Archive | December, 2016

Food, food, food

30 Dec

I was expecting my first Christmas in Switzerland to be lacking in one area. Food. British Christmas are less a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ who died to save us all and more a competition to see how much of the food, that we buy for the four day Christmas break, we can actually manage to get through.

I remember back in the days when I worked for Tesco and at Christmas time I witnessed fights over the last piece of brie on the cheese counter and tears that the last of the mince pies have been sold on a daily basis.

Here I can honestly say that there is a lot less stress around cooking. Christmas Eve was time for cheese fondue. Easy to prepare: melted cheese, with some wine and garlic mixed in. The most stressful thing about this dish is wondering if the pieces of bread you are cutting are too big or too small.

Christmas Day was Mongolian Pot. A bouillon or stock is boiled and vegetables and noodles. You fish out the cooked vegetables from the bouillon using a little net and cook your own meat in the bouillon using a fork. There are also pickles, olives, a variety of different sauces to choose from as well. It all tastes delicious.

Boxing Day was Fondue Chinoise. This is sort of the same as the Mongolian Pot but there are no vegetables being cooked in the pot. Vegetables and other “side dishes” are served in addition to the meat that you cook in the bouillon with your own fork.

No stress at all. It seems like the British are somehow doing this Christmas thing wrong. You invite your guests, chop up the vegetables and they cook it for themselves. What could be more simple?

In summary, the food was not lacking in any shape or form. It was great. It was quite nice as well, not to have to be eating 3 day old turkey in a sandwich/curry/stew* (*delete as appropriate).

I did manage to make my own mince pies. I bought the mincemeat for the img_4282filling at around August time when I was in the UK for a visit. The pastry was shop bought but I was very impressed with the outcome. See for yourself here.

A Christmas with Swiss traditional food as well as one of my favourites from home (perhaps I can squeeze a few more in next year). I am kind of sick of the sight of food now and I have been taking it easy in terms of food consumption between Christmas and New Year. But the eating will start again tomorrow with Raclette which is my favourite of favourites and probably will be when I eat my weight in melted cheese and potato.

January will be on us then and that is when the real hard work beginning with the New Year Diet.

Merry Christmas, dear Reader!

24 Dec

I would like to wish all of the readers of my blog, whether I know you personally or not, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and read about the thoughts and experiences that I have had. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. I hope you continue to visit in 2017 as I aim to continue with the frequency of the last 3 months of 2016.

Wishing you a peaceful time, wherever you are and whoever you are with and All the Best in 2017.

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First Christmases

22 Dec

This Christmas is a Christmas of firsts: my first ever, real Christmas tree and my first Christmas in Switzerland.

Growing up we always had an artificial tree and I have always dreamed of a real Christmas tree. There is a small farm not too far up the road so we went there and picked out a tree. The only problem is that when you look around at the trees and they are standing proudly outside, they look a lot smaller than they do when you get them home and have to find a place for it to go. We did choose the smallest one we could find but it is quite wide at the bottom so it takes up quite a bit of space in the living room.

After the purchase of the Christmas tree, we went to eat fondue. The farm has a Fonduestube (stube: a small hut or place where food and drinks is normally served) and we got a free glass of Glühwein as a thank you for buying the tree. The little problem was carrying the thing home, down quite a big hill, in the dark, after quite a few drinks. All’s well that ends well though.

My other first is spending Christmas in Switzerland for the first time. Normally, I make the trip home for the festive period. At my previous employers, there was a complete shut down between Christmas and New Year so I could book my flights home in June (or early) knowing that I had the time off. But that isn’t the case at my new employer.

In addition, there is a funny system in Switzerland that I still haven’t got my head around and which I complain about on a regular basis. Here if a bank holiday falls on a weekend, you don’t get the time off. In England, a bank holiday on the weekend means that you are entitled to another day off in lieu, normally on the Monday. So this year is particularly bad because Christmas Day is a Sunday so we only get the Monday (Boxing Day) as a holiday. I can only say that the idea that Europeans get more holidays than in the UK is a christmas-tree-christmas-1796131_1920.pngmisconception.

Apart from one year when we had a family holiday to Tenerife at Christmas, I have spent every Christmas in England. The holiday in Tenerife was a little bit strange – swimming, BBQ and karaoke as Christmas Day activities. This year it will be Fondue Chinose and no Queen’s speech.

I was beginning to regret not coming home for Christmas a few weeks ago but with reports of Storm Barbara on the rampage, I am better staying put and not travelling during the worst of it. Better to be prepared for not going home than to be expecting to go home and then the flight is cancelled because of bad weather. Or worse, the flight isn’t cancelled and the flight experiences extreme turbulence.

Besides, with Facetime I can still see my family for Christmas even though it is not the same at being there in person. And, I will be flying home in January anyway, when I hope the weather will be more favourable to travellers!

 

 

Swiss v British advent calendars: Discuss

14 Dec

After years of complaining that I haven’t had an advent calendar for, well, years, I have 3 this year. Oh yes, three all to myself. I was nicely surprised when I went back home for a weekend in November, when my mum had bought me one and two friends on two separate occasions bought me one when they came round for dinner.

As the Swiss are known for chocolate you would assume that the Swiss advent calendar(s) would be better. In the interest of science (and maybe out of boredom), I have made an experiment to finally expose the makers of the best chocolate advent calendar in the world. Please note: only two countries were available to be entered into the experiment, so the claim of “best chocolate advent calendar in the world” might be overstated.

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The British advent calendar is definitely for kids but as it was bought for me by my mother I don’t see the problem with this. There is a big cartoon Father Christmas on the front and behind the doors is not only a delicious chocolate but a task to perform. For example, this morning it was “Can you draw Santa’s sleigh?” You know, it took me a good 20 minutes but it turns out I actually can. Another one said, “Give people hugs at Christmas” which I think is lovely advice which shouldn’t just apply to Christmas or just give to children. Can you imagine a world where the first thing you did in the morning was to be told to give hugs to people you meet, even strangers? What a nicer place it would be to live in than this planet. On a slightly negative note, the chocolates are a bit small.

Both of the other calendar are made by Läderach. I don’t think I had heard of Läderach before I came to Switzerland. It’s now a firm favourite of mine. The chocolate has a smooth, luxurious taste: a caramel and chocolate explosion in the mouth, melting away like a snowflake dissolving on a tongue. One of the Läderach calendars looks like a little village. It has 3 parts and each of the doors is a door to the house in the village. The houses that make up the village are a winter scene so it doubles as a small decoration as well.

It’s a very hard decision to make a decision. The calendar that my mum bought me is Cadbury’s chocolate and there are days over here when I can’t help but crave a Boost. These are one of the chocolate bars you definitely can’t get over here. I know, I have tried. But chocolate is what the Swiss do best…

On this occasion I will settle for a draw because chocolate is chocolate so everyone’s a winner.

Wanderlust

12 Dec
noun
  1. a strong desire to travel.
    “a man consumed by wanderlust”
Before I moved to Switzerland, I made a list of the Pros and Cons of moving. One of the reasons in the Pro column was the opportunity to travel. Being centred right in the middle of Europe is a huge advantage for a wannabe explorer.

So far, I have travelled to 36 countries which doesn’t seem like a lot. The US should count for more because I have been to at 15 states which is about 30% of the whole thing. I was thinking about doing all of the states but an American once told me that Hawaii is a pain to get to (around a five hour flight from US) and I am not really that much of a beach person anyway.

This year I have travelled to 5 new countries. My “big” holiday this year was to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. I have wanted to visited South Africa for such a long time. I have heard so many good things about it from so many different people but I always found an excuse not to go. So this year I thought, let’s do it!

People were keen to tell me how dangerous Africa is and to ask why I was travelling alone. I have travelled alone many times and I never feel so scared or nervous about it. I do my research in advance and don’t put myself in situations where I would be uncomfortable or at risk. I never encountered any problems while I was on this trip or on previous trips. I was surprised by how friendly the people were (also in Zimbabwe and Botswana) and of course it takes a lot of stress out of travelling when everyone speaks English.

My whole African experience was unforgettable. I saw the Big 5 while I was there which was incredible and got some amazing pictures of all sorts of wildlife and landscapes. I hiked down Table Mountain (a lot easier than going UP in 25 degree heat). I walked with Rhinos in Zimbabwe. When I say walked I literally mean walked. The photo below shows how close we got to them. Amazing creatures! And it is desperately sad that people hunt these lovely, docile creatures to steal their horns for medicine or to place on the mantelpiece as a status symbol.

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I swam with sharks. OK, I was in a cage but they were there in the water with me. We saw a total of 12 Great Whites in the space of 3 hours. This was another item ticked off the bucket list. The next day I went to a place just outside Cape Town to do a zipline. Here is what I actually did. It looks terrifying and it was to begin with but it was an incredible experience and I wanted to do it again as soon as I had finished it.

The holiday was relatively cheap. The South African Rand was weak when I was over there and with the Swiss Franc being such a strong currency, the exchange rate really worked to my favour. It’s always cheap travel when you live in Switzerland because everyone else is cheap to eat, drink and travel in comparison.

I went to Copenhagen for the first time in July. I had heard good things about Copenhagen and Denmark and I wasn’t disappointed. The weather was cold but, thankfully, it was not raining so it was ok to walk around and explore the city.

There is a street food market located at Papier Island which is incredible. I thought that I had died and gone to heaven at one point. There was so much choice of offer and the place was really buzzing with people and things going on. It was also nice to “do what the locals do” and buy some cheap beer from the supermarket and chill by the harbour and do some people-watching.

One of the things that I was really looking forward to seeing was the statue of the Little Mermaid which is located in Copenhagen harbour. Everyone says that it is really disappointing because it is so small but it was a lot bigger than I imagined it to be… but still a little disappointing.

I also made a solo trip to Prague. I have never been to surprisingly because it is where beer was first invented. It was a lovely place and I was very fortunate with the weather. And the beer was good. And very, very cheap. In the supermarket, the beer was literally cheaper than the water.

Is it a bit wrong that I feel a little bit disappointed that the list of the new countries that I have been to this year is only five? I had the feeling that I had been to a lot more. I guess I was making so many new memories that it felt like there was a lot more. The problem is that they all seem like they happen years ago and not just a matter of months ago.

Next year, I already have some travel booked in the diary. I am excited to go back to Asa and visit Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam for the first time as well as Norway (the last of the Scandinavian countries to tick off my list).

I’m hoping these places will bring new interesting experiences in 2017 and great memories to look back on in the future.

 

 

 

 

Christmas Crackers

9 Dec

What is it about Christmas that makes people go positively, absolutely and utterly, stark-raving bonkers? It seems like a stereotypical thing to have a moan about around the first week of Christmas but it is true and, therefore, in my mind it is completely justified.

One of the things that I like about living in Switzerland is that there is no 24-hour trading. ball-65825__340A lot of expats that I know think that I am a bit crazy for being of this opinion. No 24-hour trading means no shops open after 21h, as a general rule, and no shops are open on Sundays. Except for Christmas.

In the four Sundays before Christmas the shops are open for a full days trading and the way people act you would think that it was the last shopping opportunity before 2020 arrives. It’s hysteria. In the main streets, people don’t look where they are going or dilly-dally when you are trying to get somewhere quickly. Children are either crying because they are cold and tired or they are wired up to the eyeballs after having far too much sugary treats. You get slapped around the face by someone’s shopping bag as they throw the thing over their shoulder with complete disregard for any other human beings existence, so don’t be surprised when the uttering of an embarrassed “sorry” is not forthcoming.

People buy far too much than they (or their loved ones) want or need. But it’s Christmas, isn’t it? Guilt or cunning marketing, or a disastrous combination of both, infiltrate the average shopper’s brain and hey-pesto! The retailers end up with record sales growth and we just feel overindulgded.

There is some discussion over where 24-hour trading will come to Switzerland in the near future. I sincerely hope it doesn’t. If there is any one not convinced, I suggest you take a walk down Banhofstrasse on a weekday evening or on the weekend and then see what you think!

Driving on the wrong side of the road

4 Dec

After a four year hiatus, I have taken up driving again. I say driving but I actually mean crawling along at a snail’s pace while wondering why the gear stick is not near my left hand and someone tells me to get on the right side of the road.

For me, driving on the right hand side of the road will always be unnatural. I learnt how to drive in England (admittedly after far too many lessons) so to me the left hand side will away be the right side of the road.

It has begun to get easier, although I have had some hairy moments. I went out for a night time drive straight after work a few weeks ago and it terrified me. The road and the surroundings look so different at night and it certainly doesn’t help when you are not familiar with the road and an exhaust examiner gets right up behind you and completely blinds you with his headlines in your rear-view mirror. In case you are wondering, yes it was a BMW driver.

The rules and regulations, like everything in Switzerland, are numerous. The signs on the road are different to home. For example, when an advisory speed limit is no longech-vorschriftssignal-ende_der_hochstgeschwindigkeit_50_generell-1-svgr valid, the number is just crossed out like the one here. It leaves me wondering what is the speed limit then? Why don’t they just have a sign with a new speed limit so it is clear what the limit is. Part of the reason must be because you are heavily fined in Switzerland if you are over the speed limit and if you are over the limit by a certain percentage, you automatically lose your license. There are no speed awareness courses or points to be put on the license here.

Also different is how you enter the motorway or the autobahn. In England, when you want to exit the slip road you can pull into the main carriageway if there are no vehicles obstructing you. In Switzerland, even if there are no vehicles in the next lane, you must wait until the solid white line separating the slip road from the main carriageway turns into a dotted line. If the police catch you doing this you have to pay an on-the-spot fine of 6o CHF. Who makes up these rules? Although I believe this is also the case in Hong Kong and, I would imagine other places around the world.

If you leave your license at home and are stopped by the police, you will have to pay a fine because you need to have all relevant documentation on you.

Today I drove to the airport and watched some of the airplanes land and then drove back home. All in all, I was a lot more confident and I am hoping that, after a few more sessions out on the road, I will be okay to drive alone and not cause a hazard to other road users. However, part of me still thinks that it was always feel like taking a bath with my wellies on. We will see….