Archive | March, 2014

Lausanne, home of the IOC and a lot of stairs

20 Mar

Since we knocked out the auto show the day we arrived in Geneva, we had a free day on Thursday, so we took a day trip to Lausanne. It was only a 40-minute train ride from Geneva along the lake. Lausanne is home to the International Olympic Committee, so the first thing we did was head to the newly renovated Olympic Museum.

le musee olympique

In recent years I’ve become an Olympics nerd, so I enjoyed learning about the history of the games. Back in the day you could win a sweet trophy bowl thingy instead of a medal.

olympic trophy

Making use of my prime lens!

olympic museum wall

All the Olympic torches:

olympic torches

I love all the Olympic mascots! (Except London’s one-eyed monster. Why?!!)

olympic mascots

One of the famous drums from Beijing’s opening ceremonies

beijing olympics drum

A 1920 Swiss two-man bobsled

bobsled 1920

Kerry Shrug’s leotard signed by the 1996 women’s US gymnastics team. Watching those girls made me fall in love with the Olympics, gymnastics in particular. I sadly gave up my hopes of making the US team when I still couldn’t do a back handspring without a spotter after two years of lessons.

kerry shrug leo

Fun fact: from 1900 to 1920 Olympic tug of war was a thing. (And apparently the US, Great Britain and Sweden dominated. Obviously.)

olympic tug of war

We ate lunch at the museum’s cafe, which had cute names for everything. The British women sitting near us were amused that there is no French translation for “fish and chips.”

olympic cafe menu

After lunch we decided to walk to the cathedral on the hill to take in the view. We passed a lot of pretty buildings.

lausanne building

And some interesting graffiti

lausanne graffiti

We saw these kids across from the church — good way to keep them all together!

lausanne kids

We decided to climb the church’s bell tower to get an even better view. So. many. windy. stairs! (I just realized “windy” stairs and “windy” city are spelled the same. I assure you the stairs followed a twisting course and were not breezy.) Across Lake Geneva is the city of Evian, France, where the bottled water comes from. You can just barely make out the mountains in the distance. If you remember from my last visit to Switzerland, I enjoy seeing snow-capped mountains very much.

evian mountains

We then walked down more stairs to visit the old town, where this lady and her dog unintentionally became the focal point of my photo.

lausanne old town

We saw this black cat just hanging out outside the library, like he was waiting for it to open.

lausanne black cat

I had some fun editing it.

lausanne black and white

Although I wish it would have been a clearer day to see more mountains, we enjoyed our time in Lausanne. I think I burned off my “for long-distance races” risotto climbing the bell tower alone.

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Swiss holiday part deux: Geneva cars and Lausanne stairs

19 Mar

I came home on Friday and immediately put on my new compression socks. I’m still not entirely sure they do anything, but the placebo effect of soothing my sore calves seems to work enough.  This is my Fitbit data from Thursday, the day before, and you can clearly see the reason my calves were killing me:

fitbit 77 floors

77 flights of stairs. No, I did not climb a sky scraper. We went to Lausanne, Switzerland, a city built on hills and stairs, to which we added a visit to the cathedral tower, accessible only by an incredibly narrow spiraling staircase.

lausanne stairs

Stairs on the way to the cathedral in Lausanne

My legs were shaking by the time we got back on the train to Geneva.

Even though my last getaway resulted in a bus fire that I’m finally just now getting over, I was feeling the travel bug again, so when Stephen suggested we visit the Geneva Auto Show again, I was excited for another Swiss holiday. It’s always nice to go somewhere that makes London seem pleasantly affordable. Switzerland also always makes me feel like a monolingual moron — the ability of majority of its citizens to flawlessly switch from French to German to English never ceases to amaze me. I guess if I grew up in a country with FIVE official languages I’d be polylingual as well. Although I will say there’s no greater triumph as an American tourist than to have a native approach you and start conversing in a foreign tongue as if you live there and can give them directions. Of course the jig is immediately up when their French is met with wide eyes and an “Um… sorry, I don’t…” But still, it feels good for a second before it becomes incredibly awkward.

We arrived in the late morning on Wednesday last week and decided to immediately check out the cars, cars, cars. So many cars. It’s hard to capture the sheer size of the Geneva Palexpo, but it’s BIG. According to the show’s press release, there were 250 exhibitors and over 900 cars.

Geneva Auto show

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Fun times dealing with Sky… again

10 Mar

(Disclaimer: I need to vent, so this might not be the most fun read, unless you also hate dealing with cable companies and can relate.)

Ever since we moved into this flat we’ve been having off and on problems with our HD channels. In January it got to a point where some channels, like BBC 2 HD, just flat out wouldn’t work. It was a major first world problem.

first world problem hd

So I eventually broke down and called Sky, our cable company. I can think of few things more dreadful then calling the cable company. I explained to the man what my problem was and he walked me through steps he thought might fix it, including the always helpful “turn the box off and then turn it back on.” I told him we tried that many times, but he wasn’t having it. He had to follow all the steps in his protocol. After a good half hour I asked if he could just send someone out to look at it. He scheduled the appointment for early February.

The day of the appointment came, the Sky engineer arrived, pushed some buttons on our box, plugged something into our wall, then said, “Sorry, can’t help you.” He was here five minutes, max. I had to contact the porter who contacted the guy who wired our flat, and he adjusted something behind the face plate, and now we can watch Jeremy Clarkson in HD. But Sky was absolutely no help.

Which is why I was shocked when I looked at my bill for February and saw they charged us £65 for the engineer appointment. That’s over $100 US dollars! For a guy who came out for five minutes and didn’t fix anything.

I reluctantly picked up the phone, dreading the inevitable want-to-bash-your-head-on-the-wall conversation with the cable company, but was told all the operators were assisting other customers and it would be quite a long wait. So I hung up and tried the next best option: live online chat.

“This might even be better!” I thought. “I’m much better at writing than talking! I’ll get my money refunded in no time!”

Flash forward 90 minutes. 90 MINUTES. An hour and a half. That’s how long it took to finally get the agent to refund me.

Now I’ve heard horror stories about Comcast and other cable companies, but allow me to show you British customer service at its best (no really, Sky was rated best cable customer service in the UK, that’s how bad everyone else is!) (This is not an exact transcript):

Me: Hello, I was looking at my bill and saw a £65 charge for an engineer visit. I was not told there would be a charge when I scheduled the appointment and I was still under my 12-month warranty. I would like the fee waived and credited to my next bill please.

Sky: Hello, Renee, I can certainly help you with that. Just let me pull up your account details.

::10 minutes pass as she pulls up my account. Meanwhile the agent tries to make small talk about my favorite TV shows. We share a mutual love of The Walking Dead::

Sky: I see your box was installed by Spectrum somethingsomething so unfortunately I cannot authorise a free engineer visit.

Me: I have no idea what Spectrum is, but can’t you please just credit me £65? I should have been told about the cost upfront and my box was under warranty.

Throughout the 90-minute conversation I tried different tactics. I tried being angry, but I knew that wasn’t going to work. I even tried begging, actually using the phrase “If you did this for me, you would make my day!” I said “Pleaseeee” (with multiple E’s). I used emoticon smilies. I tried being rational, explaining that I pay Sky to provide a service for me, and when that service doesn’t work, it is Sky’s responsibility to pay to fix it, not mine. She was having none of that. I needed a new plan of attack. I had three talking points:

1. I should have been told when making the appointment that it would cost £65.
2. I was still under the 12-month warranty.
3. The engineer stayed for 5 minutes and did jack squat.

Of these I realized No. 2 was my strongest defense, so I focused on that.

Sky: I see your viewing card was activated on 22/02/13. Your engineer appointment was on 07/02/14.

Me: [Yes! We’re getting somewhere!] Yes, see, it was within 12 months.

Sky: Spectrum did the installation so I cannot give you a refund without confirmation from them of the date of installation.

Me: Isn’t the viewing card activation date, 22/02/13, the installation date?

Sky: You need to call Spectrum, I can’t give you a refund without their confirmation.

Me: Can’t you just contact them? Do we really need to make this needlessly complicated?

Sky: Yes.

Me: Ok fine, what’s Spectrum’s number?

Sky: ::gives phone number:: Do you mind answering some questions to make sure you’re getting the best value from Sky?

Me: Seriously? Sure, I’ll humor you, but the best value would obviously be not charging me £65 for a 5-minute engineer visit! [Yes, I actually said this]

So I called Spectrum, still unsure what company they were, until someone answered “Love Digital” and I realized it was the authorized Sky reseller that represented our old flat. I had a hard time explaining what I needed from the representative, but after giving her my old address she eventually told me my box was installed 22/02/13. I asked her how I could confirm this information with Sky.
“Um, Sky could call us?” she said with hesitation. I still had the chat box open so I told the Sky representative I called Love Digital and they confirmed that my box was installed on Feb. 22. I had no confirmation code, no way whatsoever to prove that I actually spoke to someone from Love Digital, but suddenly it was OK. The Sky representative got confirmation from her manager and credited me the £65 off my next bill. I never felt so simultaneously victorious with a burning desire to bang my head against a wall before.

Just when I thought we were done, that after more than an hour of needless back and forth I could go grocery shopping, she decided to walk me through my bill. The number she quoted me monthly was £10 more than what the guy said it would be when I upgraded to fibre broadband. I started getting into it with her again, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t have any more anger or begging in me. Not today. So I ended the 90-minute chat victorious over my £65 Sky engineer fee, but knowing I had only won a battle, not the war. Stay tuned for Fun Times Dealing with Sky Part III: Why is My Bill Not What You Told Me It’d Be?

If only my exchange had been something like this.

Hi, my name is Renee and I’m a nut butter addict

7 Mar

I never really got into giving things up for Lent. I remember a lot of my high school classmates did — forgoing candy, pop or swearing for 40 days. I do remember one year I gave up translating Latin homework at home, which if you knew me in high school, was a really bizarre resolution since I was a model student. I think I did it for the challenge — I never showed up to class unprepared, I just made sure I did my translations during free periods or before or after school. It was nothing compared to giving up sweets, something I tried to do for a day last month and thought I was going to die. Yes, I’ve really fallen off the health food wagon since my visit back to the US, and it’s been hard to climb back on. I haven’t been eating many cakes, cookies or candies like I did in America, but I have a new weakness:

Nut butter.

nut butter collection

This is my collection (The PB2 and The Bee’s Knees I smuggled from the US). Two years ago the term “nut butter” was foreign to me — I had a jar of cheap store brand peanut butter and that was it. But somehow over the years I have become a nut butter snob and connoisseur, and that same jar I used to savor now tastes like peanut-flavored sugar oil to me. Once you try the real stuff — just roasted nuts blended, maybe with some salt  — it’s hard to go back. I started collecting nut butters when they went on sale, eager to try different nuts and flavors, telling myself that nut butter is good for me — healthy fats and protein! I’d put a scoop on my oatmeal, dip some fruit or add it to smoothies. Except it evolved to a point where I couldn’t just put a scoop on my oatmeal or spread some on apple slices — I had to repeatedly spoon it from jar to mouth afterward. One tablespoon of nut butter provides healthy fats and protein. Ten consecutive tablespoons of nut butter in your mouth just makes you fat. I realized I truly had an addiction when I found myself shoveling Nutella into my mouth one night when I was sick last week. I could not even taste it! I wasn’t even hungry! I was just doing it out of habit. That’s when it hit me that I wasn’t just jokingly “addicted” to Nutella — I really was.

I’m not going to give up nut butter cold turkey for Lent — that would almost be too easy. The real struggle is in moderation — scooping out one tablespoon and then putting the jar away, no matter how much the crave tells you to get it back out. That’s what I’m going to try to do — not just for 40 days, but for the foreseeable future. All my running is basically fruitless when I come home and eat 1,000 calories in spread. And when my current jar of Nutella runs out, I’m not buying any more. Almond, hazelnut and peanut butters provide real nutrition, but I’m pretty sure Nutella is just sugar and oil — delicious, chocolate-hazelnutty sugar oil. It’s a treat to buy when it’s on sale for Pancake Day, not a dietary staple.

I think the last scene of the South Park episode S09E14 “Bloody Mary,” in which Stan’s dad Randy spends the whole episode believing he’s a powerless alcoholic unless the bleeding statue of Mary can cure him, says it best:

randy stan discipline

Randy: Maybe I can force myself to never drink again.

Stan: No! Dad, you like to drink. So have a drink once in a while! Have two! If you devote your whole life to completely avoiding something you like, then that thing still controls your life and you’ve never learned any discipline at all.

Randy: But maybe I’m just the kind of person who needs to have it all or nothing.

Stan: Naw, all or nothing is easy. But learning to drink a little bit, responsibly, that’s discipline. Discipline come from within.