Sunday, May 31, 2020

Hiking Around Basel

The kids were busy with friends today, so Mat and I rented our mobility car and took a drive to do some hiking.  We didn't go far - just about 20 minutes away from our house and still part of the Baselland Canton.

Our first stop was the town of Nenzlingen where the Riccola herb gardens are located.  We were able to park right in town, for free and hike easily to the gardens (about 15 minute walk).  The gardens are beautiful and surrounded by the Jura mountains.  I have been here a few times with my Basel Walkers group and it never disappoints.

We spent some time hiking the area and then exploring the Riccola Herb garden itself.

On our way to the Riccola fields

 Riccola Herb Garden.  It is free to walk around

After the Herb garden, we got back in the car and drove a little further to Pfeffingen where the Pfeffingen Castle Ruins are located.  Again - we were able to find free parking very close to the bottom of the hill leading up to the castle and then walk.  This hike was a bit more difficult as it is up hill.  The beginning is pretty steep, but as you near the Ruins, it levels out a bit.

The view from the Ruins was spectacular.  We spent time exploring them (this is a free activity) and enjoying the view into the heart of Basel from the top.  You can, of course, see Roche tower from here as well.  Always gives us a giggle.

On our way to the castle ruins

 Pfeffingen Ruins.  Originally build in the early 1200s

You can see Roche tower in the distance


 There was a school at the bottom of the hill.  Built in the 1700s
 These are all over Basel.  They are places for Bees

It was a great way to spend the afternoon

Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Small Hike Around Riehen

Mat and I are trying to use our weekends we have left to see a few places not that far away.  I have done several hikes with the Basel Walkers group and he has never gotten to come along.

The ones in Riehen are among my favorites.  Today we chose to walk among the vineyards that are on the hillside.  IT wasn't a long walk, but it was beautiful.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Life is Returning

Well - it has been 100 days and I FINALLY got to go to a restaurant with friends.  The restaurants opened about a week ago, and today I met two friends at one of our favorite Portugese restaurants.  (Spark) We sat outside, and all of the tables were 2 meters (6 feet) apart.  The waiters were wiping down all the tables between patrons and also about once an hour.  They had blown up the menus very big and were standing them near the tables to prevent having to hand out menus to everyone (and have to then wipe them down).  All the wait staff were in masks.

It was a good set up to allow restaurants to be open again.  And the food was delicious as always!  I was grateful to be out.

Mat and I sat by the Rhine later that day and relaxed in one of our favorite spots.  This spot is at the top of my list of places I will miss most about Basel when we move.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Arlington's Last Day of High School

Today is Arlington's official last day of school.  Due to Coronavirus, the school was able to speed up the final testing and requirements for the seniors, so she finished up today.

I cannot believe she is finished with high school.  She started this school year as a high school junior, but by early fall it was clear that she would be wrapping up her high school career this year.

So she became an official senior and started to apply to college.  5 college acceptances later, she chose University of Massachusetts and started making plans for her future beyond high school.

Coronavirus didn't slow her down.  Thankfully her school was able to continue classes as normal online and get the kids all of their requirements to graduate.  And today - that all ended.  Arlington is officially a high school graduate.

Here in Switzerland, "pomp and circumstance" is not really a thing.  There are no cap and gowns or big parties.  No graudation ceremonies.  Since compulsory school ends at age 16, and kids decide at that time to go to jobs or technical school or continue school in their gymnasiums (high level high schools) and head off to college.  What is celebrated is their accomplishment and what is coming next.  They are becoming adults in the eyes of Switzerland and that is a good enough reward.

Because we are Americans, I did get Arlington a cap and gown in her school colors to celebrate her graduation.  We had to wing it for the rest since I don't have access to Amazon right now to get any kind of party supplies.  At least we have cake.

This summer when we return to the United States we will celebrate with family.  We will pull out all the stops to remind her how proud of her we are.  Although - we can take a page out of the Swiss handbook, and just wish her well on her future journey.  Because what is behind her is no where near as exciting as what is in front of her.

Look out world - here she comes.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Corona Virus - another month later

Switzerland is starting to make progress in reopening the country post Coronavirus.  After a few weeks of less than 100 cases a day (and none here in Basel), today schools for students up to the age of 15 open.  There are a lot of rules that are in place for that opening (kids will be very restricted in their movements).  Today Finley and Cainan return to school.  Arlington and her age group do not go back until June 8th.  And Mat's job is still requiring everyone to work from home.

Some of the highlights for the return are: 1) kids will not move around from class to class - all teachers will come to their class and they will stay put all day.  2) all desks will be 6 feets (2m) apart and studnets are assigned a desk and are not allowed to get up and visit other students for any reason.  3) lunch will be in the classrooms  4) one class outisde at a time and they must social distance.  5) When students arrive, they are met by a teacher/staff member at the door.  They have different doors assigned for entrance for different age groups.  And only a few studdents can enter at a time.  6) no locker use at all - no time in the hallways unless they need to use the bathroom.  7) no clubs, after school care, after school activities.  8) PE will be modified.  9) all staff and teachers are in masks and no close contact with students.  These are just a few of the rules.  The instructions are even more extensive for the little kids.

Restaurants also open today.  Again - with lots of rules in place.  Most shops also open today.  Even some museums.  Groups of 5 or more cannot still gathering in public spaces.  But progress has been made.  I am anxious to see how it goes.

We are getting there.  By June 8th - the next opening time (if all goes well) zoos and most museums and workplaces begin to open.  The groups that will be allowed to gather - the number will increase (don't know what that number will be yet).  We were told that there will be no gatherings of 1000 or more until well into the fall.  The borders will not open for us who just want to cross "willy nilly" will not happen until the fall.  The Swiss are being cautious.  And they should be.

Only time will tell how this will go.  In a city where almost all travel is done by public transportation - I will be anxious to see if our numbers increase with a bunch of people now released into the population at once.  Switzerland has done a good job with this.  They have kept strict quarantine measures in place for a very long time and truly saw the virus almost all but disappear before they even considered opening ANYTHING.  They have also made very straight forward plans that have been consistent to the public.  They have warned us that if things change, they will put everything back in lock down.  We have had good leadership through this, which I know the US is lacking.

We shall see.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day 2020 - In Quarantine

Today is the very last day of our super strict quarantine measures here in Switzerland, and it also happens to be Mother's Day!  We had a nice day relaxing and watching movies and being together.  There isn't anywhere else I would want to be.

 Finley drew me a picture.  I am always asking her to make me some art, and she always says no.  This was a huge win for today and a great present.
 My mama.  This was taken last summer when we were in Paris together with my sister in law, Tricia.  That was a great trip!  I look forward to getting to see her again this summer

Friday, May 8, 2020

What I Won't Miss

Since I wrote a very gushy post about our lives here in Basel and how much we will mourn the loss of that life - I felt it was only fair to say that there are things I won't miss.  This goes with any move we make, of course.  There are always things about a place that you can point to that you could do without.  Or less of.

**Disclaimer - not one of these facts below change my love for Switzerland at all.  If we weren't moving and Mat's job would have kept us here for long term, these things would have slowly faded into the background.

While those feelings take a FAR back seat to the feelings of loss, they are still there.  They did help when we were making a pro and con list of moving back to the United States.  There are things going on in the USA right now that I am not anxious to be apart of again.  To be sure.  So making a list of things I won't miss about Basel made it easier to decide on a move.

The biggest thing is the language barrier.  Hands down.  I knew it was going to be challenging, and I was up to the challenge.  I took German classes for the first two years we were here.  I learned enough to be able to run my errands and have very basic conversations on the phone.  It was much harder to learn a foreign language than I expected.  My 40 something year old brain wasn't up to the tasks.

This language barrier made life hard on many levels.  Well....not hard......challenging.  I shop in almost completely silence.  I talk very little when I am out in public.  I keep much more to myself than I might have in an English speaking country.  Phone calls makes me break out in a sweat.  I am never sure if I am going to be get someone on the other side that speaks even a little English.  I silently beg for doctor's offices to have email communication options and online scheduling to make my life easier.  All of my mail is in German and must be translated.  All of it.  After 3 years we have gotten used to it, but it is EXHAUSTING.  Truly.  I have been humbled by the experience and feel that all Americans - especially - should experience living in a country where they don't speak the language to see what it like being on that side of things.  My compassion has grown for sure.

Changing the way we lived and shopped was hard to get used to as well.  There are no "big box" stores or "one stop shops" here in Basel.  Grocery stores are small.  There was very little that I recognized - at first (now that is not the case).  We need to bring all of our own bags to shop.  Without a car, I spent the first year taking the tram into Germany (a 45 minute ride each way) to shop a few times a week.   (Now I rent a car and cut that commute down to about 10 minutes).  I shop almost exclusively in Germany because the cost difference is incredible.  But that comes with its own challenges.  I stop at the border on my way out with a receipt.  I am limited to bring 2 pounds (1 kg) of meat across the border at a time.  Lots of rules to learn, and with that, anxiety shows its face.  After 3 years I am used to it, but again - it is extra work that I had to adjust to.  And something I won't miss.

We still don't own a car, so we don't do anything spontaneously any more.  Do we need a car in Basel?  Definitely not.  The tram/bus system is incredible.  I only ever have to walk a few blocks to get on public transportation to go anywhere.  But without a car, we couldn't get up on a Saturday morning and decide we wanted to take a trip somewhere in Switzerland or France or Germany.  It had to be planned.  For my surgery - we had to plan a car in advance.  For Scooby's surgery - the same.  It was a change that was not tough to adjust to - just made things a little harder to do.  I am looking forward to having a car again.

Those are the big things.  Life was easier for us in the United States with the things I mentioned above.  Not BETTER - EASIER.  That is the difference.  I just had to change the way I did things.  Things take more time to do here, but that is the lifestyle.  No one is in a hurry here.  Going shopping or going places is leisurely.  It isn't a job to be completed - it is an outing.  It is a different way of life that is hard to explain if you haven't experienced it.

We are returning to what we know.  We are going back to the life we were used to before we lived here.  Soon these challenges will just be a memory.  I had a chance to live WAY out of my comfort zone, and while I will not miss the hardest challenges about that life, I am still glad I had a chance to experience it.  I will use how I felt when having to be in a situation that was hard for me and express more compassion for someone who is new to the United States.  It was a great lesson.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

What we will miss/What I am grateful for.

Now that it is official that we are moving, I have started to think about all the things I am going to miss about living here.  As glad as we are about moving back to our previous home and town, I am equally as sad to leave our current one.

We have loved living in Basel.  Further more, we have loved living in Europe.  Mat and I take nightly walks together and last night we both said we were so glad we did this.  For 100s of reasons that I could never recount here.  We made the leap 3 years ago thinking it would be a great experience for our kids, and we were right.

For me, I am going to miss a lot of things about our life here.  At the top of the list are the friends we have made.  I was lucky to find a very good friend in the first month we moved here.  Marta was part of our newcommers group at Roche and we hit it off right away.  We only live a few blocks from one another, and have gotten together at least once a week for the last three years.  While I have been here there has been Heather, Sarah, Kristin, Su, Donna, Lorraine, Suzanne, Michelle, Tiffany.....all people I would not have had a chance to meet if we hadn't move here.  Hours of laughter with them in cafes.  Or shopping together.  Or German class.  Countless hours spent with these wonderful women that I am grateful for.  We have all been in this experience together as expats and it made all the difference getting comfortable being here.

We will miss the travel.  Very much.  Being able to float around Europe in a car or on Easy Jet has been a dream.  We have gotten to see so many countries in these last three years and I am grateful for that.  The experiences we have had were amazing.  I was able to go into Germany once a week for shopping.  We went to Alcace in France more times than I can count.  England, United Emirates, Spain, Ireland, Scotand, Cyprus, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg.....   Without our move here - it would not have been possible.  It is going to be hard to give up the amount of travel we have been doing on a yearly basis.

The independence that the kids have gotten out of this experience is also something I have been grateful for.  I know they will miss that as much as I will.  The ease of the tram/bus system here in Basel and the incredible safety aspect of where we live made it easy to let go of the leash a bit.  Especially where Finley is concerned.  We were pushed to bring her here to get this experience and gain independence that she desparately needed - and it worked.  All three kids get themselves to and from school and all of their activities on their own.  They visit their friends without my help.  They have been on week long ski trips with their schools.  Arlington has traveled to a few counties with hers.  I have let them go and figure it out and it has been wonderful for all of us.  They are so different than the kids who left Massachusetts at ages 11 and 14.  I am proud of the people they have become.

There is just so much:  Christmas markets, Art Basel, Movies on the Plaza, Swimming in the Rhine, Fall Festival, Fashnacht, delicious cheese and chocolate, cafes, cows with huge bells around their neck wondering the mountains, 1000 year old churches - just to name a few.  All the things that we will think about and wish we were getting a chance to be a part of once we are gone.  It is going to be hard at first.

This is the cleanest, safest, more punctual place we have ever lived.  The people are calm.  The atmosphere is peaceful.  It is so different than I ever expected it to be.  Before we moved here, I knew nothing about Basel.  I knew very little about Switzerland.  We have learned so much and have fallen in love with so much about it.

It is going to be hard to say goodbye.  To all of it - friends, community, experiences.  I know that time will lessen the sadness.  We will be left with the memories of one of the best experiences of our entire lives.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Back to America

Well - it is official.  The Pletcher's time in Europe has come to an end. This summer we will be moving back to the United states - and back to our house in Littleton, Massachusetts.  We all have mixed feelings about our move back to the United States.  We have been in Switzerland for 3 years and it has just flown by.  We are still trying to wrap our head around everything and know that these next few months are going to be tough in a lot of ways.

Some of you may be wondering why we decided it was time to move.  Probably not.  But it is your lucky day and I am going to tell you anyway.  Mat has decided it was time for a job change.  His job at Roche has been a great one, and he has really loved the experience of being Head of Rare Disease.  But the job is changing and the organization was going in a direction he really wasn't interested in, so when a few jobs started to hunt him, he decided to take the calls.  He wasn't activly searching, but decided to take a look at what was out there.  He was approached by a few companies, and he decided to take the interviews.  We started to entertain the thought of leaving.  We have struggled with that thought for months.  We have had a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out what was best for our family and for him.

What started to send us over the tipping point of moving was Arlington's decision to go to college this year back in the United States.  I have been fretting about that for a few months as well - trying to figure out how we were going to get her the support she needed while we were living in Switzerland.  Arlington is 17 so I worried about her having a legal guardian close by in case of emergencies.  (Plus about a million other things).  So when Mat started to think about taking a new job back in the United States - I didn't fight it.  I thought it would make things a lot easier to be near her - at least in the same country - when it came to the little things.  Things parents worry about.

Mat entertained several positions and finally settled on the one he felt was the best fit.  He is going to be the Senior Vice President and Head of Research (a Chief Science Officer role) for Audentes Therapeutics.  Luckily that offer is taking us back to Boston to live.  Back to the house we still own, in the town we still love.  It will make things so much easier to leave the life we have built here in Basel, moving back to the familiar.  Not just for me, but for the kids as well.  Moving Finley is always a challenge, so being able to put her back into a familiar environment with familiar supports feels like winning the lottery.

But what about our life here?   We have a wonderful life here.  The kids have made some great friends.  I have made some life long friends.  We have had countless amazing experiences.  We gave the kids a taste of the big world and what it is like outside of their comfort bubble.  Finley has become extremely independent - which was one of the reasons we moved here in the first place.  We have seen more countries and beautiful places in the last 3 years than I have in my entire lifetime.  We made the most of our experience in a 1000 different ways, and I am going to mourn the loss of what we had here.  We don't feel finished with living in Europe.  The end has come at a time it needed to for a few reasons, but it doesn't mean we felt done.   But that is a blog post for another day.

We are going to be moving back to Boston over the summer.  The transition will be slow.  We have to put all of our belongings on a boat that will take about 2-3 months to get back to the United States.  We are going to be car shopping (we have not owned a car in 3 years!), and getting the kids registered for school and Arlington settled into the Univeristy of Massachusetts.  Mat is going to be getting settled into his new job.

In all of this we ask for patience with us.  We are going to be unsettled and sad for awhile.  But we are going to be excited too.  A lot of feelings to deal with over the coming months.  We aren't the same people who left in 2017.  We will need time to adjust.  We are going to mourn the loss of our lives and our friends in Basel for awhile.  Mixed emotions always come with every move we make.  This is the first time we are moving back to somewhere we have been before.  It is a weird, yet comforting, feeling.

Thank you for following our European journey these last few years.  We now have the travel bug, and we know how much there is to see.  We will not stop just becuase we no longer live here.  There are so many places to explore.  We hope we have inspired you to see more of this big blue ball. 

Saturday, May 2, 2020


Our poor dog Scooby has had a rough couple of months.  Back in February, before we left for Japan, he started limping.  We took him to our regular vet, but the vet could not find anything wrong.  Thought it might be his back, or that he twisted himself funny when chasing a cat.  (which he often does - our neighbors have several).  He gave him some medication and sent us on our way.

 A few days later, he stopped walking on the leg all together, and we panicked.  So we took him to a 24 hour vet service (of course it happened on a weekend) and the felt it was the same - him just babying an injury.  But they wanted to do x-rays, so the next morning we took him in and left him for the day.  The x-rays were negative, so no broken bones.  The orthopedic doctor saw him there, and they did some massage on his back to see if it made any difference.

And it did for awhile.  They sent him home on 3 different pain medications, and an antiinflammatory.  He started walking on the leg again.  He would still limp, but as he started to move, he would walk normally.  He just seemed to be stiffed.  We resumed his walk schedule.  We left for Japan and the dog sitter said he was fine. 

The pain medication ran out and he started to limp a little more frequently.  And then he started to lick himself - developed a few hot spots on his body.  Seemed to be very aggitated.  So we called our regular vet back and he put him on a different pain medication.  It didn't work at all.  He sent us to an orthopedic specialist.  That speicalist felt Scooby was in very bad shape.  He had lost a lot of muscle mass from the leg limping.  He did a lot of tests and x-rays and drew a ton of blood.  They were still thinking it was his back.

Then about 2 weeks ago Scooby was outside using the bathroom and he started to yelp.  And then he refused to put the leg down at all.  He could barely move.  He was in a cone full time because he would like any part of his body he could reach.  His hair started to fall out. 

The MRI revealed no tumors, no back issues, no nerve issues.  While asleep the doctor manipulated the leg and found that it seemed to be a torn ligament.  He said it is common in dogs, and given the fact that he yelped and stopped walking on the leg, he was 99% sure that was what this was.  He called the orthopedic vet and relayed this to him.  All blood work came back negative, so the ortho vet sent us to a surgeon.

Finally this past Thursday Scooby had surgery to repair the ligament.  after over 2 months of trying to figure out what was wrong, he got what he needed.  He now has pins and a metal plate in the leg.  He has to take it easy for about 8 weeks and hopefully this will make him all better.

Poor dog.  This was a very expensive adventure, but we are glad we finally have an answer and a fix.