Monday, April 20, 2009


A week after Melody's arrival in Lausanne, we took our first vacation over Easter weekend to Paris, a 4 hour train ride complete with reclining seats & restrooms on-board which is key for a 7 month pregnant lady. :o) We loved Paris, as most of you know it is one of the most romantic and enchanting cities you'll ever visit (it probably helped that Spring was in full bloom while we were there). We literally strolled for 2 full days visiting the perfectly color coordinated flower gardens amidst sidewalk cafes, yummy creperies, museums and monuments. We did not cover as much as we had hoped so we would recommend about 3-4 days to really see everything at a relaxed pace...Parisian style! Here's what we did:

  • Musee du Louvre: Probably the top of most visitor's lists while in Paris, open 9am - 6pm Mon-Sat. The main entrance is at the Pyramide du Louvre however we learned later that you can avoid the horrendous lines by buying your tickets at the Denon wing (along south of Seine River), which is actually the most popular among the 4 wings (Richelieu, Sully & Hall Napoleon) since it showcases the Mona Lisa and most of the Italian Rennaissance art.

  • Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel/Jardin des Tuileries: As you exit out of the Louvre, you are pretty much emptied through this arc and into the Jardin des Tuileries spotted with fountains, gelato stands & people just relaxing in the garden.
  • Forum de Halles: Shopping center under construction until 2010 surrounded by gardens.
  • Eglise St Eustache: Church north of the gardens in Forum des Halles.
  • Hotel de Ville: Famous hotel decorated with 108 statues of famous Parisians.
  • Notre Dame Cathedral: Another most visited site in Paris, and swamped on Easter Sunday as you can imagine. Gothic architecture and focus of Catholic Paris. Great view from the park behind the cathedral, where you can see the flying buttresses that support the roof.
  • Pantheon: Monument in the Latin quarter that houses the remains of famous Parisians such as Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
  • Latin Quarter: Center of Parisian higher education, so called because conversation between professors and students until the Revolution was Latin. Bustling with cheap eateries and gelato stands, we had a fantastic goat cheese & blue cheese fondue dinner there one night.
  • Jardin du Luxembourg: Yet another beautiful garden that houses the Palais du Luxembourg (built for Marie de Medicis, Henri IV's consort) and Musee du Luxumbourg.
  • Montparnasse: Historically the center of artists but now houses the Gare Montparnasse complex (metro station) and filled with touristy restaurants and cafes.
  • Eiffel Tower: Probably the most famous monument in Paris and visible from many areas throughout the city, has 3 levels open to the public.
  • Champs Elysees: Famous boulevard leading to the Arc de Triomphe symbolising the "joie de vivre" of Paris, abundant with crowded sidewalk cafes and high end retailers.
  • Arc de Triomphe: The world's largest roundabout, commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his victories in 1806. There is a viewing platform at the top of the arch.
  • Montmartre: Bohemian artistic area with shops & restaurants, beware of the big climb to reach the area, there is a tram that can take you to the top for a small fee.
  • Basilique du Sacre Cceur: Perched at the top of Montmartre with amazing panoramic views of Paris.

We also took in a cabaret at the Moulin Rouge in the neon-lit Pigalle district while we were there as our hotel stated it was "The #1 show in Paris" but soon realized after arriving at the 10 mile line (literally) with continuous bus loads of tourists that it's one of those things that everyone sees in Paris except the Parisians themselves. Worth a good laugh but be prepared for a cheesy show....Vegas style.

That's it for now, travel on hold for the next couple of months, more to come with the arrival of baby Ensign!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Move to Lausanne, Switzerland

We have officially moved to Lausanne, Switzerland and are settling into our apt on Lake Geneva. We are constantly amazed with the postcard perfect views of the Swiss Alps right outside our living room window and are only 45 minutes from some of the best skiing in the world...Verbier, Port du Solei, and Zermatt. It is quite a change from the hustle bustle of Shanghai but we are looking forward to the opportunity to explore and experience Europe. The town of Lausanne is about 30 minutes from Geneva (GVA) airport and 20 minutes from Josh's Honeywell office in Rolle. They speak primarily French here but we have been able to figure our way around for the most part. French lessons start next week so that should help a lot!

From what we've seen so far, the Swiss (in general) are super regimented. They follow the rules to a T with no exceptions as we learned early on when trying to check out at the grocery store with 11 items in a 10 items or less line and when the alarm went off because we walked out from the entrance vs the exit door. Things come in small packages just like we found in China...from miniature furniture to tiny milk cartons & 1/2 US-sized washers and dryers so again we are doing laundry everyday! Also no preservatives used on fruits/vegetables so we pretty much have to go to the grocery store (again - tiny!) everyday. We have to cook a lot more as "take out" is not common here unless you want a $12 Big Mac and dining out is no less than a 3 hour smoky excursion as they have still have not banned smoking in restaurants. We are still adjusting to the astronomic prices of everything and have really come to appreciate the value and convenience of the super-stores that we took for granted in the US (Josh paid $17 for a can of Raid on Saturday). One blatantly opposite practice that we found here versus China is that pedestrians actually have right of way - no matter what....even if they are crossing a busy road with cars or buses going 40mph, all traffic has to stop.

For those of you who haven't heard - we have a baby boy on the way, due mid-June so lots to do before the little guy gets here. We are currently in the process of unpacking our household shipment from Shanghai and making our place feel more like home. We plan on delivering at Clinic Cecil, a hospital 5 minutes from our apt that we have heard great things about. It is Swiss practice to keep moms/babies under watch in their own private room for 5 days after the birth to monitor which puts us at ease, especially given our first go-around. Unfortunately the baby will not have dual citizenship as neither of us are Swiss citizins, another example of how "strict" they are here!

Below outlines our contact information:
Address: Avenue des Figuiers 20 Lausanne, Switzerland 1007
Skype ID: theensigns
ViOP Phone Number: (973) 928-7920 (Yes, it's a US based number)
House Number: +41 21 601 6976
Josh's Cell: +41 78 896 6730
Melody's Cell: +41 79 501 8213

We plan to make a trip back to the States in September to attend a few weddings. In the meantime, our doors are always open. Hope to see you in Switzerland sometime soon!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Australia Vacation

Our last trip while living in Shanghai - Australia. We spent 2 days in Melbourne & 3 days each in Port Douglas & Sydney - which we found to be just right to get a good taste of the city. It was a great escape from the bone chilling Shanghai winter as the season's are opposite N. America & China. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to visit the Outback or explore some of the more "adventurous" areas of Australia. Luckily, Josh was able to dive the Great Barrier Reef 3x -- so he was satiated.
What struck us most here was the Victorian buildings admist modern architecture and...the abundance of food! We've never had such confusion as to where to stop for lunch since everything looked so delicious! It's a great city to stroll or take the free metro that goes around the perimeter of the city to give you a good feel for what is where. Unfortunately, it rained a lot while we were here. Hence, we did not get to enjoy all the picturesque restaurants and cafes that dot the Yarra River.
  • Federation Square - city's center along the Yarra River
  • Ian Potter Center - in Federation Square, houses several art galleries worth a look
  • Queen Victoria Market - largest market in Melbourne selling food, trinkets, great place to find souveniers
  • Docklands - historically a docking area now developed into high rises, restaurants and shopping areas
  • The Oyster - located on Little Bourke St, great seafood appetizers and entrees, our favorite meal while in Australia!
  • Koko Black - a chocolate cafe with all kinds of chocolate inspired desserts/drinks located in Carlton (Italian district), there are a ton of family owned Italian restaurants/gelato parlours in this area to check out if you're in the mood for Italian
  • Flinders Lane - hosts a variety of cafes and little restaurants filled with soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. Great for breakfast/lunch
Port Douglas (Great Barrier Reef)
This is a great area to stay if you are looking to explore the Great Barrier Reef. It's located 1 hour north of the Cairns airport and has a good selection of dive outfits. The quaint beachy downtown area is lined with restaurants, shops and bars. We learned soon after we arrived that December is "stinger season" so you aren't able to go swimming in the ocean, also weather was extremely hot - about 95 degrees during the day so probably better to pick another month to go visit this area if this is not what you're looking for.

  • Great Barrier Reef - There are several different tour/dive/snorkel boat companies that will take you to the reef from the Port Douglas dock. Plan to be gone for the day as it takes about 1.5 hours to get out to reef from the port. We took the Calypso tour which we highly recommend, it's a decent sized boat with lots of deck space to sit out in the sun, well organized operation with great lunch/snacks on the boat. While the diving was good, it did not live up to it's hype. We went out one day - a brilliantly sunny day with some of the calmest waters they've had all year. Despite a few shark sightings, we felt the diving and snorkeling was better in the French Polynesian Islands (Moorea, Bora Bora, etc.). Josh did manage to see a huge Sea Cucumber (photo). Despite it being worth a lot of $$ in China, he had to leave it behind. : (
  • Rainforest Habitat - Showcases native animals such as koalas, kangaroos, crocodiles and birds. Gives you opportunity to feed them which Josh loved of course :o). They also offer "breakfast with the birds" where the birds are literally perched on your shoulder waiting for a bite.
  • La Cucina - located on Wharf Street, great dishes and quaint atmosphere
  • Court House Hotel - huge portions, live entertainment, great place to sit outside
  • Under Wraps - sandwiches, salads and wraps that are made to order
  • 2 Fish - higher end seafood restaurant located right on the corner of Wharf and Macrossan St
  • Port Douglas Yacht Club - great views of the Dixon's Inlet, very relaxing, low key, order at the bar


This was our favorite city that we visited in Australia and is one of Josh's all time favorites. It combines metropolitan city life with sun and surf. We stayed at the Sheraton in Darling Harbor which was a great location since the entrance to Darling Harbor was right next to our hotel. It is a beautiful city, situated right on the water. We spent 3 days exploring every inch of the town.


  • Darling Harbour - waterfront shopping/restaurant/pub area along Cockle Bay including an IMAX theater and the Sydney Aquarium, you can also cross Pyrmont Bridge to get to the Sydney Fish Market
  • Royal Botanical Gardens - This was the biggest, most beautiful garden we've ever seen. The sign when you walk in says: "Please walk on the grass. We also invite you to smell the roses, hug the trees, talk to the birds and picnic on the lawns."
  • Opera House - Australia's most recognizable icon. Hosts 2400 hundred events a year, offers tours from 9-5pm
  • Harbour Bridge - You can climb, walk or drive across. Climb up the staircase to the Pylon Lookout for views of the harbour and opera house
  • The Rocks - Sydney's first European settlement, tons of restaurants, shopping and bars all along the harbour
  • Bondi Beach - Most famous beach in Sydney including boardwalk filled with cafes, rocky scenic points and beautiful beach


  • Nicks - Located in Darling Harbour, great seafood (I know this is sounding redundant but the seafood there was sooooo good and fresh!) and views of the harbour
  • Icebergs - Perched on a cliff with views of Bondi Beach and the ocean. This place was spendy but excellent food and dining experience, we highly recommend

That's it for now. We'll be in Switzerland househunting mid-Jan and plan on being moved into our new place and all settled in by early March. We will send more updates then!

Happy New Year!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Japan Visit

  • Japan - our first Asia vacation while living in Asia! While only a 3 hour flight from Shanghai, a world of difference. The sense of order is unbelievable - from one-directional pedestrian traffic to cabs patiently waiting one behind each other for embarking passengers. The Japanese are reserved, polite and unobstrusive; price haggling and elbow bumping is not practiced like in China. Tokyo has a silent energy like no other. Bright lights, high technology, and funky fashionistas living amidst a city with no sound (unlike the loud banter or incessant beeping horns that we have become accustomed to in Shanghai). Can you tell I'm a bit over China after visiting Japan? :o) The city is abundant with high fashion department stores and boutiques literally everywhere and easily accessible thanks to the modern subway system that has more than 18 different lines running throughout the city. The food is incredible - from uber-fresh sashimi & homemade soba to heaping Italian dishes to delectable French confection. You soon learn that Tokyo has mastered international cuisine so well that you pretty much forget you're in Japan! Below a couple suggestions for those of you thinking about planning a trip (which we HIGHLY recommend!):



  • Tsukiji Fish Market - wholesale auctioning from 5am - 7am, great surrounding sushi bars and fish, vegetable/fruit markets
  • Ginza - Tokyo's Fifth Avenue, carries just about any luxury brand you can think of with enormous high end department stores on every block and gourmet variety food courts sure to overwhelm, my favorite is Ginza Matsuya
  • Imperial Palace & Garden- home to Japan's emperor, unable to enter Palace itself but can tour pretty garden outside including lots of bonzai trees
  • Tokyo Tower - modeled after the Eiffel Tower but nine meters taller with great views of the city
  • Shinjuku - an oddly combined district including upscale department stores (Barney's New York, Isetan) with neon flashing shopping arcades, shrines & strip bars
  • Roppongi Hills - shopping, dining, entertainment complex in nightlife district
  • Meiji Jingu - shrine built in memory of emporer Meiji & Empress Shoken with beautiful surrounding garden


  • Gonpachi - variety of Japanese dishes in a traditional Japanese storehouse setting
  • L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - French/Japanese fusion in Roppongi Hills - recommend the set tasting menu as the menu is entirely in French
  • Il Mulino New York - Italian restaurant in Roppongi Hills with huge portions to share
  • Tofuya - located right next to the Tokyo Tower, delicious tofu inspired dishes in a traditional Japanese table setting (on the ground/no shoes)
  • Park Hyatt - featured in the movie "Lost in Translation", great appetizers, drinks & views
We spent our second week traveling throughout Kyoto, Nara, Osaka & Hiroshima. Kyoto is a 2 hour train ride from Tokyo on the Shinkansen bullet train and a must see for a taste of traditional Japan. We spent 2 days touring the city, there are so many temples and shrines to see that we can hardly remember them all but we do have a couple that we really enjoyed:

Southern Higashiyama

  • Kiyomizu deraTemple - famous pagoda with waterfall Otowa-no-taki believed to have sacred powers
  • Kodai-ji Temple - founded in 1605 by Kita-no-Mandokoro in memory of her late husband, includes gardens and famed landscaping by Kobori Enshu
  • Maruyama-koen Park - pretty gardens & ponds including a famous weeping cherry tree
  • Gion - Sannen-zaka & Ninen-zaka are streets with lots of 17th century restaurants and tea houses (many exclusive for geisha entertainment) as well as art galleries & shops, Ishibei-koji is known as one of Kyoto's most beautiful streets
  • Chion-in - Largest temple gate with nightingale floors (that squeak with every move to prevent intruders)
  • Sanjusangendo - houses 1001 statues of the armed Buddhist goddesses

Northwest Kyoto

  • Nijo-jo Castle - 5 buildings with multiple chambers built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first shogun
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple - one of Japan's best known sites, beautiful gold foil temple built in 1397 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu

Arashiyama & Sagano

  • Bamboo Grove - right outside Tenryi-ji temple, this was our favorite spot in Kyoto!

Central Kyoto

  • Imperial Palace - famous spot but don't recommend unless you have time as you can't get in without applying for permission to visit, there is a nice park outside but you'll see plenty during your visit


  • Osaka-jo - breathtaking castle built as a display of power by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after unifying Japan
  • Osaka Aquarium - world's largest aquarium tank featuring a whale shark, worth a visit


  • Nara-koen Park - home to 1200 deer that roam the parks and are not shy when it comes to snack handouts from tourists! The deer in Buddhist times were considered messengers of the gods
  • Kofuku-ji Temple - transferred from Kyoto in 710 as the main temple for the Fujiwara family
  • Todai-ji Temple - Enormous bronze buddha image
  • Nigatsu-do & Sangatsu-do - views are one of the best in Nara


  • A Bomb Dome - building was an industrial promotion hall until the US Enola Gay unleashed the atomic bomb directly above it on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945
  • Peace Memorial Park - includes a cenotaph containing all the known victims of the bomb, Flame of Peace which will only be extinguished once the last nuclear weapon on earth has been destroyed, Children's Peace Monument - inspired by the leukaemia victim Sadako Sasaki who at the age of 10 decided to fold 1000 paper cranes in hopes that she would recover, her classmates finished her goal after her death
  • Peace Memorial Museum - narrates the events preceding, during and after the atomic bombing

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Move to Shanghai

Life in Shanghai has been quite an adjustment, especially coming from the sunny beaches of Hermosa Beach! The constant dodging of people, motorcycles (who like to ride on the sidewalks) and cars (who in Shanghai have right of way) are enough to keep you on your toes. We've learned that a green "walk" sign doesn't necessarily mean it's safe to walk; they would rather run you over than be cut off while rushing towards a red light with no where to go. Luckily as an expat not only do you have a driver who carts you around everywhere, but can help you run errands, negotiate prices and most importantly - translate. Everything is negotiable, from night market choch to our rent. We were able to rent our 3 bedroom/2 bath apt for a bargain price of $5K/month located in Xin Tian Di, which turns out may be about right as we found out Yao Ming lives in our building! We love our complex, which comes complete with a gym, pool, laundry service and full service spa on site. Xin Tian Di is an expat haven filled with restaurants and bars so we never go hungry for an westernized meal. We also find that the Chinese are accustomed to small stuff - from our pint sized peanut butter to our washer that fits about 25% of a US washer hence the need to do laundry pretty much every day. Apparently the floors need to be cleaned everyday as dust collects quickly due to the pollution (which is kind of scary to think what our lungs look like) and vegetables/fruit need to be triple washed (with detergent!) before eaten, hence the full-time "aiyi" (maid/nanny) that seems to be the norm around here.

In the last 3 weeks, Josh and I (and Jeanne - who visited this week and "caught" Yao Ming in our lobby) have eaten at more restaurants than we do in 3 months in the States. We quickly learned that Shanghai is abundant with restaurants, bars and shopping. For those of you looking for recos, here is a list of what we've done so far:

  • Vue restaurant and then 2 floors up to the Vue bar on top of the Hyatt hotel for dinner/drinks - not only amazing views but the chefs there will cook your meal right in front of you
  • M on the Bund and Laris, located on the bund with great views and Sunday brunch
  • Bar Rouge, it's got an outdoor patio with great views of the Bund - lots of westerners but beware of the local girls who are not your typical girl out to meet up with friends
  • Hamilton House located near the bund, good food and yummy drinks, close to Bar Rouge if you want less cabbing for the night
  • Origin located on Tae Kang road, a really cute area with shops and art galleries - the Soho of Shanghai. They serve freshly squeezed "out of the norm" juices like pear and green apple & great salads and sandwiches
  • Barbarossa in People's Square, great for dinner/drinks with views of the park - makes you feel secluded while smack in the middle of the city
  • Crystal Jade restaurant at Xin Tian Di mall, known for their xiao long bao (soup dumplings)
  • T8 also in Xin Tian Di - well known but we thought overpriced for average food
  • A Future Perfect in the French Concession, cozy garden brunch spot before shopping
  • Element Fresh (multiple locations) - great if you want a break from greasy Chinese food and want something lighter


  • Yu Garden - Pretty Chinese style garden area filled with temples and bridges, lots of little shops and food stands right outside
  • People's Square - historical city hall with museum and performance theater
  • Nanjing Lu - pretty much a crazy busy famous street that you walk down, takes about 25 min from start to finish, drops you at the bund heading towards the river
  • ERA Shanghai acrobats show at the Shanghai Center Theater, I am convinced this is where they recruit acrobats for Cirque de Soleil! They have a show every night at 7:30 and you can go there to buy your tickets (range from $30 - $100/ticket) right before the show

That's it for now, we are in the process of finding a place to recreate (knock off) some furniture, our stuff is all over the place as the closets in Shanghai are pretty much glamorized wardrobe boxes.