01 September 2014

A rainy day in Zurich

Despite rain in the weather forecast we woke up happy and ready to see Zurich. We headed down to the hotel dining room at 8am and we had a European style self-served breakfast.  The food selection included yogurt, croissants, 3 varieties of cereals (corn flakes, chocolate puffs, or granola).  There was also sliced bread you could toast, a variety of cheeses, cold cuts, and jams, hot drinks, and apple or orange juice.  The boys chose cereal but didn't like it served with the room temperature milk.  Since I didn't want them to start off the day hungry I made then grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate,they seemed to please  them.  I on the other hand ate a croissant & strawberry yogurt.  The other guests in the cafeteria where from all over, judging by language and appearances there were from UK, Spain, India, west Africa, and china.   After breakfast we returned to the room for to rest for another hour. 
Today instead of take the $15 bus for 3 blocks, we decided to walk.  The walk was easy and cool and the street were Sunday-morning calm.  

We walked to the winterthur train station and I somehow figured out how to purchase the train pass to zurich's main train station. We for on the platform and within minutes were on the train to Zurich.  The ride lasted about 15 minutes.  We passed neighborhoods, farms, and warehouses.  
The main train station in Zurich was big and busy.  

At first we were turned around unsure of where to go.  Finally I remembered the Zurich city map Ladina (the hotel receptionist) gave me the previous day.  We sat down at a cafe for a while to use the WCs (bathrooms) and to look at the map.  Thankfully everything was in walking distance from where we were.  The only thing I was sure I wanted to do was a boat tour of lake Zurich.  

As soon as we left the cafe we headed to a park near the national museum and saw people waiting at a boat stop.  We decided to get in line too.  While waiting we saw this cool car and took pix with the museum ads.

The boat ride lasted 50 minutes and was quick enjoyable.  The boat was very flat perhaps only 2 feet above the waters surface.  We passed under vey low bridges that impossible to fit under dude was convinced that we were really in a submarine.

Once we got off the low-boat we walked to the old town in the drizzle.  It was getting cold and the rain was coming down harder by the minute.  I was definitely looking for a way for us to continue or exploration through the city without get wet.  We quickly hurried back to the main train station and as soon as we walked in I saw the tourist info station.  If anyone could point me in the right direction they could.  Before speaking to an agent I picked up post cards, SWISS chocolate, and a cute Swiss Army knife for me!  The tourist agent recommended that we take the #3 bus to the doldenhaus station, then get onto the doldenbahn train to dolden grand where we could look over Zurich and take pretty pictures.  So that is exactly what we did.  The tour continues but instead of walking we were in the city electric bus.
Zurich is truly swiss.  I didn't know what that mean until I had the chance to see it for myself.  In my travels around the world I often meet people from Switzerland, I often ask them "eres swiss aleman or swiss francais?" (Are you German swiss or French swiss, referring to the region and language that they are from in Switzerland).  From what I see that question, although relevant is not defining enough because Switzerland seems like the love child of a French mom and German dad.  I see the same order and calmness of Germany here, but the passion and affection of the French.  I sweet combo for a sweet land and culture.  I look forward to going to the French side someday to even further observe and reflect on their culture and customs. 

30 August 2014

Our first 24 in Winterthur

Our 1 hour nap turned into a much needed 2 hour nap.  I woke up from my cozy sleep and had to shake the boys back to life. "Vamonos, vamonos!"   There was so much to see and do I didn't want to waste anothe hour.  We quickly got ourselves together and headed out.  Ladina was at the receptionist counter with her same beautiful smile and wished us luck as we exited Ibis Hotel.  I'm hand I had the maps she'd given us and 79 CHP (Swiss francs) in my back pocket.  Immediately outside of our hotel is a mcdonalds and a gas station.  Dude was dying for food and was trying to lure me toward McDonald's with hopes that there would also be a play ground.  Their menu was the most Americanize Mickie D's menu ever.  An LA bacon burger, BBQ fries (or pommes frites as many europe'a call them).  These options were even too American for Americans!  I filmed a little biting the menu but after a few seconds the cashier started yelling "nein fotos, nein fotos" who the hell knows why I couldn't take pix of their menu, but I put the camera away anyway.   Once our food was served up we sat near a birthday party how had an actually Ronald McDonald clown as a magician.  I haven't see a Ronald McDonald in the US since the '80s!!! He was kind enough to give a dude a balloon and I got about 7 seconds of him speaking German to a parent in their party.  
After Mickie D's we followed LaDina's map to the bus stop our 4 minute ride cost $9CHP!! Yoooooo, wassup with Switzerland and these outrageous travel cost?!  We got off and walked around the downtown/ old town of winterthur.  Tomorrow we will head to the same area (waking for FREE, though) to catch the train into Zurich where we will spent the day.  
The old town was quaint and charming.  I felt like was walking around in a Suiss play set.   We window shopped and strolled for hours. Many people have small and medium sized dogs here.  It is common for the dogs to enter and walk around the store on a lease with their owner.  There is plenty of diversity here. Immigrants of African and Asian descent, Latinos, Muslims, East Asian Muslims... People are peaceful and patient, just like in many other parts of the world.
One of the main stores in the area is named co-op city, just like the well-known condo complex in the Bronx , NY where I grew up.  I made sure we went in there to honor the sign that we were on the right path.  Next to that was a store called city trends, just like the Atlanta urban clothing store around the corner from my house, we will check that out tomorrow.  Here are some pix if what our day had to offer us. 

Marijuana is legal here

Electric bus system

Postkartes for our peeps

Once we were done in downtown winterthur, we got back on the bus to go back to the hotel.  We decided on pizza for dinner before going home.  At a quick stop at the gas station for water and late night snacks the boys were gifted lego car packets by the cashier. Dude was so excited "Mommy, we have friends everywhere!!"  "Yes Dude, we do"

Here is a quick video of our Winterthur exploration: 

Zurich airport to Ibis budget hotel

As soon as we landed we headed for immigration, since we didn't check bags it was a quick process.  On the train ride and walk there we met some Dominican women from Santo Domingo.   The immigration guy was very friendly and had been to atlanta on more than one occasion.  

After getting our passports stamped I exchanged some cash.  In the blink of an eye my $100 USD turned into $79.22 Swiss francs ��.   While still in the airport I bought another outlet adapter so we would have to fight over the only one I own.   As soon as we exited the airport we found a taxi, who just so happened to also have a booster seat for Dude.  That's a good sign! Even though the driver spoke little English and I hardly know anything in German our communication was easy and to the point. I showed him the hotel address, he put it in his GPS and we were there within 15 minutes.  Ok so back home. 15 minutes taxi ride cost between $20-$40. Here it was $95 Swiss francs so if my math is correct that ride was $100+USD!!!!! From now on it's all public transportation for us... Humph!  
The receptionist Ladina was a cute girl with waist length deadlocks.  She greeted us in 4 language as if to offer us our preference.  Zane had just asked me last week of white people can have dreadlocks, since being here for the last 2 hours I've seen at least 4.  Travel answers questions through experiences. 
Now we are in the hotel and getting sleepy.  We are 6 hrs ahead of our home time zone.  I told the kids we will rest for an hour then go out to see Zurich.

Here's a video of us entering the hotel
Room for the first time.  We are like the blind leading the blind.  "How do you open the door?" "How do you turn on the lights?" You would think we would have international consensus on such simple matters... Geesh!! 

28 August 2014


In mid July I started contemplating where our next flight should be.  But in true Echo fashion I had too many places flowing through my mind. "Let's do Europe while it's still warm there.  I hate to pack bulky clothes for cold weather.  Ok so Europe it is.  But where specifically? Venice? Brussels? Milan? Amsterdam? Munich? No, no, no.... Ok Echo, just breathe and listen to your intuition, let the trip choice you... *inhale, exhale*... Go to Zurich? Zurich, Switzerland? .... Ok Zurich it is!"

As soon as I get flight stuff out of the way I need to find a place to stay.  First choice coachsurfing. I send 3 requests, 3 request denies.  Second choice airbnb.  I only see one affordable place that will accept 3-4 people.  Once the renter adds the extra fees etc she sends me a quote for $368 for 2 nights.  Whoa!  Way out of our budget.  I wonder if Zurich has those cheap F1 Hotels like the one we stayed in in Paris? Nope, no F1s.  How about the Ibis hotels? Yes they have those $100 a night for me and the 2 kids.  Usually when I travel I rent for $40 a night.  That, however, doesn't exist in Zurich.  The average low-end hotel is $250 a night.  Even a family room at a popular hostel was far more than I was willing to pay.  I gratefully snatched up the Ibis hotel deal. 

Right now we are on the plane as they fix a maintenance problem with the fuel gauge.  Zane, Dude, and I each have a small back or backpack and we are excited about the adventure that lies ahead.  Zane is such a studious guy. He's been researching info on Switzerland all week.  "Mommy, why don't they have an army?  Most people there are rich!  Are they rich because they don't pay for wars? It's a bilingual country.  In one part they speak German and the other side they speak french.  We are going to the German side.  I hear the banks are good there can we open a bank account when we get there?!"
Whoa, my child so many question, we will have them all answered... Once we get there... So for now we will just sit back and enjoy the journey.  

30 March 2014

Bankhead to Guatemala

Obviously my favorite past time is traveling... No brainer.  But I'm not a selfish traveler I want everyone else to travel too.  I'm so lucky to be able to do both at the same time.  As a Spanish Teacher each year I take a group of well-behaved students from my school the study and volunteer abroad.  What makes these trips even more special to me is that I work at an all boy school in Bankhead Atlanta.  If you've ever heard of Bankhead you would also know of its infamous reputation of drugs, gangs, and violence.  Everyday I get to witness, and be a part of, the amazing change that is happening in that area.  One way I try to contribute to positivity in my community and in the world is by introducing my students to the global community in which they were previously unaware that they belong to.  
Each year my students live with host families (2 students per family), take Spanish classes in the mornings, volunteer with children in the afternoons and tour during the weekends and evenings. In 2012 we traveled to Panama City, Panama, in 2013 we traveled to Granada Nicaragua, and this year we are in Antigua Guatemala.  Yes we are in Guatemala at this very moment!!!!
Today we all met at Atlanta's airport at 4am and after a 2 hour layover in ft lauderdale we landed in Guatemala at 11:40am their time (2 hours behind EST).  Our program coordinator and driver from Spanish Academy Sevilla were there to pick us up and take us to our new homes and schools.  One things we were all pleased to see was the nearly silent Easter procession in the street.  Our new caretakers informed us that for the Easter season they will be a procession every Sunday.  I got great video footage of it and look forward to sharing it with you all.  We are all exhausted now, so now I lay my pretty dread head to sleep! 

Taking students abroad

The only thing is love to do more than travel is taking other along with me.  In this case I get to share my passion with 9 of my students and 2 if the best chaperones ever!  

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One love,

22 March 2014

Ciao Roma!

I leave Roma was a heavy heart and a full stomach.  So sad to leave la morena behind yet still happy to get to my boys and man! La morena will spend another day here participating in a food tour and getting a massage! She woke up bright and early with me (5am) to let me out of the main gate to the apartment.  The bus starts running at 5:30 so i hoped to be on the street at the bus stop waiting between 5:30- 5:45am.  At about 5:20 on my walk to the bus stop the mis approached and picked me up I was at the the termini train station by 6:15 just in time to catch the bus to the fiumicino airport.  The bus arrived at 7:15 and I was making great time for my 9:15 check-in.  
While waiting for the flight I was asked by an airline employee to help an older couple from Albania find their way to their son in Atlanta.  No I don't speak Albania but we could communicate well enough. I made sure they knew where unseat was in the plane and told them to wait since we landed so we could walk together. 

Echo in airplane mode!  Plane bathroom selfie

 After a couple of movies and a good sleep we landed and I joined up with the Albanians.  The husband have me a small slip of paper with their sons name and information on it. But called their son let him know that we'd landed safely and that I would see them through to help out.  He was very appreciative and was happy to also speak to his father.  At immigration we were split up.  Foreign nationals must enter one area while US nationals enter another line for entry.  Once we all cleared they were out in the care of a customs agent who help them from that point on.  I called the son again and let him know they were no longer with me but in good hands nonetheless.  
After changing euros back to dollars, sighed a deep sigh of relief and satisfaction... There's no place like family!