Price shock in Switzerland … and a tale of two ATMs

You may remember our amazement at the prices of nearly everything in Copenhagen … the Burger King lunch for two for $21 stands out in my mind. We knew Switzerland would be expensive, and that’s why a week’s pet-sit was such a good opportunity.

The 3-km cab ride from the station to Sixt car rental was a quick introduction, as it cost $37 — $8 to start, $5/km, $1.33/minute, and $5 extra to bring our 3 suitcases, even though the driver was older than me and I had to load them into his cab myself.

Food in the grocery store is about 2 – 3 times US prices for most things.  Cereal is $7 a box, ground beef is $10 a pound, a croissant that might be €1 in Paris or Rome is 1.70 here. A lemon was $0.70. Frozen vegetables are all about $6.50 for 800g, about 28 ounces. Although a liter of milk is 1.60, if you add chocolate and sugar and air and make a liter of ice cream that weighs 500g, it’s 10.60 (on sale last week for only 7.40!). This is Carte d’Or, who make a dark chocolate that is Linda’s favorite. But still! Gas is 1.70 a liter ($6.43 a gallon), not quite the highest we’ve seen in Europe. The shocking thing was transportation — we’re 19km from Zurich and a 1-way tram ride is 10.60; an all-day ticket twice that at 21.80. Even in London, where we stayed about the same distance from the center, transit was capped at £8.00 — about $10.40 per day, so about half the Zurich rate.

The Swiss Franc is just about on par with the dollar now, costing about $1.01 from an ATM. Everyone seems OK with these prices, so I looked up Swiss salaries and discovered that the median is about $72,000. There’s less range … a lot of professional types (IT, etc) make around $110,000, but even grocery clerks clear $50,000. There isn’t a formal minimum wage, but effectively it’s about $25/hour, and everyone gets healthcare.

All this would make sense to me if a Swiss Franc cost US $0.50, but as it is, it makes Switzerland and Swiss products really expensive, and must make traveling worldwide a great deal for the Swiss! The roads are great, the trains are spotless, and the cows look happy. They actually wear those bells you see in drawings.

Anyway, yesterday we were in Zurich, and as those francs had been flying out of my wallet, I went to get some more.  At the Paradeplatz, the center of shopping Zurich, there’s an immense Credit Suisse bank.  In front, there are two ATMs, and as someone was using the one on the left, I approached the one on the right.  It informed me it only dispensed 100- and 500-franc notes, and if I wanted smaller, I should use the other ATM. Well, harumph! The money is really pretty, though:

Image result for swiss banknotes

and the 5-franc coin is huge, as it should be.

Saturday, we’ll return the Mercedes A180 that Sixt gave us “because we’re out of everything else,”  and take trains back to Milan and then to Civitavecchia, and our rendezvous with Celebrity Reflection on Monday.  We’re feeling a little better.

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Time for a break

We’re in the heading-for-home phase of this year’s travels, and we have a lot to tell you about. But sometimes things don’t work as planned. So we have to leave you with this stub, or outline, and we’ll finish later, as Brian Williams says, “on the other side.”

We flew from Birmingham to Milan on October 6, and took the train to Varenna on Lake Como. We had two and a half days of great weather, and explored the lake by boat, before returning to Milan.

There we visited the Monumental Cemetery. You know Linda is such a fan of these, and this was the best one we’ve ever seen. She now has hundreds of pictures to sort through, in spite of the zanzare (mosquitoes) that inhabit the place. The next day it was raining, but we went to visit the Duomo anyway. For some reason, the lines were worse than they had been the (sunny) day before._DSC0003

But that night, we received news that out dog Mac had been killed by a coyote. Linda is seriously depressed.  This has really ruined the mood of the adventure, and it’ll take a little time before we’re up to the work of selecting and cleaning photos, and writing interesting and witty commentary.

On October 13, we took the train up to Zurich where we’re sitting Lilly the labrador for a week. This Saturday, the 20th, we’ll take the train again (it was a beautiful trip) back to Milan for the night, and then Sunday it’s six hours back to Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. Monday we’ll depart on Celebrity Reflection, stopping at Barcelona, Cartagena, Malaga (all of which we’ve visited before) and Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, which is a new port for us, and arriving in Fort Lauderdale on November 5. We fly home the same afternoon.

We’ll update you as soon as we can.

In the meantime, are you registered to vote?

Baddesley Clinton, Packwood House and Shakespeare’s Schoolroom

We have had a great time here in Stratford upon Avon.  We went to a couple of National Trust homes that are open near by.  The first one is called Baddesley Clinton.  This a moated manor house from the 13th century.  It was the home of the Ferrers who were Roman Catholic when the Reformation was overtaking England.  They hid priests from the authorities and had several “priest holes” built into the house.  A priest hole was a hiding place for Catholic priests if the house was raided.  It is a lovely home and so interesting to visit.Baddesley Clinton house net

 

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In the 19th century, when they could practice their religion privately, they built a small chapel to hear Mass.Baddesley Clinton chapel netWe also went to Packwood House.  This was a Tudor home that was restored to its Tudor interior by Graham Baron Ash in the 1920s.  Packwood house gardens net

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A sun dial at Packwood House

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One of the best things about returning to Stratford was seeing some people that we got to know last year.  These two ladies work at the Shakespeare Hospice bookstore.  Last year they helped me find some old books that we falling apart for me to use in my mixed media art.  They helped me again this year, thank you ladies.Shakespeare hospice charity net

I also got to tour Shakespeare’s school house.  I did not get to do that last year so I was very happy to visit this 15th century building that was Shakespeare’s school for 7 years of his life.  They do an excellent job of bring you into the experience that Shakespeare might have lived,  Here is a photo of the school master at his big desk.Shakespeare school teacher net

So we will bid Stratford adieu tomorrow and say goodbye to sweet Enzo.

We are pet sitting again in Stratford upon Avon

We are pet sitting here in Stratford with Enzo the border terrier.  We sat for Enzo last year and were happy to be asked to take care of him again this summer.

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David and Enzo

This is the home town of Shakespeare (1564 -1616)  and it is a quaint and walkable town.  It is amazing how many of the places in Shakespeare’s birthplace are still preserved and open to the public.  I did a lot of visiting of Shakespeare’s places last year, so this year I am exploring the city and the historical places that are around this city.

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Shakespeare’s childhood home

The entire town resolves around Shakespeare’s life and work.  shakespeare school sign net

 

There are lots of Tudor homes that are still intact and they are very interesting to see in town.

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The Stratford library

It is also the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  We will be going to a play early next week.rsc building net

We walked Enzo the dog along the River Avon today.  It is so beautiful here.

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The River Avon

There are so many lovely swans floating in the river.  swan drip vertical net As we were walking home and we passed Shakespeare’s church; he is buried inside.

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Holy Trinity Church

I really find it amazing to walk the streets where Shakespeare grew up, married, had children and was buried.

We left Wales and now are in Stratford upon Avon

We said good bye to  sweet Nell and hello to Mr. Enzo.  We stopped in Laughane which was Dylan Thomas’ final home called the boathouse.  He lived there the last four years of his life and wrote some of his best work in this ideal setting.  He died at the age of 39 in New York.

 

 

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View from the boathouse 

Here is a photograph of Dylan Thomas’ writing shed where he did most of his writing.Dylan Thomas writing shed net

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Dylan Thomas’ grave in Laughane

His house is down the shore from the remains of the Laughane castle.

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Laughane castle

These are a set of houses that are around the castle.laughane houses netHere is a photograph of David watching the Taf estuary and waiting for me to finish taking photographs.David at the Taf estuary net

I will post some new photographs from Stratford upon Avon.

Haverfordwest Wales; life in the country

We are here at the southwestern tip of Wales, in Druidston near Haverfordwest out on a small farm and taking care of sweet Nell, the border collie.  We do not have sheep for her to herd so she must make do with us.Nell full netShe loves walks in the fields but really loves to chase the ball.  Here she is catching the ball.Nell catches the ball netWe have been in the city for all of the sits this year, so coming out to the country is an entirely different feeling.  We can see the sea from our bedroom. Those tiny dots on the hill are cows.ViewFromOurWindowThis was a clear and sunny day, but most of the days have been overcast, windy and rainy, which is fun for us since California hardly ever gets rain.  Yesterday, we went to two small beaches near us,  Little Haven and Broad Haven. (“Haven” comes from the Norse havn meaning harbor.) The wind was almost 40 miles per hour, which made the waves very large and strong.  I was up on a promontory over the ocean and I nearly blew away taking this photo.little haven splash slow closer netIn the harbor it was a different story.  The waves were small because they were protected by the high cliffs.

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Little Haven harbor

Here is a photo of me being blown away.linda little haven closerWe then drove over the hill from Little Haven to Broad Haven beach, which is a very long and sandy beach .

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Broad Haven beach

We also went one evening to Druidston beach, which is by where we are staying.  After walking down a very steep dirt lane we were able to watch the sun set over the beautiful and almost empty beach.  You get a feeling of being alone with nature here.

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Druidston Beach

Here is one of my favorite  photographs of David walking on the beach.druidston beach david netOne day we drove through the tiny lanes they call streets to Pembroke castle.  This is a 13th century castle that has been restored so that you can climb the stairs in the various towers and read about what life was like in the Middle Ages.

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Pembroke Castle

They have set up a tableau of what dinner in the castle would have looked like in the 13th century.Pembroke castle ddinner tableau netAnd they have free castle tours around four times a day.  We went on the tour and learned a lot about the history of who lived in this famous castle and what they did.

We mostly have been hanging out and enjoying the country and the beach.  Reading, playing with Nell, working on photographs, doing art in my journal and doing laundry. It is so beautiful and peaceful here.Wales country side net

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Our next stop is a return to Stratford-upon-Avon to take care of Enzo the border terrier.  We took care of him last year, and I am looking forward to seeing him and Anne and Steve again.

Dylan Thomas’ birthplace in Swansea, Wales

We were spending the night in Swansea, Wales before going to our next sit in south west Wales.  Sometimes you discover something that you did not know on a trip like this.  In the restaurant where we were eating dinner, I saw a wall painting of Dylan Thomas , my favorite poet after Shakespeare.  It  said that he was born and lived his first 23 years in a house in Swansea.Dylan Thomas gate net

Thomas was an amazing wordsmith.  The way he put words together to make new and startling images was like painting with words.   Here is the beginning of the poem Fern Hill;

“Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,”

You can see the joyful child rushing through the high green grass at his aunt’s farm.

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Dylan Thomas 

It was kind of hard to find the house since there were only small signs.  I am surprised that the council in Swansea has not publicized that it is Dylan’s birthplace.

We were greeted at the door by Geoff Haden, the owner of the house and a Thomas admirer.  He took time with us to talk about Dylan’s life here in this middle class Edwardian house.  Geoff encouraged us to take our time looking at the house and even said we could open the cupboards and drawers.

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Geoff Haden

Dylan was born in the front bedroom of his parent’s house on October 27th 1914. Dylan Thomas birth bedroom net

The house has been lovingly restored to as close to the original as possible.  Geoff told us that they found a woman who had been a maid in the house when she was 15 and Dylan was 16.  She remembered how the house looked.

Here is a photograph of the desk in his tiny bedroom.  It was here in this untidy bedroom that was full of books, sweets and cigarettes that Dylan wrote such amazing poems and stories.Dylan Thomas desk net

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There is even his twin bed that was next to the house hot water boiler.Dylan Thomas bed netIt was a thrill to see where Dylan wrote his masterpieces and to feel his spirit in the house.  Dylan’s life was short.  He died in New York on November 9, 1953 after drinking all night in a pub after one of his poetry readings.  He had been ill with pneumonia and went into a coma in the hospital and never came out of it before he died.

His most famous poem is “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”  that he wrote for his father when his father died in 1952 just one year before his own death.  It is sad that Dylan did not get to follow his advice to his father about death.

“And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas portrait netIf you are ever in southwestern Wales , try to get by the house in Swansea.  The home is also available for private hire.  The do weddings, conferences, private parties and book launches.  It is located at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea.  I am sure Geoff will welcome you warmly.