Tag Archives: expat life

Spain and Andorra

29 Aug

Last weekend we went to visit some of my boyfriend’s friends just outside of Barcelona. It was a nice short break and we managed to eat, drink and see a lot.

After collecting our rental car, we drove to Montserrat, a mountain range just outside Barcelona. The views from the top were nothing short of stunning. It is possible to walk to the top but we took the cable car to save our legs!

There is an impressive Basilica at the top and even more impressive queues to go into the church and pray to the Madonna at the top of the High Altar. Because of the heat, we decided not to wait but to go and have some lunch.

Later we drove to Manresa, where we would be staying. We found an amazing jamón shop where we tried some jamón, tomato bread and red wine. The wine was only 1.50 Euros and I was expecting it to taste like vinegar but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. When we met up with our hosts, we got ready to go for evening meal and then onto a club where there was a jazz festival. It was a great atmosphere but after food and an early flight we were happy to go home for some rest.

The next day we went to Andorra. If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that I have a #40Before40 challenge, in which I have challenged myself to do 40 challenges before I turn 40 (I have a few years to go yet!). One of my challenges is to visit 40 European countries and Andorra is one that I haven’t been to before.

Andorra wasn’t what I expected. It is a shoppers’ paradise because there are no taxes on the goods. It felt like every shop sold tobacco, booze, perfume and shoes and nothing else. I thought it had a bit of a weird atmosphere – like a place that’s in between here and there. I can’t imagine living there. It also took a long time to get in and out because so many people were crossing the border to get a bargain. However, I have been and it’s one less country to visit.

The next day we went to Sitges, a coastal town near to Barcelona. I had visited once before as part of a business trip but it was nice to go back again, especially for the delicious paella! I think Sitges is a bit like Blackpool for Spanish people. It was packed with lots of people who were just there for the weekend.

And then it was time to come home to Switzerland. I’m sure that weekends go quicker than weekdays – the secret is then to enjoy the weekends more!

The Problem with My Accent

22 Aug

I have never thought that my lovely Northern English accent was much cause for concern. But lately, living in Switzerland has made me more aware about accents and how I speak.

I have recently upped my German learning intensity and I have been taking classes online with native German speakers, who live in Germany. I have been more than a bit surprised that all of them (without exception) have commented on my German accent. All of them describe me as having a Swiss-German accent. This is strange because as soon as I talk to a Swiss person they will say that I have an English accent when I speak in German.

I’m not so naive to think that I have been speaking the equivalent of The Chancellor’s German but I have still be shocked about how noticeable it is that I haven’t learnt my German in Germany.

One of the teachers that I had a lesson with this week gave me the feedback that she “enjoyed my unique British-Swiss-German accent”. I’m speechless. Is British-Swiss-German even an actual thing? Or have I mistakenly started a whole new dialect all by myself?

I think I have picked up some of the vowel sounds from Swiss-German, which are quite different to standard German, because I hear these sounds all the time when I speak to people in Switzerland.

I also have problems with my vowels in English when I speak to non-native speakers. The vowel sounds that I use tend to be longer in words like ‘lunch’ and I have made a few people confused when I have said things because my accent isn’t 100% like The Queen’s. Some have even asked me how is a certain word meant to be said. To which I have replied that how I have said it IS the correct way to say it. I refuse to modify my accent – I have been working on refining it to its current state for the best part of 35 years.

Sometimes I think that a lot of the stigma related to accents is down to snobbery and nothing more. And while I have been teased about the way I say certain words in English and now in German, perhaps it’s not my accent that is the problem. Perhaps having a unique and distinct accent is something that people should be proud of instead of thinking it as a negative thing.

However, I would like to make it clear that I am officially the founder of the British-Swiss-German accent and you heard it in all of its uniqueness here first.

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On the move…

6 Aug

In the current heatwave that we are having, it’s best to stay indoors and do as little as possible. Unfortunately, it has been virtually impossible for me to do this this week because it has been moving week. This has involved carrying heavy boxes down never-ending flights of stairs for what feels like a lifetime.

I knew that I owned a lot of books but physically carrying each and every one of them down the stairs in this heat has made me realise how impossibly long my to-read list is. The plus side is that if I do manage to read all of these books, I will definitely be able to win a series of Mastermind.

It is a long and boring task but it had to be done. I am now adjusting to life in a much bigger apartment and not knowing that I have unpacked properly and what has been left in a bag that will become the study because I don’t quite know where it “belongs” yet. It could take a while before I settle in completely. Just today, for instance, I got off the bus and immediately started walking in the other apartment and then realised that I don’t live there anymore.

Aside from the arduous task of unpacking and finding a place for our belongings in the new place, we also have to completely clean the old apartment before we hand it back to the landlord. Luckily, we have a few weeks before this needs to be completed. But Swiss apartments are carefully checked for signs of damage before the deposit is released to the former tenant. Cleaning is also not a fun activity to do in this weather (or any weather, in fact) but it looks like next week will be a bit cooler so it can wait until then…

Also a quick thanks to our friend, Mark, who ably assisted us in getting the last few heavy items of furniture out of the old place. He was rewarded with a few cold beers and a steak on the grill. I was more than a little concerned when he said, if he got this for helping us every time we moved, he would help us move next week as well. Thanks but no thanks, Mark. We are definitely staying put!

Happy 727th Birthday Switzerland!

1 Aug

1st August is the official date of birth of the Old Swiss Confederation. It also means that the whole country gets a day off (but only if the day falls on a weekday).

I will never forget that Switzerland was founded in 1291 because when we were in Sao Paulo we found a trendy place for food and drink (see the picture below).

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When my boyfriend said that this place must have been the idea of a Swiss person, I asked why and then he explained that 1291 was the year that Switzerland came into existence. I will now never forget this date, which might come in useful if I ever decide to apply for Swiss citizenship.

At the ripe old age of 727, Switzerland isn’t looking too bad…

Hiking in Lausanne

4 Jul

As the weather has been hot, hot, hot recently, I have been trying to make the most of it. A couple of weekends ago (bit late with the write-up, I know) I went to spend the weekend with my friend, Melina. We used to work in the same company and met in the company-sponsored German lessons. When she moved to Lausanne, I was really sad to be losing regular contact with a close friend but it has meant being able to spend a few weekends in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Whenever I have been to visit Lausanne the weather has been nothing short of amazing. (Apart from the time when I took my mum there when she came to visit but I have noticed that whenever she comes to see me that the rain comes in bucketfuls.)

Melina was very keen to go hiking so I agreed because I haven’t been hiking this year and it is always good to get outside and into nature after being cooped up inside an office for the whole week. I was a bit skeptical when we started the hike because it looked like it was going to be more difficult than I had imagined and I was a bit wary about my knee, which I am currently receiving treatment on. After a few minutes, I had forgot about this and was more than happy to catch up with my friend and get some exercise.

It was hard work to get to the top but the views were stunning. The weather was beautiful and hot and we were the only people out on this part of the mountain. I tend to forget how beautiful Switzerland is and how incredible the scenery is.

We stop for lunch at the very top and enjoyed the views. The lake that you can see in the picture is Lac Leman, and somewhere a bit further in the distance is Geneva.

As we headed back down to the car, I was already dreaming of a nice cool Gin and Tonic, a refreshing shower and a few pre-dinner nibbles, when I lost my footing and started to fall off the footpath and roll down the side of the ravine. It all happened so quickly that all I could think of was: I have to stop myself from falling before I end up breaking some bones. It fell like I was in the opening scene of Cliffhanger where Sly Stallone is trying to save his friend from falling to her death but I am sure the reality wasn’t so dramatic. I know that Melina was dying to laugh but she is a good friend and only did so when she was sure that I was ok.

I ended up with a few cuts, a stinging sensation on my hands from where I had used so much force to stop myself from falling further and a huge purple bruise on my bad knee. Luckily it was only superficial injuries and a bruised ego that I suffered. I felt that I had, by now, earned my Gin and Tonic.

We had anticipated going out in the evening but after the fresh air, a few drinks and food, we decided to stay at Melina’s place and have a relaxed evening. I used to joke that we were like the cast of Sex and the City (you can decide yourself which one of the cast I am): going out on the town to trendy bars, enjoying getting ready and doing make-up and having a good time with girlfriends while forgetting about how complicated men make our lives. I think after this latest weekend we might be slowly transforming in the cast of the Golden Girls – getting older and grumpier. I don’t mind though – spending time with good friends in a beautiful part of the world is all that matters.

School’s Out for Summer

22 Jun

It’s now the end of June and my latest German course has finished. Finally! I have been going to evening classes twice a week for the past 15 weeks. And I really feel like a need a break for a few months.

I can’t honestly say that I don’t really feel like I have progressed all that much. My friend, Mark, couldn’t have put it better when he said (about learning German) that the more he learns, the more he realises he doesn’t know. This is exactly how I feel. It’s as if, for every thing I learn, something that I learnt last week, gets squeezed out of my brain. There isn’t enough space in my brain.

Whoever it was who said that “Ignorance is bliss” might have been on to something. The more I know, the less I feel I know and this has an impact on my self-confidence and my motivation to carry on learning at all!

I am hoping to take (and pass) the next and final German exam early in 2019. Before you ask, yes this is one of the items on my 40 Before 40 list of challenges. I have decided that if this is to be a realistic possibility at all, I need to carry on with doing quite a lot of German grammar exercise during the summer so that I don’t forget things completely. The idea is that by the time the next course starts in the middle of September that I will know the grammar and I have to concentrate only on learning some vocabulary and techniques for passing the exam.

I’ve decided to try to make a “revision timetable” for over the summer so that I can stay on track. However, I know that this doesn’t always work; it rarely worked in my school days so that chances of it working in the summer, when I feel like I need a break, are also slim. But I will give it ago anyway. I might have to tape the revision plan onto the fridge so that I am reminded of it every time I go to get something to eat.

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Photo an Hour: 28th April 2018

29 Apr

I have missed the last two Photo An Hour days because I was on holiday in South America. For the February edition, I actually landed in Buenos Aires at 6am and was so excited to be there that I completely forgot. For the March edition, I think we were transferring from one country to another which possibly wouldn’t be so interesting to photograph.

Now back in Switzerland with no distractions and a few helpful reminders on my phone, here is what I got up to on 28th April 2018.

7am: it’s early and it’s quiet so I decide to read some more of my book. I’m reading Crime by Irvine Welsh at the moment.

8am: Making a spot of breakfast: on the left scrambled eggs for him, on the right a vegan “scrambled egg” made from tofu, turmeric, chilli and coriander

9am: It looks like the weather will be nice today

10am: Writing a few posts for my blog

11am: Time for German homework

12pm: Snack time

1pm: Forgot to put the dishwasher on this morning!

2pm: Decided to label all the jars we have in the cupboard so we know what is in what, especially with the different types of flour

3pm: Someone (not me!) has fallen asleep so I will go back to doing some reading

4pm: Time to use the one gadget I have bought this year and go for a run

5pm: Back from run looking like a beetroot but need to do my exercises for my knee

6pm: Homemade dips to have with our grilled vegetables later

7pm: The sun has gone in but the BBQ is ready! All homemade apart from the bread!

8pm: We are watching The Godfather

9pm: We are still watching The Godfather

10pm: Time to write my diary before going to bed