Tag Archives: family

Trying to keep dry for a week!

28 Jul

For the second week or my mum’s visit, we weren’t so lucky with the weather. It has been unsettled for the past week but that is the downside to having glorious sunshine for so long. Sooner or later it has to break.

For a few days we have done little more than relax at home and pop outside when the weather looks like it will hold for a while. But we have been able to get out and about for a few day trips to cities nearby.

On Tuesday we headed out to Bern for the day. This was one of my mum’s favourite places when she came to visit last year. It is also one of mine, mainly because I always go to see the bears. The bear is the symbol for Bern and, in fact, Bern means bear. The bears are housed along the side of the Aare River. The conditions that they live in now are much better than in the past. We have been lucky that the last two times we have been the bears have been quite active. I have also been there at times when they just sit there and do nothing which is not so interesting. But you don’t have to pay to see them so I guess you don’t end up feeling disappointed if they are not in the mood for entertaining the crowds. After a wander around the old town and a hot chocolate in a nice café, it was time to get the train home.

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On Wednesday we went to Rapperswil, which is situated on the lake of Zürich but is actually in Canton St. Gallen. I used to regularly visit Rapperswil before I moved to Switzerland. This is where we used to stay if we came over for work because it was relatively cheap for the company to pay for and nearer to the office. It has been a while since I have been there though, so it was like discovering a new place. There is a small castle in Rapperswil which we walked around and on the side of the castle grounds is a small deer park. The deer are relatively tame and don’t seem interested in all of the attention that they get from locals and tourists alike.

On the negative side, a lot of the shops in Rapperswil were on summer holiday. This is a Swiss tradition that I haven’t got my head around yet. A lot of shops in tourist areas take off two or more weeks during the summer when more tourists are likely to visit. It seems a little counter-intuitive to me. As a result, it was a bit like walking round a ghost town. There is only so much that can be said for going window shopping.

Yesterday we ignored the weather forecast and headed to the Rheinfalls in Schaffhausen. I have visited once before and I had forgotten what a lovely quaint town it is. The architecture is different to other parts of Switzerland, certainly different to Zürich. After getting off the train, we walked the 3km to the falls. The Rheinfalls are the largest waterfalls in Europe and are close to the German border. Even though they are the largest in Europe, they are not even a fraction of the size of the waterfalls in Niagara. It is a relaxing walk from the station to in front of the falls and we managed it in about an hour.

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After a stop for coffee and some cake, we walked the same way back to the town of Schaffhausen. I was recommend to go to Murnot, which is a circular fortification from where you have a fantastic view of the surrounding area. It was pretty hard going. The steps up are steep and feel like they will never end. Once we got to the fortification, my mum had had enough. I carried on up the struture to get a look at the view. It was hard work but worth it. My mum was impressed with the picture of the view but not so much that she regretting not continuing up the structure!

After a wander round the charming town and buying a few more things from shops, we stopped for a beer in a local restaurant before we made our way back to the station and back home.

All too soon, two weeks are over and we will be heading to the airport this afternoon. It has been an interesting two weeks. We have both seen and done things that we haven’t done before. I have also enjoyed not working full time and having time to appreicate a bit more of Switzerland which is sometimes difficult when you are focused on work the whole time.

I am also flying to the UK tonight. But I am heading to London and, not Manchester, for a long weekend to, no doubt, see and do some things that I have done before.

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…

Life after exams

14 Jul

After finishing my exam and having to wait for 4 weeks before I get the result, I am finding a life again. For the last 6 week to 2 months, I have been constantly preoccupied every evening trying to fit as many ridiculously long German words into my tiny brain and trying to figure out which prepositions go with which verb, that I had completely forgotten the sheer joy of not having anything specifically to do and now I have a list as long as my arm of things that I would like to do while I have a small break from lessons as well as exam stress.

As a side note on the subject of exam revision: there is a funny juxtaposition between the stress of learning for an exam, while having the realisation that there is no way that you will be able to learn absolutely everything so what is the point? in the back of your mind.

So now I have nothing specific to do and this has begun to stress me out a bit. I always feel a bit guilty if I sit around and do nothing and “relax” a bit. There is always something that could be done or something that you can see and doing the opposite, seems to me, to be a waste of time.

For example, I decided to watch a film last week. One was starting on Film 4. It was an Eddie Murphy film that I had never heard of and it was an easy-to-understand, kind of a feel good movie. At the end of it though, I felt a bit disappointed that I had spent 2 hours of my life, watching a not particularly great film, when I could have been cleaning the flat or doing something else productive.

Having said that, I have also spent a good deal of time watching this year’s Wimbledon and I haven’t felt an ounce of guilt. I could easily take a two week holiday to watch the tournament every year but because it is always at the beginning of July, I wouldn’t be able to because it’s our busiest time of the month at work.

I decided to bake a Raspberry Pavlova last week just because I had time to and I can’t remember the last time that I baked something. Transporting a delicate baked goods in the train was a bit tricky and I was so nervous that I was going to end up with an Eton Mess by the time that I made it into the office that I was guarding it like a sickly child. I had to stop myself from shouting out, “Please stand clear! I have a Pavlova and if anything happens to it, I will not be responsible for my actions!” It arrived intact much to the delight of my colleagues. I would go so far as to say that delight doesn’t even cover it. People were asking if it was my birthday, why I had made it and telling me what a lovely person I was for making it and bringing it in. Good God! I think this is the most praise I have ever received at work in my whole career and I am seriously considering the option of jacking it all in and taking up baking as a profession. The appreciation and praise is immediate and not just once a year in a job appraisal!

Yesterday I finally met up for lunch with a friend who I have not seen for a long time. We met 2 years ago at our first day in the company on the Induction Day and since then we have met up regularly for lunch. It is always nice with her because I feel like I am meeting up with a friend that I have known for years and years. Never any stress at all. Even though I am English and she is Irish, we have still never made it to the pub for a few drinks. In fairness, I am a bit worried that it will be a dangerous night if she gets me going on the Guinness. We have promised to recify that soon.

In the evening, I went to see Despicable Me 3 (in German Ich – Einfach unverbesserlich which really trips off the tongue doesn’t it?) with some friends. It was not as good as the first two films I think but was really entertaining. It’s definitely a film that helps you switch you brain off and have a good belly laugh. I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema and I had forgotten how much I like the whole cinema experience. Shame it is so bloody expensive!

Later today my mum arrives for a two week stay. She seems to always come when the weather is not so great but I am hopeful that this time the weather will be better. A few of the girls at hockey training were complaining the other weather about parents coming to stay because they have to keep them entertained. I, on the other hand, like it. It means that I can save up things that I would like to do myself and then drag my mum along to come with me – whether she likes it or not. We have a few things planned and I am sure that you will hear about what we get up to if you check back here soon. Fingers crossed that the weather stays fine…

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A Grand (National) Day Out

10 Apr

For the weekend, I popped home for the weekend to watch The Grand National. The most famous steeplechase in the world is possibly the only event that I have placed a bet on in my life. I am discounting the times when we have gone to the races or even the greyhound races as a family and have done our own “in-house” betting; in which we each put a pound in and the winner gets to keep the money in the pot.

Going to the races live was not a opportunity that I was going to miss. I sorted out an outfit with a dress and hat that I already had. I decided to buy a new pair of shoes (without a heel) so that I would be able to comfortably walk around and enjoy the day without the agony and worry about staying in hills all day. More on this later…

thumbnail_IMG_5123On the day of the race, the weather was glorious and that is not an understatement. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was out in style. The metaphorical cloud on the horizon was the fact that several rail companies in the north west were striking on the final day of the National – the day that we had tickets for. Luckily, there were still trains from Liverpool Central to Aintree at the time of the day when we needed it. No other trains were running at all. It was quite funny to see the train schedules on the screens in the train station and all of the trains going to Aintree and nowhere else.

We arrived in good spirits and soaked up the atmosphere while we waited for the racing to begin. There is a walking tour of the actual race course that you can do before the races start but my new shoes were already being to rub and hurt me like crazy so I gave that one a miss. It was also possible to see where Red Rum, the most famous horse to ever run in the National, was buried near the Finishing Post.

I didn’t bet on the first race because I was a bit indecisive and I realised that the races aren’t as exciting when you know that you will not benefit financially from one of the horses crossing the line first. For the second race, I put a fiver on Finian’s Oscar to win. I chose the horse because it reminded me of Finigan’s Wake, the novel by James Joyce. The luck of the Irish was on my side because I won 18 pound, 75 pence when the horse crossed the line first. And it was much more exciting to watch as the race enfolded.

I won another 6 pound on the next race and then I guess my luck ran out because I didn’t win a penny after that. It was still exciting though. The atmosphere when The Grand National finally got underway was thrilling. After two false starts and a lot of groaning and disgruntled spectators, the crowd erupted in excitement. It is always difficult to work out which horses have fallen, who is still in the race and if there is still some chance of financial gain at the end of it. But without the benefit of the TV and the list of the horses who have fallen popping up on the screen, it is virtually impossible. No surprise that there was no final win for me.

Meanwhile my feet were painful and blistered. I had managed to cope in the knowledge that I would just need to get the train, then the bus and I would be able to the shoes off and put my trainers on. Luckily I didn’t have to wait that long as there were people handing out flip-flops to ladies, like me who had worn unsuitable shoes for the day. The best thing was they were free! I would have paid a lot of money for those flip-flops if they had made me. The relief was instant and I was a lot more comfortable on the way home.

On the Sunday, I caught the train and headed timage1o Manchester, where I met my brother and his kids and we drove to my mum’s house. I was treated to a lovely, and unexpected Sunday Roast, and we went for a walk to feed the ducks. On the way back, we managed to see some lambs who had been born only a few hours before.
All to soon, as it always seems to be, it was Monday morning and I was back at the airport again, queuing to have my bag scanned and waiting for the plane to be ready to head back to Switzerland and back to work…

Short breaks at home

24 Jan

This weekend I went home for a very short break for the first time this year. Over time I have managed to categorise time back home into quick weekends, long weekends and a week or so.

This weekend I added a new category to the list: very short weekend. I arrived on Friday evening and flew back on Sunday afternoon. It works out as less than 48 hours. Luckily, the flight out was on time and actually landed in Manchester early.*

A trip back home normally means having to attend to some admin, shopping for a few things I can’t get in Switzerland or things that are really expensive there and spending time with friends and family. Unfortunately, with the weekend being so short, there was only time to see immediate family. I had a very quick one hour with my grandparents, who it is always lovely to see. The main purpose of the visit this weekend was to meet my nephew for the first time. On this front, the visit did not disappoint. It was worth the wait to see such a happy boy, who also has a big smile on his face.

I don’t know what my niece understands of me not being there all the time. She obviously recognises me from video calls and photos but she is too young to understand that I live in another country far away from the UK. She even asked me this time, why I didn’t live here. It’s a bit complex to explain to a 3-year-old.

I bet she wonders what all the fuss is about whenever I come home and why she has to spend time with this person that she doesn’t even really know. I hope when she is older both she and my nephew will understand some of my reasons for living and working in another country. In the meantime, I will accept that they mainly like me because I can’t resist bringing presents wherever I come back home and I am easily persuaded to play games with them and their imaginary friends.

There are definitely more things on the “Advantages of living in Switzerland” list than there is on the “Disadvantages of living in Switzerland”. However, one of the big disadvantages is being away from friends and family for long periods of time. In some respects, I feel as though I am used to it now. The beginning was hard but as time goes on, I have found this becomes ever so slightly easier but being away from new family members is a tough situation.

I don’t mean this in the sense of “Out of sight, Out of mind”. I mean I have just accepted that the relationships that had before I moved cannot stay the same as they were in the past. We have a huge advantage today of having so many ways of communicating that the world feels smaller than it would have done in the past.

I read an article recently about a woman recalling a time when she was living abroad and received a phone call. What struck me was that she said she knew that the news must be bad because in those days no one made a long distance phone call unless someone had died.

Today, we have free communication via Skype, Whatsapp, Facetime. I wonder if we really are more connected to our fellow man than we were in the pas?. I suspect with our lack of understanding and respect for other cultures, this is probably not the case.

All too soon, the weekend is over and I am at the airport, ready to fly back, preparing myself for work again on Monday morning. I will be back soon. One thing for sure is, I still don’t miss the British weather…

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*And, I actually landed early back in Switzerland with no long customs queue or passport control. A personal record!

Food, food, food

30 Dec

I was expecting my first Christmas in Switzerland to be lacking in one area. Food. British Christmas are less a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ who died to save us all and more a competition to see how much of the food, that we buy for the four day Christmas break, we can actually manage to get through.

I remember back in the days when I worked for Tesco and at Christmas time I witnessed fights over the last piece of brie on the cheese counter and tears that the last of the mince pies have been sold on a daily basis.

Here I can honestly say that there is a lot less stress around cooking. Christmas Eve was time for cheese fondue. Easy to prepare: melted cheese, with some wine and garlic mixed in. The most stressful thing about this dish is wondering if the pieces of bread you are cutting are too big or too small.

Christmas Day was Mongolian Pot. A bouillon or stock is boiled and vegetables and noodles. You fish out the cooked vegetables from the bouillon using a little net and cook your own meat in the bouillon using a fork. There are also pickles, olives, a variety of different sauces to choose from as well. It all tastes delicious.

Boxing Day was Fondue Chinoise. This is sort of the same as the Mongolian Pot but there are no vegetables being cooked in the pot. Vegetables and other “side dishes” are served in addition to the meat that you cook in the bouillon with your own fork.

No stress at all. It seems like the British are somehow doing this Christmas thing wrong. You invite your guests, chop up the vegetables and they cook it for themselves. What could be more simple?

In summary, the food was not lacking in any shape or form. It was great. It was quite nice as well, not to have to be eating 3 day old turkey in a sandwich/curry/stew* (*delete as appropriate).

I did manage to make my own mince pies. I bought the mincemeat for the img_4282filling at around August time when I was in the UK for a visit. The pastry was shop bought but I was very impressed with the outcome. See for yourself here.

A Christmas with Swiss traditional food as well as one of my favourites from home (perhaps I can squeeze a few more in next year). I am kind of sick of the sight of food now and I have been taking it easy in terms of food consumption between Christmas and New Year. But the eating will start again tomorrow with Raclette which is my favourite of favourites and probably will be when I eat my weight in melted cheese and potato.

January will be on us then and that is when the real hard work beginning with the New Year Diet.