Christmas 2009 in Austin


U.S. passport renewal

A couple of nights ago, I returned to Zürich after a lovely long weekend in Stockholm. After packing my bag and getting ready for my trip to Austin, I went to Delta’s website, and attempted to check in online. Delta refused to let me check in online because the expiration date of my passport was within 90 days. I checked in at the airport the next morning, and my trip to Austin (via Atlanta) went smoothly. Before leaving Zürich though, I made a comment on Twitter.

Yesterday, the comment drew some replies on Facebook (to which my tweets are automatically copied). A friend explained that Delta was just making sure that people didn’t leave the U.S. without having a valid passport for their return. The website, he said, must not have made a distinction between those traveling from the ’States and those traveling to the ’States. Later, another friend warned me that I might have trouble when I return to Switzerland at the end of the month.

My U.S. passport expires in February, so my original plan was simply to return home to Zürich and apply for a passport via the U.S. embassy in Bern. However, my friend explained that U.S. citizens traveling abroad are often required to have a passport valid for a period of time beyond their stay abroad. The U.S. State Department’s page for Switzerland states that for travelers to Switzerland, “the passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.” Some folks are turned away at the airport, my friend told me. Others are refused entry into their destination country once they arrive. Yikes!

I then thought I would just renew my passport while in the U.S. However, the normal renewal by mail takes four to six weeks, and I’m going back to Switzerland at the end of the month. To obtain quicker service, one must pay an extra sixty dollars over the standard renewal fee of seventy-five dollars, and one must submit the form in person at a passport office. The nearest passport office is in Houston, and I didn’t really want to take time away from family and friends just to drive down to Houston for a day.

My friend suggested ABC Passport Express, a company here in Austin that assists with passport applications and renewals. For an additional $195 over the $135 charged by the State Department, ABC Passport will drive down to Houston, submit the paperwork, and return with the new passport. That would mean $330 just to renew my passport a bit quicker. I wondered if there were another way.

I called the State Department and asked if there were any rules that would prevent me from boarding a flight to Switzerland if my U.S. passport were to expire within 90 days. There are no such rules, I was told. I contacted Delta and asked them the same thing. I was told that they didn’t have any policy on the matter, and simply followed the advice of the Travel Security Administration. I then contacted the TSA and asked them the same thing. Once again, I was told that as long as my passport was valid, I would be allowed to travel.

Still, the entry & exit requirements on the State Department’s page caused me a bit of concern. But then I realized: this page states what Switzerland requires of visitors, not what the U.S. requires of departing travelers. My Swedish passport and Swiss residence permit are valid several more years; and because I’ll enter Switzerland using my Swedish passport, I should not have any problems at the border.

Being a dual citizen and a frequent international traveler is at times a bit challenging!


Turkey surprise

Turkey surprise, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

This evening I went to the gym after work. It’s in Oberrieden, a ways South down the lake, maybe 10 minutes by train from Rüschlikon. I walked down the hill from IBM to the train station, and had just enough time to run into the Coop and grab a few things before catching the train to Horgen, whence I walked back North to Oberrieden. The contents of my shopping bag included a small wheat roll, a carton of chocolate milk, and some granola bars—enough sustenance to see me through my workout.

The spinning (stationary bicycling) class was strenuous and fun. I relaxed a bit in the sauna afterward, and chatted with some of my fellows. One of them, a lawyer I often chat with in the spa, gave me a lift back around the lake. He lives not too far from my home, and has kindly offered me a ride on several occasions.

When I walked in the door I was just famished. I looked in the fridge and saw plenty of food; only nothing seemed to go together. I would have to be creative.

I had a packet of sliced turkey that was about to expire, so I knew I had to do something with that. I also had fresh (well, two-day-old) mushrooms that had to be eaten or thrown out. In addition, I had some left-over red capsicum (bell pepper). I decided to make a pasta with all of the above as a sauce.

I sautéed the mushrooms in plenty of butter and a bit of salt. I then removed the mushrooms and sautéed the capsicum in the now-mushroom-flavored melted butter. I added the turkey, cooked it for a bit, added some crushed black pepper, and poured the mix over freshly cooked pasta. I topped it off with the sautéed mushrooms.

It was sooooo good. I can’t believe I just threw this together at the last minute. I must refer back to this post in the future, and try to recreate this dish!


Polyball 2009

DSCN4446, originally uploaded by Michael A. Lowry.

A year ago I went to the Polyball for the first time. I didn’t know many people here in Zürich at the time, so I went alone. I quickly found the salsa dance floor and started dancing with an energetic girl named Elisa. She and I danced many dances together and exchanged numbers before the end of the evening. We’ve kept in touch in the past year, but hadn’t managed to go dancing again because she lives in Ticino and is in Zürich only occasionally.

This year I went to the ball with Lilian and Daniela, two lovely women I met at Linea Salsa almost exactly a year ago, one week after last year’s Polyball. As last year, I gravitated toward the Latin music. I danced a couple of dances with Lilian and Daniela. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw someone waving to me. As luck would have it, Elisa—the girl from last year’s Polyball—was about two meters away from us! It’s a small world indeed.

I introduced Elisa and her friends to my friends, and we hung out together for most of the rest of the night, dancing disco, swing, and even a few Viennese waltzes. Throughout the evening, I also ran into many other people I know, including several colleagues and folks from the rowing club. It was a really fun party, and we left only around 4:30 in the morning. I am already looking forward to next year’s Polyball!


xkcd Easter eggs that aren’t, but ought to be