Sunday, October 24, 2010

Here's what I've been up to

It took me a few weeks to "settle in" after our trip.  After a brief hot spell, the weather in Southern California has turned a bit wintry which encouraged me to get back to my sewing room.  Here are some recently finished projects.

A friend from our quilt club gave me the pattern for these cute Halloween placemats.  The pattern is Pumpkin Party by Susie C. Shore Designs.  I know they'll be covered in sticky food residue once I give them to the kidlets, but I still couldn't resist them.  Can't wait to give them to my favorite Halloween goblins!

The September/October issue of Creative Machine Embroidery has a fun project that tempted me.  I haven't used the embroidery module on my Bernina in quite awhile.  I've enjoyed stitching these doorknob hangers - one for my daughter, one for my sister, and one for me!  It's not exactly a quick project since there are multiple steps.  Still fun, though.

I found a tutorial for a small bag that intriqued me.  I thought maybe I'd reduce the weight of the bag if I used a smaller one!  I do like the finished bag, but I totally messed up the directions.  I had one of those flashes of understanding in the middle of the night and realized what I had done wrong with the pattern.  The bag is actually supposed to be a few inches shorter and not so narrow looking.  This is something that I need to be aware of when using tutorials from blogs -- it's lovely that bloggers give these patterns away for free, but they aren't professional pattern writers.  I need to scrutinize the patterns a bit more before diving head first into a project!

I love the fabric, though, which I purchased last week during our group's shop hop.  We stopped at Quilt in a Day in San Marcos, and Eleanor Burns was actually in the shop!  She graciously offered to pose with us for pictures (didn't have my camera - shame on me), and signed patterns and even a fat quarter!  Then she gave us a personal tour of the room they've remodeled to give them more cabinetry, cutting areas, and sewing tables for creating the quilts.  Quite a lot of fun for all of us.

I'm generally not a fan of yo-yo's, but I thought the bag needed an extra something once I finished it.  I do like the yo-yo trim, especially with the addition of the button from my button jar.  I used the button sew-on program on the 640 along with the #18 foot.  Worked perfectly!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Home, home, home ...

We've been home for several weeks, but I wanted to finish my posts about our trip.  Now I enter real time!  That means, I need to post about what I've actually been up to since returning home -- paying the bills, finishing the wash, etc., etc., etc.

Just a hint -- I've been sewing, casting my ballot, reading, and enjoying a bit of Southern California rain!

There is nothing better than reading in bed while the rain is pounding on the windows.  Love it, love it, love it ....

We are more alike than different - why don't we know this?

There are countless benefits of traveling especially to countries other than your own.  I love the sights, the smells, the textures of travel.  I love recognizing cultural differences.  Most of all, however, I adore noticing how very much alike we are.  Here are just a handful of memories I collected during our trip that remind me more of our similarities than our differences:

  • On a sunny afternoon in Amsterdam, a young man lay fast asleep on the grass with his headphones on and his book open by his side.  Sunday is for relaxing .... work starts tomorrow! 
  • A mom walking with two preschoolers carrying "noodles" in her hand - those long styrofoam tubes that are so much fun in pools for both kids and adults.  Swim class, perhaps?
  • At lunch one day, DH dropped his pocket German/English dictionary on the ground and did not realize it.  A bashful young boy, at the urging of his father, came over to our table, picked up the book, and graciously handed it to my husband.  He gave us a slight bow of the head and smiled shyly.  All over the world, parents want their offspring to be polite and helpful.
  • Moments later, the same little boy became "big brother" and started arguing with his little sister!  I didn't understand the language, but I certainly knew by the tone of mom's voice that she was not happy ....  All over the world, parents struggle with teaching their children right from wrong.
  • Whenever the sun was shining, we noticed people pushing wheelchair-bound elders through the cities to experience the joy of being in the sunshine - and not confined.
  • The Internet is available everywhere.  We saw laptops in cafes, trains, coffee houses - the world is connected and information travels instantaneously.  Yes, Mr. Friedman, The World is Flat.
  • We in the US worry about driving and texting; in Amsterdam, the worry is biking and texting!  Now that takes lots of balance. 
  • Couples who have been together for awhile have a universal language.  One day, I noticed a man and a woman standing at an intersection each pointing in different directions.  He held a map and pointed towards one street, she was pointing vigorously in the opposite direction.  I have no idea what words they were exchanging, but I'd know that tone of voice anywhere!
  • Taking family photos at a wedding celebration - who cares where you are, what language you speak, or where you spoke your vows?  This is a time for smiles, hugs, and wishes for a lifetime of happiness.
  • A young boy chases pigeons around a fountain - quietly.  My first thought was that my preschool grandchildren would love to chase those pigeons, but they would not be quiet about it!
  • A little girl at a street market joyously running up to her "papa" and showing him the "chocolat" treat bought for her by momma.  Ah, chocolate ... truly a universal language.  Her face was radiant, her joy was boundless.  I reveled in this act of kindness by a caring mother.  Children take such exuberant joy in the simplest of gifts. 
  • A mother on one of our trains took her 2-year-old boy on a tour trying to keep him occupied and quiet.  He kept saying "nien, nien" over and over again.  Seems 2-year-olds also have a universal language - NO!
Somehow, on our march towards adulthood, we lose that childhood sense of wonder and joy and belief that the world is a wonderful place full of surprises and mysteries.  We often become suspicious and untrusting.  If I were queen of the world, I would give everyone a ticket to ride to far-off places to learn once again that the world truly is a wonderful place full of people wanting only to live their lives in peace.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Random Observations and Thoughts on Switzerland

  • Green, green, green
  • Clean, clean, clean
  • Friendly people and very accommodating!
  • It is very expensive to live here.  We were in areas frequented by tourists, of course, but not a single store tempted me because of the high cost.  Clothing costs seemed extremely high; over $200 for shoes?  Not in my budget.  Hard to have dinner for two under $50.
  • Everyone speaks English and most speak it proficiently.  Only twice did we have to spend a little extra time interpreting menu items and this was in smaller towns.
  • I saw well-dressed women wherever we went.  Most businessmen seemed to be in very traditional black suits.  LOTS of high-heeled shoes.  Can't for the life of me figure out how they walk in 5- or 6-inch heels over cobblestones!
  • The trains are superb.  Our Eurorail pass was for first-class accommodations, but I don't think we needed that.  Only one train was the least bit crowded.  In every other case, we were among a handful of people in our car - some tourists, but mostly business people who worked on their laptops during the trips.  Interesting idea:  The overhead shelf is clear so you can actually see if you've put something up there!  Hard to leave items behind.
  • Although there seems to be a jewelry store on every other corner, Swiss women wear very little jewelry.  What they wear, however, doesn't come from Kohl's!  And everyone, of course, sports a big, heavy, impressive watch.
  • Every church has a tower with a clock, and the clocks are accurate!  Even if the church is hundreds of years old, the clock still works. 
  • Takeaways - what we would call take-out - and not from fast-food places, but rather from yummy delis and cheese shops and bake shops and grocery stores and even train stations.  Gotta love it!
  • I saw many preschoolers still using pacifiers -- 3 & 4-year olds.
  • Swiss efficiency.  You can't beat it.  Waiters and waitresses carry black leather bags on their waists filled with money so that they make change right at the table.
  • I've never seen so many construction cranes in my life!  It was hard to take a photograph without getting several huge cranes in the background.  Lots of construction and reconstruction wherever we went indicates a great deal of pride in the country.
  • New to us were handheld credit card machines so we paid our restaurant bills right at our table.  No need for the waiter/waitress to disappear with our card into some back room.  We liked it!
  • Jewelry stores leave all the jewelry in the windows overnight and on the weekends unlike in the US where most stores empty their displays every night.  The Swiss are very trusting and trustworthy.  We were told that there is very little crime in Switzerland, and we should not be afraid to leave items in our hotel room nor be concerned about pickpockets.
  • Pastries decorated so elaborately that you almost (almost!) didn't want to eat them.  And all arranged in neat, tidy rows in the display cases.
  • Chocolate.  Need I say more?  Well worth walking miles and miles every day to justify indulging.
  • Cows and farms and rolling hills and well-maintained houses with gorgeous window boxes overflowing with geraniums.  Yup .... exactly like you picture it!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Time to face the inevitable - homeward bound!

Can't I please take these home?
September 21 - I awoke this morning to the sound of vendors setting up for the Tuesday market alongside the river in Lucerne.  Looking out from the balcony, I noticed beautiful flowers and plants as well as lots of produce.  I was ready to explore immediately after breakfast.  Doug stayed in the room to pack; it always takes him much longer than it takes me even though there are no decisions to be made - everything has to go home!

I loved the flowers especially the cute arrangements made with dried seed pods.  I was tempted to buy one to take home, but I don't think we can bring plant material into the states.  There was also lots of meat, cheese, and even fresh fish.
You can buy squash by the slice!

We strolled to the train station baggage trailing behind us and headed towards Kloten, a town near the Zurich airport.  I don't know whether I've admitted it here or not, but I have a fear of trains and train tracks.  Nothing has ever happened to me to cause this fear which, like most phobias, is completely illogical.  The problem dates back to my days working in New York in the early 60s and travelling the subway system.  Maybe I was tied to a railroad track in a former life?  Anyway, I was a bit concerned that this was going to be a problem during our trip.  I was able to get on and off the trains pretty easily and just bit the bullet and crossed the tracks when necessary.  Today, however, I had big problems in the Zurich train station.  The train from Zurich to Kloten left from a track three levels underground!  It was dark, damp, and dreary and about did me in.  Good thing this was our last train trip!

Last glimpse of the Alps across the lake at sunrise
 We walked a short distance to the Hotel Allegra.  "Allegra" means hello, happiness, and welcome in Switzerland’s 4th official language - Romansh.  This is the largest room we have had.  Obviously, this hotel caters to business travelers since we are so near the airport.

Swiss railroad clocks - always precise!
 We had a big salad at a local restaurant, toured the town a bit, then went back to the room for a final pack for the flight home.  We decided to pick up a "take away" dinner at Migros, one of the two major grocery store chains in Switzerland and turn in early for our 6:15 a.m. wakeup call!

Tomorrow, we fly home.  I'm certainly not looking forward to such a long day and utter fatigue at the end of it.  Fortunately, I'm reading a terrific book - Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Turning pages should keep me sane across the Atlantic, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Does the sun always shine on Lucerne?

September 20 - Lucerne was much less crowded today than yesterday.  Obviously, a day trip to Lucerne on a sunny Sunday is the thing to do in this part of Switzerland!

Me enjoying breakfast at the hotel
The Dying Lion of Lucerne
After a lovely breakfast on the balcony overlooking the river at our hotel, DH and I walked to the Lion Wall monument (the Dying Lion of Lucerne) which is in memory of the heroic death of Swiss mercenaries at the Tuileries in 1792.  We met a family from Sri Lanka who asked us to take pictures of them with the lion in the background.  We told them we had eaten Sri Lankan food just the other night.  They’ve travelled much in the US and have been to San Diego, the Grand Canyon, and Disneyland.

Along the Swiss "riviera"
We opted for a two-hour cruise from Lucerne to various towns on the lake.  We pulled away from the dock at noon with the church bells ringing.  There are large hotels in each of the towns along this part of Lake Lucerne which is sometimes called the Swiss Riviera.  I loved the town of Weggis.  Once again, we enjoyed gorgeous views of the Alps.

On our return, we strolled through town stopping wherever we saw interesting stores or structures.  They have a great idea here called Rent-a-Box.  Individuals rent small boxes in a store window to sell pieces of jewelry.

I know we look like typical tourists with our cameras, etc., but today DH outdid himself.  He hates to be uncomfortable and has a very narrow range of temperatures that he tolerates.  So, afraid that his little tootsies might get the least bit cold, he actually tied a pair of socks to the outside of his backpack and walked around town like that until I spotted it.  STOP!  I insisted that the socks go inside the backpack until needed.  What a dufus ....
Look closely - that's me on top of the wall!
Towards the middle of the afternoon, we walked alongside the Musegg wall which was started in 1386.  I actually climbed one of the towers and walked along the top of the wall for a bit before making my way down.  DH is afraid of heights, so I get to do these scary things all by myself and he gets to take a picture of my exploits for posterity.

$100 parking ticket - not for us!!
We enjoyed some wine on our balcony then took a lovely walk to the Schl├╝ssel restaurant.  Finally, Swiss fondue! (Check out the menu on the restaurant site - we had the pumpkin soup and the farmer's style fondue - yummy!)  After dinner, we slowly made our way back to the hotel across one of the footbridges admiring the lights adorning the wonderful city of Lucerne.
I've loved almost every part of this trip, but I think I will remember Lucerne most of all because of its beauty.  Tomorrow, we're off to Zurich for our last night before heading home.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Can I really be in this beautiful place?

September 19 - We packed our bags and made our way to the Bern bahnhof to catch a train to Lucerne.  As usual, we saw many busses during our short walk - one of them had seven sections!   I love watching the sectioned busses turn corners.  The transportation systems in The Netherlands and in Switzerland are superb.  In the cities, the busses and trolleys run on electricity so they are very quiet and clean.

I finally had my first clear view of the Alps - gorgeous!  Once again, I noticed the garden sheds next to each of the many roadside gardens.  The Swiss must love their gardens.  Lots of donkeys today, too.  I wonder what they are used for on the farms.

Hotel des Alpes overlooking the river
Our room was not yet ready at the Hotel des Alpes so we left our bags in the locked storage room and headed out in search of a place for lunch.  The weather was the nicest we have had, so an outdoor lunch at the Meisterkonditorei (Old Town store) was in order.  Calzone and beer - don’t they go together just like ham and cheese?  And, there is a Starbucks two doors down from our hotel!

DH contemplating lunch!
I’m hearing more American accents here than anywhere else.  More English in general.  Today is Sunday, so Lucerne is full of tourists from out of town as well as out of country.  So many couples holding hands! Lucerne is absolutely gorgeous and very romantic with its swans, flowers, and medieval bridges.

After lunch, we walked along the waterfront admiring Lake Lucerne and the many sailboats and tour boats on the lake. DH noticed a group of men playing a game similar to petanque or bocce ball. They were speaking German, so perhaps it is the German equivalent of bocce.

View from  our balcony!
We got back to the hotel and checked into our room. The Hotel des Alpes is on the River Reuss with views of the Chapel Bridge and the Water Tower -- an incredibly beautiful sight.  We have a balcony on the first floor, which we Americans would call the second floor.  I can see the entire downtown area, four bridges, swans galore, and the Alps!  Doug splurged on this one, but it is worth it.  This is classified in the tour books as a “middle class” hotel.  Whew!  It’s costing us more than any B&B we’ve ever been to in the US!

Our room is small, but the balcony certainly makes up for it.  I decided to live out of the suitcase since I’ve lost track of clean vs. dirty clothes.  While DH unpacked in his usual leisurely fashion, I sat on our balcony listening to a violin player, watching people enjoying their lunch in the outdoor cafes along the River Reuss, and taking in the views of Lake Lucerne and the snowcapped Alps in the distance.  I am a very lucky gal! Am I really here in this beautiful place?

Chapel Bridge at sunset
We are closest to the flower-adorned Chapel Bridge, one of five pedestrian bridges crossing the river, so I can watch people strolling across and stopping to take pictures.  The river is very clean; swans, mallards, seagulls, and coots enjoy the water as well as the bread tossed into the river by visitors.

I kept thinking that this is my reward for all that "budgeting by envelope" that I've done over the years.  My second thought was that I want my children and grandchildren to enjoy this beautiful, beautiful city.

We spent the afternoon walking and walking and walking.  If the scale is not my friend when I get home, I’ll be pretty miffed.  We stumbled on a restaurant that has a reasonable menu for fondue and decided that it would be the place for our special dinner at the end of the trip: The Hotel zum Schlussel, Schlukelftube.

DH wanted to check out the river cruises so we explored the lakefront.  Our Eurorail pass allows us to take a lake cruise for free.  We’ll do a 2-hour roundtrip tour on the lake tomorrow.  We had another one of those unexpected surprises while on the lakefront.  A group of 20 costumed revelers on bicycles were riding round and round a large fountain in front of the art museum adjacent to the lake.  They did not have signs, so we don’t know what the occasion was -- but they were certainly having a wonderful time.  They looked a lot like circus clowns, blowing horns, etc.  Fun, fun, fun …

We had a great dinner of fish and chips at Gracie Kelly’s Irish Pub while watching the Bears vs. Dallas on tv!  A small taste of home ....

More pictures of this beautiful city:

One of the towers at the medieval wall

Flowers everywhere

Looking across Lake Lucerne

Fondue restaurant perhaps?