Tag Archives: expat

Testing times

10 Feb

On the first Wednesday of February each year, the sirens are tested across Switzerland. Even though the testing is publicised in the newspaper, radio and television to remind people that it is just a test, I had completely forgotten this week until the piercing sounds rang out at about lunchtime. The sirens last for about one minute and sounds about as apocolyptic as it gets. I have no idea what tourists think when suddenly all of the sirens begin.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like to be alive in the blitz and to hear these sirens again and again, day after day. I also find it about surprising that a country that hasn’t been to war in over 500 years feels the need to have a general alert signal but we have nothing like this back in England. I guess we would have to just rely on social media and the BBC to tell us if a state of emergency had been declared.

In the current political climate, it is easy to see why such practices still take place. Virtually every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is check the news to make the rest of the world hasn’t been destroyed by one of our world leaders accidentally pressing a button that they shouldn’t have.

When my friend came to stay last weekend, she was surprised that we had a nuclear bunker built into the house. The entire population of Switzerland can be accomodated in nuclear bunkers with a reinforced steel door, if the need arises. This might seem paranoid but people in the UK were still building nuclear bunkers into the 1980s. The bunkers are also checked periodically as well. Inside they have a built-in radio so that messages can be relaid about what it happening and when it is safe to leave the bunker.

Our nuclear bunker is actually what we use as a basement now. So, if we did have to go down there and shelter, we would be sharing the space with ski equipment, bikes, recycling that needs to be taken to the recycling centre and a nice collection of wine. I remain hopeful that these things are like travel insurance: you have it just in case but you never have to use it. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Weekend Wanderings

31 Jan

It already seems like the weekend was an age ago. I had a visitor staying with me over the weekend so things were a bit full on. My friend, Jenny, who I have been friends with for longer than I can remember, arrived on Friday lunchtime. I always enjoy having people to come and stay with me because it means that I get to take some time off work and show people the sights and do things I wouldn’t normally do.

After she arrived and we had had lunch, we caught the train to Zürich’s very own mountain, Uetliberg (all 800 meters of it!). From the top, you can get a great view of the whole city – from the airport to the city centre to the lake. I have been many times with many people and, obviously, the view is heavily dependent on the weather. Although it wasn’t the best weather I have seen while I was up there – that honour goes to my brother, who visited in August 2016 when the weather was just phenomenal – it was still impressive.

After a short walk and a quick beer while we waited for the train, we went to the FIFA Football Museum. I haven’t been there before and I have heard mixed reviews about it. I had also heard that they were thinking about closing it down because they don’t have enough visitors. I was pleasantly surprised. There is a lot of memorabila from past World Cups, the actual World Cup that will be presented to the winning team later this year and some great interactive games as well.

At the end of the tour, you can test out your football skills in five different games. Apart from a mum or two, we were the only women there. One man even said to me, after I had completely one of the skills tests with 100% score, “Wow, fair play to you, that was excellent.” Comments like that make me wonder if some men are even aware that women are now entitled to vote! Patronising comments or not, I would recommend the Museum, if ever you are in the area.

We headed home for a Raclette dinner, a few beers and an early-ish night because on Saturday we were up and out to go to visit Mount Rigi in Central Switzerland. Jenny really wanted to see snow but there hasn’t been any in the city for weeks so we had to head high up into the mountains.

The weather on the way up was making me nervous. It was so foggy and it was virtually impossible to see anything out of the train window as we made our way up. At the top it was even worse. I have been to the mountain before but the visibility was so terrible that I couldn’t even find my barrings to navigate our way to the top.

Finally, the fog and the cloud lifted slightly and we (very carefully) made our way to the top over treacherous black ice. The top was incredible. You had to be careful because the snow was so deep that the fences that prevent you from falling over the side of the mountain were completely buried. The top reminded me a little bit of how I imagine the surface of the moon to be. The snow was so compact that it looked like there were craters in places. Plenty of people were also falling over because they only had trainers on but luckily we had sturdy footwear.

I was losing hope that the fog would lift and we would be able to see the Alps. All of a sudden, the sky was crystal clear and the white tops of the mountain were radiant against the backdrop of the blue sky. We spent a while appreciating the view and taking pictures. Seeing Jenny’s utter delight at the mountains reminded me of how lucky I am to live here and for these sights to be right on my doorstep.

After a very gingerly descent down the mountain (but at least it was clear now), we had a bite to eat and headed back down the mountain to go to Lucerne, a place that Jenny has not been before but where I have been several times.

We had a wander around the city, which I always think is completely arresting and so quiet. We arrived at 4pm and noticed that a lot of the shops had already shut. People often complain that shops close early in Zürich but they are definitely open later than that. I do think that it is good that shop staff aren’t expected to work for the whole weekend but it just seems a little too early to me. I did wonder if the companies ever wonder about how much money they have lost through shutting early. They probably don’t give it a second thought; this is Switzerland. Everyone has enough money.

We decided to have one beer in a British pub and see if the football was on. Two football matches and a few-more-than-one beers later, we headed home.

Sunday was more relaxed. We watched the Australian Open final and then had a short walk around where I live. We managed to see some Red Kites, Buzzards and even a little Woodpecker. Jenny got some cracking photos of these too!

It was then time to go to the airport and the weekend was, once again, over far too soon.

World Snow Festival 2018

19 Jan

Today I had a day off and, rather than spending the day at home not doing very much, I decided to get out of the house and explore some of Switzerland. If I am brutally honest, I haven’t explored Switzerland half as much as I would like to. It was the perfect opportunity to start to rectify this.

Completely by chance, I saw what this week the World Snow Festival was being held in Grindelwald. So, I decided to head out to see it. It took quite a few train changes to get there but, as I had the whole day to myself, it didn’t really matter. The information on the website was that there were 14 international teams who would be entering. Their task was to make sculptures from snow. The public and a panel of judges could vote for their favourite.

I was quite surprised by how much snow there was as I was heading away from Zurich. Even though it was colder, it was still possible to see a small bit of blue sky poking through the clouds and by the early afternoon the skies were beginning to brighten slightly.

After finally arriving at my final destination, I was more than a bit disappointed. When you hear the word Festival, certain images come to mind, like activities to do and see as well as sights, smells and sounds. The Festival itself was located at the main bus stop next to the train station in Grindelwald. The sculptures were just dotted out where people were waiting for their bus.

And that was it. No more information apart from the information that the teams had written about what they had built and the obligatory plea to beg you to vote for them. It wasn’t clear to me where you could actually vote. No one from the tourist board or the team was there to give more information about the competition. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. So I didn’t vote.

The Slovakian team would have got my vote. Here is their entry.

Yes, it is Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel, from IceAge who spends his life chasing after an elusive acorn; completely inspired choice of entry! I have no idea how they made it or how long it took but hats off to them.

It struck me that this was a real shame that something that is published on the official Swiss Tourism website isn’t a bit better organised and there aren’t any engaging activities for visitors.

Tonight is the prize giving for the winners so I would imagine that the atmosphere then is a lot different. It could just be that I went at the wrong time. Also it isn’t like Grindelwald is scrapping the barrel for visitors. People flock there every day because it really is stunning. See this photo that I took at the train station before I left to see what I mean.

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.

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.


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,