On the differences between Switzerland and the U.S.


I came across an interview of a Swiss woman traveling in New York City and just had to share since it perfectly captures some of the differences between my home country and my adopted country. The original interview appeared in New York Magazine.

Americans do not know much about Switzerland.

“We’re from Bern in Switzerland. Even though it’s the capital of Switzerland, no one knows where it is.”

Yep. Although every Swiss person I’ve encountered knows that Washington, D.C. is the capital of the U.S., I’m guessing many Americans could not point to Switzerland on a map of Europe. Most people believe I live somewhere near Norway or Sweden. They think I live in someplace unbearably cold and snow-covered. Switzerland is actually down by Italy and Geneva’s winters are milder than D.C.’s.

Americans smoke far less than the Swiss. 

“We’re staying at an Airbnb in the East Village that’s very, very nice, but the fire alarm has gone off three times!”

I have not encountered a smoke alarm in Switzerland ever — I think, because smoking is so acceptable here. I have even seen my neighbors lighting up in my apartment building’s elevator since they can’t wait to get outside. Yuck! Smoking is outlawed even in public parks in California, so I’ve found this cultural difference very difficult to stomach. We actually brought a smoke alarm back from the U.S. for our Swiss apartment because we needed that little blinking red light for our peace of mind.

Americans are more aware of each others’ space than the Swiss.

“I was really surprised by how respectful people are of one another here. Except when we were having trouble with our MetroCard at JFK. An American lady yelled at us.”

I never realized the unspoken codes I adhere to in public spaces in the U.S. until I started living in Switzerland. When on a bus or metro in the U.S. it is considered polite to move to the inside seat to leave the outside seat free. One does not crowd around the door of a bus or elevator when new passengers are boarding. You always stand on the right of an escalator to allow people to pass on the left. Not so much in Switzerland. There is an “every man for himself” mentality here. As far as the woman who yelled at the Swiss traveler — well, welcome to New York.

I can’t wait to share more photos from our weekend in Zermatt. Meanwhile, a few, fun links:

On two years in Switzerland


This week we’re celebrating two years living in Switzerland and I’m surprised how emotionally-wrought this anniversary has been. We’re experiencing the most difficult of expat conundrums: The longer you live in your adopted country the harder it is to imagine moving home. In fact, it’s harder to define where “home” lies these days. We’re having a full-blown, expat identity crisis. I can say with certainty that a part of me will always be in Switzerland, just as a part of me will always be in the California, no matter where my body actually resides.

Despite having never set foot in Switzerland before moving here, we quickly fell in love with the country. We became outdoor-loving, train-riding, watch-wearing, cheese-eating versions of ourselves. Or maybe we became our real selves. But we didn’t only fall in love with the mountains, we fell in love with this go-go-go expat lifestyle of seeing as many new countries as we possibly can. It’s intoxicating, addicting and all-consuming. I didn’t think I had an addictive personality until I met my poison.


In the end, I’m simply trying to be grateful. I’m trying not dwell on the notion that Switzerland may have ruined me; that this incredibly enriching experience has spoiled me rotten to the core. Settling down someday will be an adventure in itself. Right?

To celebrate our Swissiversary we’re headed to Zermatt this weekend to have a proper raclette with a view of the Matterhorn. Meanwhile, enjoy a few of my favorite expat posts:

Contest: Spend the night at Abbey Road Studios


If you are like me–not a child of the 60’s, but the daughter of a child of the 60’s–then The Beatles’ music holds a big place in your heart. When I close my eyes and listen to “Here Comes the Sun” I’m 16 and driving around town. “If I Needed Someone” and I’m nursing my first heartbreak in my childhood bedroom. “The Word” and I’m off at college celebrating the end of exams. Even if I can’t take a time machine back 50 years and catch the Fab Four in concert, there are other ways I can feed my Beatles’ infatuation. For example, I can spend the night in Abbey Road Studios.

Until midnight tonight (October 6), you can enter Airbnb’s contest for four people to spend two nights at Abbey Road Studios for free (including airfare)! And you won’t just be sleeping on hallowed ground; you’ll be allowed to play the same instruments that The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Adele and Amy Winehouse have played…when you record your own track with music producer Mark Ronson at the studio!

Interested? Go to Airbnb.com and sign up for an account if you don’t already have one. Enter the contest by writing a 100-150 word explanation of which song you would have liked to witness being recorded at the studio. Good luck!


Travel find of the week: Mini steam iron

About two weeks ago my husband and I took a quick trip to Brussels (and Amsterdam) where he had to attend a business conference. When he opened his suitcase in Brussels, I heard a familiar groan. Uh-oh. Did a pen explode? Shampoo everywhere? Nope. Just one pant leg of his only suit had become so wrinkled in transit that it looked like he had been caught in a natural disaster. Despite trying every folding method in the book, this was far from the first time it had happened.

I resolved to find a solution…and here it is: Steamfast SF-717 Home-and-Away Mini Steam Iron.



I know it’s not the sexiest travel gadget around, but it is so tiny! It weighs less than one pound and costs only $30. The more than 1,000 reviews it has received are overwhelmingly positive. Do you have any packing tips? I’m always game to try something new. Meanwhile, some packing tips from the experts, such as:



Bon Week-end!


Happy almost October! The weather has definitely turned crisp and autumnal in Geneva, which is very exciting for a girl from southern California. This weekend we’re readying our closets for fall, having one of these with friends and watching one of our favorite movies. How about you? Meanwhile, a few fun links for the weekend:


Five things to love about Amsterdam

Hands down, Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities so I jumped at the chance to visit it again last week. The weather was absolutely perfect when we visited–which is always a treat–but I promise you can have fun in Amsterdam any time of year. Rain or shine.


Bicycles. Amsterdam is one of the most bike-able cities ever designed. Cyclists have their own lanes, their own stoplights and their own traffic rules. Both cars and pedestrians yield to bicycles, making two wheels the best way to get around town.

I did not rent a bicycle the first time I visited Amsterdam and that was a big mistake! You can see so much more when you are cruising around on a bike. Since the city is at sea-level, it is very flat–you’ll never have to huff and puff up a hill. I even biked in heels one evening, like the Dutch girls. If you want to ease into biking, sign up for a bicycle tour.


Shopping. Amsterdam really lives up to its stereotype of being absolutely adorable, so make sure you take home a souvenir that capitalizes on the Dutch aesthetic. My favorite neighborhoods to wander around in are Grachtengordel and Jordaan–both are part of the Canal Ring. There you will find clothing stores, cheese shops and antique markets.

Skip the kitschy clogs and get an antique, hand-painted Delft tile. The glazed blue and white tiles depict scenes from typical Dutch life, such as children playing or windmills turning. We were determined to buy one for our future house (wherever that may be…) and ended up spending two hours going through the collection at Kramer Kunst & Antiek. If you are serious, the Kramer Kunst staff will show you their tile archives which is where we found our 1890’s tile with a simple anchor and rope. Apparently, it’s a rare one.


Art Museums. Art is truly the best way to understand the history of The Netherlands, given that the country was considered the center of the art world in the 17th century. I’d highly recommend reading The Last Painting of Sara de Vos or seeing “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” in preparation of an Amsterdam trip.

We visited the Rijksmuseum on this trip and the Van Gogh Museum on our last trip–both are fantastic. Choose the Rijksmuseum if you want to better understand the history, lifestyle and why they are called “Dutch Masters.” If you think that kind of art is stuffy, then visit the Van Gogh museum where you will find the most comprehensive collection of his work. Be sure to buy and print tickets to the museums ahead of time to avoid the lines!


Beer. Maybe you prefer French white wine or craft cocktails made by Brooklyn hipsters, but you cannot leave Amsterdam without trying at least one of their locally brewed beers. And by local I do not mean Heineken or Amstel. The Dutch are known especially for their pale ales and drinking beer is part of understanding the culture.

If you go to one brewery, make it Brouwerij’t IJ. The family-friendly brewery is housed in one of the last remaining windmills in Amsterdam’s city limits. Here you will find close to 50 different locally-brewed beers, as well as a nice selection of goudas and sausage. They also offer 30-minute tours of the brewery. (If you need a more substantial meal, check out the laid-back cafe next door: Langendijk. We had a brunch there and could have easily returned for dinner.)


People watching. Or rather, boat watching. Post up at a sunny, canal-side cafe for a couple of hours and watch the people float by in boats. Some of the boats are big and touristy, some are antique and elegant. We saw people having a four-course dinner with champagne on one and teenagers bouncing to a silent disco on another. You can gawk as much as you want because the boat will be gone in a matter of seconds.


Some of my favorite moments from our weekend in Amsterdam were the unplanned ones: Making friends with locals at a pub, having a late afternoon pizza on the sidewalk and discovering a tulip bulb market by accident. So, I’d highly recommend grabbing a bicycle and getting lost in this charming city.

Paradise Found: Panviman Koh Phangan


I have to admit I wasn’t sure how Koh Phangan was going to top Koh Samui.

While Koh Samui has a reputation for luxury resorts Koh Phangan is often linked to its raucous full moon parties and backpacker-style hotels…which I discovered all lie on the southern side of Koh Phangan. On the northern side: Pure, unadulterated paradise. White, powdery beaches. Clear, turquoise waters. Lush, verdant jungles. A natural beauty unlike any other.

As much as I loved all of the pampering on Koh Samui, I had the feeling that I had been missing out on a truer, more genuine part of Thailand that I had been craving.

I found that Thailand at Panviman Resort Koh Phangan.


Panviman Resort straddles two, secluded coves in the quiet Thong Nai Pan Bay. The unique location means that nearly every room has a slightly different and incredible view of the bay. At the resort’s stunning Pan Sea Restaurant where a daily, complimentary breakfast is served, there is a 180-degree panorama of both coves.

The view from the restaurant is so out-of-this-world gorgeous that Thailand’s tourism bureau has a video live stream running 24/7 from its balcony!


Panviman has neatly tucked all of its manmade structures into the jungle vegetation that covers the island. I, personally, appreciate their commitment to not mar the natural beauty that makes Koh Phangan so special. (The resort also practices eco-conscious initiatives and has been recognized for its green efforts.)

After checking in and meeting some of its staff  in the open-air lobby, we were led down a series of staircases to our private pool villa. Along the way we were greeted by the calls of tropical birds and the sight of butterflies drifting from flower to flower. It seemed as though all of the island’s original inhabitants were very at home in the resort.


From the hand-carved wooden bed to the fanciful mosquito netting and silk pillows, I loved all of the authentic Thai touches in our room. The beautiful craftsmanship gave me a sense of Thailand’s history and its natural resources. Panviman is all about sourcing locally. The room also included a minibar, television, umbrellas, robes, slippers, sandals, beach bag and a pleasant-smelling mosquito repellant that worked like a charm.

The best part of the room? The bathtub overlooking the bay. I was happy to take full advantage of this situation every day, while Bryce stuck to the waterfall shower.


The generously-sized private pool was perched on the edge of the resort, so we could watch all the goings-on at the beach and still remain hidden behind palm fronds. Every once in a while we would see a person on the beach point out our room to someone else and we would duck our heads and laugh. I think they were trying to figure out if the pool was for real! I might have delighted–just a little bit–in staying in that villa.


We spent so much time luxuriating in the pool and watching the activity on the beach: Fishermen bringing in their catch, kayakers paddling around the bay and scuba divers taking off on adventures. (Koh Phangan has some of the most well-known scuba diving spots in the Gulf of Thailand.) Oh, and the sunsets from that pool! What I would give to be back there this evening for one more.


Of course, Panviman has a slew of sun loungers and umbrellas on the beach–if you can manage to drag yourself away from the comforts of your room. There is also a dreamy infinity pool surrounded by palm trees for the whole resort.

Thank goodness our private pool was also big enough to swim laps, since my muscles were atrophying from all of the relaxation thus far!


Even with the natural beauty and fantastic amenities, the highlight of our stay was making friends with the charming staff at Panviman Resort. Nearly every member is local and most of them boast more than ten years working at the hotel.

One of those staff members was our Thai cooking class chef who taught us the secrets behind making spicy papaya salad and green coconut curry–two of my absolute favorite Thai dishes. She did not speak more than 10 words of English (and we speak even less Thai), but we understood everything thanks to her enthusiastic coaching.


The finished results were so delicious my culinary confidence went through the roof. I’ve yet to try repeating my results at home, but I have everything I need: Copies of the recipes, a Panviman apron and my cooking class graduation certificate.


Two more of our favorite Panviman staffers were the General Manager, who goes by Captain Jack, and the Resident Manager Ta.

Captain Jack and Ta hosted us for a special dinner on our first night at the Pan Sea Restaurant where we ate like kings: Seared duck breast, grilled lobster linguine and chocolate cake. Over dinner they told us the history of the resort and why staff members stay so long. Panviman’s approach is that if they focus on staff members’ happiness first that their contentment will show in their work and resort guests, in turn, will benefit. It’s this holistic approach to customer service that makes Panviman such a unique find.


On our second day, Captain Jack and Ta let me tour the resort’s most sought-after room–the Presidential Suite–or as they call it, “Batman’s Cave”–because it is built into stone. Every inch of this room shows off the rich teakwood that the country is known for, as well as unobstructed views of the bay. Just outside the room is a private, oceanfront jacuzzi where you can’t help but imagine honeymooners sharing a bottle of champagne. Wow!


I personally love the authentic Thai style of our room and the Presidential Suite, but Panviman also offers modern-style villas for guests who prefer a cleaner aesthetic. These rooms certainly have all of the bells and whistles, including jacuzzi tubs with disco lights. Captain Jack said many of their repeat guests specifically request these rooms.


On our second night we had dinner at Panviman’s Stone Beach Restaurant. We watched the sun set while sipping tropical cocktails and enjoying a Thai feast. After the sun’s last rays disappeared, a local dance troupe put on a fantastic show for us. The traditional dances and costumes stirred memories of one of my favorite childhood movies The King and I.

It was magical.


We ate most of our meals at Panviman, but I think it is important to note that the beach and the charming village behind the beach is packed with fantastic options. Nearly every restaurant we visited on the island had a barefoot policy–it’s encouraged to leave your sandals at the door. Talk about a laid-back atmosphere!


Our last day at Panviman was also our last day in Thailand, so it was especially bittersweet. We swam as much as we could in the bay and ate every meal with some sand between our toes. We were really determined to squeeze out every last ounce of relaxation Thailand had left to offer us.

If we had more than three days we may have tried seeing the famous Bottle Beach–accessible only by boat–visiting the island’s elephant sanctuary or the resort’s Viman Spa. (I have some major regrets I didn’t take the time for an oceanfront massage!)

I suppose I shall simply have to return…or try Panviman’s Resort in Chiang Mai.


Considering that Panviman Resort’s rooms begin at $100 a night (including breakfast), I believe that this is truly an affordable luxury. The Panviman staff cater to guests’ every needs, including providing their high-speed boat as pickup from the Koh Samui Airport so you arrive in style. This is the hotel I’d recommend to my friends who are looking for the complete Thai island experience. Moreover, Captain Jack said he can offer Bakersfield Blonde readers some special offers if you contact him directly via email at gm_kohphangan@panviman.com.

*This post was sponsored by the Panviman Resort Koh Phangan.  All opinions are my own. Thank you to companies like the Panviman Resort who keep Bakersfield Blonde traveling!