Tag Archives: expat life

Photo an Hour

17 Dec

Yesterday I took part in my very first Photo an Hour. The basic premise is very simple. Once a month you take a photo an hour during your day and post this up on social media with the hashtag #photoaday. It means that you can check what other people are up to and is an interesting way to document a normal, or perhaps, a special day.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might remember that for 3 years I used to take a photo a day. I still get notifications on Facebook of what I was doing on this day 3 years ago. For a photo a day, you have to get creative because it is not always easy, especially with having a nine-to-five job, and the photos get a bit repetitive.

With photo a day, I must say that my day was a lot more productive than it was the previous Saturday. Last week, I was so tired and a bit ill from all the overtime that I have been doing at work, that I mainly sat in front of the TV, like a zombie all day. I certainly couldn’t post a photo every hour with me in a different position on the sofa.

So here is what I got up to on Saturday 16th December:

8am: Good Morning! Tea and Toast time!

9am: Time to confirm what the neighbours always suspected: I am both a borderline alcoholic and a very tardy recycler

10am: Shopping for Christmas wrapping paper and sparkly things

11am: UK Tax return time

12pm: Writing a few posts for my blog

1pm: As we won’t be having a Christmas tree this year, I’ve bought a poinsettia to make the place look a bit more Christmassy

2pm: After not feeling well all week, I am trying to get back into my training programme

3pm: Helping Santa by wrapping up presents for some special little people

4pm: I have finally got round to tidying all my German exercise books off the dining room table

5pm: I’m about to venture out in the cold and dark

6pm: Christmas Tree shopping (see 1pm, the tree wasn’t for me!)

7pm: Fonduestube

8pm: We are still going

9pm: On the way home

10pm: Full of cheese, exhausted and climbing into bed with this one. Night all!

The arrival of winter

9 Dec

Winter has finally arrived and not just because real Christmas trees are now being sold on every corner that you turn. It has snowed. I did snow a few weeks ago but only a light covering that started to come down early in the evening and had disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. But it looks like the snow has finally decided it is going to stay.

Last night we were working in the office until late to hit our deadline for the last month of the year. I had had a bad feeling about it all week and when, on Thursday we had a technical issue that brought a 10 hour delay, I was fearing the worst.

However, we caught up and apart from a few hiccups on the way, we were finished around 10pm on Friday evening. I was over the moon, as I had expected to be working until about midnight or later. We had finally done it. The last month end close of 2017. Home before the witching hour. Yes!

But oh no! Having been firmly fixed on our computer screens for 15 hours, we had failed to notice that the snow had come down. I’m not sure if there is such a thing as torrential snow but this was something like it. Ok, I have my hat, boots and a big winter jacket (I actually call it my football manager’s jacket because can be found in the wardrobe of any self-respecting Premier League coaching staff member), I thought. I can do snow.

Then news somehow filtered into the office – I still have no idea how, as there were only 10 of us left in a building for eight thousand –  that there had been a accident and none of the trams were running from our offices into town. Great. This was not in the script. I was meant to be home in an hour. This was looking increasingly unlikely.

I left with the plan to walk to the nearest train station, get a train from there to the main station and then get my usual train home. I start walking and I see a tram drive past. Hang on, didn’t someone say that the trains weren’t running? But that was a tram and it was definitely running.

I jogged to the next stop to get the next tram that was making its way down the hill. I looked like Bambi on ice. I had to get a bit of speed up to make the next tram but I wanted to avoid falling flat on my face even though no one would be around to see my embarrassment. I made it! Great not long and I would be at the main station and I just have to wait for the train.

The tram didn’t move for about 5 minutes. Then the driver said that there were two other tram stuck in front of him and he didn’t know when we would be able to get moving again. He left the doors open so that anyone who wanted to get off could do.

I decided it could be ages before we set off again so I got out and headed on foot to the train station that would take me to the main station. I was glad that I did. Not only had 2 cars collided just next to the train station but there was also a bus that had managed to crash into a lamp post and was blocking all trams going up and down.

Luckily, the train arrived just as I was climbing up the steps to the station. I had to wait for half an hour at the main station but at least I knew I wasn’t too far from home.

By the time, I got home the snow was really deep. As most people were inside or already asleep, I had the privilege of being the first one to walk through the newly fallen snow. I love that crunch sound that comes from under foot and being able to look behind me to see the footsteps in the snow. It was clear that this snow was here to stay.

Today it has continued to snow. I’m happy that I don’t have to work or use public transport and I can watch the winter wonderland from the comfort of my home.

Old problem, new experience

17 Nov

This week in Switzerland I have encountered an age-old problem which resulted a new and slightly surprising experience. The three words mostly likely to instill fear and dread into a commuter back home are: replacement bus service.

After 5 years, it was the first time that have experienced this in Switzerland. They are working at night on the train line that runs through our village and, because my German lesson finishes at 9, I had to alight one stop before I would normally and take the bus.

I have taken so many bus replacement services over the year in England and I won’t be coy about it. I hate them. With a passion. I am sure that anyone who had taken them is much of the same view.

Things were different here. The bus is already waiting. The bus looks big enough to take all of the passengers. The driver responds cheerfully when you ask if this bus is going to your stop. It’s like a parallel universe.

Normally the bus replacement takes forever and the bus manages to take a route which virtually passes every residential street in the area and doesn’t seem to go the most direct route. It could be that I was lucky that my stop was the first one but I was actually home only five minutes later than I would be if the train had gone to my stop. I was also quite lucky that the service was at night and the roads were a lot quieter.

gleise-1555348__340

It makes me wonder why more repairs to essential services are not done in the UK at night. It makes it a lot easier and a lot less stressful for commuters. All that seems to happen though, is that the price are increased, the services are worse and no one is happy about it.

Coincidentally, I also noticed this week that they don’t have cat’s eyes in Switzerland. I’m not sure why I haven’t realised this before. I researched this on the internet a bit and it seems that cat’s eyes are only know in UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Ireland and the US. For those of you how don’t know, cat’s eyes are a reflective device that are placed along road markings to help drivers at night. They were invented in England and get their name because the device work on a similar basis as to how cat’s eyes work.

As a child, I was traumatised by someone telling me that they actually put dead cat’s eyes in the middle of the road. I really could imagine roadworks scooping up the dead eyes and cementing them into the middle of the road.

Thankfully that story was not true but every time I see cat’s eyes, I still wonder if the cat had a good life and if he would have wanted to have lived on helping drivers stay safe.

40 Before 40: Challenge #14

15 Nov

Challenge 14 on my #40Before40 list is to eat vegan for 3 months. I haven’t started the challenge yet but I have started some research into it. I think that this challenge is certainly doable but I will have to plan in advance.

I have already had a look in supermarkets to see what alternatives they offer. One of the supermarkets here has a coconut oil spread alternative to butter. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I haven’t tried it yet because I don’t know if I am just not going to eat butter at all. I don’t eat a great deal of it anyway.

I have stopped drinking milk and have tried almold, oat and rice milk as potential alternatives. I am not particularly taken by any of them and almond milk is by far the worst. They seem to be a lot thinner than milk and a bit sweeter to the taste. I have also noticed that no matter how much I put in my cuppa, it doesn’t make it go the right colour. You will know what I mean if you are British and reading this. We have colour charts like most countries have for paint for our tea.

I have also swapped my normal breakfast of museli and youghurt for chia seed pudding made with my milk substitute, which hasn’t been so bad. Of course, when I do get going with it and I can’t have eggs and bacon for breakfast, I will definitely be complaining.

There is a good range of meat free products available in Coop. It’s mainly bean burgers, falafel and so on. All of this I can make myself, if I do manage to get myself organised. They also sell dairy free cheese. It will possibly taste like plastic but it is good to know it is there.

I have also spent quite a bit of time online researching some receipes. I googled best vegan breakfasts and I got a list of receipes that say “drizzle over a bit of honey…” If it has honey on it then it isn’t vegan. I was hoping that I would be able to find a list of lunch ideas which says “to the horseradish add roast beef”. That would make the challenge easier but I don’t think that I will find that.

I plan to start this challenge in earnest next spring/summer. As more fruits and vegetables are available in spring and summer, I think it will be easier to do it at this time of year. It will be tough not to have sausage on the BBQ but I can have grilled vegetables which I like just as much.

In the meantime, I will be continuing my search to find alternatives and ways to make sure that I get all the vitamins and minerals that I need. This is defintiely going to be a challenge! If any of you have any vegan receipes or tips that you would like to share with me, please feel free to get in touch!vegetables-2898523__340

A long weekend in Bordeaux

3 Nov

Although it seems like a long time ago now, I spent a long weekend last weekend in Bordeaux, France. Bordeaux is where my boyfriend is currently living to improve his French. I suspect, however, that a reason that is just as important is that he likes to drink wine. For the past few weeks, all I have heard about is wine tasting and Cognac. As Easyjet fly from Basel to Bordeaux, I decided it was a good opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

After the shock of arriving back to a cold Switzerland from Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised that the weather in France was warm. I don’t mean warm as in Barbados warm but certainly noticeably warmer than in Switzerland. We walked around the city and my personal tour guide showed me all of the major points of interest.

When in France it is a legal requirement to have a lunch of bread and cheese sat by the river. There was an artisan farmers’ market by the waterfront so we bought some bread, with olives and onions baked in it, and some lovely sheeps’ milk cheese. We watched the world go by for a bit and it was lovely to be able to sit out in October still.

Docked on the quai was a large Russian sailing ship, the Mir. Apparently the ship has been visiting Bordeaux for the past 30 years. It was an impressive ship and not something that I would have expected to see there. It also accounted for why there were so many Russian sailors milling about the place. We did say that we would go back to go on board, because there were a lot of people on it at lunchtime, but we ended up running out of time.

After some retail therapy (I wanted to get some new running shoes from Decathalon), we had some time to sit and have a drink before going to dinner. We stumbled on a local bar that was next to the Basicilica of St Michael. It was quite interesting to observe some of the locals coming and going. The best part was actually watching someone trying to park in front of the bar. That someone was a male of the species before you come to any other conclusions. He tried about eight times to squeeze into a spot that was far too small. Every time he reversed backwards, he nudged a BMW that was parked behind. The BMW physically moved every time. It was an achievement that he didn’t cause any damage to the other much more expensive car.

We ate at La Crabe Marteau, a famous seafood restaurant. There were about 3 things on the menu: crab, lobster or langustinens. We had the crab. It was pretty exciting. You get give allsorts of equipment to get into the crab. Luckily, I didn’t have to de-shell my crab by myself; the waiter took pity on me and did it for me. Markus wasn’t so lucky! The crab itself was huge and I was surprised by how much meat there was in it. I thought that it would be mainly shell but I was so wrong that I couldn’t even finish my meal, which almost never happens.

The next day it was time to head to Libourne for a Chateaux Open Day. A lot of chateaux open up to the public for free wine tastings as a way to market their wines. The first chateau was very small. It was clearly a farm that was diversifying to generate more money. We saw the cellar and how the wine was produced. They even had two shire horses to help harvest the wine. The wine itself was really good. We bought a bottle to have for later.

The next chateaux was more of a wine merchants. We weren’t able to see the cellar or see how the wine was produced but we could try some, which was the most important point. There were almost too many to try here. At the first chateau there were only three wines to try and we tried them in increasing strength. Here it was a bit of a mixture and I wasn’t always sure that I could taste the difference.

We moved on to Chateau de la Dauphine. This was a huge chateau which produces about 200,000 bottles of wine per year. The contrast between this chateau and the one that we had first visited was huge. We had a half hour tour of the whole grounds and the vineyards. Of course, my French is not very good, so I had my personal translator with me. After a late lunch and a bottle of wine at the chateau we headed back to Bordeaux.

In case you are wondering, we didn’t drive. We got the train and then walked to the chateaux. The 25km I walked that day was only just offset all of the wine that I drunk!

Later we went back to the city. I wanted to take a picture of the Miroir d’eau (Water Mirror) in the city centre at night. There is a thin layer of water directly opposite some government buildings which reflects the light perfectly at night. It is breathtaking.

The next day we did a bit more wandering around and some shopping. We bought some Canelé de Bordeaux back with us. I fell in love with this little, delicious treats, which are available everywhere and are normally served with a coffee. A sweet reminder of a lovely weekend in Bordeaux.

Expat Questions

30 Oct

Stealing yet another idea from my fellow blogger extraordinaire, Bev, I thought it might be interesting to answer the questions of this Expat Quiz. People always seem to be interested in the motivation of expats, so perhaps this will answer a few questions that you might be wondering about.

Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live? I was born in Macclesfield, England, which is also the birthplace of such great individuals as Ian Curtis, lead singer of the Joy Division, Ben Ainslie, Olympic sailor, and Peter Crouch, the England football. I grew up in Rainow, a small village about three miles from Macclesfield. When I was a kid, it had a school, church, post office and three pubs. Not much has changed there to this day, apart from the post office was closed down and there is only one pub now, which is barely surviving. I now live in Buchs, a village about 15km from Zürich.

What made you leave your home country? Five years ago, I was working for a Swiss company in the UK. I had the opportunity to move to Head Office in Switzerland. It felt like too good to turn down. At the time, I was single and life was just ticking along.

What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from? When I meet new people from England, I know that they are thinking that I must have more money than I know what to do with, which is simply not true. People also normally ask if I can ski, go hiking in the Alps etc. People from other countries just say “Wow” and look at me with a cross between admiration and curiosity. It is always funny to explain to people I meet on holiday because they immediately know that I am English from my accents but before they asking me what the weather is like there at the moment, I have to butt in with that I actually live in Switzerland and then I feel like I am trying to show off a bit.

What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country? I am not sure there was an easy part. Every thing was completely new and different. It was completely overwhelming and I didn’t know if I would be able to survive to begin with. The best advice came from a friend, who I knew through hockey, who had also lived abroad for a while. He said it you can make it through a full calendar year and go once through the seasons, you can stay there for as long as you like. I really did want to come back after six months because I was finding it difficult to settle. I often thought of this advice to get me through the first year. If I did the first year and still didn’t like it, I would have moved back, but by then I had started to adjust and I knew I could stay for longer with no problem. Going back to the easy part, maybe there is an easy part. Everyone in Switzerland can speak English very well and they like to speak English (when they want to!) so to begin with it was a bit easier. It has never been my intention not to learn the language fluently and slowly that it happening.

What images, words or sounds have summed up your expat experience so far? I think probably this image. I have never been a city person but for me Zürich is the perfect city; not too big, easily accessible to the surrounding countryside and lovely views.

Zurich

Your favourite food and drink items in your new country? Chocolate and cheese: What is there not to love? I am obsessed with Fondue and Raclette, both of which I had no tried before I moved here. I also have a fair few friends and family members hooked on these dishes as well. I also love Rivella. People told me that unless you grew up in Switzerland it is impossible to like the taste of Rivella. It is a fizzy drink, made from a by-product of milk. In fairness, it doesn’t sound nice but it is. I could drink it by the bucket load.

What’s the one thing you said yes to in your new city that you wouldn’t say yes to back home? This has to be swimming in the lake. In the summer it is nice to cool off in the lake on a hot day. The water is perfectly clear, clean and refreshing. In England this would be a definite no. The water would be far too cold and probably polluted with God knows what.

Are there any cultural norms and phrases in your new countrx that you can’t stand? I still haven’t go my head around greeting someone. I never know if I should shake a hand, hug or kiss. It’s so confusing and completely embarrassing if someone goes in for a hug and you misread that as a kiss. Awkward! Also why are hot drinks served in a glass here. It means that the glass is far too hot to pick up without giving yourself third degree burns. So you have to let it cool down and then you end up with a lukewarm drink and not a hot one. The clue is in the name. It’s a Hot Chocolate and not a Lukewarm Chocolate.

What do you enjoy doing the most in your new country? Although I don’t do it as much as I should, I do enjoy hiking. This isn’t something that I would do at home. There are so many hiking routes and mountain here that you are spoilt for choice. Next year I will definitely try to get more hikes done.

Do you think you will ever move home again? Never say never (Oops I just said it twice) but I think it is unlikely. I am settled here now and I enjoy my life here as well. To go back home, I would need to take a large pay cut and pay more taxes. Of course, there are more important things than money but that is a big factor in me being happy to stay here. Then there is the question of Brexit. Until that issue is cleared up, I am not sure that I would move back. There is too much instability at the moment,

 

 

Singapore: the last 48 hours

25 Oct

On Monday morning, I shouldn’t have bothered to set my alarm. A huge thunderstorm woke me up at 7am. I am convinced that the building physically shook, or maybe that was just tiredness.

I had planned to go to Sentosa Island for the day. It’s home to 3 beautiful beaches and resorts like Madam Tussaud’s. Despite the weather not being great, I decided to go anyway. By the time I left the hotel, the weather was looking better and it had finally stopped raining.

Sentosa is easy to reach. I took the MRT and then the Sentosa Express. The train was packed with people going to the resorts. If I wasn’t on my own I definitely would have gone to at least one of them. But it’s not much fun queuing on your own. Furthermore I know from experience that if the weather is bad the outside rides are closed down and with the forecast being mixed, it could have been a waste of money. (Incidentally this happened to me in Florida last year and in Hong Kong when a typhoon warning 4 was given part way through the day).

I found out by chance that Sentosa Island is the Southernmost point of intercontinental Asia. So, I had to visit the sign to say I had been there!

The weather was holding out but it still wasn’t great; definitely not lying on a beach weather. So I had a wander round and then decided to go on the Skyline Luge, which is basically a cross between a go kart and a toboggan. Undoubtedly this would have been more fun with other people to race against but it was still fun to do it.

You go up on a ski lift type thing and then collect the cart at the top. You don’t end up coming down all that fast and it is easy to brake. The marketing strap line was “Once is never enough”. The reason for this being is because it takes you longer to get up to the start than it does for you to ride back down if you go at any pace at all.

For lunch I headed to Chinatown for the illusive Michelin starred Hawker Stall which I had tried to find the previous day. I found it this time. Incredibly cheap and incredibly delicious!

To carry on with the theme of enjoying internationally renowned culinary experiences, I went in search of the original Singapore Sling that was invented at Raffles Hotel over 100 years ago.

This was a tough challenge as the Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar were both shut for renovations and these are the only places where the drink is served. I had found out that the service of the drink had been moved to the Bar and Billiards Room (part of the Raffles Hotel) while work was continuing.

The surroundings were impressive and the place was full of people drinking the famous pink cocktail. This is by far the most expensive drink I have ever had. One glass costs 36.50 Singapore dollars (or 27 SFr. or 20 GBP). I licked that glass clean as if my life depended on it and enjoyed every last drop!

I headed back to the hotel for a swim to cool off and to have a relax before heading out again. I also had a pedicure which cost more than I expected due to a “misunderstanding” but as I very really indulge in that sort of thing, I decided not to be too annoyed and take it as a sign that I needed a treat.

In the evening I went to Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens are full of many different species of plants but the crowning glory is the huge tree-like structures that support and sustain yet more plant varieties. At night these structures are lit up and twice nightly you can see a fantastic light and music display, as the trees change colour to the music. The performance I saw was called Moon Symphonies. All of the songs had a Moon theme: Moon River, Fly Me to The Moon and Blue Moon. You can’t beat a bit of Sinatra, Mercer and Bublé on a Monday night with a choreographed light display.

The following day, after going to the gym, doing some shopping, getting myself ready to check out and having a nice healthy lunch, I headed back to the Gardens by the Bay to see them in the day. You could spend hours walking around the gardens. They are so well maintained and well thought out. I paid to see the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. I thought it was a bit pricey (locals get a reduced rate) but, on balance, it was worth it.

The Flower Dome had species from all over the world and there was a special exhibition of pumpkins because of autumn. This was one of the display items. It was unbelievable!

The Cloud Forest was a replica of a Cloud Forest, a specific type of rainforest which approximately 1.1% is destroyed every year. As you enter the doors, you are faced with a huge, cascading waterfall and a forest of flowers. You can go to the top of the waterfall and then do the Tree Top Walk back to the bottom.

I also wanted to do the Skywalk which is a walkway which links some of the trees that I saw the night before. You get more of a bird’s eye view of the park and the surrounding city. Unfortunately because of the unpredictability of the weather, it was closed for safety reasons. It is completely exposed and they probably don’t have the public liability insurance in case anything did go wrong.

I headed to the Arab Quarter, which I had visited on the Bike Tour. A really quirky cafe called Juice Clinic had caught my eye because of the amazing artwork outside. It had been closed on Sunday but I wanted to visit it before I left. I was so glad I did. It had jazz music playing, freshly squeezed juices and… drum roll please… Rainbow Cheesecake! After all the walking, I feel like I deserved it.

The cafe was on a crossroads and it was a great place to people watch. I could have sat there all day. Unfortunately, it was time to collect my bag, catch the bus and head to the airport.

96 hours in Singapore already over. After a dodgy start, I have enjoy myself thoroughly. Singapore is definitely not how I expected it to be and I hope to come back again to experience more of what it has to offer. I need to get saving for another Singapore Sling!