Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Where in the world am I? (and by the way, what's the currency here?)

Within the last couple of weeks I've traveled close to home and farther afield. We took our first excursion using the excellent train service to go visit Opa (Gunther Zimmermann) near Cologne, Germany. We went to local grocery stores to buy provisions. (Euros) Now that Opa is a widower, he welcomed me into his kitchen and I cooked for all of us. It's nice to have a relative on this continent. 

Being an empty-nester allows me to travel with Tom as long as our cat sitter is available. He was participating in a panel at a conference in London. I took the opportunity to take a boat ride down to Greenwich. The Cutty Sark clipper ship has recently been reopened to tourists. No alcohol served with the entrance fee, however!


The Cutty Sark is no longer in water. You can walk under it and see its bottom. 
 I had to be the total tourist as long as I was in Greenwich: had to straddle the Prime Meridian. 


I explained (in English!) to the ticket seller in the Underground my day's plan. I thought I had the proper ticket for my day's excursions. (British Pounds) I took the Underground to Wimbledon so I could look around the grounds even if the tournament was not underway. First of all, you have to put your ticket back in the machine to exit. I learned this earlier in the morning when I walked directly into the gate. Ouch! Have the bruise to prove it. We don't have to put the tickets back in to exit the NYC subway. When I arrived in Wimbledon, my ticket wouldn't open the gate. I tried a few thinking the first was broken. Eventually one of the Underground employees checked my ticket and I had evidently traveled further than my ticket allowed. Trapped! She was quite cynical when she said that ticket sellers purposely sell the wrong ticket and then the passenger get hits with a big fine. I don't know if that's true or not, but was very glad to be allowed to exit without a fine. 

It is not immediately obvious when you exit the station where the tennis stadium is. I eventually found pedestrian walking signs. It estimated a 30 minute walk! I was not expecting that. I knew it would close shortly after arrival, but since I had ridden the train (partially for free) that whole distance, I decided to walk as quickly as I could. I arrived at The All England Lawn Tennis Club 15 minutes before closing! Phew! Too late for a tour, but I was inside the gate and of course, I was allowed to browse briefly in the gift shop. 

Next time I come, I want to see some matches!

Fred Perry - maybe one day there will also be a statue of Andy Murray  
Returning to London, I made sure to buy a supplemental ticket for the extra distance. Use the new ticket to enter the Underground, but the old ticket to exit. Are we trying to make it easy?

I had another morning in London to myself so I decided to go to the "Eye" which is new since my last visit. After I stepped in and it started to move, I said to myself "what did I just do?" I am not a fan of heights and I was now inside a giant glass ferris wheel. The views were great, but I didn't step too close to the glass.
passenger compartment

I'm near the edge, but I'm holding on - brave?
view from the "Eye"
cute London cab

We left in the afternoon for the next conference in Chicago. This conference was a company event with optional activities planned for the spouses and partners. Tom and I had just been in Chicago in March when we toured the Frank Lloyd Wright house, but I went again. I didn't have anything else to do anyway. (We had a whole day before the first conference dinner to shop - US dollars).

One of the other activities was an architectural bike tour. Here's our tour guide and some of the other participants. I didn't realize we would actually be riding on the streets of the city. As long as you are a group of more than three, you can take over a lane of traffic! Because of the traffic lights, there was a lot of starting and stopping, but we saw buildings that we wouldn't have otherwise. I can now say I saw the original Playboy mansion and where Oprah lives. 

I enjoyed the last part of the tour the best:  riding along Lake Michigan.
Unfortunately, we didn't have the same clear weather for the architectural boat tour. 

Here is the CEO's wife, a very friendly person. I look forward to seeing her again. 

It eventually started raining harder and we went for cover. Here is one of the few buildings we could see from below. You don't have the full effect here, but the towers look like giant corn cobs. They are all inclusive residential buildings. Shopping on the lowest levels, then layers of parking and apartments/condos on the top floors. The parking is open to the outside (with a guard rail). We noticed that all the cars were backed into the parking spots. I know people who don't like backing up - they wouldn't be fond of these parking arrangements.

I met lots of Zurich employees and spouses from all over the world gathered in Chicago. Some of them have lived in Zurich for much longer and they were able to give me advice for living here. It was very strange to realize we were talking about places in Zurich while in Chicago. My head was spinning. Now we're back in Switzerland and using Swiss francs. My wallet is glad to only have to accommodate one currency again. (I actually had a few pouches with me to keep the currencies separate.)