels. To read more and see photos of Bern click here

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Swiss Trains are really amazing and are a treat to travel with. They are very punctual and very comfortable. In many trains there is a dining car, with a waiter or waitress, serving drinks and light meals. If you are traveling somewhere, it is nice to take a break and enjoy some moments in the dining car. It really breaks up the trip.

Yesterday we traveled to Bern, Zurich to the German consulate. The train ride home to Zurich takes about 1 hour. We started the trip with a coffee in the dining car. After enjoying that, we found a seat which looks something like a small, curved sofa with a table next to it. We relaxed on the sofa, and nearly fell asleep. Before we realized it we were in Zurich.

Before you think otherwise, we do not travel first class, we travel economy. Stress-free travel is such a luxury that most people probably just take for granted. But many things in this country are simply amazing.

Monday, August 28, 2006

We are watching the US Emmy awards, and the strange thing is that we know very little about what they are talking about. Oscar awards are easy to follow, because movies are international. But it is strange to watch the Emmys because the TV shows that are being discussed, shows such as Grays Anatomy, American Idol, Desperate Housewives, we have never seen. Not even once.

On the other hand, I doubt we are missing very much.

Friday, August 25, 2006

What is the worst part about living abroad? Doing official, difficult stuff and trying to struggle through in cultures and languages that are not your own. Getting accounting help, assistance with tax issues, going to a doctor, etc are never fun. But it is much harder to deal with difficult issues in a foreign country. While I speak German well, there are some things you naturally prefer to discuss in your own language. Usually, you can find someone to help you, but it may be more expensive. But more importantly, you do not want to choose your doctor based on language skills.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

We did it! We watched the weather reports for the Tessin region almost daily and a couple of days ago we found a patch of good weather. We called the Swiss Diamond Hotel, just outside of Lugano. The Swiss Diamond had made an interesting offer on their website that included an upgrade to a lake view room upon availability. To be sure we would get a nicer room, we called to ask if they had enough vacancies. The answer was yes. We booked our room online and headed for the train station. By 11:30 am we arrived! Only three hours to paradise.

Such a treat! The Tessin, the Italian province of Switzerland, seems worlds away from the German part of Switzerland. The culture and climate are so different it is hard to believe that they are in the same country. In German Switzerland, people are more reserved and the culture is more structured. But in the Italian part of Switzerland, there is a feeling of freedom and relaxation. Everything reflects the differences, including the landscaping and the architecture. The weather, as promised, was perfect and it was the ideal way to wrap up a wonderful summer.

While staying at the Swiss Diamond, we took a walk into the nearby village of Morcote. Isn’t it funny, how the best experiences are almost always accidental? We hadn’t done our homework well, so we did not really realize how beautiful Morcote would be. Naturally we had heard about it, but it was more charming than we expected. The city is old and well preserved with pretty arcades, filled with nice restaurants. It is a short 15 minute walk from the Swiss Diamond hotel. A visit is highly recommended if you are coming to Lugano, as it is only a 15 minute drive.

The Swiss Diamond is a charming, 5 star quality hotel, though not without its flaws. We have described it in detail in our TravelsWise website. To read the review Click Here.

Monday, August 21, 2006


The neighborhood where we currently live in Zurich, like many neighborhoods around the world, had a community fair yesterday. There were many little stands where local people and companies sold and displayed items such as pastries, antiques, clothes and things that they made. In addition there were stands that sold traditional food. Some types of foods for sale included Raclette, which is melted cheese and vegetables, crepes, which is pancakes with different fillings, as well as traditional grilled sausages. In addition, there were all kinds of activities for the children such as face painting, pony rides and dance exhibitions. It is interesting to feel like a foreigner in a community and yet to experience such a day. It gives you a moment to see inside the culture and to feel, for just a moment, like you are somehow part of it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Found a nice toy which plots the countries you have visited. This shows that I have seen quite a bit of the Northern Hemisphere, but nothing of the Southern Hemisphere. Hope to correct that one day.

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

Friday, August 18, 2006


Last night was beautiful. My wife and I took a walk to Bauschaenzli, one of our favourite ‘restaurants’ in Zurich. (To see other restaurant recommendations for Zurich, click here)I use the quotes, because some might not even consider it a restaurant, since the food is self serve and very simple. We typically get sausage and beer, a traditional Germanic treat.

It is a very special little place, built on an island where the Limmat river meets the lake of Zurich. Open only in the summer, on a warm evening it is delightful. If you are lucky you will get a table near the water and have one of the best views of Zurich. From there you have a close up of the Quaibrücke, the bridge that crosses the Limmat nearest to the lake, and the lake itself. The lights on the bridge are very romantic and highlight the beauty. The swans in the lake are like out of a dream and give the lake life and grace. In the evenings, there is usually live music, typically from the 50’s or 60’s; usually waltz, swing, foxtrot and other styles that we do not know. But the older set dance, couple style. It always feels like such a treat to enjoy this special atmosphere. We know that summer will soon be over and we will have to say goodbye to this spot for nine months.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Such a nice day! Already at the beginning of August it seemed to be getting cold. Summer seemed to be over. But today it is beautiful outside and I do not feel like working! I have no boss watching over me telling me I have to work. So, sometimes we take a break, go for a walk and enjoy a few hours of sun. Overall, we work much harder than we would if we had a regular 9-5 job. But I have the flexibility that I never had before. If the weather is particularly nice, we can even take a few days off and travel. In fact, we want to make our third trip to the Tessin sometime in the next weeks and we are watching the weather and looking for our chance. The Tessin is so beautiful. It has a feel and charm of Italy, but it is still in Switzerland. Only three hours away from Zurich by direct train. As long as we have access to internet, we can work from anywhere. Life is good.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My objective for this blog is to give others an idea of the life of a hard-core Expat. Expat, according to Wikipedia, is "someone temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of their upbringing or legal residence".

When I started out, I thought it was temporary. I thought I would live abroad for one or maybe two years. Now, it sure seems like it might be a permanent thing. In fact, somewhere in the middle, in the late 1990's, I returned to the USA for two years. I had a corporate job in New Jersey and hated it. I constantly dreamed about returning to Europe: enjoying a coffee is a sunny European cafe or jetting off to the Greek Islands or Paris whenever the urge called. So, when a job offer bekoned me back to Europe I jumped at it; eventhough it meant taking a vicious pay-cut (salaries over here are not the same as salaries in the USA). When that company reorganized and relocated, I had a tough decision to make. Do I return to the USA, to a corporate job and a life that is not meant for me? Or do I strike out on my own?

I tried to find a job in Europe, but it didnt work out. Either I didnt have the right work permit or I didnt speak the right languages or I wasn't the age range they were looking for (in Europe Ageism is not yet politically incorrect. Job profiles frequent state prefered age of the candidate).

So, I created my own company. With the company, I was granted a couple of residency permits. First I got a residency permit in The Netherlands, where I was located when my last company reorganized. Then for a variety of reasons (maybe I will tell you later) we moved it to Switzerland. Here we are now, trying to make the company a success. And it is successful! Sort of succeessful, almost successful, marginally successful. But we have our dreams, hopes and plans. And for now, it gives us the hope that we can stay here for the long run.

Some would consider me blessed, other perhaps insane. Either way, I am certainly taking the "path less followed". I left my home country and my corporate job and have been living a kind of fantasy life since then. I live, for now, in beautiful Switzerland. I just turned fifty. I don't own a house, a car, an entertainment center. Yet in many ways I am richer than most people that I know. I feel like my life is a holiday every day of the year.

What do I have? A wonderful wife, who loves me and is my partner in my life and business. Our small company, that is growning but does not quite support us financially. A few dollars saved for a 'retirement' or emergency that I hope will never come. And the opportunity to decide on a daily basis, what I will do for that day. Do I want to work? Do I want to write? Do I want to travel? Every morning, I wake up and make this decision. This blog will record the life of a modern day Peter Pan and his journey down the path less followed.

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