How Switzerland makes you say bad words.
09.10.2014 - 09.24.2014
After dealing with the car rental fiasco, I thought we could officially begin our Euro trip, part deux. The GPS thought otherwise.
Me: "So, do we know where we are going in Lausanne?
Mom: "Yes, the Olympic museum."
Dad: "I'm trying to find the museum on GPS, but it says nothing found."
Me: "Are you sure you spelled it right?"
Dad: "Of course. O-L-Y-M-P-I-C."
Me: "OK, but do we know if they use the English names here?"
Dad: "Why not? This is an American GPS. "
Me: "Well, you downloaded the European map. And since we're in the French region of Switzerland, I'd think they'd spell things in French."
Dad: "No, I set this GPS to English."
Me: "Dad, you set the GPS lady to speak English when she's announcing directions, but the location might still be spelled in French."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaaa, why you make your father do this? You set GPS. You young man. You learned foreign languages in school."
Me: "Mom. Not this again. I took Spanish. Not French. Spanish. Tu comprendes?
Mom: "What you say? If you say bad words, I smack you!"
Dad: "Yes, you figure it out. We raise you. Now do for me something useful." #DOFORME
Mom: "And hurry up! We already waste half morning."
They hand me the GPS like it's a bomb to diffuse. The timer has been set, and if I don't figure out the French encoding for Olympic Museum in the next 60 seconds, the parental units are going to explode. Anyone who's ever tried a keyword search on a GPS knows it doesn't work like Google. There's no autocomplete. It normally doesn't even produce any results despite spinning for a good five minutes. And now I have to search for something in French? I'm a dead man.
I typed (and prayed) away feverishly on the GPS, as beads of sweat rolled down the back of my neck. Seriously, am I on vacation or at an audition for The Hurt Locker 2? C'mon.....c'mon! Give me something! Anything! Finally, by the grace of God, the words "Musée Olympique" with an address of Quai d'Ouchy 1, 1006 Lausanne, Switzerland popped up in the list of search results. Sweet Jesus, Lord have mercy upon my soul. I live to fight another day. On the autobahn.
A word of caution about the autobahn in Switzerland. For car enthusiasts who dream about driving on the autobahn, you need to visit Germany, not Switzerland. The Swiss, being a small and economical country where space is a premium, built their autobahn with the same concepts in mind. Instead of sprawling wide lanes that I'm used to in Midwest, America, the Swiss highways were narrow and winding. There's no median, and with a speed limit of 75 mph (a mere suggestion, not enforced) driving on the Swiss autobahn is akin to threading a needle: You have to keep a steady hand or you'll end up drawing blood.
The drive out of Geneva towards Lausanne was also unexpected. I had pictured Switzerland as a country of rolling green hills, with genteel cows wearing cowbells that clanked musically as they grazed on lush grass. Instead, the landscape along the A1 was a canvas of industrial grey, filled with construction and concrete buildings, all smeared with varying amounts of graffiti. I guess Heidi didn't live in this part of town?
Still, we have started our vacation! Our tiredness was replaced by giddiness at the prospect of reaching our first destination.
Mom: "Only 10 km to go."
Dad: "9 km."
Mom: "8 km."
Me: "Guys, the GPS will tell me when to exit. You don't have to count down like it's a rocket launch."
Mom: "We don't want you want to miss the exit."
Dad: "Besides, the roads don't say exit."
Me: "I know. They say sortie. I think it's French for exit."
Mom: "OK. Everyone memorize this word."
Everyone: "Sortie, sortie, sortie."
Having committed sortie to memory, we spent a few glorious days in French regions of Switzerland. I fell in love with our hotel in Montreux. Built in 1870 in the "Belle Epoque" style by Eugène Jost, the Grand Hotel Suisse laid early claim to the best location in town. Our lake view room had a balcony overlooking the North shore of Lake Geneva. All I wanted to do was sit and stare:
(Balcony view of Lake Geneva)
(Our amazing hotel)
Sigh. Can I just move to Switzerland already?
Alas, we couldn't stay in Montreux forever, so we got back on the autobahn and made our way to our next stop: Bern — the capital of Switzerland.
I was replaced as the driver because the parental units said: "You drive like a feng zi." Translation: I drove fast and furious. When dad took over the reins, we got passed by every car on the road. Nonetheless, slow and steady got us to Bern, and we parked our car in garage at the Bern train station plaza.
I simply adored Bern. It is probably my favorite Swiss city along with Zurich. Built on a narrow hill, the waters of the Aare loops around the Old City like a lazy river. On a hot day, you can even join the locals for a dip in the river and let the gentle Aare currents take you on a cruise around the perimeters of the city, with its gothic architecture towering overhead. In fact, the city of Bern has become a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site due to the great preservation of its medieval architecture. Built in the 12th century, the Old City has remained largely unchanged since its construction.
What I loved about Bern wasn't just its rich history, but also its modernity. Being the capital of Switzerland, it houses both the parliament and executive council. Thus, as you walk through the ornate arcades of high-end shops, you could be brushing elbows with high-powered legislators. Heck, you could even bump into the Swiss president! (Although executive power is shared by a committee of seven, with the president merely holding a ceremonial title). During the busy lunch hour, armies of these politicians step out for a show of their sartorial elegance and a quick bite. The tall silhouettes of their designer slim-fit suits blend in seamlessly with the tall silhouettes of the pointy towers that are ubiquitous in the city.
I wanted to take pictures of the city's architecture and people, but clean photography is difficult because the skyscape is covered in a latticed patchwork of power lines. These power lines zig zag every which way, forming the backbone of Bern's public transportation system:
The Bern S-Bahn (commuter rail network), the Bern Tramway Network, and the Bern Trolleybus Network all run off these lines. It's a necessary comprise to keeping the city green and pollution-free. Bern feels like the perfect example how a city can develop and grow, while maintaining its tradition and roots — a harmonious juxtaposition of the past and the present.
After taking in the major sights (the Bern Cathedral - Berner Münster) and sounds (the Medieval clock tower - the Zytglogge) and taste (the Renaissance water fountains - especially the Kindlifresserbrunnen), we had to bid adieu to Bern. Thus, we turned around and tried to make our way back to the train station. There must have been something in the water because we got totally disoriented.
Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to use the Renaissance water fountains as guide posts. Aside from the Kindlifresserbrunnen, there were ten other of these 16th century Renaissance water fountains scattered throughout the Old City. Unfortunately, not all of them were as memorable as the Kindlifresserbrunnen, which depicts an ogre snacking on small children:
Dad: "I think we passed one that looked like a man."
Me: "Dad, they're all men."
Mom: "No, one of them was a woman. She had a sword."
Me: "Wait, the statue with the sword is a woman? How could you even tell? It had a blindfold over its face!"
Mom: "Aiiiyaaaa.....she had wide hips! You didn't notice the hips?"
Me: "Uh. No."
(We later fact checked. It was the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen a.k.a the Fountain of Justice, with Lady Justice atop, with large hips):
Dad: "What about the one that was sucking on a straw, and drinking from a large bag?"
Me: "Um....Dad, I think he was playing a bagpipe...."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaaa, why are we talking about fountains? We just need to ask someone where is the train station."
We accosted a few passersby, but none of them spoke English. Finally, we approached a friendly-looking elderly gentleman.
Mom: "Excuse me. Do you speak English?"
Elderly gentleman: "Yes, a little."
Mom: "Do you know where is the train station?"
Elderly gentleman: "I'm sorry. Can you say again?"
Mom: "Train station. We're looking for the train station."
Elderly gentleman: "Station. Station."
Mom: "Yes, for the train."
Elderly gentleman: "Train?"
Mom: "Yes. Train. CHOOOOOOOO CHOOOOOO."
The elderly gentleman stares back blankly, but mom doesn't give up. Instead she gets creative.
Mom: "Train. Like this."
She then proceeds to demonstrate train by closing her fists, and then rocks her arms in a circular motion like the coupling rods that connects the driving wheels of a locomotive, all the while miming the blowing of steam with an open mouth. Choo choo!
Me: "Mom....you're demonstrating a steam engine. I don't think the Swiss trains are steam engines anymore."
Mom: DEATH STARE.
The elderly gentleman looks at us amused and bemused.
Dad: "Aiiiyaaaa, help your mother!"
Me: "One moment please."
I fly through the pages of our travel guide like it's a flip book. Damn it. Where's the useful phrases section when you need it? You also realize how not useful these "useful phrases" are in a real emergency.
Exhibit A: "May I have a kilo of oranges please?" I mean, seriously, who walks around with that kind of vitamin C deficiency?
I speed read through the hundreds of unhelpful phrases before finally finding the word for train station.
Me: "Um, la gare?"
Elderly gentlemen: "Ah! La gare. Yes. I know la gare."
Dad: "Oh thank God."
Elderly gentlemen: "You turn left here. Then you see church. You turn right. Near church. Then la gare."
Mom: "Thank you."
Continuing with our theme of bomb-diffusing stress, we make it back to the train station just in the nick of time. Our parking ticket was about to expire. Since I was excused from driving, I immediately conked out in the back seat while the parentals set the GPS for our next destination: Lauterbrunnen Valley, which lies at the foot of the Swiss Alps in the Interlaken district of Switzerland. We needed to hit the road fast and furious again, because at 0530 hours tomorrow, we were scheduled to climb the highest Alps peak in all of Europe: Jungfraujoch.
15 minutes later.
Mom: "Wake up. Wake up."
Me (drowsily): "Wuss the matter?"
Dad: "Do you see sortie?"
Me (waking up): "Wait. Why are we still in the parking garage?!?"
Parents: "We can't find sortie."
Me: "What do you mean?"
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, we can't find the exit."
Dad: "We've been doing laps around and around the parking garage, but there's not a sign for sortie anywhere."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, stop sleeping! Find sortie NOW!"
Me: "OK. OK. Can you go around again?"
We took another lap around the garage.
Me: "There. There's the exit. Follow the sign for ausfarht."
Mom: "Ausfarht? Why ausfarht? I thought the word for exit was sortie?"
Me: "Yes, it is. But it's the French word for exit. Ausfarht is the German equivalent."
Dad: "I thought you said you studied Spanish!"
OMG. Really parents? You choose this moment to pick this bone?
Me: "I did. But I happen to know one German word."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, too many words! How we supposed to remember all these different languages?"
Dad: "This is too stressful!"
Me: "Just use a mnemonic. That's how I learn new words."
Me: "Yeah. A mnemonic is a device such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something."
Dad: "What's your mnemonic?"
Me (uncomfortably): "Ummmm, it's a bit weird. Besides, it's better to come up with your own. Helps you remember it more."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, just tell us! We have no time to create this demonic device."
Me: "Mom, it's mnemonic, not demonic. But anyway. Ass fart."
Parents: "WHAT? WHAT YOU JUST SAY?"
Me: "Ass fart."
Mom: "Aiiiyaaa, why you say these bad words? You qian zou (want a smack)?"
Me: "No. That's my mnemonic device. When you pronounce ausfarht in German, it, um, sounds like ass fart."
Dad: "And how does that help you remember it means exit?"
Me: "Well, farts have to exit out of the ass."
Mom: "Everyone. Remember this. Ass fart."
Everyone: "Ass fart, ass fart, ass fart."