Thursday, August 1, 2013

auf wiedersehen, switzerland!

Our two week jaunt through the Alps was over. Our nearly-eight week marathon was coming to an end. We still had one night and one long (nearly twenty-four hours when all was said and done) day of travel to get through, though.

Our last night in Switzerland provided some examples of the good and bad of European travel. We stayed at the Mövenpick Hotel Zurich-Airport. As the name suggests, the hotel is a few minutes from the airport. In the final assessment, that, and the ice cream, are its two most redeeming qualities. Our room was adequate. It had two double beds, a bathroom and a television. That was about it. The bathroom was quite spartan. ("I guess no frills means no frills," announced Keri in response to the lack of an actual trash can (just a small plastic bag hung over a metal circle so precariously that the actual placement of trash in said bag caused it to dislodge and fall to the ground), lotion, or face soap.)

When we checked in, we were able to hop on the hotel wi-fi without difficulty. I was a little surprised it was so simple, and without any kind of fee, registration or password required. Regardless, we all had a couple hours of good internet access, blogging for me and critical application updates for Lauren and Owen's seemingly endless supply of games. Recent purchases include such gems as Get The Nut (Owen: "Lauren got a chickmunk game!"), Backyard Pilot (slightly disconcerting to watch your children crashing all manner of airplanes from their mobile devices in the middle of a ten-hour flight) and Cupcake Crazy Chef (is cupcake design so difficult and interesting that it merits its own game?).

Not wanting to brave Zurich's public transportation system, we opted for dinner at the hotel. We got to the restaurant, Dim Sum (at which there was no dim sum or Chinese food of any kind), at six sharp, and were the beneficiaries of Europeans' later-dining habits. Peace, quiet (even our kids were relatively subdued) and pretty good food made for a nice last meal. For dessert, we all opted for two small cones of Mövenpick ice cream. Strange, I know, that the Mövenpick company has both hotel and ice cream divisions. In any event, the ice cream was quite good, and we all appreciated finishing on a good note our eight-week dessert binge.

On our way back to the room, I overheard hotel staff telling another guest that there was no free internet access. Strange, I thought. Why would the hotel lie about this? Was this part of a thought-experiment to see if people, when told there is a cost for a valuable service that is sometimes provided free of charge, will simply not even try to see if the service can be had for free (in this case, not attempting to access the hotel's wi-fi)? Turns out, this was no test, as the wi-fi now could not be accessed without paying a fee (five francs per hour per device). I had no idea how we had accessed it for free before, and was just grateful that I had finished a blog entry.

Far and away the biggest problem with the hotel was the air conditioning -- or lack of it. I had cranked the unit in our room to max cool and fan speed. The fan was working fine, but the air coming from the vent was, to my feel, about half-a-degree colder than the somewhat warm air in the room. The combination of warmish air, three hot-blooded Ecksteins, and two double beds made for tough sleeping conditions. Owen and Lauren, apparently unaware of the causal connection between their discomfort and the covers, argued over their perceived unequal distribution of the same. None of us slept well. I woke up several times during the several hours I did sleep, usually finding one of my children awake.

When the clerk asked at checkout if everything was adequate, I said it was but that they may want to look into the unit for that room. She responded that the hotel has central air (thanks, ma'am, I'm from Phoenix -- I know a little something about that concept) and that Swiss law prevents the hotel from using the system to produce air that is more than five degrees lower than the outside temperature. Huh? We were going to catch a flight so I did not want to argue, but come on! It happened to be in the mid-70's during our time there, but Zurich can get pretty warm. Today, for example, the high was in the low-90's. Are you telling me that, as a matter of federal/cantonese/municipal law, no business may run a system that produces air cooled below the mid 80's? I know our European cousins have a general aversion to conditioned air, but that just can't be.

Our transition to the plane went relatively smoothly. We picked up at the airport train station the three large suitcases we had sent the day before, checked in and started looking for some breakfast. I realize living in the cocoon of the Hotel Walther left us a little inoculated from the crazy prices of goods in Switzerland. Our final morning provided a nice reminder of that. About five dollars each for a small bottle of water (about one-third of which was consumed before we had to throw it out in Heathrow) a small cappuccino, double espresso and hot chocolate. I suppose these prices are more affordable if you are saving so much on your electric bills.

We spent about three hours in Heathrow before catching our direct flight to Phoenix -- just enough time for Lauren and Owen to get one last item each, Lauren opting for a teddy bear to add to her impressive collection and Owen a metal British Airways plane. I don't know how or when, but I see bad things happening with that plane. (Pictured here is Owen, along with his faithful companion, Puppy. Although he appears to be a cute and benign animal, he is capable of great mischief. You have been warned.)

The flight to Phoenix was a little more than ten hours. We had upgraded to premium economy, which got us around eighteen extra inches of leg-room. That meant I could actually cross my legs, at least until the person seated in front of me went into a full recline.

I decided my best shot of staying awake -- and hopefully minimizing jet lag -- was going to be watching movies rather than reading. I opted for The Place Beyond the Pines, Django Unchained, and Les Miserables. Really strong performances in Pines, in particular from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. The plot was interesting, too, although it fell apart slightly in the last third of the movie. Django was better than I had thought it would be. I appreciate the discomfort some have with the language, violence (it is a Tarantino film after all) and the blaxploitation treatment given to the horrors of slavery, all within a western narrative, but the movie just plain works. Les Mis was a nice pick-me-up to get me through the final hours of our marathon. I dozed off in portions (including the part where I take it was supposed to gain even the slightest caring for Marius -- seriously, was I supposed to be rooting for him to take a direct hit of musket shot?), but caught enough to get the gist. Slightly over-the-top, but hard to not like. Damnit if I am not still humming those infectious songs. That Victor Hugo sure knew a thing or two about musical theater.

Of course, our movie-watching was interrupted, on a fairly regular basis, by the two people sitting between Keri and me. Owen pestered Keri with various issues related to his socks, shoes, headphones, multiple beverages (including the apple juice that he spilled on her), and general fidgeting. My neighbor, Lauren, started pretty strong, watching a movie, playing on her iPad and generally leaving me alone for a couple hours. Somewhere above the North Atlantic, the wheels came off. There was nothing she wanted to watch, her iPad was running low on battery life, and she needed to show me every five minutes where we were on the in-flight map. She just wanted to be home, already. Sometime after that, she said she felt sick and was non-committal as to whether she might throw up. A vomit bag and a twenty minute trip to the bathroom with me holding Lauren's hair while she bent over the toilet followed. No vomit, though, and both kids managed to hold it together through wheels down. (This picture was taken hours earlier, on our flight from Switzerland. Darken the circles under my eyes, change the expression from slightly annoyed to nearly desperate and you get the idea.)

My father-in-law was kind enough to pick us up (with his surgically-healing shoulder) in Keri's car and I got one last shot to load and unload our bags. Can't say I am going to miss moving those things. We made it home, where our beloved Charlie and Sadie were waiting for us, tails a-wagging. As far as they knew, we had been gone for the afternoon.

Lauren was up a couple times, again complaining about prospect of throw-up that never materialized. Owen slept for fourteen hours -- a gift to all four of us.

For now, it is laundry, grocery shopping and re-integrating into our life in Phoenix. School does not start for a couple weeks and I don't return to work until September, so life will remain abnormal for a bit longer. For now, though, we are just happy to be home.


  1. We are happy you are home also! And happy to be home ourselves. What a beautiful time we had with the four of you and everyone! Love all around!

  2. Welcome back to the states! Very much enjoyed your blog!!!!

  3. Just read your final blog re your vacation. Saw your precious family today and they survived beautifully. Owen is so sweet and Lauren such a well-poised and lovely young lady. I can't imagine how they appear so differently to you. Love that you are back home. Love Baba