Friday, July 29, 2016

Kristin (and others) visits Läderach Chocolate Factory

As with my other recent posts I am writing this from my phone (currently in the Munich airport, but I can't imagine I'll finish before its time to board my flight) and will have to clean it up on my computer later.

Last week on Thursday Rebecca and I were going to go to Rigi, which had seemed like a good idea on Wednesday when we decided to go, but at 5:30 in the morning when I woke up to the sound of rain on the terrace, I thought it might not be such a good idea. Rigi is some distance from Zurich, but I checked the weather and it was calling for scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon. Scattered thunderstorms, 3 kids, a mountain and what are basically ski lifts didn't sound like the best idea. So I started googling things to do in the rain. After a bit I thought it would be better to change that search to things to do in the rain with children. As a result I found a blog detailing a trip to Läderach Chocolate factory. In the blog they talked about driving there, but a quick check on Google maps showed that we could get there pretty easily with the train. I found the website for the factory and it looked interesting.
After waiting for a more reasonable hour, I went to Rebecca's and shared the idea with her. She had no problem with changing our plans and this destination was easier to get to which was better not only for me (I was leaving EARLY the next morning for Berlin), but also for the kids.
Thus, we set out for a small town of Bilten. At first, everything seemed typical. Then we got to the station where we had to change trains. At first I was confused. 1) the train we were getting off of was going to the same place our next train was bound for and 2) we were exiting and then boarding from the same platform. As we got off it all quickly became clear. We were in basically the middle of nowhere. The train we were on only stops at "larger" stops and so we needed a more regional train. As we waited on the platform, I knew we were in for an adventure. There was just nothing at this train station and we were headed to an even smaller station. We arrived in Bilten and we could tell we were in an industrial area. It took a bit of work, but we found the factory and oh was it worth it!
We went into the store section and I asked about how we purchased tickets for the "Schoggi Erlebnis." The woman I asked said from her and so I explained that I wanted to purchase one adult ticket and Rebecca was going to want one adult and one child ticket (Children under six are nearly always free in Switzerland). Luckily the woman was observant and asked how old Jonathan was. I had forgotten that I had read that all children under eight were free. Jonathan was about two and a half weeks shy of his eighth birthday. After we paid, each person (including all 3 children) got a box of three chocolates and a souvenir spoon for tasting the chocolate in the fountains. At first I was a little concerned because she only put out four boxes of truffles on the counter, so I asked her if the small child (i.e. Lauren) didn't get one. She had been concerned because of the nuts, but after we told her that wasn't a problem Lauren got one too.
The tour was self guided with really good signs in English (matter of fact one sign was only in English). At the end came what I think was everyone's favorite part- the chocolate fountains. They had one station with the roasted cocoa nibs and a liquid form of bitter cocoa mass. We tried that first and poor Lauren didn't understand that the others were different. She kept wiping her mouth with a paper towel and refused to try any of the other chocolates until Rebecca force fed her some. Then she realized the others were good and if course then you couldn't get her away from fountains.

P.s for anyone who's curious I finished this from the apartment I've rented (for three days) near Cavtat Croatia.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

(Unintentionally) Fooling the Lichtensteiners

I don't actually know what this is. I saw this from the bus window after I finally caught the 11 going to Sargans. 

The view from my unexpected detour. 

An interesting place for a bench 

My side trip may not have been planned, but it was totally worth it for the views. 

Grapes are an important crop in Lichtenstein. They produce quite a bit of wine. 

On Wednesday I took a day trip to Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein is the fourth smallest country in Europe and with a population of 37,000 it has no freeway, airport or train station. Lichtenstein also uses the Swiss Franc and has always used someone else's money (they used the Austrian money until World War II). As a result in many ways Lichtenstein feels like an extension of Switzerland, but their official language is high German.
I took a train from Zurich to Sargans which is in Switzerland, but very close to the border. At the bus station where a number of Lichtenstein buses including the one that took me to Valduz, the capital. Neither country is in the EU, but they have a close relationship and therefore no border control (I read somewhere that there is border control on the Austrian side; a fact I find quite interesting because Lichtenstein became Lichtenstein when two regions were purchased by an Austrian prince).
I had booked my ticket to the Vaduz post, which was the last stop on the bus, but when we got to the stop I really didn't know where to go so I just started walking. I hadn't walked far when I saw a pedestrian detour sign because the sidewalk was torn up. I followed the sign and was quite suddenly in front of the National Museum, a place I wanted to visit. I looked around and saw I was right in the middle of things and there was a tourist center right in front of me as well.
In the tourism center I quickly read some brochures including one for a museum and adventure pass. I was really interested because this pass was only 23 Swiss Francs and seemed to cover everything. I went up to the counter and this is the first time I unintentionally fooled a Lichtensteiner. In German I asked for a pass and answered her related questions. She was training someone on how to sell the passes as she completed my transaction. Apparently in the book she had to fill out there was a line for country. I heard her tell the other woman this is where you put in the country. Then she turned to me and said, "Germany, right?" To say they were shocked when I replied, "No, USA" would be an understatement. It was rather funny, but also a really good thing that they asked me what country I came from because then I was able to get a Lichtenstein stamp (as I was writing this sentence I was thinking a German would have traveled on a ID card rather than a passport, but since they aren't in the EU I don't know if that's true).  Next I went to the National museum where I used my museums and Adventure pass to get a ticket for the National Museum and a token for the treasure chamber. There the woman asked if she could get my country and when I told her the USA she was also shocked replying that I didn't have any accent at all (not a true statement, but since I have also been mistaken for a German in Switzerland I guess they can't hear my American accent over my German one). Later in the day, I used my pass to gain entry to this little train that takes you through Valduz with recorded narration. There are three cars and each one is a different language. I heard a group of German speakers ask about getting on and being sent to the last car. Then a family got in the middle car and were asked if they spoke English. They did and were then informed that they were in the correct car (actually only the parents spoke English, but none of them spoke German). The back car was really full. The middle car had only this one family and I assume the front car was for French. Since English is my native language and it was less full I got in the middle car (although even knowing I was an American the woman at the national museum thought I should use the German audio guide because my German was so good). As I was sitting on the little train waiting for it to depart, I heard the man I had checked in with talking to the driver. Apparently they were trying to make sure everyone was in the correct car because I heard him tell the driver that I was German speaking. I told them (in German) that English is my native language - again they were surprised.
As I write this I'm actually in Germany visiting a really good friend. When I told her and her son about this they were especially confused by the no accent comment, because of course I have a (presumably rather strong) accent. We decided this must somehow be the result of the people here (and in Switzerland where I had a similar encounter) speaking a dialect whereas I speak high German.
I had a great day in Valduz, but I had wanted to see some of the other towns. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like that was all that possible so I made plans to depart at 17:59. At about 17:55 I arrived at the correct bus stop. At 17:58 a bus that was labeled 12E Sargans (the route I was looking for and the destination I needed) arrived and I got on. On the bus was a display that listed the upcoming stops and showed the final destination. It showed the Sargans train station as the last stop. A moment later I heard the driver tell someone there was some time. That struck me as odd because according to Google maps we should have been leaving right away. We sat for a while and then the woman across the aisle got up and spoke to the driver (who at this point was outside). She came back and told her son we'd leave soon. More time passed. I was growing concerned I was going to miss the train in Sargans. I asked the woman if she knew when the bus was leaving. She told me the driver had said 17:12. We both thought this was strange because it didn't match the schedule, but we went with it anyway. Sure enough we departed at 17:12. At first I really wasn't paying attention, I may have been playing Pokemon Go (I don't remember). Then I noticed that the view was far more excellent than I remembered. However, I was sitting on the same side as my trip in in order to see the view from the opposite side so I thought, "hmm..., I must have missed this on the way in. Shortly thereafter I realized we were really going up the hills and I was sure we had stayed on relatively flat ground on our way to Valduz. At this point I looked at the display screen. It no longer said 12E Sargans. Now it said 21 Malbun. Somehow the bus had changed routes! The mother and son clearly had also been surprised by this and a few minutes later they got off. The views were stunning and my first thought was to ride all the way to Malbun, but a check on Google maps convinced be that that wasn't a good idea. I already knew the last train left Sargans around 10 pm and the buses were running less and less frequently as the evening progressed. So I got off at the next stop. There was a gorgeous view, a bathroom, a picnic table, a fountain and a hundred yards away (or so) an random bench looking out at the view. There wasn't much else (there was also one random house). I had a twenty minute wait until the bus going the opposite direction came, so I filled my water bottle, took pictures and waited. I followed my directions on Google maps and got off at the stop listed to change buses, but unfortunately didn't realize I would have a 30 minute wait there (I saw that right after I got off). I was  waiting for bus 11 to Sargans. The first to bus 11s simply didn't go all the way to Sargans. Finally at 19:43 came the bus and I continued on my way. My mistake caused my journey to be nearly two hours longer, but actually I rather enjoyed it.

Unfortunately using my phone I can't move the photos around nor add captions. I'll fix this up when I can.
Lichtenstein had never had its own money - this money dates back to the 1300s. 
Add caption

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Rhine Falls and other Adventures

Wow, the adventures are currently coming fast and furiously. I left Anchorage on Thursday afternoon and arrived in Zurich Friday evening. Since we flew over the pole the trip wasn't that long, but the ten hour time difference meant I really jumped ahead. Right now for example it is a little before 9 in the morning, but back in Anchorage it is not quite 11 pm the night before.
The evening I arrived I managed to make it to my sister's place just before they started eating dinner (a feat I would manage to pull off several times in a row, without either of us planning it). After we ate we took a walk beside Lake Zurich and then I went to the home of a lovely Swiss lady that I found on AirBnB (We'll call her T). Instead of going to bed like I probably should have (I hadn't slept in a bed since Wednesday night) I spent a lovely couple of hours talking to T. I got to bed around 11, but my jet lag prevented me from becoming truly rested.
Saturday was my niece's birthday and so we had a really cool adventure to a place called Sattel Hochstukli. I will let you read about it on my sister's blog since she has already done such a great job detailing our trip.
On our return I stopped at the main train station to buy a SIM card at Swisscom (you may recall the night before the Swisscom at the airport was sold out of SIM cards). I had an interesting experience there. I asked the man at the front of the store, in German, if they sold SIM cards for my iPhone. The man answered me in Swiss German. Now I must say, I speak German really well, but I simply cannot understand Swiss German it is VERY different. I stood there looking rather blank as he was speaking. When he finished I told him in high German that I did not understand. He then repeated (presumably) himself in high German and I understood he was telling me I needed to join the line in front of the cash registers. My sister, brother-in-law and I were very curious about this and we thought that maybe the sentence I had spoken in German was simply similar enough to that sentence in Swiss German, but here is where the beauty of staying with someone from an AirBnB comes in. That evening when I got back to the house, T, her friend G and an American A were sitting out on the Terrace and invited me to join them. While I was there I asked G about this experience and he told me that that was actually a compliment to my German. G told me that there were a lot of Germans living and working in Zurich and many of them had learned Swiss German. The next night I heard two women talking as they were walking down the path next to the Lake (we went back to the lake on Sunday). One woman I could fully understand. The other woman I could not understand. I believe one was speaking German (I know she was) and the other was speaking in Swiss German all at the same time. I imagine that this was the expected outcome at the Swisscom store.
On Sunday we went to visit the Rhine Falls. The Rhine Falls are the largest waterfalls in Europe measure on volume of water flowing over the falls. We had a fantastic time. The Rhine Falls are located at Schloss Laufen and we took a couple of trains to get there. Unfortunately, we were going to take the tram that stops right around the corner from my sister's house (and just down the street from where I am staying), but we were running a little late. My brother-in-Law looked at his watch and said we have 10 minutes until our train departs (the trains were only running once an hour) and so we started walking. But we had a 2 year-old (in a backpack), a 5 year-old (as of the day before) and a 7 year-old (practically 8) . Not exactly a group built for rushing down the street. Thus we took turns carrying Allison (the 5 year old) and it was crazy! As we reached the station the train was pulling in, but we needed the next platform over so we rushed down the escalator and then ran up the next. I think the hardest thing I've ever done was run up that second escalator while carrying a 5 year old (after carrying her most of the way to the train station), but we made it!
The white behind me is water rushing over the falls and spraying back up! 
At the Rhine Falls we walked along the trails and had really good views of the powerful falls (you could hear them and how powerful they are before you could see them). Then we decided to take the Kleine Rundfahrt (small tour) boat. To do this we had to take a boat first across the water to the other side and then catch our boat from there. The kids were hungry (it was passed noon by this point) and they had a vending machine that popped popcorn as you stood there. You had to have exact change (not actually true, but the machine didn't give change) and between Joel and myself we were able to come up with the correct amount (3 Swiss Francs). Joel went to get the popcorn while Rebecca, the kids and I stood in line (the very front of it actually) to wait for the next boat. Joel got to the front of the popcorn line as the boat arrived. I told him to go ahead and get the popcorn because I felt there was enough time (I had watched the loading while we were in line to buy the boat tickets) and then I told Rebecca and the kids to go ahead and get on the boat. Man did we all get nervous as time kept ticking past and Joel was waiting for the popcorn to pop. The good news is Joel made it on the boat.
When we got across the river there was a boat just about to depart, but it was full. The driver told us that we would be on the next boat. Rebecca had me ask how long that would be and he told me about 15 minutes. Next thing I know, he's asking me how many people we have and then making people on the boat slide closer together! Not sure that was the best way to have people appreciate you, but we appreciated not having to wait. The boat ride was a blast! We rode right up to the falls twice (once on each side) and got sprayed with water from the falls. I was holding Lauren on my lap and she squealed with delight. It was an absolute blast and something I definitely recommend if someone is out this way.

You could take a boat out to the rock in the middle and climb up it, but the crowds were so great that I think it was better to take the boat we did and not bother with trying to climb the wet, slippery rock in a crowd of people.

The view from the boat
On the boat

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Adventures in Overseas Traveling

Some trips Have more surprised than others. While the surprises make them worthy of a good story, I prefer the less adventurous trips. Alas, on my last trip uneventfulness was not on the itinerary. For you my dear reader this means an interesting tale to tell..,
On Thursday I was supposed to fly out of Anchorage at 3:25 pm. My paperwork from Condor said I had to check in at the airport 3 hours early (I tried checking in online, but online check-in was not available for flights to or from the U.S.). I really wanted to going swimming and couldn't imagine that I really needed to be at the Anchorage airport THAT early so I arranged for my uncle to pick me up at 1. After waiting in line I checked and then was told two "interesting" pieces of information. 1) The plane was delayed until 5 pm and 2) we were departing out of the north terminal. Now in Anchorage there are two terminals -the north and the south. Generally speaking the north terminal is only used for arriving international flights so there's not much there. As far as the wait, I just went back to Grandma's house. I was however concerned about missing my connection. I asked at the desk and was told when I landed in Frankfurt if I had missed my flight see a Condor agent.
We ended up getting in 2.5 hours late and this is where the adventure began. We exited the plane directly onto the Tarmac and then took a bus to the terminal. We were let off in a seemingly random location with nothing more than a door. There were no Condor agents or even anyone else to ask. I found a departures board and found another flight going to Zurich so I headed in that direction. I reached a place where they were checking boarding passes. Since I didn't have a valid boarding pass, I asked one of the agents what to do. She told me to go to the Lufthansa desk by gate A13. However, I had to go through security first. My backpack got pulled aside to be checked. The man asked me to open my bag (he was speaking English to me) and told me he was checking for explosives. I didn't think anything of that because that's a pretty standard procedure, but after a moment things changed. As I was watching I saw the words "Substanz dektiert" (I may have spelled that wrong) pop up on the machine display. Now I was worried. At first the man didn't say anything to me and I wondered what was going on. He did some things and took off his gloves and then he called someone. After calling someone he told me something had been detected and I replied in German, "yes, I read that." Next thing I knew I was being greeted by a man in a military uniform with a big gun strapped across his chest. In German he told me he was a security personnel and then asked if I spoke German. I replied that I did and he went on to tell me that an explosive material had been detected, but the machine was very sensitive. I don't remember the full order of the conversation because 1) it was in German and I'm writing in English (I find my memories-word wise- are stored by language and really difficult to access in a language other than the one they were made in) and 2) my stress levels at this time were, understandably, quite high. When he asked for my ID I took at my passport and looking back I chuckle at his reaction (I didn't at the time after all I didn't know what was going to happen to me). When he saw my American passport he was visibly shocked, but continued to speak to me in German. They went through my bag, made me turn on my iPad and swipe off of the lock screen, opened my Kindle case, but didn't actually turn that one on (I wonder with the display always on the screen if they thought it was on or if because there's no lock function on that that it was turned on and I just missed it). They also went through everything else in my bag including my extra underwear (I ALWAYS put extra in my carry on, you never know when your bag isn't going to make it). Then came another question that concerned me. They asked for my boarding pass (we'd already established some time before I showed him my passport that I had flown from Alaska and was going to Switzerland-actually that might have contributed to his surprise. He might have chalked my accent up to being Swiss). I took out my boarding pass, but explained that I was on my way to gate A13 to get another one because I had missed my connecting flight. Man let me tell you I was relieved as the man with the gun simply showed me empathy telling me that sucks. The other one said he'd still have to scan it. The security guy left, the original guy scanned my boarding pass and on I continued.
As I kept following the signs I ended up in the middle of a group of Chinese people and in an immigration line. Right as I got to the line, the poor guard at the front was struggling because many of the Chinese people were trying to go to the line for European citizens - and they didn't understand English (or German - he tried once in German and then repeatedly in English). I decided to help him out. I told several of the people (in Chinese) that that line was only for Europeans. They passed the word on and the rest of the Chinese people got in the correct line.
After this I found the customer service center got a number and sat down to wait. As I was waiting I decided I was going to speak to the agent in English. However, events conspired against me. When my number was called this woman went up to my assigned counter. She was speaking German and so I used German to tell her, "Excuse  me, I have number 3515." She saw she had 16, apologized and stepped away. If course after this the agent spoke to me in German. At first it looked like everything was going to be simple. She told me I had already been booked on the next flight at 4:25. I asked for the arrival time and told her great, I could let my sister know. I start messaging my sister while she's working. She tells me to wait just a moment and she'll print out my boarding pass for me.  Then, All of the sudden though I can see she has a problem. She tells me she has to make a quick phone call. As she's speaking on the phone I hear her tell the person on the other end several times that I am standing  right in front of her at gate A13. When she gets off the phone she writes a flight number and gate number on my ticket and tells me to hurry to gate A30 they are waiting for me. I look at my watch and see that it's almost 4. A30 is a long way and I hurry there. I get there just before boarding begins and walk up to the gate agent. I tell her that I am Kristin Cannon. She gives me an already printed boarding pass and tells me she's made a call about my luggage, but isn't sure it'll make it to Zurich. When I get there I should file a missing baggage claim and they'll deliver it to whatever address I would like. I think what happened is it took me so long to get through security and immigration that they declared me as not on the flight and removed my luggage. The good news is when I got to Zurich my suitcase was there and there were no more surprises (except The Swisscom store at the airport was sold out of SIM cards). I arrived at my sister's place just in time for dinner.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Becoming an elite traveler

On Monday I completed the steps to receive Global Entry for the next five years. After I returned from my interview my grandmother told me that I had entered the ranks of being an elite traveler and thus why I named this blog post what I did.
When I originally started this blog I was writing about teaching in a village in the arctic. I posted about daily life and also things about packing because I knew that one of the things I had done was read as many blogs about this as I could as I was deciding to go. Now I read blogs on a lot of topics related to living abroad and so I am writing today's post because one of the things I couldn't find much about was the global entry program.
The global entry program is for people who enter the United States frequently and allows them to bypass the lines and go to a special kiosk to do their processing. One of the things I learned in my interview was that when I enter using global entry I do not have to fill out the card on the plane. There are four questions I will answer on the kiosk and then it will print out everything I need. The fee for applying is $100 regardless of whether your application is approved and before I spent $100 applying I wanted to know that it was worth it. So I spoke to my brother-in-law and also a student (this one actually came about because I was asking a co-worker and he was nearby), both of whom have global entry. It seemed worth it, especially because for that same 5 year period I also get TSA precheck. Thus, I applied.
The whole process was really quite simple. The first step was an online application that you could save and come back to finish as you had time. The only difficulty here was as a teacher my contracts have expired usually in May (my most recent one was in June) and my new contracts (when I switched jobs) didn't start until August. The system would not allow you to leave any type of gap and so for each of those, I had to put down unemployed (really irking because I wasn't REALLY unemployed). The other catch was similar with addresses. I left each of the schools in the bush in May but didn't move to the new location until August. This meant that I did not have an address for June and July of those years. Thankfully, I had mostly stayed with my grandmother and I put her address down. It probably wasn't a big deal, but I was concerned about my application being rejected if I wasn't completely and utterly honest, but at the same time some of my situations are shall we say, unique.
I'm not completely sure how long it took, but I think about a week later I received notification that my application had been conditionally accepted. Now I needed to schedule an interview to finish the process. Unfortunately, there was nothing available in Los Angeles until after I departed for Anchorage. I had wanted to have the process finished before I left for Anchorage so that I would have TSA pre-check. There were openings as early as the next day for Anchorage and so I scheduled my interview for a day when I would be in Anchorage and I thought it would be convenient.
 My interview was scheduled for this past Monday at 10:30 am. On Sunday evening I was reading over the list of what to bring and I got rather concerned. I was supposed to bring proof of address. I had filled out my address correctly, but I had moved since then. Therefore, I put together a collection of documents to demonstrate my residency at both locations. I even added a bank address change notification to the pile. All because I was concerned they would reject my application.
The next morning I woke up hours early and tried googling this process and found very little information.
Thus, I left early, quite nervous. There was no need to be nervous.
I arrived at the office about 20 minutes early. I checked in and was directed to wait. I waited 5-10 minutes and then was called back into an office. She asked for my notification letter if I had it. She said if I hadn't printed it, it would be okay, my passport and my driver's license. I gave her all three documents and then I told her that I wasn't sure what to do because my address had changed from when I filled out the application and I wasn't sure what needed to be done about that. She told me it was no problem. It did cause here a little bit of trouble in some extra steps to change my address, but otherwise no issue. She asked me some pretty standard questions about any convictions, and other mundane questions (sorry I don't remember). Then she took my fingerprints using a small fingerprint scanner connected to her computer. The fingerprints were easier than most I've had because I only had to do four fingers of 1 hand together, then four fingers of the other hand and finally my two thumbs together. Next, my fingerprints were sent to the FBI somewhere on the east coast (my how technology has changed things) for approval while she explained how the program worked. I was approved a few minutes later and finished. I will receive in the mail a card to use if I cross into the U.S. on foot (not very likely people don't usually cross the Alaska/Canada border on foot and I don't see myself crossing the border from Mexico, but you never know..) and when I renew my passport, since it will expire before my global entry does, I will have to go to a processing center and have them scan my new passport. I won't need an appointment and it should only take about a minute. I received a number to use as a known traveler number for getting TSA pre-check and I was finished. My worry, concern and inability to sleep had all been for naught.
My rather tired passport. It will be getting quite a workout soon!