Nelson Mandela’s Home And The Apartheid Museum

DSC_1309Yesterday, I gasped when I heard Nelson Mandela died.  Although he’d been ill, I remained hopeful that he might make a recovery.  When we travelled to South Africa, I tried to learn about South Africa’s history and apartheid.  While I held Nelson Mandela in high esteem before, I came away from South Africa in awe of him.  While the country still faces significant challenges from its past discrimination, violence, historical and economic divisions, South Africa would not be where it is today without his leadership. I find his acknowledged fallibility makes him even more relatable as an ethical model.  According to Richard Stengel, “he is a hero precisely because he always admitted his errors and then tried to rise above them. And he has never stopped learning.”

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I was lucky enough to tour Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto.  It was a great opportunity to learn more about Madiba.  He lived there from 1946-1961, when he was forced to go into hiding.  It is on the famous Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world where once two Nobel Peace Prize laureates lived (Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu who lives there).

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Winnie Mandela lived here with their children while he was imprisoned.  Upon his release from Robben Island, he spent 11 days here.  There was a constant stream of visitors, so he didn’t remain longer.

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Many of the furnishings are original, but the most interesting parts were learning the role this building played in their lives.  In the pictures below (and above), you can see the scorched bricks from firebombs.

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You can still see the bullet holes from government drive-bys.  The family had to stop sleeping in the front bedrooms because they were so frequent.  Below, you can see where they erected a brick wall to hide behind to avoid being hit by a bullet.

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Only one person is allowed to sit in this chair.  It was Nelson Mandela’s.  Now it will remain empty forever.

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The brick line in the floor below reads: “[a] partition was built here to divide the kitchen from the living room.  This was later replaced with a brick wall which served as a shield against police attack.”  Seeing this helped me to understand the type of danger Mandela and his family faced and the courage he showed.

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I saw a letter from the State of Michigan (our home state) asking President Bush to formally apologize for the CIA’s role in Nelson Mandela’s arrest.  My guide was eager for information about Michigan.  I noticed that Carolyn Cheeks KilpatrickKwame Kilpatrick‘s mom, is one of the signatories.  Needless to say, I was a little embarrassed trying to explain the background, the text messaging scandal and his subsequent actions.  During my visit, I was disheartened to learn about America’s involvement with and support for the Apartheid government and proud of the change in our collective mindset.

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I also visited the Apartheid Museum, while pictures are not allowed inside, no visit to Johannesburg would be complete without it.  It is incredibly informative and moving. There is a large exhibit on Nelson Mandela detailing his amazing life.  May it continue to inspire others.

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Sweet, Let’s Burn Some Stuff – Sechseläuten

We joke about burning a couch when something good happens (like Michigan State winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament).   It’s not out of the realm of possibility.  Apparently Zurich, Switzerland feels the same way.  They celebrate Sechseläuten.  To celebrate the arrival of spring in Switzerland, they burn the winter in effigy (in the form of the Böögg, a figure of a snowman filled with explosives representing old man winter).

Sorry Mr. Snowman, but let’s face it temperatures have been getting warmer and you weren’t long for this world anyway. – From 20 Minutes

Sechseläuten is kind of like Groundhog’s Day. The time between the lighting of the pyre and the explosion of the Böögg`s head predicts the summer weather.  A quick explosion means a warm, sunny summer. A long, drawn-out burning means a cold and rainy one.  Even though Switzerland is known as a winter wonderland and ski mecca, locals (including us) hope for its quick end.  Earlier this week, Zurich burned the Böögg.

Not so frosty now are you Frosty? – From 20 Minutes

In medieval times, when the first day of summer working hours was celebrated in the guildhalls because during the summer work was required to stop when the church bells tolled at six. The rest of the year, they worked until dark. Who doesn’t celebrate some non-working daylight hours?

From 20 Minutes

Itinerary for Sechseläuten:

  • Sunday before Sechseläuten – children’s parade in historic and folkloristic costumes
  • Afternoon of Sechseläuten – parade of the 26 guilds (over 7,000) in their historic dress costumes, each with its own band, most with a sizable mounted ‘Reitergruppe’, and horse-drawn floats
  • Post-parade – ceremonial galloping of the mounted units of the guilds around the bonfire
  • 6:00 p.m. – burn the winter in effigy (in the form of the Böögg, a figure of a snowman filled with explosives representing old man winter)
  • Post-Burning – dinner banquets for the guildmembers (and their lucky guests)
  • Night – delegations visit other guilds in their guildhalls to exchange greetings, toasts, witticisms and gifts

The summer should be hot, if one believes the time the Booge of Sechseläuten took before exploding on the funeral pile in Zurich: 12 minutes and 7 seconds. The myth is that the faster the head of the snowman explodes, the hotter this summer will be. The average of the last ten years was around 14 minutes. In 2008, 26 minutes was necessary. – From 20 Minutes

What’s a holiday without a family spat?

The holiday is often within a week of May Day, a working class holiday.  Sechseläuten seems to be a rather posh, upper class affair. The proximity of these has led to various, ahem, issues.  In 2006, the Böögg was kidnapped.  Now, they keep spares… just in case.

Les Incompetents Vol. 9 – Whimps In An Alpine Snowstorm

Last weekend, we went to bed in Gimmelwald, Switzerland (accessible mainly by cable car) with this view of the Lauterbraunnen Valley in the Bernese Alps.  It could have been clearer, but it’s still a pretty sweet view.  We woke up to this.

And it kept falling.

And falling.

We’re from Michigan, so we’re pretty hardy and decided that even though we were fighting off colds, we could do a few hours of hiking… in a snowstorm… on a mountain.  Yeah.  I know.  We’re geniuses.  Neither of us wanted to be the bigger baby and complain so we kept going.

And going.

Finally, the wind convinced us to turn back.  We decided that it was getting so windy that if it got much worse they might shut down the cable cars and be stuck up there that night.

Note the pitch of the flag and the temperature of -2. Balmy. Especially when I forgot to pack a hat and gloves.

Thankfully, we were able to get down to our car.   We even gave a couple of Aussies (whose paragliding trip had inexplicably been cancelled) a ride to the train station before setting off to see more of Switzerland.

Clearly the weather was ideal at lower altitudes. We ended up having a great time though. I swear, I will tell you all about it.

 

Ice Ice Baby, Stockholm’s Ice Bar

English: Absolut Ice Bar in Stockholm

English: Absolut Ice Bar in Stockholm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If you travel enough, sooner or later, you will be in a city with an ice bar.  You don’t go to these for the slightly overpriced drinks.  You go for the unique experience.  Stockholm’s Icebar in the Nordic Sea Hotel (guests get discounts) is the second oldest behind the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden.

 

 

In the bar, everything, from the glasses to the bar itself to the tip jar are made of ice.  The ice is shipped from the Torne River in northern Sweden.   Obviously, it has to remain below freezing inside the bar so that the ice doesn’t melt.  The thermostat is set at -5 Celsius (23 Farenheit) When you sit on chair made of ice and hold a drink made from ice, you could get a little cold.    Before entering, you are given a coat with a hood and mittens.  It looks like the uniform of some sort of cult.  It’s a metallic blue blanket with a fleece lined hood.  They keep you warm, prevent your body heat from melting the ice and provide a neat photo opportunity.

 

 

 

Don’t stress over what you’ll get to drink.  In the Absolut Ice Bar, your options are vodka, and, um, vodka.

 

 

 

Being from Michigan, we appreciate ice carving.  In addition to the glass, made from a hollowed-out block of ice there were stools, tables, the bar, the tip jar and sculptures.  It was to see the ingenious ways in which they made everyday items from ice.

 

 

The Ice Bar is small, holding only 35 people. If you are interested, book ahead or you will have to wait.  Although the wait can be more than a half an hour, I hear that it’s easier to get in around 10:00.  The maximum time in the bar without buying another round of drinks is 40 minutes.  Don’t worry.  You’re there for the novelty of it all and likely won’t want to stay longer than that anyway.

 

 

Alcohol is expensive in Sweden (explaining their enthusiasm for an open bar), but the Ice Bar is still more expensive than a regular bar.  It’s something you do for the experience, and a touristy one at that.  I doubt that you will encounter any Stockholm residents there.  Regardless, it’s a unique experience and something you won’t forget.

 

Yes, the little girl is licking the ice like the kid from “A Christmas Story.”

 

 

 

Skiing

We’d planned to go skiing over new year’s, but stayed home since we were sick.  The following weekend, we went skiing.  Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty, but it was a heck of a lot of fun.
Four couples piled into two cars and headed off to France.  Since we were surrounded by mountains, we had many choices.  We chose La Clusaz.  La Clusaz is a pretty town with a traditional village feel, skiing for a variety of levels and a lot of runs.  As you can see from the maps, it is not far from Geneva.*
It only took about an hour to get there.  Unfortunately, it took a bit longer when we got into town because everyone had the same idea.
Ski rental is quite reasonable.  Since we went in France, we got to pay in Euros too.   We rendezvoused with the other couples on the mountain and got a quick pic before someone broke something.  Thanks to the Hughes‘ for the picture.  Please note how it was easier for me to twist my body to face the camera than turn around and go the right way.

We have skied before, it’s just been awhile.  A long while.  The last time we were on skis was about 15 years ago.  Full disclosure: he’s skied once in the intervening years…in North Carolina (so it doesn’t really count as skiing).
The mountains are a little larger than they are in Michigan and I had to screw up my courage.  I told myself that I’m not going to spend the winters inside and alone because I live in Switzerland and don’t ski.  If I’m going to ski, there has to be a first time and there is no time like the present.
This is how I looked on my first run down the mountain. Thank goodness Wildcat was there encouraging me. She was very kind not to point like Nelson from The Simpsons and do the “ha ha”.
I was so excited to go skiing that I didn’t really notice the length of my skis at the rental place.  I’m not sure if you can tell from the above photo, but my skis were just about as tall as I was.  Oops.  I was going a little too fast for my skill set.  Once I got to the bottom, I exchanged my skis for some smaller (kid sized ones). After that, things went a bit more smoothly and I didn’t fall quite as much (although Wildcat did put up some good wipeout video on the Hughes’).
The great thing about going skiing with a bunch of foodies is that stopping for a wonderful lunch is mandatory. Just in case our 5 million burgers while we were home during the holidays weren’t enough, both of us ordered “le burger.”  Quels américaines!
My legs got a bit tired part of the way through the afternoon.  I’d “wisely” switched my long training run for the week from Saturday to Friday.  Us ladies were embarrassed because our ski apparel wasn’t as fly as the ladies from Hot Tub Time Machine.
The guys did a few more runs and our brave friend did the blacks on snowboard!  We slinked off the slopes to where we could really shine, the ice rink.
If you want to see video, check out the Swiss Watch Blog.  Cinematic genius.  We look better than the Ice Capades!
* Tour de France fans might recognize the names of some of the towns around there.  The tour has hit more than a few of them.

 

Driving in Switzerland

We now have our permanent car (isn’t she a beauty) here.  When I am driving in Switzerland, I’m not worried about getting in an accident or even parking in a teeny tiny space.  I’m worried about following all of the rules. Here are some:
  • Seat belts are compulsory for all occupants (expected).
Wearing his seatbelt
  • Children under 12 are not allowed to sit in the front seat without an appropriate child restraint (also expected).
  • No right turn on red.  I can deal with this.
  • Pedestrians always have the right-of-way in pedestrian crosswalks.  I can deal with this.  Unfortunately, the drivers with French plates who consistently try to run me over have difficulty doing so.
  • Hazard lights may only be used to warn of danger.   This is a bit different from driving in the US, where I use them when stopped in front of someone’s house.
  • No honking is allowed after dark.  How else am I supposed to show my road rage? This merits a definitely different.
  • Noise from car or occupants that could disturb people is prohibited.   Does this mean I can’t blast my bass?
  • The minimum driving age is 18.  FYI, the drinking age for wine and beer is 16.
  • Mobile phones may only be used with a hands-free system (similar to the US).
  • Headlights must be used in tunnels.   Logical, but this is not really an issue in Michigan.  On Sunday, I think we went through at least 8 tunnels on our way to Geneva.  By the way, not only do you have to use your headlights in tunnels, the speed limit drops and they use radar to fine you if you are following too closely.  You’ll get a nice little note from the Swiss government in the mail about a week later.
  • Headlights should be on and dipped during daylight hours, especially on major routes.  We can do this.
  • Each car must carry a red warning triangle (reflective vests are not obligatory).  Thank goodness our rental came with it, because I’m not sure where to buy a red warning triangle.  Hmmm… I’d better check to make sure our new car has one.
  • Snow chains are required in some winter conditions.    Who doesn’t love this? Okay, he doesn’t love this. To quote him, “what happened to all season tires?” Mom said, “maybe they don’t have them over here.”  He said, “Michelin? Pirelli?”  We have ours and have paid to store our normal tires for the winter.  You can breathe easy, we are in compliance.
  • It is illegal to drive if the windshield is partly or completely obscured by frost; it is illegal to let the car idle to aid clearing the windshield.   Curses, that was my go to move. I am ashamed to say that I would sit in the front seat drinking coffee and let my car warming up do the work for me. I try to be pretty green, but that was one instance where I didn’t worry about my greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Helmets are compulsory for driver and passenger on all scooters, motorbikes, quad bikes and trikes.  The motorcycles and scooters are so aggressive here and we have already seen several accidents. I can see why they have this rule.
  • Speed limits are enforced with cameras.  If you do not obey this one, you will receive an appropriately Swiss (expensive) speeding ticket in the mail.  The amount is determined by taking a percentage of your income?!?  Expect more on this in future posts.
  • Radar detectors are illegal. Okay.  The dreaded ticket in the mail becomes much more likely without one of these.  Oh yeah,the speed limit is only really posted when it is an exception to the above rules (posted at the border).
  • When driving in a city, town or village, the right of way at an intersection is automatically given to the vehicle on the right – priorité à droite – unless otherwise indicated by stop or yield/give way signs. This applies even in the case of a small side road entering a major main road. The vehicle traveling on the main road must give way to the vehicle entering on the right.   I have just been waiving everyone on ahead and hope that when I am not doing this properly, people appreciate my being nice.  We are working on it.
  • At a traffic circle, the vehicle already on the circle has the right of way over vehicles joining from the right. No problems so far here, but as a nation, the US has great difficulty with the traffic circle.
  • On hill roads, the car travelling uphill has priority over the one coming down.  You should see the narrowness of some of these roads. This makes perfect sense.
  • If a car is not registered in the driver’s name, the driver should carry a letter from the registered owner authorising the use. Very, very different.

 

The Hard Knock Life Of An Expat Football Fan

If he followed soccer, or even rugby, it would be a lot easier than it is  keeping up with American football here.  Even if he could watch the local news (in French or German or Italian…heck we even get Al Arabiya with our cable package) to catch the scores, they don’t really cover it.  As a result, it is hard to remember when to update your team,* let alone who to pick up this week because your QB is on a bye and your backup is injured.

He has been reduced to frantically checking ESPN for scores over breakfast.  I am reminding him to update his team.  Me?  Yes, me.  If I am reminding you to update your team, you really are screwed.  Ladies, you know who you are, you really benefitted from my forgetfulness last year.  You are welcome.  Gentleman, if you want him to miss a reminder, please write a request on a 100 CHF note for me.

To top it all off, his team, the long-suffering Detroit Lions**, are actually doing well.***  So are the Detroit Tigers!  We leave and everything gets better.  Maybe it will work for Detroit’s economy too.

*There is no way that you are going to be around to do this at the last minute.  If someone is questionable and it is going to be a last minute decision, they are sitting on the bench.  Period.

**He would like me to note  that Jeff Backus (we won’t mention his nickname for Mr. Backus) is terrible, the bane of his existence.  When Mr. Backus is no longer with the Lions, he will be much happier.  He has felt this way since he Mr. Backus was drafted.  Trust me on this.

** *He did not mind missing Michigan State’s loss to ND.  For that matter, neither did I.