An American couple working and going to school while undertaking a travel assignment that has taken us to Brazil and soon Switzerland.

Know convenience: Moving in Switzerland

OBI, a DIY home improvement store, is comparable to Lowe's or Home Depot in the States - just lots more expensive.
The incredibly-difficult-to-put-together sofas with a couple of our purchased-and-installed light fixtures in our living room. Since we can't paint the walls here, we've gone with a classic black-and-white theme.
The incredibly-difficult-to-put-together sofas with a couple of our purchased-and-installed light fixtures in our living room. Since we can’t paint the walls here, we’ve gone with a classic black-and-white theme.

If you’ve wondered why things here on the blog have been quiet for the last several months, we’ve recently just finished a big move and furnishing a new place. Already difficult, moving in Switzerland seems to be the ultimate challenge. Every convenience we take for granted in the U.S. is a luxury here.

Don’t take the small things for granted while moving in Switzerland

Until Feb. 1, we were in short-term or sub-leased flats. Moving every six months just didn’t allow for anything overseas to be too permanent. Since we both have jobs now and we’re settling down a bit, we decided to take the plunge and sign a year lease on a nice two-bedroom flat.

We signed the lease in mid-December, but we couldn’t pick up the keys until mid-January. That’s where we hit our first roadblock. As we were out of the country at the time, the leasing agent was very strict about when and who could pick up the keys. We couldn’t send a friend but had to be there in person to receive the extensive checklist that is given to you for minor nicks and scratches around the apartment that will be even more thoroughly inspected upon move-out.

In Switzerland, it seems it never ends with new findings and negotiations for payment of damages. When we left our temporary residence, the checklist process took hours. Like a military boot camp inspection, the landlord moves around the apartment checking for dust and exclaiming each time they find something that offends the Swiss idea of perfect cleanliness. Each minor infraction is documented and you’re reminded that if the person has to clean themselves, of course, their labor rate is higher than that of a professional cleaner. Many acquaintances have told us that they keep between 1,000 and 2,000 Swiss Francs set aside to pay for the summation of all these minor damages upon move-out.

For moving in, the biggest obstacle was the furnishings. In Switzerland, light fixtures and closets do not come built in. Light fixtures are the property of the renter, and when you move, you take chandeliers, candelabras or whatever else with you. Luckily, the last tenant left a couple of lights in place so we weren’t completely in the dark upon entry. Flats are not built with closets, so you have to purchase and assemble them (known as schranken in German speaking Europe, we’re told that these were also popular in the United States back in the 1920s) – again, taking them with you when you move out.

Furniture shopping in Switzerland

As a couple, this was a first for us. When we got married, we each brought our own furniture and just combined everything – there was very little we needed. In fact, the only piece of furniture we bought together was a dining room table and chairs.

When we took over a completely empty 108-square-meters flat and with all of our housing possessions back in the States, it was time to enter the grownup world of furniture shopping. Of course, we went straight to IKEA.

At this fail-safe store, we were able to secure a filing cabinet for our office area and a bed for our guest bedroom, but we also wanted to check out some of the other local furniture stores.

At the German discount furniture retailer, Lipo, we purchased most of our big items, like the sofas, closets, office desk and chairs, and our bed. The prices were very reasonable for what we got, but we did run into some issues. First, we were told that most of the items that had to be ordered would be in the store for pickup in about three weeks. It took double that time. Unlike our native United States, warehouses are small and each item has to be custom ordered.

OBI, a DIY home improvement store, is comparable to Lowe's or Home Depot in the States - just lots more expensive.
OBI, a DIY home improvement store, is comparable to Lowe’s or Home Depot in the States – just lots more expensive.

When the pieces finally did arrive, since we no longer live in an environment where F150s are common, we also had to arrange a reservation for the furniture store’s truck. These are usually already booked for all convenient time slots over a two-week period. Then, when we did receive our sofas, they were incredibly difficult to put together. Legs weren’t attached yet, nails had already been driven fully into the wood where those legs should be installed, and there were no directions on what to do. Finally, the closets had several missing screws. In the end, however, we were able to improvise and get the pieces set up.

Our dining room table and two chairs (huge shout out to our friend, Christian, for giving us a set of dining room chairs to round out the table), and most of our lights and electronics came from the Swiss home furnishing store Conforama. Though the prices here were a bit higher, we were pleased with the quality of the furnishings.

In an equivalent to Lowe’s or Home Depot, to get all the tools to put together these items, we shopped at the Swiss home improvement store OBI. Set up in almost the same fashion of the DIY stores in the States, OBI had the same offerings at a much higher price. For instance, a standard drill that costs about $45 USD was 100 CHF here.

 What is moving like for you?

Now that we’ve finally finished moving in Switzerland, we’re looking forward even more to enjoying our new home here.  Have you ever made a move in a foreign location? What was your experience?

No rights on red: Driving in Switzerland

No rights on red: Driving in Switzerland
I’m a certified and legal Swiss driver now. Birth date, license number and signature have been redacted.

Beware Swiss drivers: I’m an official licensed driver now!

No more visitor’s passes, Chris and I are now the proud holders of Swiss driver’s licenses. We’ll be driving in Switzerland legally now.

How to obtain a Swiss driver’s license

Not to say we were illegally driving before, but we only had an International Driving Permit, which you can easily pick up at any AAA for a minimal fee (usually around $15), a passport-size photo and proof of a valid local driver’s license.

Now, though, we have the real deal, including a sticker on our U.S. driver’s license that says “Not valid in Switzerland.”

To obtain this coveted certificate, we had quite a bit of paperwork to fill out, but, thankfully, no driver’s test was required.

We had to visit the local city government offices to obtain the correct form. Completely in German, we had to have some help deciphering it all, but it was a straightforward form you could expect from the Department of Motor Vehicles in the States.

The form required an attached passport-sized photo, your current American or other country driver’s license and a signed-off eye exam by a certified optometrist.

And this is where it go fun.

“You will never drive in Switzerland!”

Unlike in the States, eye exams are not done at the local government establishment where you are issued your driver’s license. You must go to a licensed provider, which can be found either at an eye doctor or at shops that sell glasses, like LensCrafters. There is one of these shops around the corner from where we live, so we decided to try there first.

No rights on red: Driving in Switzerland
The official form we had to complete, along with a passport-sized photo and eye examination proof, to obtain a certified driver’s license.

An older gentlemen owns the store, and he has an old-fashioned eye exam room in the back. You sit in the chair and he places one of those bulky lens on a swivel in front of you. He flips through the different lenses requiring you to call out the lines of letters.

The strange part, at least for me as I’d never experienced it before, was the lines of letters were not in front of you. They were behind you in backward form projected onto a mirror in front of you. So, you’re looking at a line of letter images on a mirror.

I know my eyesight is no longer the best. That’s what staring at a computer screen for 10+ hours a day gets you. At my last optometrist appointment in the States I was told I had a slight astigmatism but it wasn’t bad enough, yet, to do anything about. So, I was already a bit nervous about the eye exam, and then when I realized the mirror stunt, I was even more uncomfortable.

Needless to say, I failed this eye exam with flying colors, and you would have thought I had shredded and set the Swiss flag on fire by the way the old man reacted. He literally began yelling at me that I would never drive in Switzerland. Then he asked me if I had a car. When I told him no, he was visibly disappointed as he told me that if I did, he was going to call the police on me to confiscate the car.

Next up in the chair of torture was Chris. He passed, but only at 80 percent. Though the old man was much nicer to him, he still seemed upset he had to pass Chris at 80 percent. Before we left the store, he made sure he reminded me that I was not or would I ever be legally allowed to drive in the country.

Never take no as the answer to driving in Switzerland

Feeling pretty down about the whole situation, I wasn’t quite ready to give up yet. I decided to try one other shop nearby. What a difference some updated technology can make.

When I walked into the shop, I was greeted by a pleasant lady that led me directly upstairs to a modern telescope piece of equipment. I was to look into the device and read the lines of letters directly in front of me – no weird backward mirror projection. Even though I wasn’t able to read the bottom line, she was nice and moved on to the next test that analyzed my ability to differentiate between colors.

I walked out of the store with a passed stamp on my application, ready to return to the Kanton St. Gallen Sicherheits und Justizdepartment Strassenverkehrs and Schifffahrtsamt Verkehrszulassun (St. Gallen Canton Security and Justice Department Road and Transport Authority Traffic Licensing).

With the complete package of the filled-out application with passport-sized photo, signed-off eye exam and our Georgia driver’s license, we were informed we should receive our Swiss driver’s license in about two weeks by mail.

The Wait Game

No rights on red: Driving in Switzerland
My Georgia driver’s license now stamped with “Not valid in Switzerland.”

We had heard from other American expats that when they applied, they were denied a Swiss driver’s license since their state driver’s license didn’t have an issue date on it. A friend from Connecticut had to contact her local DMV back home to request a letter stating she had passed her first driver’s exam back when she was 16. Since U.S. DMVs aren’t aware of these requirements nor do they have any official standards on how to support the requests, it can take some time to obtain the necessary documentation.

Two weeks later instead of receiving our licenses, we received a letter from the local authorities with an issue. Since our Georgia licenses are a Class C, which means in the States we can only operate vehicles under 26,000 lbs and haul trailers under 10,000 lbs, Class C translates in Switzerland to a Commercial Driver’s License, which means we could operate large vehicles like semi-trucks. So, in other words, our U.S. licenses would allow us to operate 18-wheelers in Switzerland.

The letter we received from the authorities, again all in German, wanted to know if we wanted this classification on our Swiss driver’s license. If so, we would need to undergo a complete physical exam by a medical doctor. Since neither Chris nor I have any experience operating these types of vehicles, we opted for a lower classification (B) that allows us the same authorizations we had in the U.S.

After checking the appropriate boxes and mailing the forms back in, we then did receive our official Swiss licenses in the mail with our Georgia licenses stamped with “Not valid in Switzerland” two weeks later.

Driving in Switzerland

In our travels, we’ve found driving here to be quite rule-orientated. Except in the southern portion of the country or Italian region, drivers abide by the rules and our generally respectful to other drivers.

No rights on red: Driving in Switzerland
An International Driving Permit that is recognized in most of the world you can easily obtain from AAA. If the country you’re traveling to doesn’t recognize the IDP, check out the Inter-American Driving Permit, also available through AAA.

A few rules of the road we find different here are:

  • No right turns on red
  • As they are everywhere, know your traffic circle etiquette – drivers in the circle have the right-of-way
  • Learn to drive a manual/stick shift – automatic cars are few and far in between here
  • Don’t expect to be pulled over by police for speeding. Speed cameras are everywhere and you will be mailed a ticket. Police are reserved for more important tasks
  • In the winter, you must drive with headlights on at all times
  • Winter tires are required from November to April
  • It is against the law to drink (non-alcoholic beverages included), eat or talk/text on a cell phone while you’re driving. We’ve been told that police will even use binoculars to spot this from far away.
  • Certain permits are required on cars at all times in many countries. For example, anytime we drive in Austria, we have to stop at a gas station to purchase a 10 Euro green sticker to drive on their roads
  • You are required by law to have a safety kit including a florescent vest in your car at all times
  • A DUI is given at .05 blood alcohol content rather than .08 and police don’t need suspicion to give you the breathalizer. Random checks are sometimes done at entry points to a village or city.
  • You should turn off your engine at stoplights and railroad crossings to reduce pollution.
  • Like Virginia, radar detectors and GPS speed camera locators are illegal. Even stricter, they can’t be in your possession when turned off.

Since we don’t currently own a car here, regularly driving in Switzerland will be on hold for a bit longer as we continue to take the trains to most of our destinations with the occasional rental car.

What is the strangest driving habit you’ve seen abroad?


Christmas in German speaking Europe

Possibly the world's most expensive Christmas tree, this Swarovski masterpiece towers over one of Zurich's Christmas markets in its main station
Possibly the world's most expensive Christmas tree, this Swarovski masterpiece towers over one of Zurich's Christmas markets in its main station
Possibly the world’s most expensive Christmas tree, this Swarovski masterpiece towers over one of Zurich’s Christmas markets in its main station

After spending the last two Christmas seasons in more exotic locales (Brazilian beaches and Tibet), we’re staying around our current home in Eastern Switzerland for Christmas Day 2014. Although it’s been an unseasonably warm winter thus far without snow 740 m above sea level in our home of St. Gallen, we’ve visited several Christmas markets over the past few weeks as well as a few other Christmas traditions, bringing us closer to the feeling of the holiday season.

Christmas in Austria

Tim Burton would be proud of the Austrians. Each year in early December

Krampus is now commercialized in Austria just as much as Santa Claus.
Krampus is now commercialized in Austria just as much as Santa Claus.

around St. Nicholas Day, not only St. Nicholas appears but also his feared nemesis, Krampus. Krampus brings whippings rather than gifts and may grab a child or two to throw in his basket for extra torment. Chocolate and greeting card companies have now corporatized Krampus to the equivalency of Santa Claus, but the festivities were a must for our first Christmas in German speaking Europe. In many towns throughout Austria, Krampus Laufen (Krampus Runs) are organized to allow Krampus clubs to parade through the streets and offer scares. We attended two of the more organized runs in Klagenfurt and Graz. Frequent targets of Krampus include young children, attractive young women and friends of teen boys stuck near the front of the crowd while their friends taunt Krampi safely behind. Photos of our Krampus Laufen experiences can be found below.

Christmas in Switzerland

St. Nicholas and Knecht Ruprecht talk to a child in Wil, Switzerland.
St. Nicholas and Knecht Ruprecht talk to a child in Wil, Switzerland.

Traditions in Switzerland related to Santa Claus vary from canton to canton as much as any other subject. We chose Wil, a town between St. Gallen and Zurich, to witness this year’s St. Nicholas Day festivities. In this area of Switzerland, St. Nicholas and his dark hooded companion, Knecht Ruprecht, arrive as a pair. Locals say that both were once a feared pair who would beat children for their naughty deeds of the past year. In some parts of Switzerland, the darker clothed companion, also sometimes referred to as Samichlaus’ partner Schmutzli, still plays this role.

A young child waits with his treat given to him by St. Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht.
A young child waits with his treat given to him by St. Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht.

Today in Wil, however, both are considered amiable and tend to focus more on what children did right over the past year, encouraging them to continue to listen to their parents. On St. Nicholas Day at exactly 3 pm in Wil, church bells ring and a stream of pairs of these two characters, forming the St. Nikolaus Gruppe Wil, emerge from the main church. Children eagerly await, talk to the pair, and then receive a small sweet. Those hoping to someday act as St. Nikolaus must first spend several years as Knecht Ruprecht. Only when one St. Nikolaus departs does a Knecht Ruprecht have the chance of being promoted to the lead role.

Christmas in Germany

Thought we haven’t had the opportunity to spend much time in Germany this holiday season, we were able to check out the Christmas Market in Konstanz across the Bodensee from St. Gallen. From Monica’s time there when she was just babe, we know that this time of year is full of festivity there. We hope to get to more Christmas Markets in the country next year, like Nuremberg’s that is known worldwide.

Christmas Markets

With gluhwein and other warm drinks flowing and an array of trinkets and fine

Warm beverages are easy to find in Europe each December.
Warm beverages are easy to find in Europe each December.

arts gifts in vendor stalls, Christmas markets always draw a huge crowd. We chose the large market in Salzburg as our first experience and we’ve now visited a few others, including one only a couple of blocks from where we live. The larger markets stay open from late November to late December, becoming the town’s main meeting point for a month. Smaller towns may open a market for only one weekend or even a single day.

Photos from Krampus Laufen (Krampus Run) in Klagenfurt, Austria

Members of a Krampus club hang around Klagenfurt before donning their costumes
Members of a Krampus club hang around Klagenfurt before donning their costumes
Krampus merchandise sold at Klagenfurt Christmas Market
Krampus merchandise sold at Klagenfurt Christmas Market
Krampus vendor at Klagenfurt Christmas market
The youngest Krampus we witnessed gave a scare to the even younger children.
The youngest Krampus we witnessed gave a scare to the even younger children.
Krampi prepare before adding their mask and beginning the Krampus Laufen.

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A scared but curious boy climbs a tree to see the action without risk of being whipped or kidnapped by Krampus.
A scared but curious boy climbs a tree to see the action without risk of being whipped or kidnapped by Krampus.
As many Krampi are costumed teenage boys, teen girls are frequently chosen for extra attention and whippings.
As many Krampi are costumed teenage boys, teen girls are frequently chosen for extra attention and whippings.


The final stretch at Klagenfurt allows costumed Krampi to have one last round of fun before ripping off the sweltering masks.
The final stretch at Klagenfurt allows costumed Krampi to have one last round of fun before ripping off the sweltering masks.
Completion of the Krampus Laufen in Klagenfurt
Completion of the Krampus Laufen in Klagenfurt





Krampus Laufen in Graz, Austria

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Salzburg Christmas Market

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St. Nicholas Day in Wil, Switzerland

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Christmas Market in Konstanz, Germany

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WorkLife Travel Destination: Buenos Aires

WorkLife Travel Destination: Buenos Aires
La Casa Rosada, executive mansion of the Argentina president, is illuminated in pink hues. A central point of the downtown area, it attracts tourists and activists.

Though the current capital city of Argentina has been under scrutiny lately for defaulting on debt to the U.S., Buenos Aires still is a prime travel destination. This Paris of South America features remarkable architecture, a world-class sports scene, an energetic nightlife, and a culture worth visiting.

Favorite Buenos Aires Places

La Casa Rosada

The equivalent to our White House, La Casa Rosada is the executive mansion and official office of the Argentinian president (though her official residence is in a suburb of the city) and where Evita made her famous speech that inspired a country and the musical. This government house with its pink hues and bright pink lights at night is in the downtown area overlooking the Plaza de Mayo, surrounded by impressive architecture of other central political institutions.

Protests and demonstrations occur regularly in front of La Casa Rosada. While you should always exercise caution when encountering such political activities in foreign countries, I believe these events give you a true feeling of the local atmosphere outside of the tourist facade. While we were in Buenos Aires, we encountered a major strike by the trade unions Nov. 20, 2012. Workers shut down stores and public transportation, taking to the streets to protest against the country’s economic policies. We saw many businesses vandalized that did try to open that day. We were never threatened or felt in danger, and it was interesting to hear the views of the protestors as they gave rally speeches and chanted anti-government sentiments.

Livraria El Ateneo

A classical theater turned bookstore – a mashup of my favorite things. The Livraria El Ateneo offers row upon row of books in many languages, housed inside a glamorous theater still complete with stage, red curtain and rotunda. Admiring not only the selection but the grand views, you’ll find many patrons sitting in one of the former box seats taking in a classic or sitting stage center in the cafe enjoying a coffee. The world-renowned bookstore also offers readings and reading clubs.

WorkLife Travel Destination: Buenos Aires
Sculptures offer another taste of art at the La Recoleta Cemetery where famous Argentinians, such as Eva Peron, are buried.

Cementerio de la Recoleta

No surprise here as you all know how much I love cemeteries (seriously, free art). Not only does the Cementerio de la Recoleta have graves of the famous, such as Evita and Luis Ángel Firpo, but there are masterpieces of sculptures inside (I think I’ve mentioned sculpture is my favorite art form). The structure of the cemetery also creates narrow passages in between the tombstones and mausoleums, so you get this haunting sense of discovery as you turn each corner. With 14 acres to explore, plan to spend an afternoon walking around. There are even bench areas to rest.

WorkLife Travel Destination: Buenos Aires
We attended our first polo match at the 119th annual Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo where La Aguada took on La Natividad.

Sports Mecca

As a South American city, of course Buenos Aires is known for great soccer or futbol. We took in a minor team match, River Plate, and it was an experience. We also attended the 119th annual Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo.

La Boca

This bright and colorful barrio of Buenos Aires is the ideal spot for souvenir shopping, street performers and eateries. While you sip on a Mate tea watching a couple do the Tango, take in the multicolor overhangings and carved mannequins perched on balconies. Listen to the chatter of the locals and the screaming kids playing soccer in the street. It’s a pleasant assault on all the senses.

Unfortunately, I have to tell you this side story here. We had some pretty great photos of this area. We toured the barrio on a sunny Monday morning, and then we boarded the Linea A on the subway to go back to our hostel.

We had been warned that this particular route was notorious for women being groped. So Chris, being the great husband he is, was doing his best to keep his arms around me on the crowded train. He was wearing cargo pants and had the camera zipped inside of a side pocket.

WorkLife Travel Destination: Buenos Aires
Though this evening performance of the national dance wasn’t in La Boca, we saw some great street performers dancing the Tango there. Unfortunately, since our camera was taken, we don’t have any of those photos.

As we neared an upcoming stop, a man that had been sitting suddenly jumped up to offer me a seat. If you know my father, then you know since birth I’ve been instilled with a general distrust of the human population in general. As much as I wanted to believe this was just a good citizen showing some genuine Buenos Aires hospitality, the scene seemed a bit off. I politely refused the seat, and when we came to the stop, the man made a hasty escape.

As the train began to move again and there was a bit more space, Chris relaxed his hold around me just enough to discover his side pocket was unzipped. We immediately got off at the next stop to check our belongings. Our camera with all our wonderful La Boca photos was gone.

Looking back, Chris realized his pocket was just near enough to Mr. Let-Me-Offer-You-A-Seat-Since-I-Just-Pickpocketed-You to do the deed. This has been the only time to date (knock on wood, which  I literally just did at my desk while typing) we’ve ever personally encountered any type of crime since we’ve been traveling. I thank my lucky stars as it could have been much worse. Chris had just backed up all our other photos on his travel laptop the night before, so we only lost the nice La Boca photos.

Pickpocketing and other crimes can happen in any city in the world, and we were just unfortunate that it happened in Buenos Aires.

Lesson learned – keep all valuables, such as cameras and wallets, in front pockets instead of side pockets that are easier to access.

WorkLife Travel Destination: Buenos Aires
The vendor at Feria de San Telmo who sold us the cowboy belt buckle certainly was dressed the part. The best open-air market I’ve ever been to, I would quickly go again.

Feria de San Telmo

From the worst travel experience to probably my best travel experience, the Feria de San Telmo, held every Sunday, is the largest, most diverse market I’ve ever seen. I love open-air markets, and San Telmo’s is the best. I bought so much, from a purse made of old vinyl records to a cowboy belt buckle. Reserve your entire day to walk through the miles of vendors and watch the many street performers.

Buenos Aires Eats

You know that former show on The Food Network The Best Thing I Ever Ate? I had mine in Buenos Aires at the Feria de San Telmo. With so much shopping to do, I didn’t want to take the time to stop for a long lunch. On-the-go, we found a vendor selling homemade empanadas from a basket. Since they were large, Chris and I only bought one to share. After my first bite, I was wishing we had bought the whole basket. With the golden flaky crust filled with savory meat, potatoes and onions, I was in food heaven. We tried to find the vendor again, but we were unsuccessful. So, be sure to try to the street food in Buenos Aires, especially if you sell a short elderly gentleman wearing a fedora and selling homemade empanadas from a basket.

Buenos Aires restaurants can be a bargain for U.S. travelers who bring
along dollars from home. Since Argentina’s government now bans banks
from converting Argentinian pesos to dollars as a counter to
inflation, a black market for the dollar has developed that gives a
premium to the greenback. With prices already cheap for many
travelers, this drives them down even further and allows $20 to go a
long way toward a nice dinner at the best Argentinian steakhouses.

WorkLife Travel Destination: Buenos Aires
Try the hot chocolate and churros at the famous Café Tortoni. Don’t ask for it to go, though, as the experience is in the savoring.

We spent our dollars at El Obero in the famed La Boca district.Here
you have a thick steak and good service while surrounded by relics
from the famed La Boca football club.

Another famous spot is the Café Tortoni, known for its rich coffee and decadent desserts. Though the country certainly has Starbucks, the idea of coffee-to-go is a foreign concept. In Argentina, you take the time to sit and savor coffee with friends.

Working in Buenos Aires

While Buenos Aires has been one of our favorite cities, its struggling
economy that offers good deals to travelers also prevents them from
staying and finding a job. Many of the most renowned building
architecturally have been inhabited by squatters since the 1990s and
are now deteriorating. Young people sleep on the streets.
Despite all this, though, many of our friends are pursuing entrepreneurial ventures in the city.

For an insider’s perspective, I spoke with fellow Couchsurfer Leonardo Rodrigues, a native from São Paulo who has established his own company in Buenos Aires last year.

WorkLife Travel Destination: Buenos Aires
We give Buenos Aires a 7. What would you give it?

Unlike larger cities in South America, Leonardo says its easier to network with people from all over the world in Buenos Aires where expats aren’t confined to specific areas of the city but mix throughout with the locals. “Though the country is in a serious crisis, you can still have a high quality of life here.”

At the workplace, be prepared to be social. According to Leonardo, it’s common to have a coffee or cigarette with your colleagues as soon as you arrive at work, getting to the business of the day about 20 minutes afterward.

On the weekends, Leonardo likes to go the many parks with friends; another benefit of the city is its many green spaces. Be prepared to become a night owl, though, as he stresses the fact that going out for a night of dancing usually doesn’t even start until 2 a.m. when the clubs are just beginning to get busy. Barbecues and soccer games are the typical Sunday afternoon activity.

“Buenos Aires is an incredible city, and I love it here.”

Ranking Buenos Aires

I give Buenos Aires an overall 7 for its great food and beautiful architecture. What is your favorite South American city?


Autumn fair season in Switzerland

Typical carnival rides dot the landscape during a Swiss fair.

It’s been a wonderful autumn in Switzerland this year, without snowfall to this point and with warm sunny days surpassing many of those in summer. Autumn also brings fair season in Switzerland, brought in by truckloads of carnival rides and Michael Jackson props. I attended two of these fairs in the past weeks – St. Gallen’s Olma and Basel’s Herbstmesse.
Olma is the name of a famous sausage in St Gallen. Tourists from across Europe have heard of its legend and it’s labeled as the “can’t miss” food for their visit. In fact, the taste is supposed to be so good that they say you offend the cook by smothering it with mustard or some other condiment because this taste is good enough to stand alone.

But before the sausage, Olma was an acronym meaning “Ostschweizerische OlmaposterLand- und Milchwirtschaftliche Ausstellung,” an annual fair focusing on agriculture and offering city folk a chance to mingle with country folk over drinks. It happens for 10 days annually on the fairgrounds dubbed Olma Messen, a spread of several “halls” that welcome guests daily until 7 p.m. After 7, the party continues well into the night outside of the halls.

Unlike Olma, Herbstmesse is spread across the city of Basel with no overall admission fee. Most of the outdoor exhibits, vendors and rides are the same as at other Swiss fairs but nothing offered at other fairs quite compares to Kellerabsieg when Basel Fasnacht cliques open the doors to their private basement clubhouses for only one night.

We had previously attended Basel Fasnacht and witnessed the confetti showers, irreverence and flute playing. Even during Fasnacht, though, these basements remained off limits. On this night, food and drinks are served at prices lower than offered at Swiss restaurants and guests are able to see decor from past carnivals that remain as souvenirs.




Basel Fasnacht flutes
At 4 a.m. Monday during Basel Fasnacht, masked flute players parade in the streets with no set paths.


Besides Basel, Lucerne is the other well known Fasnacht (Swiss Carnival). This was also represented in the parade.
Besides Basel, Lucerne is the other well known Fasnacht (Swiss Carnival). This was also represented in the parade.
Olma begins with a parade from the year's visiting canton. This year's visitor, Lucerne, portrayed several scenes of traditional Swiss life.
Olma begins with a parade from the year’s visiting canton. This year’s visitor, Lucerne, portrayed several scenes of traditional Swiss life.
Lucerne traditions represented in Olma's opening parade.
Lucerne traditions represented in Olma’s opening parade.
Alp horns add traditional Swiss music to the scene.
Alp horns add traditional Swiss music to the scene.
The 2014 Olma parade ends with an appearance from the 2015 visiting canton, Aargau.
The 2014 Olma parade ends with an appearance from the 2015 visiting canton, Aargau.
Agriculture remains the focal point of Olma.
Agriculture remains the focal point of Olma.
Beer arrives from famous Swiss brewery Feldschlösschen.
Beer arrives from famous Swiss brewery Feldschlösschen.
This round of Olma's famous pig race is won by a pig sponsored by the local favorite Schützengarten.
This round of Olma’s famous pig race is won by a pig sponsored by the local favorite Schützengarten.
Children are employed with candy to chase the pigs back from the track for another round of betting.
Children are employed with candy to chase the pigs back from the track for another round of betting.
Beer tents resembling Munich's Oktoberfest remain open late into the night with live music.
Beer tents resembling Munich’s Oktoberfest remain open late into the night with live music.
Typical carnival rides dot the landscape during a Swiss fair.
Typical carnival rides dot the landscape during a Swiss fair.
Basel Fasnacht clique Runzlebieger's secret basement, open to the public for only one night per year.
Basel Fasnacht clique Runzlebieger’s secret basement, open to the public for only one night per year.
Runzlebiger's artist explains the 200 hour process involved with each canvas in preparation for Fasnacht.
Runzlebiger’s artist explains the 200 hour process involved with each canvas in preparation for Fasnacht.
High society cows and children with their McDonalds meals at Naarebaschi.
High society cows and children with their McDonalds meals at Naarebaschi.
There is no shortage of rivalries between Basel and Zurich. Here, the Zurich arrogance is said to be growing like a poisoned mushroom.
There is no shortage of rivalries between Basel and Zurich. Here, the Zurich arrogance is said to be growing like a poisoned mushroom.
VKB Stamm artwork depicting traditional Fasnacht masked flute players.
VKB Stamm artwork depicting traditional Fasnacht masked flute players.
Swiss traditions represented by this artwork in the basement of Guggemuusig Ohregribler.
Swiss traditions represented by this artwork in the basement of Guggemuusig Ohregribler.
VKB Stamm's basement
VKB Stamm’s basement
Schotte Clique 1947 Basel's Basement Bar
Schotte Clique 1947 Basel’s Basement Bar



























































Going green: Recycling in Switzerland

Going green: Recycling in Switzerland
Going green: Recycling in Switzerland
Papers are tightly bundled and stacked neatly outside of a residence for pickup. Recycling in Switzerland is a highly organized process

Go green! Save the Earth! Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Switzerland is an environmentalist’s dream. With its strict protection standards, it took the No. 1 position in this year’s Environmental Performance Index. No wonder, then, this place is known for its cleanliness and picturesque scenery.

Promoting green initiatives throughout the country, every day is Earth Day in Switzerland.

Legally protecting the environment

Leave it to me to break the Swiss environmental code within the first two weeks of moving back.

Unlike the States, recycling in Switzerland is a strict standardized process. I do miss the convenience of throwing plastics, glass, paper, cardboard and aluminum into one bin and carrying it out to the street for pickup every other week as was the case in Newport News.

These strict Swiss protocols were unbeknownst to me at the time of my indiscretion as I casually placed my paper and cardboard waste on the street  for pickup. After my loosely-tied bundle remained on the curb long after the scheduled pickup, I not-so-discreetly received an instructional flyer on the proper method of disposing of each sort of recyclable. No loose ties, paper and cardboard separated, and much more.

Fines for littering and disposing of waste in other incorrect ways can be met with hefty fines and police persistence. We’ve even been told how inspectors from the Association of Swiss Recycling Organisations, an umbrella group of several government entities that oversee the various products of recycling, inspect garbage for any perpetrators by looking for any trashed documents that contain the name and address of the wrongdoer.

Going green: Recycling in Switzerland
Trash can only be picked up in special bags sold at local supermarkets. This is a roll of 10 medium-sized bags for 20 Francs, but small and large sizes are also available.

Other than the fines, the Swiss have ingeniously devised another plan to encourage adherence to these strict policies: tax. Most cantons will only pick up trash (of the non-recyclable sort) in certain bags that you buy at the grocery store. Instead of paying a government service bi-monthly, as was our experience in Virginia, you pay the tax when you purchase these specialty trash bags at the supermarket of your choice.

How does recycling in Switzerland work?

In the well-known Swiss style of pragmatism, each piece of waste has its designated place.

Recycling Drop-Off Points

Throughout any town, you can find recycling drop-off points. Large silver cans above ground have long drops to collection bins beneath ground. Each cylinder is clearly labeled for white glass, green glass, brown glass, aluminum/metal and shopping bags. Just drop your recyclable in the appropriate bin and off you go.

Going green: Recycling in Switzerland
Above-ground canisters serve as a drop-off point for green, brown and white glass, aluminum, and used shopping bags. The below-ground bins are emptied by city workers weekly.

Street Collection

My handy recycling flyer hangs on my office bulletin board. It gives me the schedule of when the collection truck will come by for my bundled cardboard or paper (once per month on different dates), trash in my specially-purchased bag from the supermarket (every Tuesday and Friday morning), and my large metal items, such as old pots and pans (twice per year).

The handout also shows me how the cardboard should be broken down and bundled tight with a thin string. It provides several recycling tips and information for local agencies I can contact for further questions, including the organizations that accept old clothes and furniture and more hazardous materials, like oil and corrosives.

Supermarkets and food vendors

Along with selling the specialty bags for your almost non-existent trash items after recycling, you also return PET bottles (think soda bottles and other clear plastics) and opaque plastics (think shampoo containers and milk jugs) to bins inside most grocery stores. Beside these bins, you can also recycle dead electronic (not car, those go to specific centers) batteries and some plugs.

Going green: Recycling in Switzerland
Opaque plastics along with PET bottles and batteries are collected at local supermarkets. Unlike our experience in the States, recycling is a multiple-location program.

At fairs, vendors typically have a deposit for a bottle. So, when you buy a glass bottle of beer or plastic bottle of soda, you’re also given a token. If you bring that token back with your empty bottle to the vendor, you are  usually given a 2-Francs deposit in return.

Compost piles

Many small communities share a compost pile where you can dispose of food scraps that are in turn used in the communal garden plots. Even in larger cities where communal garden plots aren’t as popular, you can turn in food scraps to city collection bins for compost.

How are you protecting Mother Earth?

For a small country,  recycling in Switzerland is certainly doing (more than) its share to help protect and promote the environment.

How do you pitch in with saving the planet? What do you think of the Swiss’ commitment to environmental protection?

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?: German numbers

In the second part of the series, I explain the German numbers.

Find the numbers spelled out below.


0 = null

1= eins        11 = elf                     21 = einundzwanzig            30 = dreißig

2 = zwei       12 = zwölf                22 = zweiundzwangzig         40 = vierzig

3 = drei         13 = dreizehn         23 = dreiundzwanzig              50 = fünfzig

4 = vier          14 = vierzehn          24 = vierundzwanzig             60 = sechzig

5 = fünf          15 = fünf                25 = fünfundzwanzig             70 = siebzig

6 = sechs        16 = sechzehn       26 = sechsundzwanzig       80 = achtzig

7 = sieben       17 = siebzehn         27 = siebenundzwangzig     90 = neunzig

8 = acht           18 = achtzehn       28 = achtundzwanzig

9 = neun          19 = neunzehn       29 = neunundzwanzig

10 = zehn         20 = zwanzig

100 = einhundert

1,000 = eintausend

1,000,000 = einmillion

357 = dreihundertsiebenundfünfzig

4,764 = veirtausandsiebenhundertvierundsechzig

5,897,321 = fünfmillionachthundertsiebenundneunzigdreihunderteinundzwanzig



Lighting up: The history of Amsterdam coffee shops

Lighting up: The history of Amsterdam coffee shops
Coffee shops are not officially allowed to advertise that they sell products other than coffee since marijuana is decriminalized rather
than legalized, so they must get creative with their names to advertise.

Amsterdam, known as Venice of the North throughout Europe, is more famous worldwide for its leniency toward drugs and prostitution. After taking a recent coffee shop tour of the city, we explore the history of Amsterdam’s drug culture.

How did Amsterdam coffee shops start?

The locals say that Amsterdam’s ideas of decriminalization first appeared when Catholicism was outlawed in the 17th Century. Houses like the Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord of the Attic) were converted into churches and didn’t necessarily hide their congregations of around 200 people. These churches and worshipers paid taxes just as legal churches and worshippers paid so the Dutch decided it was beneficial to both sides to look the other way.

Other religious refugees also descended upon Amsterdam including Huguenots from France and Puritans from England. Gedogen is a Dutch word with no direct English translation that refers to this habit of looking the other way via plausible denial. Tax forms today still include a section of “other” income where citizens can legally pay taxes on income that isn’t necessarily specified as legit.

Lighting up: The history of Amsterdam coffee shops
Even candy stores in Amsterdam try to profit on the drug culture of the city.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Amsterdam was a dangerous city overrun by heroin. According to those who live in the area, some of the most beautiful blocks surrounding the canals were entirely infested with filth and people of malicious intent. In an effort to rid the area of hard drugs that caused huge problems and to allow police officers to focus on these important tasks, marijuana and other soft drugs were decriminalized. Soft drugs are those that authorities deem unable to kill a person who overdoses by using too much. Amsterdam natives quickly point out that one of the world’s most deadly hard drugs, alcohol, is legal in almost every country worldwide.

Would the Dutch be willing to completely legalize marijuana today rather than simply decriminalizing it? Probably, if it weren’t for the European Union. As the EU as a whole bars the drugs, The Netherlands would forfeit its membership. Policies of plausible denial, therefore, will continue.

Uruguay is currently the only nation in the world with legalized marijuana at the federal level. Meanwhile, only 5 percent of Dutch people smoke marijuana on a regular basis and only 20 percent have ever tried it, leaving it far below the percentages of Europe’s leaders.

What’s so bad about marijuana?

Lighting up: The history of Amsterdam coffee shops
You can still be arrested for hard drugs in Amsterdam as we witnessed
when this suspect was thrown up against an apartment door in front of us by undercover police.

Public Enemy #1 in Amsterdam is William Randolph Hearst, the late American newspaper publisher. Smoking scholars quickly recall the yellow journalism of Hearst, published in the USA and spread around the world, demonizing the cannabis plant. They point to him as coining the term marijuana as the major word used for the plant because it derived from Spanish, which he could use to further play off the fears of conservatives dreading an invasion of any foreign people or substance. Hearst, they say, with large investments in paper and nylon, had financial incentives to drive away potential competition from cannabis created by harvesting the hemp plant.

Signs in Amsterdam coffee shops say that smoking marijuana is allowed but warn that tobacco users should stay away. Whether warranted or not, Amsterdammers are convinced that marijuana is healthier than tobacco.

Lighting up: The history of Amsterdam coffee shops
This volunteer at the Cannabis College shows examples of “quality” vs. “non-quality” marijuana. The staff will even inspect samples you buy at local coffee shops for free.

For the science behind it and statistics on why the war on drugs kills people rather than saving them, such as figures that show whites use drugs much more often than blacks but are six times less likely to be arrested by the police, visit a professor of the subject at the Cannabis College. Here, avid volunteers declare their support and avidly defend marijuana. You can also pay to enter their marijuana garden (maintained for research) or try a vaporizer in a private room while being instructed by a professional.

Running the business of Amsterdam coffee shops

You will not find many cannabis gardens around Holland. While selling and smoking marijuana in small amounts are both decriminalized, growing mass amounts of it generally is not. Therefore, plantations may still be controlled by organized drug rings. Ask a coffee shop owner where he gets his product and he pleads ignorance. It’s said that the front door remains open, police wander in and look around, but the backdoor remains locked. Outside that backdoor, the deals take place and the officer inside can continue to claim plausible denial.

Lighting up: The history of Amsterdam coffee shops
Bulldog coffee shops, known as the McDonald’s of Amsterdam coffee shops, are a chain in the city.
Owner Henk de Vries bought the police station after being arrested
many times in the 1970s and 1980s to turn into one of his coffee shops,
opening it on April Fools’ Day 1985. Laws forbid coffee shops from
selling alcohol so he purchased two buildings with separate entrances
at this location, one to serve as a cafe selling alcohol and one to
serve as a coffee shop selling smoking materials.

Tour guides warn first timers not to start with space brownies. Holding an indeterminate amount of weed inside, they could be duds as regular brownies disguised to take tourists’ money, or they could be loaded with an amount that overpowers a beginner one hour later while the brownie is being digested once he assumes that nothing is going to happen and he possibly has eaten two or three more. They also warn that THC levels are much higher than you find in other countries, hovering around 15-20 rather than the normal 5 percent.

If you are in search of a 420 holiday and want to know where near the city center you can find good stuff, we can’t offer much assistance ourselves, but the locals suggest De Dampkring, now also famous for its inclusion in the movie Oceans 12. Here, in the back of the coffee shop, you can choose from several different types of high quality weed and roll a joint for less than 5 euros or sit up front and grab a drink and a brownie.

Another type of shop in Amsterdam is known as a smart shop. Smart shops do not sell marijuana and once profited mostly from the sell of magic mushrooms. In 2008, magic mushrooms were banned by the Dutch government after a French girl was said to jump from a bridge to her death and another tourist was said to be found naked eating his own dog. Both events were blamed on mushrooms and the resulting press created enough of a firestorm for a ban. In a bit of a legal loophole, however, that has never since been filled, mushrooms grown above ground were simply replaced with truffles grown below ground and smart shops continue to exist.

Are you up for visiting Amsterdam coffee shops?

Amsterdam is known for its tolerance on a wide array of issues. How do you feel? Do you feel that decriminalization of others’ practices affords you more freedom or less freedom in your daily life?


Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich

Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
In front of the Spatenbräu tent.

Now  living 2.5 hours from Munich, it was a must that we attend
another of the world’s most famous events – Oktoberfest, known as Wiesn locally, a shortened version of the Theresienwiese fairgrounds where it is held. First celebrated there in 1810 when King Ludwig I married Princess Therese (the grounds’ namesake), it has been celebrated ever since in any year that it was not wiped out by disease or war.

A call from our friend, Brittani, that she was visiting at just this time of year ensured that we didn’t procrastinate with our plans to another year and moved forward with our bookings for opening weekend.

As we entered the subway station near our hotel, we met a priest who was in Munich for opening day ceremonies at the cathedral adjacent to Theresienwiese. He quickly offered to lead us to the fairgrounds and gave his summary of the highlighted events ahead, including parades and ceremonies, while often pausing to remark that he must moderate his drinking today because he had to catch a flight tonight and work tomorrow (Sunday).

With 14 major tents, scores of small tents and an amusement park all jammed into Theresienwiese, there is plenty of fun to go around. The photo blog below summarizes our opening weekend of Oktoberfest 2014.

Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
A rainy beginning to the day isn’t always so bad. As the crowds thinned, we wandered wherever we wanted throughout the morning and arrived at each spot just in time to see the major events recommended by our priest guide.










Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Popular politician, Bavarian first minister Horst Seehofer, makes his rounds.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Many men wear red-white plaid shirts with their lederhosen.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Parade on opening day bringing each brewery’s bier through the streets of Munich to respective tents.
Locals pass the time awaiting the arrival of the beer inside the tent.
Locals pass the time awaiting the arrival of the bier inside the tent.




Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
The Löwenbräu bier brand float.
Bier has been served in glass mugs here since 1892.
Bier has been served in glass mugs here since 1892.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Horse racing was a part of Oktoberfest until 1960. Today, they simply bring in the bier.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Our first bier tent.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Festival tents also have their own bands. Here, one hails the coming of the bier.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Opening Day parade bringing bier into the tent.
Brezen (pretzel) is another big hit at Oktoberfest.
Brezen (pretzel) is another big hit at Oktoberfest.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Children lead the parade as the bier arrives at the tent for Opening Day.
Prost: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Kids climb for a better view of the parade.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Cheers for the first bier as the keg is tapped.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Sunflowers are also everywhere.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
The waitresses carry just as much bier as the men.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Waiter delivering an armload of glass bier mugs.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Outside of Spatenbräu’s tent.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Smoking is no longer allowed inside of tents. Our friends at Happy To Be Homeless recommend watching these smoking areas for potential points of sneaking into tents no longer allowing entry.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Monica with the classic bier mug and pretzel.


Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
One of the traditional bier wagons at its final perch beside a tent.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
This Italian bachelorette sat beside us for a couple of hours. Oktoberfest is a popular destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
This man led the crowds in the bier garten outside of the Spatenbräu tent.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
With two pretty blonde ladies in German dirndls accompanying me, finding a table wasn’t so difficult.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Another table dancer.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Overhead view of Oktoberfest. Always be careful in large crowds and away from them in poorly lit areas. While most are there to have fun, many crimes have been committed this year, as always.



Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
These Munich locals told us that they will dress in traditional clothing and appear here every day throughout the festival.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Another heavy load of bier.
Prost!: Celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich
Ending the night in front of the Bavarian monument, towering over the field since 1850, where dozens sleep off a day of celebration.


Women’s travel rights vs. reality

Woment's travel rights vs. reality
Beautiful photo of the Grossmünster in Zürich on a fall afternoon except for the out-of-shot guy to my left who was masturbating.

See that photo there to the right? Great photo, right? That’s the Grossmünster Church in Zürich overlooking a canal from Lake Zürich. This is a favorite spot of mine in the city – nice, peaceful and great for people watching (see all the tourists on the bridge?). What you don’t see in that photo is the man standing about 5 feet to my left masturbating.

The sexual harassment incident

I spent yesterday in Zürich on business with meetings scheduled throughout the day. After a late lunch, I had some free time until my next appointment.

It was such a lovely fall day with just a touch of chill in the air – my favorite days. I was walking about the city, and I wanted to capture the day in  a photo for my Instagram. I thought the Grossmünster would be the perfect iconic shot.

I crossed the bridge and positioned myself in the crook of a wall and a statue. There were lots of tourists around, stopping and snapping photos.

Again, I’m a pretty oblivious traveler, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the people around me as I was positioning my shot. I was waiting for my phone to work, trying to capture the best angle. I was probably standing there for about 10 minutes before I noticed a white man in a black hoodie about 5 feet to my left. What caught my attention about him was he was angling his body toward me and looking back over his shoulder at me.

As I looked down at my phone, I took a peek out of the corner of my eye to see his penis was fully out of his pants and he was fondling himself.

He had taken a position up against the wall so he was directing his activity toward me where no one else could see it. I got pissed.

It was obvious he was wanting me to react; he wanted me to acknowledge him. I continued looking down at my phone, but I began discreetly looking around for a police officer. My first thought was if there was a cop, I would scream and make a scene, hoping he would be caught in the act. No such luck as there were no officers in sight.

My second thought was I should just go ahead and scream. Embarrass him, make him run off, but I knew he wanted some kind of reaction like that. With only tourists around, I didn’t think anyone would be in the position to do anything about the situation.

Finally, I decided to ignore it, and this is where I get pissed at myself. Now with 24 hours passed, I keep thinking I should have done more. I had an umbrella in my bag with an expandable handle. Why didn’t I take it out and beat the sick bastard with it? The wall he was up against was a half wall that keeps you from falling into the canal. If I had been quick enough, I could have rushed him and pushed him over it into the water. At the very least, why didn’t I make some witty comeback?

After a couple of minutes more as I continued to battle with myself about what to do, he took a step toward me. At this time, I was still doing a pretty good job of acting completely engrossed in my phone. I never looked up at him or made eye contact. I decided to get away. I acted as if I had finished whatever I was doing on my phone, spun away from him and walked off down the street.

As I passed by him, I heard him make an exasperated sigh. The only upperhand I felt in the situation was that I did the exact opposite of what he wanted. He wanted acknowledgement, and as far as he knew, he was Mr. Invisible to me.

I got halfway down the street before I turned to see if he was still there. He, of course, was nowhere to be seen. As luck would have it, I then saw two police officers further down the street. I thought about reporting the incident, but what good could I do? I had never even looked at his face, and the only description I could give was a white man in a black hoodie. I passed the officers and kept walking to my next appointment. Another empowerment opportunity missed.

The reality of women’s travel rights

I’m writing this post pissed off and just a few hours before I’m releasing it. Probably not one of my best decisions. I’ve tried to talk myself out of it; I even had another post scheduled for today.

This is not a “I hate men” or “All men suck” post, and I’m completely against the trivialization of women sexually harassing  men. (This is also not meant to be a series of “Why travel sucks” as last week’s post was about travel scams.) The reality, though, is women face a whole set of dangers in travel men do not even have to consider.

Women's travel rights vs. reality
A perspective of where the incident happened.

If I pose the question to our worktrotters how many times something like this has happened to them, I’m sure the women with these experiences will far outweigh the men. (Please share your thoughts in the comments.)

It’s not fair, it sucks, but it’s the reality we face.

So, what are my rights as a woman traveler?

My right: I have the right to walk around a city without fear of some jerk jacking off on or near me.

My reality: Even in just the 24 hours since the incident, I’m watching any man that gets in a 10-foot radius of me and especially where his hands are.

My right: I have the right to wear whatever I want without fear of bringing unwanted attention.

My reality: I have to carefully consider my outfit, ensuring it’s not too revealing to bring leering looks or catcalls on the streets. Apparently anything I wear can bring unwanted harassment as I was in a conservative business outfit yesterday.

My right: I have the right to chat nicely with a local I meet.

My reality: Shortly after the incident, a local man tried to strike up a conversation with me on the street. I was borderline rude to him as all I could think about was if he was trying something underhanded, like possibly flashing me.

What can you do to support women’s travel rights?

Though this was my first experience with public exposure, it’s unfortunately not my first experience with sexual harassment, and  I’m afraid it won’t be my last. I know the reality I live in, I know I have to be aware and responsible for my own safety. With that said, though, we can all support women’s travel rights through action.

1. Speak up

Share your experiences. There are several social media campaigns and more online to address the situation. Help others know what to be aware of and shame those that do these despicable acts.

2. Don’t blame the victim

Women don’t invite harassment by wearing short skirts or being alone. The responsibility lies at the feet of the harasser. Place blame where it’s due.

3. Don’t condone the behavior

If your friend is committing a sexual harassment act, tell him to stop. It’s not OK, it’s not funny. Stand up to the harassment. If it happens to you, don’t laugh about it, don’t shrug it off. Face it, see it for what it is, and call it out.

4. Report it

Finally, and something I wish I would have done yesterday, report  the harassment. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to give a viable description of Mr. Invisible, but at least the police would have known there was someone in the city doing this. I’m sure I’m not the only woman this bastard has done this to, and maybe my report could help establish a pattern.

What travel rights do you have?

For the past 24 hours, I’ve been racking my brain of what I should have done, what I could have done. Got an opinion? Let me know.

I would also love to hear your stories. What travel rights do you hold dear? Have they been violated?