Riding the Bus in So. Cal

Part Three of What I Will Miss was Trains! Trams! IMG_6443Now I am home, I am missing the trains and trams. It is well known that Californians have an everlasting love affair with their vehicles. It is not easy to get many places on the Metrolink light rail or by bus, but on Saturday we actually did take the bus.

After buying discount tickets to the LA County Fair for $12, we found out that parking costs $15. A little internet research steered us away from the Metrolink ($10 per person for a weekend day pass), but it turns out that the bus is ONLY $1.25 one way! Less than a cup of coffee, glampers. And it is only 50 cents for senior citizens. Exact change only, please.

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I knew there was a bus stop across from the Claremont train station, and without transferring, the number 197 takes riders right to Gate 1 of the Pomona Fairplex. On the weekends the bus runs once every hour, but on weekdays it comes by every half hour.

We were not exactly sure where to disembark, but the bus driver was quite helpful, as well as a few of our fellow riders.

I would definitely consider taking the bus again.

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Repatriation Begins

Here is what repatriation on Day OneIMG_7273 looked like. One the one hand, it all seemed so natural to us. Claremont has been our home for 29 years, and it was so easy to come back and jump right in. I thought it would be more startling.

And yet, we got to look at our life here through new lenses. I felt myself saying “That’s not very Swiss” or “That would never happen in Switzerland.”

For example, I noticed right away how casual (read sloppy) most Americans dress to go out into public. This seems to mirror the casual (though not sloppy) attitude of public interactions. It took me no time to turn into my chatty self with the people at the check-out who I don’t know. The Swiss would say that Americans are very shallow and “fake nice” with strangers, but I don’t think that’s quite right. As one of those Americans, I feel as though I am having a connection with another person, and it doesn’t matter that I may never see them again. I rarely had a casual interaction in Switzerland with a complete stranger.

IMG_6374The first thing on our agenda was to pick up our new car (all ready to go!) in order to run errands. We could absolutely not do this in California without a car, but we never really needed a car in Switzerland.

We went out to lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant where the waiter wondered why he hadn’t seen us in awhile. He welcomed us back with a handshake and a big smile. Neither of these would happen in Switzerland, especially two full meals for $13. (The cheese enchiladas in green sauce tasted, oh, so delicious!) We also noticed that people were not sitting for a long time to enjoy their meals, and the tables turned over quickly, an American thing.

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Target beckoned. We had quite a list for items here that we didn’t need when living in a small Swiss apartment. We were reminded that owning a house requires more effort and capital than renting. The vast majority of Swiss live in rental flats.

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We would never see a shopping cart this big in Switzerland! (We probably could not carry that amount of stuff in our arms after leaving the store.) Nor would we have had free food samples. However, we never stood in lines as long as at a Costco on a Saturday in Zürich.

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So, my philosophy of enjoying where you live and appreciating life in other cultures is helping me adjust to changing countries.

Swiss License Plates

License PlatesAlthough we still have three cantons left to visit, I have found license plates from all 26 to photograph. The last one – Appenzell Ausserrhoden – took me longer than I thought it would because I was looking for AA (or maybe AO), but when I looked up the abbreviations, I discovered that I should be looking for AR. For awhile I thought that maybe no one in Appenzell Ausserhoden drove a car.

Each plate has a two-letter abbreviation of the canton as well as a shield of the Swiss flag and the cantonal flag.

One interesting fact about licensing cars in Switzerland is that if you have two cars, and you only drive one at a time, you can buy insurance and plates for the more expensive of the two cars and switch the plates back and forth (apparently this is quite easy) between the cars as needed. You just need to remember to do so!

What I Will Miss, Part Three: Trains! Trams!

IMG_5622Every time we climb on a train at the HB (usually with a cup of coffee in hand), I sit down with a happy feeling. It means we are off to an adventure somewhere. I love listening to the SBB announcement, especially if we are on an IC train (the faster ones). The nice lady welcomes us, wishes us a pleasant journey before inviting us to treat ourselves to a culinary break in the SBB restaurant in the middle of the train.

Here is a very short youtube video of this voice that will always take me to a happy place.

Sometimes I bring along a book to read while we peacefully glide through the countryside, but often I want to look out the window, so I put on my earbuds and listen to some NPR podcasts so I can appreciate the views.

IMG_5316The trams might seem confusing at times in Zürich since there are so many lines going so many places, but I have ridden them enough that I even know what part of the tram I should sit/stand in so that when I reach my destination I have a smoother exit. For example, if we are coming home on the 5 or 6, we ride up near the driver so that when we get off the tram, we can walk directly in front of the driver to cross the street while the doors close and we don’t make the driver wait for us, and we don’t have to wait for the tram to leave before we head up the street.

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I also know, if there is an accident, how to figure out an alternative route. I can give advice to people on the street when asked. I know three different permutations on how to get to orchestra, and I know that after a certain time the 6 tram shortens its route.

If only LA could have this kind of infrastructure.

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What I look forward to: Yes, driving a car is still fun, too!

Buying a Car in the US When You Are Still in Switzerland

Ah, to be car free for nearly an entireScreen Shot 2015-06-15 at 2.24.12 PM year! It’s been sublime, and I will blog tomorrow about how much I will miss the trains and trams here.

But all good things come to an end, and we must think about how we will get around Southern California since trains and trams and busses just won’t do for everyday travel.

Before we even came to Zürich, H had thought a lot about what kind of vehicle to get. We are the odd sort of folk who buy a fairly new car with low miles and drive it into the ground, or for over 10 years. We have not bought a car since 2001, so we are not overly experienced at the buying end of things.

Our list of desires? First, and most important, we want fuel-efficiency. Then I want a car that doesn’t sit too close to the ground so I can get in and out easily. We want a hatchback so we can occasionally bring home something large from Lowe’s. No black/dark interior for those hot So Cal days. Those were the priorities. The frivolousness that we imagined was having a red car.

For the past several weeks H has been working with a dealer in California via phone and texts, filling out forms online, waiting for forms to come via DHL. He’s been dealing with the insurance agent (who doesn’t work on Sundays, although the car salesman does – so we know he’s not in Switzerland!). It all seems to be coming together, with some great help from daughter, C, who took a check over to the dealership and will then drive the car to our house where it will wait patiently for our return.

The beauty of this plan lies in the fact that our first days and weeks back home will not be filled with car shopping, and we can hit the ground running (or really, driving).

We have opted to get a Ford CMax Energi Plug-in Hybrid. We’ve never bought a new car before, but we didn’t want to buy a used one without test driving it, and there are tax advantages to buying a new plug-in, as well as the warranty advantage.

And yes! It’s Red!

CH Car Stickers

2114_switzerland_ch_oval_euro_sticker_decalFile this one under my growing collection of “No One is Quite Sure, But There Are Many Opinions About It.”

It seems that whenever I have a question about something here, I ask my friends and they aren’t sure of the answer, and neither are the people on the English Forum. Like my questions about the EU Flag in Switzerland, whether the free ZVV Day included the Z-Pass zones, or just exactly how to recycle.

Bumper stickers on cars here are virtually non-existent.

Then there are the oval CH stickers on some cars (CH stands for the Confoederatio Helvetica, Switzerland’s official name). I’ve seen these kinds of stickers on cars in the US from countries all over the world, but I wasn’t sure what they were for.

IMG_5789Apparently they were originally used as a way for authorities to easily distinguish the country of the car’s registration in Europe. Now the EU plates are standardized with a designation for the country code (and Switzerland has its flag on all its plates), the need is reduced. I have heard that these stickers are no longer mandatory, although stories on the English Forum would suggest that you might be turned away at a border if your car does not have one.

I’ve heard that you can buy a magnetic one for your car, so maybe I’ll get one as a souvenir.

Trains and Automobiles

In over eight months since we’ve been here, we have gotten used to the freedom of not owning a car. This is easy to do since the Swiss transportation system is fabulous. You can get to the remotest parts of the country on trains, trams, busses, gondolas, funiculars, boats and also by hiking and biking. We have gotten used to not having to pay for repairs, gas, insurance and parking. Oh, yes, I think there is a yearly sticker you have to buy if you want to drive on the Swiss Autobahn. We had an advert in the post box yesterday offering a parking place for 230 CHF / month. I don’t even want to think about the cost of insuring a car. And I especially don’t want to think about driving one in Zürich. I’ve read too many stories about tickets, and the streets bewilder me. Then, to find a parking place in the city would probably have me swearing. We have not been in a traffic jam this year, either.

This past weekend, though, we enjoyed the freedom of driving a car for the first time in over eight months! (Although we first took the train to Basel and then into Lörrach, Germany.) Once across the border, we rented a Skoda Octavia (a diesel car made in the Czech Republic). No need to wait for a train, or a bus, or a tram. We drove through lovely roads in the Schwarzwald (Germany’s Black Forest) and saw scenery we would have missed from the train. With all that space, we could just throw our stuff into the back seat or the very back of the car and not have to keep it so tidy all the time. H drove the Autobahn and lived to tell the tale.

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