Archive | February, 2017

Spring is in the air

23 Feb

When I left the flat this morning to get the train into the city, I was delighted to see the first signs of spring starting to appear.

The sun was already beginning to rise and  the sky was a lovely rich, electric blue colour and on the horizon there was a lovely burnt orange colour in the distance. As I left the front door, I was greeted by a cacophany of birds tweeting their songs proudly to whomever was awake to hear them. At 6.30am this gave me a spring in my step and for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t so reluctant to start the walk to the train station. It makes a huge difference not to have the cold and the dark to greet you first thing in the morning.

It seems strange that the first signs of spring are already here when we are not yet in March. January was so unseasonably miserable that it is nice to see the start of the seasons to come. I am a little bit skeptical that this somehow seems to be a false alarm. That Spring woke up too early and when it does finally realise it will disappear for another few months.

I find it difficult, like most people, to deal with the depressing, daily chore of waking up in the dark and coming home in the dark. And, of course, the bit in the middle being dark and uninviting as well, especially if during this time you are expected to work and do something productive to earn your wage.

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Spring and summer for me works a bit differently. I normally leave the curtains open just a touch so that my wake up call is not the nerve jangling tone of the alarm clock but a greeting from the sun who is welcoming me to a new day. Even though I end up sleeping a bit less during in these seasons, somehow I feel more energetic and motivated to get up and do things. Possibly it is more biological than psychological. Either way it is my much preferred method of rising in the morning.

I am bracing myself already for the end of the March, when the clocks go forward: an hour less sleep which alway throws my body clock completely but also briefly the mornings become darker until the sun rises earlier again. Then I will spring out of bed ready to face the world. Until realising I have to go to work and wishing it was weekend again…

Fitness goal update 

22 Feb

8 weeks into the New Year and 8 weeks into the new fitness regime already. In my earlier post, I talked about the advice given to me by an online BMI calculator to lose 30 kilos to be the average weight for my height.

Luckily for me, I believe in striving to be above average in everything that I do. I downgraded the goal of 30 kilos to something more modest. My initial aim was to lose 6 kilos before my holiday in mid-April and then make another weight loss goal after my return.

The good news is I am well on track to achieve this. Despite a week in Munich when I didn’t exercise so much and a week of being ill when I had no energy to exercise nor to prepare healthy food, I have already lost almost 4 kilos and I still have 6 weeks until I jet off on holiday.

Each week I have prepared by lunchtime meals in advance, not bought anything from the vending machines at work (helped by leaving my credit card, the form of payment, at home), eaten a filling but health evening meal and exercised at least 4 times a week. I weigh myself each Monday at the gym to track my progress.

It no longer feels like a chore. Every Sunday I make my lunches, pack my gym bag and get ready for my weigh in. I have been constantly amazed each week when I have jumped on the scales, thinking if I have just maintained the weight I was last week that would not be so bad, only to see I have lost more weight. Not that I am complaining!

The bad news is that I might have ruined my weight loss goals by taking a trip on the Fondue ship! Every Tuesday in winter/spring a ship leaves centrally from Zurich to make a round-trip on the lake and serve the guests onboard Fondue. Combined with a second portion, beer, wine and a cold platter of smoked meats as a starter, the calories start to add up. I did go to the gym during the day but I’m not even sure that will counteract the calories consumed. Nevertheless, it was a great evening and having one night off every so often does not mean that the diet is a complete failure…


And I still have time to meet my weight-before-going-on-holiday target. I am confident that I can lose a little bit more than I intended to before setting off. Fingers crossed. This would mean I get to eat and drink a bit more while on holiday and not feel so bad about it!

In some ways I am nervous about going away and getting out of the routine I have at the moment. It will be a little painful to get back into the swing of things but that is one thing I will not be worrying about on holiday!

Another Sunday evening…

19 Feb

Why is it that the weeks drag and the weekends go too fast? It is Sunday evening already and soon I will preparing my lunch for tomorrow and getting my bag packed for Monday morning and the 6am wake up call. I sort of feel like the weekend has been a bit of a waste. I don’t really feel like I have done anything, although that is not strictly true.

On Friday evening, I went to see Mary Poppins the musical. I think it is the first time that I have been to see a musical in around two decades. To begin with I was a little bit disappointed because the plot of the musical is not like the film at all. Obviously, I understand that there are somethings that you just can’t do on stage that you can do with a film that is ended and not performed live but fundamental part of the story were changed.

For example, Mrs Bank is not a suffragette fightinhgfor women to get the vote; she is instead a woman who is chastised by her husband because she is basically good for nothing. I am not sure that P. L. Travers would approve about this change to the character.

However, the performance was fantastic. The hairs literally stood up on my neck when the first song began. The set and scenery was inspired. The cast were so talented. Not only did they have to sing, dance and act but they also tap danced. I mean, who learns to tap dance these days? It seems like a bit of an antiquated craft that doesn’t have a lot of use in the 21st century unless you happen to be appearing in a West End musical.

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As I left the theatre I wondered if my life had gone astray a bit. Here I was completely entertained by complete strangers, completely in awe of their talents and the woman who played Mary Poppins was so “practically perfect in every way” that I thought I was watching Julie Andrews in the original film. I have a new heroine to look up to. It made me wonder how people can end up in jobs where they spread so much joy and I spend most of the week looking at spreadsheets and adding up numbers. I don’t ever remember “Star of a West End musical” being a career’s option at school when we had career days and I am not sure that would have interested me back then anyway. But hindsight is wonderful thing.

Everyone has different talents though. The cast might be able to tap dance but can they do a vlookup or a Sumifs formula in Excel? Possibly not. Possibly they wouldn’t be interesting in learning something like that anyway.

I wonder if the cast of these productions ever feel the way we feel about going back to our everyday jobs on a Monday. Perhaps Mary is sitting in her dressing room now thinking “Oh my god, I have to sing A Spoonful of-bloody-Sugar AGAIN today. It’s the tenth time this week”. I guess we all get stuck into a routine at some point and think that the grass is greener on the other side.

Although it would be amazing to have to find my umbrella that makes me fly on a Sunday night for the next day, I will stick to finding my badge to getting me in the revolving doors at the office. For now…

 

 

White Turf, 2017

15 Feb

On the weekend I headed to St Moritz for the first race day of White Turf. White Turf is an international annual horse race that takes place over three weekends in February. The event has been taking place since 1907.

This is no normal horse race like the Grand National and Ascot. The race takes place on the frozen St Moritz Lake. The horses are actually racing on snow and ice. In some of the races the jockeys are actually pulled along behind the horse on skis. It is one of those things that you need to see before you believe it. I have no idea who came up with this as an idea for these races but somehow it works.

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It really is mind-blowing that the races are being run on a lake. I have never been to St Moritz in the summer so I can’t imagine how it will look like in the summer. It is hard to visualise the whole area green rather than white – I have made a promise to myself that I will re-visit in the summer to compare the two seasons in the same place. Of course, there have been occasions when the races have been cancelled because the weather has been too warm and the snow and ice has begun to melt.

The races are always a spectacle, as are the spectators. For as far as the eye can see: botox, moon boots and fur. There are the occasional dogs in handbags as well if you look hard enough. So even between the races, there is entertainment on hand. You just have to look around.

This year in St Moritz the World Ski Championships are also taking place and in the stand behind us was some of the US Ski team who weren’t competing on that day. I can’t say that I recognised any of them. But it was possible to see the piste where the races took place from where we were in the valley.

This year I even had a flutter. I img_4702don’t understand the betting odds and I am pretty sure that they don’t work the same way as they do in the UK. Someone once told me that you should never bet more than you can afford to lose. I bet 5 CHF, the cost of a coffee. The race is infinitely more exciting when you have something at stake, even if the amount you stand to win is not all that high. I didn’t win though.

In April, I will be going to the Grand National in Liverpool. Although there is a chance that this race will also take place on ice and snow (you never know with the British weather), I will definitely be swotting up on my racing odds. Whether studying the racing form is better than just choosing a horse with a good sounding name remains to be seen….

 

Swiss Money

11 Feb

When people think about Switzerland one of the first things that springs to mind is money. If you have visited you will know that Switzerland is expensive and you will probably need more money than you thought you would for your visit. Switzerland is also home to many financial institutions and combined with its banking secrecy laws, it is a perfect place for people to squirrel away money.

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Either way you cannot deny the fact that Switzerland is synonymous with money. Being that as it may, I still find the money a bit baffling.The notes look like they would not be out of place in a Monopoly set: bright yellow, reddy-pink, green and blue are the colours of the notes that are most commonly in circulation. All of them are slightly different sizes to one another. I believe that this is primarily to help the blind and those with vision difficulties to work out which note is which when they come to pay for something.

So far so good, the notes are no problem. I still find it strange that it is never a problem to pay in a high denomination bank note for something that is relatively cheap. For example, in the newsagents, it would be no problem to handover a 100 Frank note for a newspaper that costs 4 Franks. There is no need to apologies and make excuses, such as, “Sorry I only just went to the cash machine and I don’t have any change yet”. The cashier will not bat an eyelid and hand over 96 Franks in change, without saying a word.

The equivalent in the UK would be paying for a 1 pound newspaper with a 20 pound note. The cashier will inevitably tut, ask if you have anything smaller, mutter under his breath that he doesn’t have much change left and begrudingly hand over 19 pounds in change. You feel completely ashamed as you shuffle past other customers in the shops and try not to make eye contact with them.

Interestingly, in Switzerland you can pay with what ever denomination of money you have on you, whether in the city or up a mountain at a small chalet which serves refreshments to hikers and nature lovers, and there is never a problem at all.

With the coins, however, confusion reigns supreme. The problem is that the coins are all virtually the same colour and apart from the 5 Frank coin (there is no 5 Franc note) they are all the same size and shape. The exception to this is the 5 Rappen coin. This is distinctively smaller and a gold colour, even though having 90 of these coins will buy you next to nothing.

This causes bewilderment when you need to pay the cashier in coins. You desparately fumble through your purse trying to find the right coin. But as they are all the same shape and size, this turns into a monumental task. Each coin needs to be carefully examined to determine what it actually is. You convince yourself that this must be the 20 Rappen coin that you have been hopelessly searching for, only to discover it is a 10 Rappen coin! By now the cashier is looking at you with despair and you can feel the evil stares of the other customers gouging into your soul. Then you give up and decide to pay by card and leaving the small mountains of coins still in your purse.

 

On the positive side, when you come to sort out your purse and tot up how much you have been lugging around with you, the amount is always significant. All of these coins that are completely unassuming suddenly add up to 15 Franks and that is enough for 2 pints of beer. Happy days!

I wonder if the money is a metaphor for the country: small, unassuming but when you look closely it is more valuable than at first sight.

Getting things right

8 Feb

Why is it that no matter how old you get or how experienced you are, there are just somethings in life you never seem to get quite right? Practice as hard as you might, it never turns out quite right.

There are big things, like relationships, that people get wrong. Like saying the wrong thing at slightly the wrong time. We have all at some point opened our mouths to comment on something and immediately regretted it. As soon as the words tumble out of your mouth, you realise that you have miscalculated big time.

The classic is example is asking a woman when her baby is due. The nanosecond after you ask how long she has left for her pregnancy, you know she isn’t the slightest bit pregnant and she is just packing a few extra pounds and has missed the last few Weight Watchers meetings.

Or, loudly gossiping about someone, only to watch the eyes of your co-conspirator glaze over to give you the indication that the person is stood right behind you. There is categorically no way that they didn’t hear what defamatory comments you were making about them. You start to mumble and try to apologise but this just make things worse. It would be much less embarrassing to turn to the subject of your idle gossiping and explain that you were indeed talking to them behind their back and they weren’t meant to hear any of it.

There are also small things that seem largely irrelevant but even with practice you never seem to get them right. Things like being able to cook the right amount of rice spring to mind. I am sure that you can easily find a website on the Internet to tell you how much rice serves the amount of people you are cooking for but who has time for that? We are living in the 21st century.

Recently, I used a glass, smaller than a whiskey glass, to measure out rice for two people. Surely that can’t be too much? It turns out it was enough to fed the British army and probably some of the French army as well if they had been well-fed at breakfast time.

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I am coming to the conclusion that the absorption of rice changes overtime, because the exact opposite has also happened to me. A table full of hungry dinners arrive and I am feeling quietly confident about the abundance of rice that I have simmering in the pot. That feeling is quickly replaced by a feeling of panic, terror and abject horror when I come to serve up the rice at the dinner table and everyone has 30 grains of rice each.

While saying the wrong thing and cooking life seems to be the bane of my life, I will just try to keep my mouth shut and keep away from rice based dishes. Life is easier that way.

 

Disaster and two murders in a weekend!

5 Feb

Disaster might be a bit of a strong word but bad things have happened this weekend. The Wifi modem has broken and since Thursday evening there has been no internet connection at home.

I am not the sort of person who can’t go without the internet. In fact, not having the Internet  when I travel is one of the reasons that I like to travel so much. I normally only have the internet when I am at a hotel or restaurant and I can get a connection. I never pay for data roaming; partly because I don’t want to age 10 years when I finally get the bill and I realise how much data I have actually downloaded. I find pleasure in not being 100% contactable during time away and also not worrying why someone hasn’t replied to one of my messages.

It was a bit annoying that it had to happen this weekend. I had nothing planned this weekend, except a two phone calls via FaceTime with a friend and with my mum but now with no Wifi and a weak signal on my phone, that is not possible. I was looking forward as well.

fax-1904656__340Also, I had planned to spend some time this weekend on the internet researching some thing to do on my holiday in April. The weather is so cold and grey that a bit of research and thinking about holiday in a few months time was going to be momentary release from the drudgery of February. It seems like it was not to be.

Instead I have managed to do quite bit of reading. I have finally finished the second ever German book I have read. I am feeling a little smug again. This book was harder to read than The Reader because there isn’t a film that the book is based on that I have already seen. The book was a sort of crime thriller. A man is found dead and a private detective is hired to find out what happened. The book is called Happy Birthday, Türke by Jakob Arjouni, if you are interested. I also finished an English book that I only started on Wednesday evening. Because the Wifi broke on Thursday and the TV was also not working so well, I managed to get through a lot of it before the weekend even started. Coincidently, this book was also about a private detective. And, thinking about it, the book does start with the death of a man at the beginning. They weren’t the same book though. I am pretty sure that my German is not so bad that I wouldn’t have noticed.

If you are wondering how I am writing this without Internet, I am actually writing it on my phone. It isn’t the same as typing on the computer. I have fat figure syndrome and I keep hitting the wrong keys on my phone. It is taking me a lot longer than it would do normally. It’s frustrating. But hopefully a new modem will arrive tomorrow and normal service will be resumed. If not, I did visit a book shop yesterday with the intention of “just having a look”, but I came out of the shop ten minutes later with a bagful of books, so I should be able to keep myself entertained for a few days more at least.