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Winter Sun and Snow

4 Feb

Last week I did something I have never done before: I made the decision on Monday to fly on 6 days later to the sunny climbs of Tenerife. It’s not quite as extreme as waking up one morning, going to the airport and taking the next available flight but it felt like it to me because I’m normally so organised that my flights are booked more than 6 months in advance.

It was getting so cold here in Switzerland that I decided a few days in the sun would help to thaw out my bones and might even put some colour into my pale skin (but that was definitely a long shot!)

As my mum was already holidaying in Tenerife, I just had to get a bus from the airport and meet her just outside where she was staying. It was so much warmer there and I did get a few strange looks from people wearing my big winter coat, which I assure you I needed for the journey back.

We spent a lot of time walking, drinking in English bars and eating English food. It was great to relax and just enjoy life without any time pressures. We also visited La Caletta, which is a fishing village, and had a great fish and chips there.

All too soon it was time for me to come home, but not without some Chorizo sausage and olives as edible souvenirs.

Of course, I landed back to a very wintry and cold Switzerland. I did wonder if it was worth going for such a short space of time and now I feel like it’s even colder here than it was before I left. The 25+ degrees difference hasn’t been a very welcome gift but at least it looks pretty.

Book Challenge by Erin 10.0

23 Jan

As you may know at the end of last year, I discovered an online reading challenge on Facebook. The group is run by Erin (hence, the name). The challenge is very easy. There are 10 different categories and you have to read a book from each category to complete it.

As I have a lot of free time on my hands at the moment, I managed to finish the challenge in 21 days – yes, 10 books in 21 days. I surprised myself. I’ve been motivated by reading 68 books last year and I would like to better it this year if that is possible. Obviously, I have given myself a great start to the year.

Here are the categories and the books that I read for the challenge:

Freebie (any book that is more than 200 pages long) – How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carniege

I decided to read a non-fiction book for this category. I have had this book on my “to read” shelf for a long time. It was an interesting book about human psychology and the basic premise of the book is “be nice”. That’s so of it really. By being agreeable, people will want to spend more time with you or do business with you. It seems logical that people who are easy to get along with will have no problem finding friends. However, I wonder if you did follow all of the advice in this book if you would end up feeling very unsatisfied with life. You would just end up doing what other people want and forfeit a large part of your personality to get along with people. Having said that, I will follow some of the advice that the book gives, especially because some of the examples that were given did ring true to me and I think the advice could help me in some areas.

Book that was turned into a Movie – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This was a long book (my edition was 884 pages long) but was a great read. Set during the American Civil War, it is essentially a story of love and loss, focused on the main character Scarlett O’Hara. Throughout the book, I was wondering how on earth the story could keep going and going, but there was always a clever plot twist to stir things up again and leave the reader wanting to read on. I haven’t seen the film but I wonder how the whole story can be possibly cut down to the length of a film without losing part of the great story. I’m so glad that I stuck with this book and read it until the end.

Set in Europe – The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

So many people have been talking about this book recently that I thought I just had to read it. At times it was an unpleasant reminder about the horrors of Nazi Germany but there was also a huge sense of hope and love. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who wants to read it by revealing what happened but it is well-written and poignant. I would recommend that you give it a read as well.

A Newberry Award Winner – Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

I read this children’s book in a few hours. It was a lovely story about Wilbur the pig and his friend, Charlotte, who is a very clever spider. This book was popular when I was growing up but I never read it. I was glad that I did. It is a story about relationships and how working together can help improve everyone’s lives. The ending was sad but in a nice way.

A Friend’s Favourite – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I was a bit sceptical about the book when I first started reading it. It took a while to get my head around the structure of the novel and the reasons for that structure. The book is six stories, spanning different eras woven into one. Each of the stories has a connection to the previous one. The stories were so different, not only in terms of narrative voice but also in the format; one was a diary, one was an interview etc. It showed a vast amount of skills to write with such complexity and authenticity. I enjoyed some of the stories more than others but overall it was a great read.

Written over 100 years ago – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I had no idea that this book was based, at least partly, in Switzerland and that it is nothing like the Frankenstein monster horror story that have come out of Hollywood. It is a poignant story about human interaction and the need to be accepted in society. The figure of “the monster” is a lonely, misunderstood figure, who has had no part in his design or creation, and tries to take revenge on his creator after he refuses to help him find happiness.

Title with 6 Words – The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Another book from the Nazi Germany era. The worst part of this book is seeing the dates that the diary entries were made knowing that the hope of them being free isn’t going to happen. The contrast between the musings of a teenage girl (complaining about classmates etc) and the description of the harsh conditions is mind blowing.

Cardinal direction in the title – East, West by Salman Rushdie

This was a collection of 9 short stories. I really liked how the narrative of each of the stories was so different and the subject matter was so varied. A lot of the stories made me quite reflective about life. I haven’t read any of Rushdie’s book before but I am going to make an effort to do so in the future. This was a good introduction into how well he writes.

Originally in another language – The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende (Spanish)

This was a joy to read. It’s the story of four generations of an eccentric family in Chile and charts the tragedy, hilarity and surreality of their lives in an ever-changing world. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next silent in shock at the events that were unfolding in the story. I would go as far to say that this was one of my favourite books that I have ever read. This was another long read but I doubt it will be long before I am re-reading it once again.

Begins with the letter N – Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Surprisingly, in this book the narrator is a unborn foetus, who is overhearing the destruction of his parents’ marriage and his mother’s subsequent relationship with his uncle. It was fascinating to read – the narrator can’t see everything that happens in the story but tries to infer all the details from his experience and from other senses. As with all McEwan novels, there is a sinister twist to the story and the foetus attempts to interfere with events that are happening around him.

There will now be a bonus round, where I have the opportunity to read another 10 books, but that part of the challenge doesn’t start until 1st February. In the meantime, I will have to find some other books to get stuck into!

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Brexit Boredom

21 Jan

I suspect that I am not the only one who is bored of the ongoing rumblings about Brexit. But living abroad makes it so much harder.

When people find out that I am British, the first thing they ask is what is going to happen with Brexit – as if I somehow have already been briefed about how everything is going to be resolved. I also get greeted with spontaneous outbursts of laughter or wry shakes of the head. It’s all very worrying. What is more worrying is that I can’t even escape the whole sorry affair by watching Swiss or German TV because they are reporting on it as well (in complete disbelief about what’s happening).

Boredom is only one part of my problem though. Since the dreaded vote I have been constantly worrying about what is going to happen to my rights to stay in Switzerland. Although Switzerland isn’t in the EU, it clearly states on my resident’s permit that I was granted the right to live and work in Switzerland because of my EU nationality. It is a lot, lot harder to get a job here if you are a non-EU national.

Would I be packed off on a plane back to Blighty on 30th March by an very apologetic Swiss official? Would I have to do something to prove that I really should stay here, like compete in the next series of Ninja Warrior Switzerland, or prove that I can yodel as well as a native? For these and many other burning questions, I went to a talk for British Nationals living and working in Switzerland which was organised by the British Embassy in Bern.

I was glad I went and not just for the free glass of wine! The talk was really informative and put my mind at easy about a lot of things that I have wondering about. The best news what that the rights that we have accumulated so far will not be taken away from us. It sounds like business as usual and the proposals are due to be ratified by the Swiss Parliament in the next few weeks. So, although the Brexit process for leaving the EU does seem in turmoil, at least the bilateral agreements that will mean my life will have little disruption are almost all sorted. (I know I sound selfish, especially as so many Brits in EU countries are yet to be given guarantees and assurances and for that I am sorry!)

I was surprised about some of the questions that were asked at the event to the panel. People seemed to be more concerned about still being able to go over the border with a Swiss driving licence to go and get cheaper shopping in Germany and which queue we need to get in at passport control after the Brexit date. However, some of the questions, like would British children lose their rights to live in Switzerland if they attended a British university, had a more serious note and had very complex answers. Depending on what residents’ permit you have, depends on how long you can leave the country for before you lose your rights to residency.

I’m glad my life isn’t so complicated and I can carry on as normal (or as normal as can be). However, my boredom for Brexit continues, just as the news reports do every day that no progress has been made and there are more and more arguments over this point or that point. So, please don’t ask me what’s going to happen on 29th March because you will be greeted with a yawn and a disinterested sigh.

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The Start of 2019

10 Jan

It’s been a busy start to the New Year. It’s only the 10th January but I have the feeling that I have done more in the last 10 days than I did in the whole of December. Which is hardly surprising because my main activities last month were eating and drinking.

Although we had a few smatterings of snow in December, the snow is finally coming down. Perhaps my increased productivity is due to this weather. I don’t feel like going outside so I have been busy doing activities indoors.

Here is a list of what I have done in the past 10 days.

  • Stopped eating and drinking as much as I was doing over Christmas in an attempt to lose the weight that I’ve put on;
  • Read 5 books (and I’ve almost finished number 6);
  • Collected and built a wardrobe that I had ordered;
  • Tried some new recipes in the kitchen;
  • Had a haircut;
  • Packed away all of the Christmas decorations and the Christmas tree – and the corner in the living room still looks empty without it;
  • Bought a new TV – our old one decided to give up the ghost on the 5th;
  • Started work for preparations for lauching my own travel website later in the year;
  • Started learning some coding in Excel;
  • Sorted out some clothes and other things to be taken to the recycling centre or to donate;
  • Went swimming for the first time in as long as I can remember;
  • Had a couple of lunch dates with friends;
  • Begun editing a short story that I wrote last year.

Bearing in mind that we were on holiday in Belgium until 3rd January I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.

If the snow keeps falling and I remain inside, I think this month could be the most productive one on record! I hope you’ve also had a good and productive start to 2019.

Goodbye 2018

31 Dec

As 2018 draws to a close, I can’t help but thinking that it’s been another pretty good year.

This year I have:

  • had 5 weeks travelling around South America doing and seeing a lot of things that I never thought I would
  • read 68 books – a new personal record
  • moved into a new apartment that I love, love, love
  • quit a job that I didn’t like
  • completed 4 of my 40 Before 40 Challenges and 8 are almost finished
  • finally recovered from a knee injury so that I can get back to playing sports in 2019
  • made some new friends
  • became a vegan for 3 months and realised that not eating animal products is not the end of the world
  • had a celebrity reply to one of my tweets (Kim-Joy from Great British Bake Off)

All in all, it’s not been so bad at all. Of course there are some things that I have said that I will do but I haven’t got round to them but everyone has things that they have to carry over into next year. I see it as having a few extra things to tick off next year. I have high hopes for next year and I hope that I will be able to cross off more than a few the challenges from my list.

I hope you also will be saying goodbye to 2018 with fond wishes and high hopes for 2019.

All the best, thank you for reading in 2018 and Happy New Year!

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Airport delays

28 Dec

The Christmas festivities are almost over and we are now in that funny time of year where no one knows what day it is or what they should be doing to keep themselves busy.

Apologies to my readers for a lack of a Happy Christmas message on my blog. My intention was to sit down on Christmas Eve after we arrived back in Switzerland after our brief trip to the UK. However, our flight was delayed by 2 hours so by the time we had landed, got our case, got back home and then went to do the food shopping before the supermarkets closed, there wasn’t enough time for me to see through my good intentions.

This airport delay was an inconvenience but nowhere near as bad as people who were flying into and out of Gatwick experienced in the run up to Christmas. Such inconveniences are things that we will have to put up with if we want to spend time at Christmas with both of our families. It was nice to enjoy the build up to Christmas in a British way, which means mainly starting drinking at 3pm, and finishing off with a cheesy Swiss Christmas, including fondue and raclette.

I hope that you did have a good Christmas. I feel like I have been constantly eating and drinking this festive season. I have got plans to get back to doing sport (in the form of swimming while it is cold outside) and get back into shape after my recovery from my knee injury. I will be glad to get back to normality when I don’t have to have monster-sized portions, followed by dessert and nuts and snacks to finish.

I still can’t believe that it is Christmas. This year seems to have flown by. While I still can, I will enjoy the leftovers and the biscuits and snacks before it’s January.

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Dinner Party Madness

20 Dec

We are still a few days off from Christmas and I am almost ready for the New Year to be here so I can have a long period of abstinence. From the end of November we have had a lot of dinner parties and meals to keep me full-to-bursting. It is nice to catch up with people over a tasty meal and enjoy winter food that we don’t get to eat for the rest of the year.

Here are some of the festive dinners that we have had over the past few weeks with family and friends.

Raclette

Six of us sat down at the end of November for Raclette. Since moving to Switzerland, cheese raclette has become a firm favourite of mine. And why wouldn’t it? It’s melted cheese with potatoes and meat. This is one of the main reasons why I decided to do my vegan challenge in the summer. I don’t mind cutting out dairy and meat but cheese is really difficult for me to deny myself. We all ate until we had eaten and drunk our own body weights. I was slightly shocked that between the six of us, we managed to drink six bottles of wine plus about eight bottles of beer – and one of us was driving. Needless to say we all had a great time. What was even more great was that we ended up having the leftovers (we always prepare far too much food for guests) the following evening.

Sunday Roast

Two of our friends heading off to go travelling in the next few days. Because we aren’t able to go to their leaving drinks because we will be in the UK, we invited them over on a Sunday to experience a traditional British Sunday Roast. I’m always a bit wary of sharing British classics with other nationalities because literally everyone else in the world thinks that British food is shockingly bad. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my homemade Yorkshire puddings, stuffing balls and gravy were all quickly devoured!

Cooked Ham

Three days after the Sunday Roast two more of our friends came round to enjoy one of the hams that we had won at a shooting competition. It was basically the same as the Sunday Roast but with ham substituted for chicken and no yorkshire puddings. I was surprised by how good the ham was. Sometimes when you win food stuffs at a competition it’s not the best quality but we were all very impressed by it and again there wasn’t anything left at the end of the meal.

Mongolian Pot

My boyfriend always invites some of his former work colleagues to ours for a pre-Christmas dinner. We had mongolian pot which is something that we only eat around Christmas time. It is basically a pot of stock that you cook meat and vegetables in. I like that it is a very social meal. You need to wait for certain things to cook so you can talk, drink and laugh while you are waiting. Theoretically it means that you shouldn’t overeat because you have time to recognise that you are already full. I must admit I am still working on that bit! Also I have no idea why it is called Mongolian Pot but is still extremely popular in Switzerland.

I also made chocolate brownies from a new recipe which turned out far better than I expected!

Fondue

Another tradition for us is choosing our Christmas tree at a local farm and then enjoying Gl├╝hwein and Fondue before carrying the tree home. The fondue is so good there. This dish has been another one that I have become very fond of since moving here. I was very sceptical to begin with because I wasn’t so sure that melted cheese and bread actually constitutes a proper meal. But it does fill you up and now it is one of my favourites.

Over Christmas we will definitely be eating Raclette, Fondue and Mongolian Pot at least one more time. Plus we also have invites to a few friend’s houses over the Christmas and New Year season. Now perhaps you can understand why I will be ready for a “detox” in the New Year.