Posts Tagged With: iPhone

Zürich, Switzerland: It’s About Time – And Money

At Frau Gerold, the open-air spot for socializing, eating and drinking. The structures are built from shipping containers.

At Frau Gerold, the open-air spot for socializing, eating and drinking. The structures are built from shipping containers.

Some things are simply better the second time around.

Not that Zürich was bad the first go round. It was phenomenal. It’s just that this time around I’m at another point in my life. On every level I am no longer that person who on a whim more than a decade ago booked a flight from Portland, Oregon, where I lived at the time, to Switzerland.

I was single – still am – with a savings account and a salary that allowed me travel in style, afford expensive things, dine at amazing places. For work, I dressed in designer suits and nicely polished shoes. I bought a custom-built car – a BMW – to boot, and flew to Munich to have a look at the process. In short, I had everything I wanted or needed.

Surf bikes on Zurich Lake

Surf bikes on Zürich Lake

Some holdout material things – possessions – as a sign of success. That’s one measure of success, it’s not the whole picture. Today, after grappling with the global economic crisis that first struck the United States, I live a simpler life. It’s a life stuffed into a backpack, wearing the same clothes over and over and one pair of shoes almost all the time. But it’s a less complicated life – and in many ways far less stressful – one in which I do more and learn more and see the world, and love it for what it is, grand, beautiful and wonderful, even if at times shows an ugly side.

Zürich to me punctuates that turning point in my life. Last time I was here, I came and stayed in a relatively nice hotel and didn’t think twice about the expense. This time around, I watch every penny and budget. And I travel – hitchhiking – moving at a slower pace and with more time to go places and go beyond the usual tourist haunts. With the help of friends who live in the city, I peel away at the layers that make up Zürich and I’m able to see whole new sides.

Want beer? Have Swiss bank account?

Want beer? Have Swiss bank account?

I can’t believe it’s been more than a decade since I was last in Zürich, Switzerland‘s largest city. I had come here – you won’t believe this, but recall the person I once was – to buy a watch! That was my main mission. Sightseeing was an afterthought. I did venture out but, mostly I ordered room service and admired my watch.

I remember oh so well when and how Zürich landed on my radar. I was thumbing through a men’s fashion magazine and found myself staring at an ad for a particular Swiss watch. The watch had immediately grabbed my attention and as I turned the pages of the magazine, I kept going back to it. The next day, I picked up the magazine again, had another long look, and went straight to my jeweler – yes, I had a jeweler, but that’s another topic for conversation involving a returned engagement ring and jewelry store credit – and he told me the watch was not yet available in the United States. Then he said the words that would shape my thinking: “You’d have to fly to Switzerland to buy that watch.”

Okay, I thought, I can wait. But how long would I have to wait?

“Don’t know,” he said. “Some months. Maybe a year.”

Well, okay.

When I got home I found myself looking at flights to Zürich – after pinpointing Zürich on a map.

At Summergarte, relatively reasonable by Zürich standards. Now that’s using your head!

Then, after scheduling vacation time, I booked a flight. Three weeks later, I was on a 747 bound for Frankfurt, Germany, with a connection to Zürich.

Soon as I checked into my hotel, I showed concierge the page I had ripped out of the magazine.

“Where can I get this watch?” I asked. He smiled and happily suggested a couple of places, one within walking distance of my hotel. So off I went, the ad folded neatly in my pocket, on a watch quest.

I don’t wear watches any more. I am okay with glancing at my mobile phone for the time. I haven’t worn a watch in years. And I once had a whole bunch of them. I’m usually surprised to see people – especially the iPhone Generation – wearing a watch. The phone not good enough?

When I got to the watch dealer, I took the ad from my pocket and unfolded it. Handed it to the jeweler.

“Ah, yes, of course, we have it” he said with a Swiss German accent. He guided me to the other end of the glass display case, pointed to it and said “This one.”

There it was on my wrist: Cool black band made of steel, shiny black face encircled in bright gold, with gold minute and hour hands. No numbers. In the place of 12, a sparkling diamond. Simple elegance. I smiled and took out the credit card.

Now, I honestly don’t remember how much I paid for that watch. I don’t even know what became of it. Somewhere along the way I lost it, I believe during one of several moves from one apartment or house to another. What I do remember was that it was very nice and I got a lot of compliments for it.

Lake sailing

Lake sailing

I never told anyone – until recently, until now – that I actually flew halfway around the world to buy the watch. Today, to me that sounds like excess run amuck. Doesn’t sound like anybody I know. I backpack. I hitchhike. I sleep on any space strangers and friends provide. I even once slept in a tent in someone’s backyard. And I was perfectly content.

While in Zürich that first time, my focus was to buy a watch. I did get in a bit of sightseeing and even hit a club or two. I enjoyed the city but I didn’t really know anyone in Zürich. Today I do, and with less money in my pocket, I’ve enjoyed the city even more than the first time. I have discovered places known only to locals. Or places that few tourists know. It’s been a blast.

And unlike the first time, I can share with you a few tips:

Yes, what you always hear about Zürich is true: It’s expensive. No, not as expensive as Norway, but pretty expensive compared to other European cities. Sure, you don’t have to have a Swiss bank account to enjoy Zürich, but it certainly helps. Want to drink cheaply? That’s hard to find in the city. I found a Corona beer for $7.50, and that was the cheapest I found. Maybe some of you out there are better bargain hunters, but it was a struggle drinking and eating on the cheap in Zürich.

On a lake-bound ferry

On a lake-bound ferry

At a very cool outdoor spot frequented by locals – Frau Gerold – right in the shadow of Switzerland’s tallest building, I bought an iced tea and a slice of lemon pound cake. Total cost? $10. If you break it down right down the middle, that iced tea cost $5 and that lemon pound cake cost $5. Think about that for a minute. Five dollars for a very small piece of cake and another $5 for an iced tea.

I’m constantly told the Swiss get paid high salaries so they may afford the high cost of living, but you may come across some who get defensive about how expensive their city is. They like to point elsewhere, and Norway is their favorite punching bag. The reality is, you can’t be from certain countries and be able to afford Switzerland at the going currency exchange rates. Polish people, for instance, stay clear of Switzerland as a vacation destination. So do many other countries whose currency are no match for the mightier Swiss Franc. If you are from the United States and are making a decent salary, you can probably visit Zürich and not take a beating, but it will be a far more expensive vacation than, say, vacation anywhere in Latin America, Eastern Europe or Africa.

It being said, Zürich is a fantastic city! So much going in and so much going for it, in summer or winter. In Summer, city streets are alive with sidewalk cafes and restaurants, with tourists and locals mixing in the Old Town, which is a must-see. Take a stroll through its cobblestone streets and narrow passages. If you decide you want to stay in the Old Town you will find many smaller but good hotels along Zahringerstrasse. There are many hotels in the center. For a central location which

Rivers and lakes are all part of the city

STILL IN THE CITY: Rivers and lakes are all part of  Zürich

 enables you to walk to most of the sights and restaurants, expect to pay a minimum of $150 a night. There are cheaper alternatives outside of the center, such as a bed and breakfast with shared bath for $60 for a single room to $109 for a double. I like this latter option because truth is many of these places are not that far from the center and allow you to stay in neighborhoods where locals actually live. I had coffee at one of them – Zum Guten Gluck – and asked to see the rooms and they were more than adequate – and affordable. The shared baths were spotless, and the location in a desirable neighborhood. It’s located at Stationstrasse 7.

Other hotels I peeped in on include the Central Plaza (pricey!); the Marta, Zahringerstrasse 36; Hotel Rutli, Zahringerstrasse 43; and Hotel Scheuble, Muhlegasse 17. Except for the Central Plaza, they are all three stars. (A word of warning: ladies of the evening do come out in the evening and you will find them in just about every European city standing on the street corners trying to entice. Zürich is no exception and these women seem to congregate in greater numbers on Zahringerstrasse, as well as other neighborhood streets. Just say no or ignore them. They’ll leave you alone. If you are easily offended by the presence of street prostitutes, maybe you shouldn’t come to Europe 🙂

If you intend to visit museums and take public transportation I strongly suggest you buy a two or three-day Zürich Card, which gives you unlimited access to all buses, trains, trams, ferries and even all museums. The three-day pass costs $48, but it’s worth it in the long run with the savings for transportation and museums.

Speaking of museums, there are many, and some are more interesting than others. I went to the Swiss National Museum which “offers fascinating insights into Swiss history from the beginning to the 21st Century” but I found the museum rather boring. Yes, there are a lot of old and historic things on display, but they aren’t presented as interestingly as they could be. One problem is that they display some historic items or photos, paintings of historic figures and you have no clue what you are looking at because someone decided not to give the English description. Some items are explained in English and others are not. It’s a mystery. Yes, if you have a smart phone you can download the museum app that will help with a guided tour, but you must have a smart phone. One person in the museum downloaded the app and had trouble getting it to work. So if archaeological discoveries and medieval weaponry or Switzerland through the ages is not your thing, skip this one.

A really nice cup of coffeee at Summergarte

A really nice cup of coffee at Summergarte

I found the Zürich Museum of Design far more interesting. Currently on exhibit are works by Martin Parr, the renown English photographer. Titled “Souvenir”, Parr’s photos explore people who travel, their impact; consumerism, and how the wealthy show off their money, among other subjects. It’s a great collection. And everything is well-displayed and properly explained.

On Zahringerstrasse, they only come out at night.

They only come out at night, on Zahringerstrasse

I tried a third museum, the Migros Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, located in a former brewery which also houses several galleries, but so many of the items on display are head-scratching. I love modern art, but I don’t get much of it. I mean, can you duct tape a bed foam to one of the building’s support columns and call it art? Some “artist” did exactly that, and the museum went a step further by trying to justify it, with a small plaque explaining what the “artist” was trying to do. Oh-kay.

Anyway, if you go, prepare yourself for weirdness.

Let’s leave the museums for a moment and go to Summergart, a food truck parked permanently at the edge of a small grassy park at im Zeughaushof/Kasernenareal. By Zürich standards, it’s cheap – $16 for a tuna burger, $4 for a good cup of coffee; $14 for a burger. I liked this place in a relaxed, park-like setting.

Best advice I can give you is ask a local. They will tell you where they go – and tourists don’t – which often means a better time and cheaper fare.

I love Zürich.  How could I not a city in which people greet each other with three kisses? 🙂 And nice to be in any city where locals stop what they’re doing to ask a wayward stranger: “Can I help you find something?”  It’s a great city with so much going on. Just wish it weren’t so expensive.

Floating umbrellas at a bar

Floating umbrellas at a bar

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Friends And Strangers On A Train

At the Mamas & Papas Hostel in Gdansk, Poland, in the Hendrix room, a.k.a, Purple Haze. A long stopover here.

At the Mamas & Papas Hostel in Gdansk, Poland, in the Hendrix room, a.k.a, Purple Haze. A long stopover here.

ON A TRAIN FROM TLEN TO GDANSK, SOME THOUGHTS: Travel to places where people don’t speak your language of course creates challenges. The language barrier traps you in a maze of confusion and constant struggle to understand what’s going on around you. It isn’t something that can’t be overcome, but if you let it, it will do a job on the good energy you need to continue on your merry way. I was waiting for a train – this train that I am now on – that was more than 15 minutes late. Then came an announcement over the loudspeakers affixed above the station platform. It was a woman’s voice – a soothing voice – albeit going on for an eternity about something of some urgency. I don’t speak Polish, but based on the reactions of the people around me, I instantly knew something was up that had to do with my train. In the land of language barriers, where ears are rendered useless, eyes do the listening. I was at the train stop that serves the tiny village of  Tleń – population 260 – on my way back to Gdansk.

With Michal at the “gate to Hell” in Bory Tucholskie National Park. The large boulder was dragged to the area by advancing glacier during the Ice Age. And yes, my layers of clothing was not working for him so he gave me the winter coat off his back!

With Michal of Tlen, Poland, in Bory Tucholskie National Park. The  guy gave me the coat off his back . What, my layered look wasn’t working for you all? 🙂

It was a very cold Saturday morning, and everything coming from that woman’s mouth would determine if I would spend another night in Tleń or be on my way. Soothing as her voice sounded, it was hardly soothing enough to ease my growing anxiety sparked by the people on the station platform appearing to go into mild panic. As I stood there in the freezing cold, I watched some of them swarm around a weather-beaten train schedule that had clearly seen better days on the support beam from which it hanged. Others nervously checked the time on their watches or cell phones, frantically sent text messages, or made phone calls.  I scanned the people in sight for a  friendly face, one not so apparently consumed with worry, in a quick search for someone who seemed likely to speak English – usually someone in their mid-20’s to mid-30’s or early 40’s. I approached a young couple and half-apologetically asked if they spoke English. In a unison that couples and twins often muster, they said “A little.” Poles are kind of funny when it comes to the question “Do you speak English?” In the relatively short time I’ve been in the country, I’ve noticed that regardless of the person’s ability to speak English, most will say  “a little”, perhaps to save face should their command of English falter. In the case of the young couple, “a little” could not have been a more on target self-assessment. They struggled with every word and in very broken English they managed to say the train was late, a  “duh!” fact I and everybody standing on the station platform already knew. My rephrased question was whether there would be a train at all and if so, when?.  “It’s late,” the young woman sheepishly said. Double duh! Aha! Okay. But do you know when it will come? The two turned to each other and in Polish began to confer as if world peace was at stake. I stood and watched as they tried to come up with the right English words to explain the situation to the American who speaks no Polish. She then said “wait” as he made a phone call. He spoke a few words in Polish to the person on the other end of the line and handed me his sleek new iPhone. On the other end, a woman with a much better command of English explained that the train was delayed by mechanical trouble and that there would be another update as to its arrival. She said it would likely be along in approximately 20 minutes, but an announcement would be made to update us. Sweet. A language hurdle cleared by Apple Inc. Steve Jobs – rest his soul – again saves the journey. I thanked the woman on the phone and the couple for going the extra mile. In Polish I said “Thanks”, which made them smile. Thirty-minutes later, here comes the train, even if there was no heads up announcement. Did I mention that Poland has the most painfully slow and worst train systems of all the places I’ve seen in Europe? In places like Tleń,well outside of big cities, the difficulty to find someone who speaks English increases. So your eyes take over where your ears are of no use. When the train is not doing what the posted schedule says it’s going to do, watch how others react to any official announcements made entirely in Polish – or any other foreign language you don’t speak, for that matter – and you quickly realize you don’t need to know the language to know you better act and fast.


Main train station, getting to know you.

I am leaving Tlen, the village in north Poland where 260 people live. To say Tlen is a small town is the ultimate understatement. It’s the smallest town I’ve ever visited in Europe. I am on my way back to Gdansk, just over an hour away. I am sharing the compartment with a young Polish woman who has been really helpful with the “a little” English she speaks. At the train station the ticket office was closed and so I had to buy a ticket on the train. The conductor spoke no English, and I of course can only say “good afternoon” and “Thank you” and “yes” and “no” and the “F word” in Polish. Yes, I need to add a few more words to my vocabulary. So the young, blond woman has so far acted as my interpreter and my bodyguard. She helped me buy my train ticket, interpreting for me and the conductor. Then when some guy opened the compartment to our cabin and asked “Are you English?” and “Do you have some money for me?”, the young woman said a few choice words to him that included the “F word” and “Thank you.” That much I understood. The guy shut the door and left. And my defender returned to reading her book. That’s the one thing about traveling in some places. People come to your help and sometimes when necessary, to your defense. They see it as their duty to help. The good in people comes through. For instance, I am now the proud owner of a winter coat. I didn’t pack one because I thought I could just wear layers of clothing and be warm enough. But all along the way in Poland, friends and strangers kept offering to get me a coat, even as I stated and restated that I was plenty warm with what I was wearing, and even as the temperatures dipped way below freezing. My layered look apparently didn’t look warm enough for winter, and so the offers for a winter coat. And so now I have one, thanks to Michal and Ana. Ana, who drove me to the train station, brought it to me as a gift. “If you’re going to stay in Poland you need a winter coat” she said. Cool. People can be generous and so cool and come to your aid even if you don’t think you need it. I had the situation under control – I think – with the train panhandler, but the young woman had the language knowledge and finesse to tell that guy to piss off. He got the message quick. As I am now in Gdansk, where I will be spending the  month of January and part of February working at the Mamas & Papas Hostel, I left Tlen content to have so many friends across Poland: Michal, Anna, Anna, Anna, Anna, Anna, Anna, Anna, Kamila, Karolina, Kamil, Kasia, Ada, Mama, Papa, Mateusz, Martyna, Allan, Kasper, Monika, and the feisty young blond woman on the train. Her name is…Mystery.

Down by the riverside in Gdansk, Poland, my new home for at least another month

Down by the riverside in Gdansk, Poland, my new home for at least another month



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My Sixth Sense

I have a sixth sense.

But if only I could learn to read it and harness its power, I could use it for evil. Joke.

This week, I had that strange feeling I’ve had many times before – about a person, a place or some thing. A person or place or thing for no apparent reason suddenly pops into my head and lingers for hours, sometimes days. It’s like that obnoxious song you can’t get out of your head. It happens at the most random of times and try as I might, I just can’t rid my thoughts of him, her or it.

Generally, the thoughts are of someone I know, but more often they’re of some celebrity or public figure. Sometimes they’re of a country or more specifically, a city or town, and not necessarily some place I’ve already visited. The strange part comes into play when a day or two later or within the week, boom! Big news breaks about that person, place or thing. Then I think to myself, I was just thinking about that person or that place or that very thing.

Will and Jada

I’m not sure it’s some sort of superpower or how is it even useful, but I almost always dismiss such nagging thoughts of whomever or whatever and go on with my day. Much more pressing things going on in my head push those seemingly mundane meanderings aside. It’s only after the news emerges about that thing, person or place that I then recall how much I had that subject on the brain only hours or days ago.

So I ask, does this ever happen to anyone else out there? Am I unique in this regard? Is it just all coincidence?

On Tuesday, I had a feeling something was up at Apple Inc. I don’t know why, I just did. It was a strong feeling that popped into my head. I wasn’t reading about Apple or doing anything that would make me think about Apple. I was simply tidying up my room, doing some other household chores. Then wham!, here comes Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs into my head. As always, I pushed the thought aside – or at least tried – but it kept coming back. It lasted off and on throughout the day, well into Wednesday. It was so strong that at one point I thought maybe Apple was about to make some big announcement about one of its popular products and my sixth sense was in high gear. A new iPhone? A significant product upgrade? Maybe a new iPad? An iPad 3? Ah, that’s it. Ah, yes, that’s it, a new and improved iPad, maybe one that finally supports Flash, good heavens!.

iPod Touch

So now I had the iPad on my mind. So much so that while I was on Facebook I began to update my status with: “Look for Apple to soon announce the iPad 3! If you’re in the market for one, wait.”

But before I posted the admittedly bold statement with no backing or sourcing other than my wild intuition, I stared at what I had written for about a minute and thought, “no, that’s not it,” and erased it. Still, I launched Google to double-check how long the iPad 2 had been on the market. Just maybe it was time for a new version of the iPad, no?

So why was I now obsessing about Apple. I like Apple products – own some of them myself – but I am no Steve Jobs “fanboy”. Those who shed tears when Steve Jobs walks on a stage to plug his products need to have their heads examined or at the minimum to get a life. Or just get a grip! [Where is slap-happy General Patton when you need him?]

The fanboys may think Steve Jobs is the Messiah, but he is – gasp! – not. Talk about belonging to a cult, not knowing it, and attacking as stupid anybody else refusing to join!

Cult Leader and Apple CEO Steve Jobs

When Wednesday came, I woke up very early in the morning to get to work, and after the routine swearing at the alarm clock, I took a shower and prepared a light breakfast. Somewhere between pouring the milk and the Mueslix, guess what popped into my mind? I then tried to explain it away: last week I had lost my iPod Touch at work, and I had been thinking about it off and on. I wasn’t so much obsessing or upset about it as I was thinking more along the lines that all my precious data was stored in that little glass and aluminum device. Who, just who had it in their sticky hands and were they using it for evil? No joke.  The very act of keeping what is so not yours is evil. Looking at someone’s private information is evil. Any person who does that is evil. Oh well, an excuse to buy the latest generation iPod Touch, was my thought. Move on.

I walked in to the cavernous building at work, made a cup of Ceylon tea, and sat down to figure out the student lineup. Then as I walked to the office of my first eager-to-learn-English junior executives, one of the department managers – also a student of mine – approached holding up an iPod Touch. “Is this yours?”

Never thought I’d see that iPod again. It had been more than a week. It had mysteriously appeared on his desk, left there in plain sight. My iPod was reportedly spotted on the desk by another mining executive, not one that I teach English to every week. How had the iPod turned up on this desk is still a mystery. I suppose I could have security review the cameras, but who cares. The important thing is I got it back.

I think the person who found it and kept it had remorse and decided to return it, slipping it onto the desk while no one was looking. Just about everyone at the company knew I had lost my iPod and would ask daily if I had found it. They were genuinely concerned about finding it. This isn’t a company where stealing is tolerated, one of them said to me. From the security staff the housekeeping staff, they all were on the lookout. The messages I sent to the iPod’s screen may have also scared that person into turning it in.

For the uninitiated, if you lose your iPhone or iPod Touch, you can engage a feature called “Find My Phone” that locates it via GPS just about anywhere in the world. You can also remotely through Apple’s Mobile Me Website send any message you want to the screen -“Hey, you #$@&!! return my iPod! – or  instantly slap a password on it to lock it and prevent its use. And in a final act to preserve your privacy, erase all the data. All this remotely from your home computer or laptop.

My messages that the device belonged to me and that it be returned or face doom, may have scared the person into doing the right thing. At least I’d like to think so. One thing: the GPS-backed function to locate the iPod on a global map did not work. Otherwise, I would have known where to go find the device. A chemical engineer at the mine, a pretty smart guy, attributed the GPS failure to our desert location where there isn’t a strong signal. I don’t know. It worked great elsewhere, most recently in Chicago when I misplaced it there. A map popped up on the computer and zoomed in on the building, and voila! Found it. Amazing technology and smart thinking from Apple.

So on Thursday morning, I had my iPod back in hand. By Thursday night, on that very same device came a breaking news alert from the New York Times: “Steven P. Jobs Is Stepping Down As Chief Executive of Apple.”

Say what?

The iPad

“I have always said that if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” Jobs wrote in a statement released by Apple. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”

So iPod Touch back in hand, it alerts me of the news from…..drum roll….Apple! There’s the big news, is what I thought, of course. Bigger news than the release of an iPad 3. Hey, I never said this mind power was about predicting the future. Just that some event – good or bad – is about to unfold in involving the people, places and things that invade my thoughts.

The very same week, I had actor Will Smith on the brain, but not to the degree of Apple. Then word comes the next day and spreads by Facebook and Twitter that he and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith are getting a divorce after 13 years of marriage. Okay. Coincidence?

I think that’s all I will reveal about my superpower…err…gift…err…weirdness.

One thing’s for sure: when it comes to travel, I do listen to my sixth sense. We refer to it as a “gut feeling”. But my gut tells me this sixth sense is about something more.

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