Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekend Sunshine

Ever since we moved here to Switzerland last August, there has been a noticeable pattern in the weather -- It seems to rain a LOT, but mostly during the weekdays, with the clouds leaving by Friday and Mother Nature rewarding us for putting up with all the weekday sogginess with a beautiful sunny weekend. During the week it seems like the rain will never end, but the weekend payoff is worth it!

Our friend Brian who came to visit last summer during his European bike tour knows this all too well (as you can tell from his blog post: "Rain, rain, rain -Zurich" - It cleared up for him by the weekend then too, thankfully!).

This weekend we took advantage of the warm temps and sunshine by taking a hike in the hills just down the lake from our home. Jeff shared some of the routes that he experienced during his 6+-hour training runs while preparing for the Marathon des Sables a few months ago. Lucky for us it wasn't dark and cold and snowy this time as it was for him then!

Our friend Thomas joined us - He recently moved here from Colorado. (We're working on all our friends to move here eventually!)
Last September he visited and we did some great hikes then as well. We had spectacular weather on the weekend then too (of course)...
More pictures from that trip (plus another hiking trip) can be viewed here.
Good thing he came to visit over a weekend, or else he might have never wanted to move here!

Many times we are surprised by how much these Swiss hills and valleys remind us of the countryside in north Georgia...One small difference is the slightly bigger "hills" here that have that white stuff on top of them...

And I don't remember coming across any turnstiles in the middle of trails in Georgia, like they have here on the wanderwegs (hiking paths)...

Back in our home village - The weekend weather was so nice, it seemed that everyone who owned a boat was out on the lake! (It was sunny, just a bit hazy when I decided to take a picture):
Now it is Monday and guess what - It's raining! I wonder if Mother Nature will adjust for the long weekend coming up (since this Thursday is a holiday) and make it sunny all four days... We'll see. We're heading to the french section of Switzerland to learn how to play a traditional Swiss instrument and to watch the Tour de Romandie pro race, so we'll report back to you on that after we get back.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Slowly Sizzling Snowman Signifies Soggy Swiss Summer

You may remember that in my previous post I mentioned how I recently got the "green light" from the doctor that I can ride my road bike outside again. That was very exciting news to me -- buuuuuut, unfortunately I haven't been able to take advantage of it yet, since it has been raining almost constantly ever since then!!

I have reason to believe that I have a snowman to blame for these never-ending rainy days lately. I witnessed the deciding moment myself last week, during the annual Zurich holiday called "Sechseläuten". On this special day each year, a huge snowman is stuffed with explosives and stuck on a tall pedastal in the middle of a square in Zurich.

The snowman's name is "Böög" (which means "masked figure" and was known to frighten children - Sounds like what we'd call the "boogey man"). But isn't he cute??
The tradition is sort of like a Swiss version of the U.S. "Groundhog Day" (only this one seems a bit more violent to me since it involves exploding an innocent snowman rather than just a rodent and its shadow or lack thereof!). Here, at exactly 6pm, the pyre on which the snowman stands is lit, and the time that it all takes to fully explode determines how warm/dry this summer will be (shorter time to explosion = warmer/drier summer and vice versa).

The tradition supposedly started back in the days when laborers were expected to work until dark every night all year, even in the long evenings of the summertime, until a change was made so that they were allowed to stop working at 6pm. So after that they finally had some non-working daylight hours - Sounds like a good reason to celebrate to me! A bell tolls at 6pm to signify the end of work time. Hence the start time of this event, and it's name comes from the German for ~ "6 times the bell rings". The exploding of the snowman signifies the end of winter and the beginning of the longer (work-free daylight-full) evenings.

I met up with our Swiss friend Martina to witness this event - It's always nice to have the local "insider's scoop" for experiencing these kinds of things (plus always great to have an excuse to get together with her!). Martina obviously smiled the right way at one of the guys performing in the parade part of the event and got a nice rose out of it...
Anyway, back to the incinerating of poor ol' Frosty... This year the burning went on and on and on... As it continued, I pushed my way back thru the crowd to the nearby department store and bought all the umbrellas and raincoats they had left in stock... The resale of these (in high demand) should help fund our summer European excursions ;) (especially important since it looks like we'll have to travel outside of Switzerland to see the sunshine this summer!)
It is hard to describe just how loud the explosions were, but maybe this video will help a little... Notice how the bomb-like sounds caused the little girl near us to sob uncontrollably (did I mention they were loud?!). Also notice the horsemen with flags galloping around during the whole thing (I'm thinkin this just wouldn't even be allowed in the US)...

Finally the burning was reported to be complete after exactly 26 minutes and 1 second (Swiss precision as always).

Here's a link to another video online that captured it well (& ya gotta love the music!).
This supposedly means we are in for a rather wet and cool summertime, and Mother Nature has stayed true to that verdict so far. Still the locals celebrated after the explosion was final...parteeee....
Then right away the rain started -- No kidding!

"Braucht jemand einen Regenschirm?" (Umbrella, anyone?) :-)

As Martina mentioned in her comment, there is usually a huge barbeque party afterward, where people use coals from the burned Böög to cook their wurst. It must stay reeeeeeally hot all around the area where the bonfire was -- Take a look at her video of one brave guy fetching the coals...

Hopefully the weather will be drier at next year's event so we can experience this part of the tradition as well! mmmm.....

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Healed, just in time!

I received some exciting news on Thursday -- I got a follow-up x-ray taken of my ankle... And they said it's healed! (or at least healed enough) The doc finally said I can wear shoes other than the special "sexy" supportive boots I've been wearing for 10 straight weeks now - wohoo! Actually I'll kind of miss them -- Ever since Feb. 8th I have worn these same shoes. They have been all over Switzerland with me lately...
But now my feet can finally breathe, whew!!

You can still tell that my left ankle is swollen a bit, and they said it still has a little healing left to do. But now I can finally run again and ride my road bike. So now I have some catching up to do!

At least I didn't have to sit around doing nothing during the weeks that it was healing. Actually I could ride my commuter bike just a few days after surgery...
To be honest I really enjoy riding my commuter bike - It has nice wide tires so there's no worries about riding in the rain (which is helpful here in the wet winter/spring), plus the seating is upright and comfy (it's gonna be hard to get used to the "racing" position of a road bike again), not to mention it offers loads of room in its "trunk" for lugging stuff around...Too bad it doesn't offer what this one does though (hee heeeeee)...
Over the past couple months I did ride a "racing" bike (that's what they call road bikes here) inside sometimes, using our Tacx trainer. It's connected to a computer program, and makes your workout like playing a video game - The faster you pedal the faster the cyclist on the screen goes...You can even choose actual epic rides such as Mont Ventoux and it shows actual video of the climb as you pedal, pedal, pedal...

Here I must have been going so fast, my feet disappeared! ;)That program came in handy to still get a workout when it was cold and/or snowy outside, but still I'd always rather bike in the great outdoors. Very near our apartment is a road with an extended hill climb (as hillseekers I guess that is appropriate), going up up up... It's one of the named climbs in the Zurich Ironman triathlon, called "Heartbreak Hill", and there's writing on the street all the way up to cheer on the riders:
Little things like this pump me up and make me push myself up the hill harder... I pretend the messages are on there for me (hey Lance is my middle/maiden name after all!):So I am very thankful that I've been able to continue to be active through the winter. But I'm also thankful that I can ride my road bike and wear sandals just in time for spring here...

This picture was taken in Montreaux, in the french part of Switzerland near Lausanne. This area is often called the "French Riviera of Switzerland", and we could see why - It is gorgeous. You can see more pictures by clicking here.

I hope you are enjoying your springtime as well!


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Our desert explorer is back!

What an exciting week last week!! It was so much fun "virtually" following Jeff's race across the desert. Thanks to all of you who followed along with me and commented on his race blog! I still can't believe he placed so high. I thought he was going to just try to survive, maybe finishing in the middle of the pack, but instead he finished in the top 50 / elite category. Unbelievable!

Just before midnight Tuesday night, the train from Geneva arrived in Zurich and a tanner and slightly thinner version of my desert-worn husband appeared on the platform, never too tired to smile...
He seemed happy to be home but at the same time missing the excitement and adventure from the previous week. Based on what he has described, it is an even tougher experience than I imagined. But also a very rewarding one, where you test your own limits and then push them even farther. He seems to thrive in challenges such as this, and enjoys it more the tougher the conditions get...
Well one good thing about challenging yourself is rewarding yourself afterward :) I figured the most appropriate welcome-home gift in Switzerland is of course a bag of Swiss chocolates, and completing a big event this big calls for a BIG bag...

You can see from the above picture that the foot blisters are not so bad, surprisingly after over 29 hours of running! (not near as bad as some on the MdS website) Besides a slightly swollen knee and ankle (he's copying me there! we're quite the limping pair now), he is practically good as new. And he didn't even lose much weight from the whole thing either. I think this shows that his body may be especially good at surviving, and even thriving in ultra-endurance events.

At least this was a good time for the body to maintain its current weight. In the past this tendency had been a problem for him. This is one of the reasons I keep saying that his results in this are "unbelievable" -- I still can't believe the big change that he has gone through over the years that we've been together.

Just over ten years ago this same guy was more than 65 pounds overweight, and wouldn't run even a minute unless he were chased! After we got married and we started working office jobs, the pounds started adding on and on...

Thankfully he eventually realized what was happening and that a change needed to be made. And boy did he make it!!

He found the method that worked for him was to sign up for an athletic event that he wasn't currently prepared to do at all, and then follow the necessary steps to become prepared for it (e.g. registering for an Ironman when he'd never run a whole mile). That way he's focused on the event (which is fun and exciting) and not on losing weight (which is not always), and the latter tends to happen as a natural result of all the training and preparation for the event.

This was a lifestyle change, not just a diet or a quick-fix. It took a while for him to get to the desired weight, and to develop the new life habits to maintain that weight. But it has worked - I have seen it with my own eyes. So I know it is possible, and this applies to anyone - If you want to lose weight and make a lifestyle change to be healthy and fit, you can do it if you make up your mind to do it! And it is worth it!!

These days he is so much healthier and happier....

And we can enjoy all the wonderful outdoor activities Switzerland has to offer even more, so I am thankful for that.

Still he keeps signing up for bigger and bigger events, to keep that weight off... I can't imagine what will be the next, bigger adventure/challenge after this desert one!?! Stay tuned to find out!


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Update from the desert

Wow, I just have to share my excitement - I got an update from Jeff about his race experience yesterday, and I can't believe it - He led the main (non-elites) pack through the desert for the long (47-mile) day! You can read his personal account on his blog here.

And here's a picture they had of him on the race website:Think it's hot there or something?? Nah, must've just had something in his eye ;)

One reason I keep saying I can't believe it is because of the big change that Jeff has made over the years that I've known him. I remember a time when I used to try to get him to go jogging with me, just down the block... but he wouldn't/couldn't do it. And now...... (?!!) Quite a change! More on that later.

I've had a friend staying here with me this week, and a couple more arriving from Amsterdam to visit this weekend... So we will all be here celebrating this exciting news! Have a great weekend!