Category Archives: Europe

10 Cultural Experiences in Switzerland

1. No Free Restrooms known as “toiletines”

There are no “free” restrooms in Switzerland. The price depends on which gender you are. Males can piss in the toilet for 1.5 CH ($1.50). Females cannot perform this technique very well. They are charged 2CH ($2). Some places charge up to $3. This is not a place to rush. You pay to go. Stay as long as you can. The Starbucks near the Zurich main train station across from the tour buses has a code. I paid $7 for a cappuccino in order to get the code. I later found out they don’t change the code. Skip the $7 coffee and type in 5555 to get into the restroom. Hopefully, they don’t change it. It worked for four days.

The door of the restroom in Starbucks at the Zurich main train station.

There is more than one way to flush the toilet. There is one side to flush for poop and another side to flush for urinating. One is bigger than the other. I couldn’t figure out which one to flush. I chose the bigger size. Do they go down a different pipe? There is plenty of toilet paper. The toilets are very clean. There is an attendant who cleans the bathroom after each use.

The bathroom in Murren. Just flip the switch here. It all goes to the same place.

2. The laundromats

I used a laundromat in Murren near our hotel. The cost for washing was $5 and the cost of drying $5. My roommate and I shared both the washer and dryer. It costs a total of $10 for the dryer. It took longer for the clothes to dry.

3. No tipping

There is no need to tip in Switzerland. Most waiters and waitresses will refuse the tip. There is not a line to add a tip when you use your credit card. Service people in Switzerland start at $50,000. They are paid very well. They stay at their jobs longer and are appreciated by their employers.

4. No AC

There is no AC in Switzerland. A fan did the job at my hotel in Zurich. It was muggy and warm. We left the windows open when possible in Murren. The windows of the hotels in Zurich have windows that can be opened.

5. Free water

Switzerland has water flowing out of fountains everywhere. People fill their water bottles with fresh cool water. The water is safe to drink.

fountain

6.The Swiss diet

The Swiss eat a lot of bread, cheese, dried meats, and yogurt. Pretzel sandwiches were the best. You have a choice of Pretzels with cheese, ham, cream cheese, tuna (I don’t think it was tuna). I had a “tuna”. Commuters stop in front of a pretzel shop on the street and order their sandwiches. Some of them stand around and eat before boarding the train. Others carry their order on board. There is no eating or drinking allowed on commuter trains. Street food is everywhere and very safe to eat.

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The best pretzel stand in Zurich.

7. Public Transportation

The Swiss make good use of public transportation. Roads are very narrow, it’s expensive to have a car in the city, there is no parking, and many of the narrow streets restrict car traffic during the day. Transportation is very clean and safe. I never worried about someone grabbing me, taking my purse, or being rude. As an American, I blended in very well. Until I opened my mouth. The people are very friendly. When I was lost, they pointed me in the right direction. When I couldn’t understand, they translated for me. The trains are sometimes confusing. The only list the last station where the train stops. I became confused because I could never find the station I wanted to end up at. Everything was explained to me by a very kind young man who wanted to practice his English.

trainstation

The Zurich train station is a two-floor shopping mall. It has everything. It is the only place to shop on Sunday. All shops outside of the station are closed on Sundays.

8. The Swiss are very active

The Swiss bike, swim, and hike. They have access to clean air, water, mountains, uncountable trails for hiking and biking. There are so many lakes, creeks, and streams. The trains have designated cars for bicycles and strollers. Hikers carry backpacks with camping equipment. Switzerland is one wide open camping spot.

camping

Swiss campsite. So clean!

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Lake Zurich flows through the city. People swim and boat in it.

9. Swiss dress informally

They wear t-shirts. The people on their way to work dress in appropriate wear. On the weekends they dress down.

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Swiss on weekends

10. There are many outdoor cafes

The Swiss like other Europeans eat outside of the restaurants. Most restaurants are very small. They accommodate between 20–30 people. Some more. Some less. The tables spill out onto the closed streets. There are many Swiss who smoke. Smoking is prohibited inside restaurants, some bars, train stations, and places where children hang out. They are allowed to smoke anywhere outside. The butts are disposed of in a special dispenser found all around the city and right before boarding a train.

outsidebar

Outdoor Bar

Switzerland is a clean and safe place to visit. The people are kind and always there to help out.

Good-bye Switzerland. I will miss you!

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Prison for Food

Kilmainham Goal located in Dublin, Ireland was built in 1796. A prison for hardened criminals. Murderers and robbers. It was touted as one of the most modern prisons in Ireland. In 1821, two women, 19 and 21 years old, were hung for their crimes. The last public execution was in 1865. The prison closed in 1925. It is now one of the five most visited sites in Dublin. The prison is used in movie scenes and documentaries.

From 1845–1850 the prison filled with men, women, and children charged with begging and stealing. “The Great Famine” referred to by the Irish as “The Great Hunger” began to rise. The jail cells swelled to capacity. There was no segregation of prisoners. Men, women, and children were incarcerated in the same cells. There were up to five people in a cell measuring twenty-eight square meters. Everyone was given a candle. This candle was to last for two weeks. It was their only means of light and heat. Male prisoners slept on iron bed stands. Women and children slept with straw mats on the floor.

jailcells

How did the famine begin? Was it the fault of the Irish? The English accused the Irish of two things: overpopulation and laziness. Irish families were big Catholic units. Many of the Irish produced children to help on their farms. The women didn’t practice birth control. The Irish are laid back. They like to have fun drinking, dancing, and singing. The English looked at this style of life as wasteful.

The English dominated the Irish. In 1801 The Act of Union brought the country of Ireland under the control of England. The English created “Penal Laws”. The Catholic Church was outlawed. Their native language, Gaelic, was banned. The English forbade any export trade. These new laws destroyed Irish commerce and industry. The Irish could pretend not to be Catholics or leave the church completely. Some of the Irish were forced to practice their religion in secrecy.

In 1600 Protestants owned 10% of Irish land. In 1778 they owned 95%. The Penal laws prevented Catholics from buying land, getting an education, entering a profession, holding political office, and living within five miles of town. They were not allowed to fish or hunt.The only employment left for the Catholics was farming. They were allowed to have small plots owned by landlords. They had to pay rent. The landlords were absent. They spent most of their time in England. Many of the tenant farmers had poor living standards. There was no money for medicine, clothes, nor adequate shelter. Landlords were not required to make improvements on their dwellings. The potato was the only crop to produce a sufficient yield on limited acreage. In 1840, 50% of Ireland was dependent on the potato.

In 1835, 75% of Irish workers were without regular work and turned to begging and stealing. Irish farmers became desperate. They were not getting the help they needed. Without work or money, some of them decided to enter workhouses. Workhouses provided shelter and food for hard labor. The Irish farmer who had more than 1/4 of an acre was forced to give up his land before acceptance into a workhouse. This meant that their wives and children would have no food or shelter.

The Great Potato Famine has been debated for years. Was it the fault of the Irish or the English? Was the potato the root of the problem?

In 1846 the Prime Minister of England, Charles Trevelyan, banned all food distribution to Ireland. The English exported grain based alcohol, wool, flax, wheat, oats, barley, butter, eggs, and beef from Ireland to England. These were products being produced in Ireland but not available to the Irish citizen. Did the English create the Famine? Food was being taken out of Ireland away from the poor Irish citizens.

The solution for many of the Irish was to get out of Ireland. With the help of some sympathetic landlords, the Irish were sent to other countries by boat. Some of them went to England. The English did not want them because they were being paid lower salaries and were undercutting theirs. They were sent to the USA and Canada. Many of them arriving with various diseases and dying before they hit land. Canada and the USA were being inundated with Irishmen. Most of the Irish were farmers and didn’t know how to operate the equipment to work in factories. Charities helped to make them more comfortable and ease them into a new lifestyle.

There are now more Irish living in the city of Boston than in Ireland. Irish descendants can now become Irish citizens if they can obtain the birth certificate of their Irish ancestors. This will allow you to have an Irish passport and a US passport. This helps if you want to buy a house in Ireland. Only those who have Irish passports can buy land in Ireland.

I would like to conclude with my final thoughts. No one should have to go to prison for lack of food. Famine is not brought on by the people, but by governments who control the food and goods going in and out of the country. Could the The Great Hunger of Ireland have been avoided? Can this happen again? I leave you with these questions.

Murren, Switzerland: North Face Hike

Water bottle, hiking shoes, heavy socks, ham and cheese sandwiches, banana, apple, and backpack. Check. Ready to start my five-mil hike up the mountain in Murren, Switzerland. Fourteen young women and me. Our fourth hike for the week. The longest, most difficult, and most strenuous. The other hikes included time to stop and play on the playground, take pictures of cows and sheep, and smell the flowers. We are promised a surprise on this hike. The weather is surprisingly warm. Not much rain either.

It’s 7:00 a.m. Just finished breakfast. We meet in the lobby of our residence. Only one participant is sitting out this hike. Maybe the difficulty level scared her. She is tired and not sure she can keep up with the group. I have my doubts. The altitude is high, and we are climbing even higher. I decide I need a challenge. I tell myself, “Don’t be a wimp.”

We walk out of the lobby. Fill our water bottles with the cold natural water coming out of the fountains. Five minutes later, we meet our hiking guide at the beginning of the trail. She is in her early forties. She leads hikes at least once a week.

She checks everyone to make sure we are wearing sturdy hiking shoes. She discovers one girl who is wearing a pair of sandals with socks. Thea likes to feel the earth under her feet. She walks on the ground outside of our retreat center in her bare feet. She says she is getting “grounded”. Another girl is wearing a pair of sneakers. Doris, our guide, isn’t too sure she will be able to walk safely. Doris is prepared. She hands both of the girls walking sticks and keeps her eye on them.

Doris tells us some history about the surrounding mountain. We listen carefully. I take a position at the front of the line. I don’t want to look like a slacker. I don’t want to get left behind.  I walk with Holly who is an avid hiker and the only person close to my age. Most of the girls are between the ages of twenty-five to thirty-five. I am sixty-two.

We walk past so many beautiful wildflowers. Pink, blue, yellow, and purple. We hop over fresh cow poop. I try not to trip. That is my biggest worry. Past abandoned homes used in the winter time. The dairy cow and sheep farmers stay in these places to keep the animals fed and cared for in the very snowy times of the year. Cows can’t graze in the winter.

An hour into the hike we begin to climb. At first, it is a gradual climb. It becomes steeper. I am a desert dweller climbing a mountain in the alpine country. Like a snake crawling up a mountain. Holly is in front of me. I am huffing and puffing. I ask Doris, “How much further do we have to climb?” She doesn’t answer. I am huffing and trying to breathe normally. I just keep going up and up. I stop to take a breath and drink from my water bottle.

Doris has a lot of energy and strength. She does this twice a week. I do it once every five years. I wish I could be Doris. She promises there will be a surprise when we reach the top. I look towards the heavens and ask Sumio to help me out. He loved hiking. I was almost ready to give up. But, where would I go? There is no turning back.

Doris encourages everyone to keep on. Another stop. A drink of water. Breathe deeply. We finally reach the top. There it is. A bird’s eye view of the green pastures, and glaciers hanging off the mountains. Just like the pictures in the brochure. Incredible.

It is warm. I am sweating. There is a waterfall. I walk behind the waterfall. A curtain of water right in front of me. I put my arms out to let the cold water rolling off the mountain flow over them. I am so happy to finally reach the top. I walk carefully. It is very slippery.  From here it is all downhill! We exit the waterfall and walk another twenty minutes.

We find a spot at an old farmhouse to eat our lunch. There isn’t much shade and the sun is hot. I find some shade on the side of the barn. Holly joins me. We eat our lunch. I am very tired. Doris tells us, “You can turn back here if you don’t want to continue.” I think about it. The rest of our hike is laid out in front of us. I can see where we will go next. It doesn’t look too difficult. I don’t want to go back alone. I will get lost. I am good at that.

We start walking again. Down the trail. In front of some very big cows. Doris warns, “Don’t look the cows in the eyes!” “Don’t approach cows who have babies.” Everyone is from the city. Some of the girls take selfies with the cows. They don’t have cows in New York city. We arrive at one of the small dairy farms. They have fresh milk for sale. I open the little refrigerator. Pour myself a small cup of milk. Put 5 CH ($5) into the little box. The milk is so sweet and smooth. Cows that eat fresh grass and wildflowers produce sweet milk. They are happy cows.

We continue the hike down. Forty minutes later we come to a farmhouse. It is very common for the small farmers to offer food and drink to hikers. We stop. I have a cup of coffee and some cheesecake. Everything is homemade. A family of four is at another table savoring their fondue. The sky is blue. The air is clean. What else can I ask for? The hike back to town is much easier.

This hike taught me a lesson. No matter how hard something is. Don’t give up.