The first thing Nicole Warner noticed about Switzerland was that it wasn’t anything like her home state.
“Coming from Delaware, the mountains here are pretty incredible,” the First State expat said. “I remember when I was in high school we were on a hill in Pennsylvania and I called it a mountain. I got laughed at. Seeing the mountains here in Switzerland is just amazing to me.”
Warner, a 2000 graduate of Dover High, has been spending a lot of time among those mountains: for the past two years she and husband Paul have been living in Zug, Switzerland, surrounded by snow-covered Alpine peaks. She writes about their life in her blog, “Warner Wanderweg,” creating a colorful travelogue for her family and anyone curious about living overseas.
So far, the couple and their Hungarian Vizsla, Darcy, have journeyed to the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Italy, Austria, Denmark, and Liechtenstein.
“We are less than an hour away from there so one afternoon we spontaneously decided to go,” she said of the tiny principality. “We drove there after lunch, saw the castle, and were home by dinnertime.”
Days in Delaware
Warner, 34, is a native Delawarean, born to Donald and Sharon Petersen at the Dover Air Force Base hospital. Soon after coming into the world, her father was transferred to Berlin, where he served three years before coming right back to Dover.
“That was too long ago for me to remember, but I wonder if German sounds more familiar to me because of it,” she said.
Warner has pleasant memories of growing up in Kent County.
“When I was able to drive, a bunch of friends and I would go out to Rehoboth and spend the entire day on the beach and on the boardwalk,” Warner recalled.
Over evenings were spent at the old Kent Drive-in with friends J.B. Hogan, Luke Siler and Mellora Taylor.
“We’d pack up some snacks and the radio and some blankets and just go watch movies,” Warner said.
After graduating in 2004 from the University of Delaware with a fine arts degree, she lived in Philadelphia, where she met her husband, Paul. He works in the pharmaceutical field but also had studied for a time in Germany.
They were married in 2013.
“He’d always wanted to live in Europe and that was one thing he told me before we got married,” she said. “We thought it was a good time to do it.”
Blog provides more insight
Naturally, Warner has noticed a lot of differences between the United States and Europe.
“We don’t have suburban sprawl over here,” she said. “As soon as you go out of a town, you’re in the countryside. There’s a lot of easy access to public transportation and to shopping; my grocery store is just a five-minute walk from my house.”
Warner was impressed with the Swiss penchant for cleanliness, even when it comes to their highways and roads.
“They really care about keeping their communities clean,” she said. “You don’t see trash on the ground, and if you do, you’re offended.”
Europe also is incredibly dog-friendly, meaning they can take Darcy almost everywhere, including stores and restaurants.
She enjoys the open markets found in German and French towns that are only a short distance drive from Zug. Over the holidays they visited 24 separate Christmas markets including the world-famous Nuremberg market.
And, of course, they’ve traveled to Munich.
“We went there for a soccer game and said, ‘Hey, they’re having Oktoberfest, so let’s go,’” she recalled. “It’s only a three-hour drive, and we can do it in a weekend.”
Warner began her colorful blog soon after arriving overseas.
“I wanted to share photos and stories with my family and to give people a little insight into our lives and to share our experiences,” she said. She and Paul both contribute, as does Darcy, who makes entries -- with a little help -- to give a dogs-eye view of European life.
“The blog is awesome,” Sharon Petersen said. “Her grandfather, he can’t travel anymore, and her writing and photography allow him to experience it through her eyes.
“It’s made it so much easier for us since we can’t have her close by.”
Warner has learned Europeans are very interested in American affairs of state.
“Everyone here pays very close attention to politics in America. Even my neighbors, who don’t speak English, want to learn. They really care about what’s happening in America.”
While Paul works at his office, Warner, who is seven months pregnant, works at home.
“I’m spending my days learning German, oil painting and figuring out the Swiss art scene,” she said. “I also do a lot of hiking with the dog and carrying around this watermelon that in two months will be a baby boy.”
She’s also working on some chapter illustrations for a book old friend J.B. Hogan is writing, Warner said.
Paul’s contract is open-ended, so the Warners don’t have a set plan for when they’ll return to the United States.
“There’s really no deadline,” she said.
“I think they’re having a really great experience,” Donald Petersen said. “They have the availability of travel and not taking too much time out of their day to do it. I think it’s really great that they’re taking advantage of being able to visit other areas.”
Living in Europe has, thus far, been a life-changing experience, Warner said.
“I think living in a different place you get to see other people’s cultures and how different things are from back home,” she said. “You get to reflect on your culture. There are many things I enjoy about European culture, and being here gives you a chance to step back and see some really positive things about each.”