Tag Archives: expat life

On the Road again

11 Aug

Today I set off to improve my German for two weeks with a holiday/German lessons in Vienna. I have never been to Vienna before but people have told me it is a great place so I am looking forward to it.

Of course, for a normal person two weeks away in one country would be more than enough. I am not normal. I fly to Vienna and then I take a bus to spend two nights in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. The bus only cost 5 Euros and it takes an hour so I thought it was a good opportunity to explore another country, especially as the German course does not start until Monday.

I don’t know a lot about Slovakia but I am looking forward to trying the food and exploring!

If you have been reading my blog for some time you will know that in January I went to an extremely cold Munich for a week to learn German. Although my intentions were good, it didn’t work out as I had planned. The school did not have a group who were the same level as me so I was forced to change from group lessons to individual lessons. This wasn’t the aim of my week there because I would happily chat with the teacher for 1.5 hours and then I was in the city alone. The idea was to meet fellow students in the school and be able to go for coffee and so on with people and be able to practice my German with people.

The school in Vienna seems a lot more rigid and, although they haven’t 100% confirmed it, I get the strong impression that they have the level that I am currently studying. What is a bit strange and is concerning me a little is that they haven’t accepted my B2 certificate as an indication of my level, even though I only took the exam last month. They have made me take a test which lasted more than an hour long to put me in the correct group and when I arrive on Monday I need to have an oral test to doubly confirm what group I should go in.

Although it is thorough and I am confident that they know what they are doing, I am a bit nervous that I do not yet know when my lessons will be. How well or badly you do depends on whether your lessons take place in the morning or in the afternoon. I just want to do enough that I can have the lessons in the morning because that is so much better and it is when I can focus the most. A lesson in the afternoon means that there is much more of a temptation to laze in bed in the morning and then my productivity will suffer.

As I have learnt from last time, I have also packed some exercises, vocab lists etc so if I am not placed in the right group I at least have some additional work to do.

I am sure that the rest of the time will be filled with sightseeing and more local food sampling!

My boyfriend is also coming for a week to spend some time with me. In my post from yesterday I mentioned that we will be running a half marathon at the start of October. He will be about an hour or more faster than me! By chance he has found a 10k run to take part in while we are in Vienna. So the training really will be getting a kick start them. I would complain but in the evening we will be going to a restaurant to eat a huge schnitzel. So in the end it will be worth it.

As I did last time with my German learning experience, I will be taking my laptop and blogging all the way. Check back soon to see how I am getting on.

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Training hard again

10 Aug

At the start of October I will be running a half marathon for the first time in a long time. I was partly strongly encouraged to do it because my boyfriend is also taking part and it was partly my own decision because I desperately need a fitness goal to motivate me.

In 2012, I was in the shape of my life. I ran a marathon (not very fast but I did it nonetheless) after getting quite heavily into running. Since then running and the whole topic of fitness has dropped off my agenda, although it shouldn’t have because I felt so much better back then.

The hardest thing for me is not the running itself; it is the getting out of the door in the first place. It always seems like a pain to go running. I need to get changed, think of where I want to run and then get out of the door etc etc. The actual running I enjoy. I’m outside and feel pretty good. I don’t even mind if it is raining. A run in the cold, wet rain means a long, hot shower is waiting at home.

Of course, the road to a half marathon does not run smooth. Training was going relatively well. I was managing a long run at least once a week and was being sensible about increasing it a bit each week. I was even doing a bit of cross-training by getting back on my bike for the first time and cycling about 20km.

On Monday it went downhill when I started with a bad cold/sore throat/cough. I have been completely wiped out by it. I wanted to at least try to go for a short run but my body was telling me that this was not going to happen.

So instead of long runs in the countryside I have been lounging on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and trying every home remedy known to mankind.

I am finally beginning to feel better. I managed to leave the house this evening and go for an hour long walk. I was in need of some fresh air. Fingers crossed I can resume training in the next few days. There is still 6 or 7 weeks left for training which should be enough. If I stay disciplined and get myself out of the front door regularly- And that is a big if!

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Hiking with Goats

5 Aug

This Saturday it was time to head to the mountains and go hiking for the first time in about 12 months. I wasn't going alone I was going with goats. Yes, that's not a typo! Quite a few months ago, I saw a MeetUp group activity to go hiking with goats. It sounded like something difference so I decided to sign up for it.

In case you don't know what MeetUp is: it is a online platform where people can organise different activities for like-minded people. The activity was limited to 10 people, the majority of which I hadn't met before. The main reason was because it was 2 people to one goat and there were only 5 goats on the trail.

After an early start, a train change in Luzern, a bus to a gondola and a gondola ride to the top, we reached Bannalpsee. It's a beautiful mountain lake that is surrounded by mountains. There we were introduced to the owners of the goats and the goats.

I was a bit surprised by the size of their horns. I wasn't expecting them to be so big and so strong. I can imagine that being headbutted by one of them would really hurt. I was hoping that the goat we chose would be mild mannered.

We had a small talk from the owners about how to handle the goats. I hadn't fully realised this but we would be actually leading the goats who were on a lead, like a dog. It was a bit of a bizarre concept. The goats also had small backpacks on their backs and we put our lunch in them so that they could carry them until it was time to eat.

The goat who I was responsible for was Luigi. All of the male goats seemed to have Italian names and I'm not 100% sure why. When the owners said that the first one was called Leonardo, I got excited that they were named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Alas! This was not the case.

Luigi was like me in some ways. He was a bit stubborn. When he had decided what he wanted to do, he wouldn't listen to what anyone else wanted to do. And he never stopped eating the whole hike.

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When he decided he was going to go left, he would just suddenly pull you in that directions. I was worried that he would pull my arm out of its socket. He really was that strong. The novelty soon wore off when he was pulling this way and that way or decided that he didn't want to move at all.

At one point, he just sat down and refused to move. The owner explained that he was probably just too hot and needed a rest. Luigi still had his winter coat so his hair was too thick. I know how he felt and it reminded me that I should go and get my hair cut soon as well. Throughout the hike, the goats were sprayed with water to keep them cool and they were also given drinks of water on the way via a spray bottle.

At the lunch stop, we stopped under some trees so that the goats could rest and cool down a bit. After the break, Luigi was much more lively and was like a different goat. For the rest of the hike he was more quiet that he was at the beginning. I think that he was slowly realising that I would not put up with much more nonsense from him!

The hike itself was not too difficult but it was made difficult by leading the goats. The place was beautiful, really stunning scenery and the weather was perfect. It made me think that I should go hiking more often. I enjoy being out in nature and it is good exercise so it's a no-brainer.

IMG_7463I took quite a lot of photos but the photos don't do the landscape justice. It reminded me that I live it such an amazingly beautiful place. I spend so many weekends in other places that I feel I have missed out on seeing a lot of Switzerland. There are so many places to discover and, if the weather is good, it is just perfect.

Now I am back at home and relaxing after a long, interesting day and I am ready to curl up with a book for the rest of the evening. Coincidently I am currently reading a book called The Trouble with Sheep and Goats by Joanna Cannon. So far, it hasn't mentioned anythign about difficulties of leading them through the Swiss Alps when they are hungry and I am more than half of the way through. Maybe that will come in the next chapter.

 

Weekend again!

4 Aug

It’s finally Friday again. Although I was only working for 3 days this week, it felt like 4 weeks. So I am definitely ready for the weekend.

Last weekend I was in London and I did something that I had never thought about doing. I visiting the Game and Country Fair at Hatfield House. This had never been on my list of things to do but it was something on my other half’s list so I was happy to go along.

I am not sure what I was expecting but I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I have never seen so much tweed and Barbour jackets in one place at one time. I was beginning to think that it was a Guinness World Record attempt for “The Most Tweed in One Field” but it wasn’t.

I was also surprised how many gun manufacturing companies were exhibiting at the fair. I wasn’t really aware how popular shooting was in England. It is popular here in Switzerland but a lot of people have guns anyway because of the military service that young people have to complete. There were custom-made guns as well as antique guns. It was unique to see how the guns are traditionally made: starting with a block of wood and slowly chiseling it out into a recognisable gun-shape.

Of course, if there are gun there, you have to have a go right? So we did. There was a clay pigeon shooting activity. I was at a distinct disadvantage as my other half is a member of a Swiss gun club and I was not going to be tempted into a bet with him. It was actually pretty easy to get the hang of and we had a trainer who explained to us exactly what to do and how to improve our shooting. Unfortunately, it was all over too quickly, especially as we had waited in line for an age.

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There was also archery to try which, of course, we did. Rather than shooting at a target. We had a plastic deer to aim at. It was something a bit different. I have no idea how Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games manages to hunt with a bow and arrow. It was hard to shoot a stationary target, never mind a target that is moving.

The archery sessions were run by a club who had come from Stratford in Warwickshire. They must have made a killing (no pun intended) on the sessions because they were only using their own time and had no other overheads as they already had the equipment. There were lots of people lining up to have a go. Might be a good business idea for the future.

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The rest of the weekend we met up with some friends of mine from university, who I last saw about 3 years ago when they were over in Switzerland on a trip. It’s nice to meet up with friends and just carry on from where you left off last time as if no time had passed since you last saw each other.

The rest of the weekend was nice and relaxing with a bit of shopping, a quick trip to the National Portrait Gallery and some nice food in China Town.

I have a feeling that this weekend will be relaxing but in a different way!

Happy Birthday Switzerland!

1 Aug

August 1st is the National Day of Switzerland which means that it’s a public holiday so no work today. Unlike a British Bank Holiday, the weather today is really good. It is meant to be around 34 degrees this afternoon, which is one of the reasons why I dragged myself out of bed early this morning to go for a run. Though to be honest, the mercury was pushing 24 degrees at 9am, which is still too hot for me to be running or doing anything at all.

One of the things that I haven’t got my head around is how the public holidays work in Switzerland. Today we have the day off work but if the 1st August fell on a weekend, as it did in 2015, you don’t get a day off on Monday to compensate. It’s just tough luck! I also find it a bit odd that the bank holidays take place on the exact date and aren’t moved to the start or the end of a week. It is a bit disruptive for companies and workers alike.

It’s a bit surprising that a country that is renowned for precision and efficiency isn’t very efficient when it comes to public holidays. It is a huge myth that Europeans enjoy more bank holidays than their British counterparts. At least in England you aren’t cheated out of bank holidays when they fall on a weekend. There would be rioting in the streets if that was the case.

Every canton celebrates today as the National holiday but, depending on where you live, depends on the number of public holidays you get. Zürich is a Protestant canton historically but in Tessin, a Catholic canton, they have more holidays because they follow the Roman Catholic traditions and, therefore, celebrate more feast days in like with the Catholic calendar. If I had’ve known that in the beginning, perhaps I would have decided to move another canton and maximise holiday time.

I can’t complain though. As I was running this morning, there were lots of agricultural workers in the field picking the crops that are ready to go to the supermarkets tomorrow. My day doesn’t have to involve anything to strenuous, apart from enjoying the fireworks tonight.

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Good news

24 Jul

To start the new week off I have some good news. I actually found out on Saturday after coming back from my trip with the Bernina Express but I didn’t have time to write about it. I passed my B2 German exam!

I am not sure that it was so much of a surprise because I had a good feeling about the exam on the day and I was well prepared for it. The surprise was that I had done less-than-expected in the writing part of the exam than I had hoped. I think that this could be partly due to the fact that I might have “over-practiced” this part and, as a result, I was probably too focused on trying to crowbar in specific grammatical phrases and structures, rather than focusing on the question that was asked. It is irrelevant though as I did comfortably pass that part any way and, as far as I know, no one is interested to find out the marks that you got in each of the four parts of the exam (reading, writing, listening and speaking).

Now the journey continues again. I will be carrying on with German lessons for the foreseeable future but only having one lesson per week instead of two. I think that I can save some money by focusing on areas that I am not too sure about in my own time and aspects, such as increasing vocabulary, I also have to do alone. Sure, a teacher can give me a list of words to learn but I have to learn and remember them myself. In this way, I will have some flexibility during the week to do other things as well as making improvement to my German skills when it suits me best.

I am aiming to speed up the learning process in a few different ways. I watched every single episode of a German comedy series in the run up to my exam, which I think helped me a great deal. The series was called Der Tatortreininger (basically, meaning The Crime Scene Cleaner). It follows the eventful working day of a man who is tasked with cleaning the blood and other bodily fluids from crime scenes one the police have made their investigations. It sounds gruesome but the actual series is more about the people that he meets during his working day and the people affected by the death at the crime scene. It is a comedy so it is very light-hearted and I really enjoyed watching it. I have found a list of other TV series that it is recommended for German learners to watch so I hope that a few of these are as entertaining as my first encounter with German TV.

I am going to try to increase my use of German throughout the day. I have already started to send some email in German, where possible and where I know that the receiver knows that I am trying my best to communicate and improve. There are also a few groups where you can meet with other people who are keen to improve their language skills. I will try to find one that fits in with my schedule and attend. I have also thought about the possibility of finding a penpal or someone that I can have a tandem exchange (where two people meet who have different mother tongues and they help each other learn together) either in person on via Skype. I have had some tandem partners in the past and they have been really beneficial.

In August, I will be going to Vienna in Austria for two weeks for an intensive German course. This is similar to the week that I spent in Munich in January but this time I am hoping that the course that I want to go on is available. I am looking forward to a “working” holiday and visiting Vienna, which I believe is a beautiful place, especially in the summer.

So onwards and upwards. It seems like learning a language is a never-ending struggle but I think I can see that the end is in sight…homework-1735644__340

Exploring Switzerland

23 Jul

Some of my expat friends complain when family members or friends come to stay with them in Switzerland because it means that they have to entertain them and find suitable things to do with them.

I have no such problem. When people come and visit it means that I can explore Switzerland more and go to back to places that I like and would like to visit again.

As my mother has been visiting for the past week, I have been back to some of my favourite places and have seen some parts of Switzerland that I have not been to before. Earlier this week we went to Konstanz in Germany and Luzern. The trip to Konstanz was an out-and-out shopping trip. Lots of people who live in Switzerland take a trip over the border to shop and it is a lot cheaper than in Switzerland. Last time my mum was here, we also took a day trip to Konstanz. We took the train because there was a cheap fare available. I have found out that going with another person means that you can carry twice as much back. The weather was lovely and we did manage to snap up a few bargains. My fridge is the fullest it has been for a long time and I managed to buy a new pair of Nike trainers for less than 70 Euros.

We also enjoyed lovely weather in Luzern, while we wondered around the Old Town and had a look in some of the shops. There is a beautiful lake in the centre of the city but unfortunately we didn’t have time to take a boat trip on the lake. Hopefully, we can take a trip there next time.

We also took the Bernina Express. This was a first for me and was something that I was looking forward to even since I booked the trip. The Bernina Express is a train/bus journey starting in Chur which travels through the mountains and across the border into Tirano in Italy. From there, there is a bus which travels from Tirano through Italy, along the coast of Lake Como and to Lugano, in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.

On Thursday we got up really early to travel from Zürich to get to Chur in time to make the Bernina Express at 08.32. The train was comfortable and had the advantage of having panoramic windows so that you can see the whole of the mountains from your seat. The scenery was spectacular: green fields, glaciers, farm houses, gushing rivers. The weather was a little bit overcast, as you can see from the pictures, but I think that this just added to the mysterious nature of the mountains.

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I guess one of the disadvantages of public travel is other passengers. We were unfortunate to be sitting next to a woman who loved the sound of her own voice and had to comment on everything for four and a half hours. It takes that Hollywood shine off the majestic landscape with someone saying “Oh isn’t it lovely?” in a really strong South African accent. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site so lovely doesn’t even cover it.

We arrived in Tirano and found our hotel. The town was lovely. The architecture is so different from Switzerland and the atmosphere and mentality is slightly different as well, which is strange considering how close we were to Switzerland. It was quickly apparent that there was not a lot to do in the town and we had walked from end to end within about 20 minutes. 24 hours was definitely too long to stay in the town, especially when there was only one restaurant that was open in the evening. It was as if the town only existed at midday when the majority of the tourists were arriving for a few hours and then leaving on trains to get to somewhere else.

Nevertheless, it was a relaxing time, walking around the town and soaking in the atmosphere. We can also say that we ate the worse lasanga of our lives in the evening. And, yes, this was Italy. Luckily there was a nice bar that we found (I think the only bar that we had seen the whole time we were there) and we could enjoy some nice beers and snacks.

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The next day we took the bus from Tirano, across Italy to Lugano, Switzerland. I was a little bit disappointed by this leg of the trip because of the iterinary. I imagined that we would stop at Lake Como as we drove through Italy so that we could at least take a phtoto but we stopped before the start of the lake to have a coffee and use the toilet and then carried on straight through. Because we were on the right hand side of the coach, we didn’t get to appreciate the view of the lake (which was on the left hand side).

We arrived in Lugano in the early evening and took the train to the hotel that we were staying in. Because of the remoteness of the hotel, we then had to take a taxi to get up to the hotel. I hadn’t realised until a few days before we were due to travel that there were only 2 buses up to the hotel each day. So if you missed them, it was taxi time! It was a bit of a pain but the views of the Lake Lugano were stunning. Overall, I wasn’t so impressed with the hotel and I am still debating about whether to write a formal complaint about our stay. I am not sure what it will achieve which is why I am hesitating but as some of the service was not as I expected, I think that I will be writing in the next day or so. If it falls on deaf ears, so be it.

The next day we took the bus back down the mountain. To the delight of my mum, the bus had an unusual horn which is specific to Switzerland. You can hear it yourself here. The sound of the horn was definitely needed as the bus made it’s way down the mountain side.

We spent the morning and the early afternoon exploring Lugano. The lake is spectaular and lots of people were enjoying the excellent weather by hiring boats and pedalos. The town itself is not very big but it was nice to get lost in the many intertwining cobbled streets and sitting out in the sunshine to get some Vitamin D.

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We arrived back in Zürich in the early evening. Just in time to enjoy dinner on the balcony before a huge storm, with epic thunder and lightning, hit. So much for the good weather lasting…