Off to the Theater

I can’t believe that after 3 years of living in Switzerland, in the last 2 weeks I have gone bowling for the first time, and now, gone to the theater for the first time.  At this rate, I am practically Swiss!  Now where’s my passport, please?

The theater is something I loved to attend when I was in Chicago – I love musicals, local plays, sketch comedy – I had many friends involved in local Chicago productions and would always try to attend.  When moving to Zurich, though, of course the thought is that everything is in German, so I really never paid it too much attention.

Luckily, my neighbor Carolyn has a good friend involved with the local theater scene in Zurich, and this friend is trying to promote the many English productions that do, in fact, exist.  On Wednesday, I attended my first English production at the Gessnerallee.

The Gessnerallee is an incredibly cool space.  They have huge indoor and outdoor bar areas that then lead you into a large, black theater.

Gessnerallee

Gessnerallee

I really loved the wall of different lamps off to one side of the bar.  I just thought it was unique and creative, and tried to identify how I could pull that look off in my own home.

But back to the show.  For only 16 CHF, I purchased a ticket to see “Real Magic” by Forced Entertainment, a British group based out of Sheffield.  I have included the description of the performance from their website:

“Forced Entertainment’s new performance Real Magic creates a world of absurd disconnection, struggle and comical repetition. To the sound of looped applause and canned laughter, a group of performers take part in an impossible illusion – part mind-reading feat, part cabaret act, part chaotic game show – in which they are endlessly replaying the moment of defeat and the moment of hope. Caught in a world of second-chances and second-guesses, variations and changes, distortions and transformations, Real Magic takes the audience on a hallucinatory journey, creating a compelling performance about optimism, individual agency and the desire for change.”

Carolyn and I entered the theater and were anxious for the performance to begin.  It had been so long since I had seen a live show that I couldn’t wait for it to start.

Gessnerallee

As far as how I felt about the show?  Honestly, it wasn’t what I might normally select if I had understood more about it up front.  It was funny, and it was interesting, and it was entertaining, but I also felt the concept went about an hour too long (the whole performance was 90 minutes).  If you are someone that doesn’t normally go to the theater, I would say you’d probably want to avoid this specific production, but if you are into really different and interesting things, then this would be right up your alley.

Even with that feedback, I still had an incredible time.  It was so nice to go out on a “school night”, meet some new people from a completely different part of the Zurich expat community, and see my first live performance in over 3 years.  I am now keeping a close eye on the Gessnerallee performance schedule so I can take in another English production.  I will of course make sure to report back.

Check it out for yourself – you might be surprised at how much you enjoy it!

Geneva, Switzerland

And so another weekend has passed in a different Swiss town.  Tony and I, in our quest to take more “family” trips (i.e. with our dog) drove to Geneva this weekend.  After more than two years in Switzerland, I can’t believe it has taken us this long to visit the French part of the country, but better late than never.

We rented a car and drove about 3 hours.  We saw a ton of sunflower patches along the way which was so lovely, and it was really cool once the highway signs starting being in French instead of German.

We booked one night at the Hotel Kipling, which was the best 3 star hotel we had ever stayed at.  It was cute, clean, centrally located and even allowed pets like Clark.  We paid extra for parking but it was worth it.

When we arrived Friday, we wandered around and ate a late lunch.  We walked to the train station and ate at Cafe de la Gare.  We sat outside, I enjoyed some rose wine and Tony ate a cheeseburger.  He said it tasted just like Paris.  It was fun to people watch, but Clark kept trying to go inside the restaurant to cool off.

We visited Geneva’s version of Notre Dame and then we walked to the gorgeous lake.  There is a huge spitfire of water called the Jet d’eau (jet of water) which is the tallest in Europe.  Apparently it spits out 500 liters of water per second.  We then took an hour long boat ride – Clark’s first – and enjoyed the sun, breeze and water.  It was such a lovely way to spend the first afternoon.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Geneva Lake

On the walk back, however, Tony and I noticed something.  Geneva is unlike any city we had ever been to in Switzerland, and I don’t mean that positively.  It was dirty.  The buildings in the more modern part of the city were nothing special and it was a bit surprising.   It was like it was almost forgotten by the rest of the country.  Maybe it was because it was surrounded by France on 3 sides?  I don’t know but we felt more like we were in France than in Switzerland.  Not that France is bad or dirty, but I wouldn’t exactly call Paris “pristine”.  Nor would I drink water from the Seine.

That night we ate a lovely dinner and took a bottle of rose to a nearby park to people watch and let Clark cool off.  This is where Tony and I made our little list of “things that would never happen in Zurich”.

  • A man walks by a bench where a family is sitting and uses the back of it to open his beer bottle
  • Said man then meets up with another man in a shady manner, probably to handle some sort of drug exchange
  • Another random man has a bandage on his head and decides to take his shirt off and just sit; he then proceeds to use it to wipe his back sweat like a towel
  • A 4th random man just sits with a forty smoking endless cigarettes
  • A little boy pees in the corner of the park
  • Someone throws trash on the ground

With each sip of rose we laughed just a liiiiittttlle bit harder.

The next morning we checked out and went to join another free walking tour held by Free Walk Zurich.  This was the first week they were trying it out in Geneva and these walks continue to be a huge success for us.

I especially liked this walk because they took us through the old town in Geneva was a much more enjoyable part of the city – much more Swiss.  My goodness, listen to me!

There was also a lot of history in the city.  One of the residents was the founder of the Red Cross, and yes, it’s flag is meant to be an inverse of the Swiss flag.  We also saw the first book store and some really cool looking cannons.  It was just a beautiful, lazy and super enjoyable day just like when we did the walk in Bern.

The final thing we saw, which Tony and I loved, was the Monument Brunswick.  According to Wikipedia:

The Brunswick Monument is a mausoleum built in 1879 in Geneva, Switzerland to commemorate the life of Charles II, Duke of Brunswick (1804 – 1873). He bequeathed his fortune to the city of Geneva in exchange for a monument to be built in his name, specifying that it be a replica of the Scaliger Tombs in Verona, Italy.

Brunswick Monument

After our walking tour, we headed back to Zurich.  It was a great trip, even with our criticisms.  We are just spoiled living in Zurich, I guess.  🙂

Until next time….

 

Magnificent Morocco

Well, I’ve done it.  I have finally visited Africa, meaning I now have visited all continents (except Antartica).  I can’t believe it!  I got to continue with my Ramadan experiences when I visited Morocco last week.  I was in both Casablanca and Agadir and was absolutely mesmerized.

First stop was Casablanca for two days.  It was a very quiet drive from the airport as I didn’t arrive until midnight.  That is, it was quiet until I got near the hotel.  As soon as we neared the city center, I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.  What was a calm, serene evening in Doha for Iftar was a loud, crowded and rambunctious affair in Casablanca.  By the time I got to the hotel it was almost 1am and yet there were still tons of people, including children, hanging out in the beautiful nighttime summer air.  Once up in my hotel room, I could still hear the laughter and lively conversation well into the sunrise.

The next day, I saw what a magnificent city Casablanca really was.

Casablanca

Those buildings.  Gorgeous.  Square.  Interesting.  Humbled by the huge mosque in the background.  Almost bowing down to it.

However during the day was the complete opposite of when I had arrived at 1am – it was dead.  No one could be found on the streets anywhere.  I knew it was because of Ramadan but still.  After the raucous welcome I was stunned at the stillness of the city.

That night I got to visit the beautiful mosque up close and personal.  It was unlike any mosque I had seen before – what made it more regal was that is sat right on the coast, rising up on the cliffs from the ocean like a welcome to any travelers coming to port.

Hassan II Mosque

Hassan II Mosque

Hassan II Mosque

At the end of work on the second day,  I got to experience the real and raw Casablanca.  A colleague who I now consider a very dear friend offered to introduce me to her family and take me to a traditional hammam.  And the experience began.

It started by driving with her during rush hour traffic to her family apartment.  We jammed out to dance music – Arabic dance music to be exact – the entire way.  Just like normal girls.  In particular I loved Saad Lamjarred.  My friend’s driving was impressive because I had not seen that much lane straddling since India.

Pre-Hammam

Pre-Hammam

Once we arrived, I had no idea what to expect. I was visiting a Muslim home in the middle of Ramadan.  Was I dressed appropriately?  What should I say?  How should I act?

Those fears all melted away as soon as the door opened.  Both her mother and father embraced me with huge hugs and kisses.  It was a good opportunity to work on my French while they practiced their English.  They offered me sweets even though they themselves were still fasting for the day.  It was one of the most warm welcomes I had ever received.  I was beyond touched and humbled.

We took a quick drive over to the hammam and came stocked with items – towels, flip flops, soap and shampoo.  For this local experience we all brought our own stuff and my friend’s family was kind enough to share with me.  And after having just met them!  I am still in awe of their kindness.

Once inside, there was a changing area where we stripped, and then walked in all of our naked glory to the cleaning room.  The Moroccan ham was different from the Turkish one in that there were no tables to sit or lay down on.  We all plopped on the floor.

I couldn’t find any proper photos to do the hammam justice.  It was a square room that let in natural sunlight and was covered top to bottom in tile.  There were water nozzles that stuck out from the walls and large plastic buckets strewn about.  It was time to get cracking.  The ladies that worked at the hammam filled bucket after bucket with water and my friend and I sat next each other pouring water on ourselves.  We washed our hair, we exfoliated our skin, and rinsed and rinsed.  Then the ladies of the hammam all scooted over and began their scrubbing process.

The scrubbing and nasty skin removal part of this hammam was exactly the same as in Turkey.  Another part that was different was the use of savon noir or black soap.  It was like tar and didn’t really have a smell but instead of just straight up scrubbing, the ladies put a dab of the black soap on their mitten first.  My lady kept commented in French about how sensitive my skin was – I looked like a lobster – but I loved it.

Post-Hammam

Post-Hammam

While it was odd and uncomfortable at first to be with my friend in our stark nakedness getting scrubbed, after a few moments I calmed down and enjoyed the intimacy of it.  We just chatted about life as though we were sitting over coffee.  I became very comfortable in my own skin which I can’t always say is the case.

Enjoying myself too much

Enjoying myself too much

At the end my friend and her mother even paid for me – after already letting me use their soap and towels! – and it was time to say good-bye.  I was so sad!  I felt like I was already a part of their family.  There were lots of hugs and kisses and I of course promised to come back with my husband.  There was no way I wasn’t coming back here.

Then it was off to Agadir.  I took a teeny tiny plane and half a Xanax to deal with the turbulence.  Arriving in Agadir reminded me so much of when I was traveling through India last November.  Casablanca was like Chennai and landing in calm, beachy Agadir was like landing in Goa.  The ride from the airport still involved lane straddling, but there weren’t as many cars or people in a rush in Agadir.

This was a bit longer of a ride as the hotel was in a new area of Agadir called Taghazout Bay.  It was under development and was going to be a large area of commerce and hotels right on the beach.  The one I visited had just recently opened.

It was difficult to appreciate the beautify of Agadir until the following morning.  I woke up and opened my blinds as I was stretching and yawning, lazily pulling open one side and than the other.  And then BAM.

Agadir, Morocco

Pool, palm trees, beach, sand, sea.  Incredible.  The ocean stretched out so far into the horizon that it turned into the sky.

The one night I had in Agadir I got to see the cute restaurants and ice cream shops along the piers.  The small boats docked provided the music for the evening, the water lapping up against the sides of them all in rhythm.  This part of Agadir reminded me of Croatia – the very friendly local people, the cheap ice cream, the smell of the sea, the flip flops and sun dresses.

I fell asleep with the windows open sad to have to leave this amazing country and place.  I was just at the tip of Africa, met some great new friends, became an extension of someone’s family, had my skin scrubbed till it was raw and fell in love with an incredible country.  I guess it’s kind of like the movie Casablanca right?  I tried to give the country a romantic smooch upon leaving but got some questionable looks from airport security….

Here’s looking at you, kid….I’ll be back!

Casablanca Movie