Tag Archives: friends

Hiking in Lausanne

4 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vegan dinner

7 Feb

I seem to be obsessed at the moment about doing research into finding vegan-friendly alternatives for when I start my #40Before40: Challenge #14, when I will attempt to eat vegan for three months. This challenge is enough to make even the most determined person weak at the knees – hopefully not literally though. However, the more research I do, the more confident I am that this is more achievable than I thought it was and the more inclined I am to think that I could actually remain eating a vegan diet long after my little experiment is done and dusted.

There are plenty of websites and information about there about eating a vegan diet. Obviously some of the claims that are made are probably coming from a biased angle, so it is not always easy to sort fact from fiction. But, if even half of the claims are true, the health benefits alone are a reason to cut dairy and meat  products from your diet. I was also surprised that lots of athletes are switching to vegan eating and are actually performing much better than previously, which goes against the stereotype that all vegans are puny things that lack nutrients.

As part of my planning and research before I jump head first into the world of veganism, I decided to cook a three course meal for three of my friends at the weekend. My definition of friendship is that if I am suffering then you should feel my pain too. After assuring them that the beer and wine I had was also vegan and, therefore, we would not be drinking tap water for the whole evening, they accepted my invitation.

Here is what I made for them.

First course was a roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup with a hint of chilli, which I was assured was the “right amount of spice”. I served this with bread and some homemade houmous.

The main course was a vegan moussaka. I love moussaka and, although I don’t eat it all that often, I was keen to try it out to see if it was any good or not. It took a while to make it and I managed to make enough for about 8 people. I was worried that we wouldn’t be full from a dish made from aubergine, tomatoes, mushrooms and walnuts. It was so tasty that I was more than happy to finish off the leftovers for dinner the following night.

The dessert was a bit of a disaster. I decided to make a macadamia nut cream from a vegan cookbook and an egg free meringue recipe that I found online. The macadamia nut cream went down well but I wasn’t so convinced about the texture as I thought it would have been better if it was smoother. But everyone ate it. The meringues just didn’t work and I’m not sure why. I make a lot of meringues and pavlovas and the mixture itself was identifical to the mixture that I have made with eggs. I think that the temperature for the oven in the recipe was wrong because the meringues came out flat and it came out a bit more like honeycombe than anything else. As I had vegan sorbet in the freezer, I served the sorbet with some of the meringues/honeycombe stuff sprinkled on the top. I will try the egg free meringue mixture once again though and see if the oven temperature was the problem.

All in all, I think we all enjoyed the meal. So a BIG thank you to Stefan, Mark and Araz, who suffered in the name of friendship and who, I am sure, will have to endure some more vegan meals in the near future!

One question that still remains about the diet is about the use of ingredients that technically are vegan (i.e. contain no direct animal products) but come with the warning may contain milk, because they were produced in a factory where milk products are made. On the one hand, you could argue that because the products will possibly only contain traces of animal products that I should be able to eat them. But, if you had a nut allergy, there is no way you would eat something which said it may contain nuts. I have also found a product which has an official vegan label on it but the small print for the ingredients says it may contain milk. So how can that be vegan?

Do you see my dilemma? I have asked several people what they think and I still haven’t found a general consensus. Do any of you have the answer? Please let me know your thoughts?

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.

Another year older

5 Sep

Yesterday I celebrated by 35th birthday. I’m not really a big birthday celebratory but I was persuaded in the evening to have Raclette and a birthday cake. A choice I could never regret.

It got me thinking about the cultural differences between UK and Switzerland on the subject of celebrating aging.

In the UK a work colleague would normally arrange a cake for your day because it’s your birthday and why should you go to the effort of baking/buying a cake and hauling it into the office? In Switzerland it is very much expected that you bring something in for everyone.

I have a bit of luck on this front because 5 people from my department had birthdays over the weekend or yesterday. I know from prior years that this normally results in far too many croissants, cakes, pastries and other sweet things. I didn’t bring anything in, not because I am tight, but because I will bake something over the weekend to bring in next week when everyone’s sugar levels have reverted back to normal.

The cake thing I can deal with but not so much the hand-shaking, kissing and congratulating that comes along with it. All of these things are ok between close friends and family but I find it a bit unsettling between work colleagues.

So many people have congratulated me. But what are they actually congratulating me for? I have achieved nothing, apart from not dying and getting a day older. And I am fairly sure that they can’t possibly be congratulating me for evading death for the 35th consecutive year.

At home people just wish you a nice day and tell you not to get too drunk (because that’s the only pastime of the British). I find both of these sentiments to be much more preferable than wondering if my work colleague will shake my hand, kiss me three times or hug me.

I do sound like I’m complaining but I’m. It really. It’s these small cultural differences than I found so interesting and, sometimes, funny. Will I ever get used to these small things? Will I always find it awkward and a touch embarrassing? Only time will tell. But I will say one thing: it’s far better to be congratulated and feeling awkward than for your birthday to be forgotten.

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!

The Art of Escapism

4 Jul

In the past week I have attempted no fewer than 3 escape rooms. If you don’t know what an escape room is, then where have you been hiding? An escape room is a live adventure game which involves between 2 and 6 people being “locked” into a room and a series of puzzles need to be solved in order for the group to escape within a 60 minute time limit. I have put locked in quotation marks because there is always a way to get out quickly from the room if there is an emergency of any sort.

I began on Tuesday with a Prison Break escape room. This was a bit risky from the start because I didn’t know the people that I was meeting. I had come across this activity on the internet platform MeetUp. (This is basically a forum, where people can set up groups and activities so that anyone who is interested is free to join). If you know me, you will know that I really don’t have the patience for people making stupid suggestion and there were more than a few. The beauty of these games is that no specialist knowledge required. Everything that you need to escape the room is in the room. You have to solve puzzles and riddles. It reminds me of the Crystal Maze game which was on UK TV in the 1990s, but instead of an individual having to work alone to solve riddles, there is a team working together.

Part of the problem with playing this game was that we were 6 people. I think this is far too many people. It’s a too-many-chiefs-and-not-enough-Indians type of situation. People are looking at riddles that have already been solved and you have the same discussions with different people about the same thing which is time consuming and means that not everyone is up to speed on with the actual progress of the game. I felt like I did contribute the most – I unlocked a safe by using a code in braille within 2 minutes and I am still feeling a little bit smug about it.

The second game I did was with two good friends of mine and the room was called Steps. I am not sure why it was called Steps. The only logical reason I can think of is that you have to logically work through the steps of the puzzle to get the key and get out. But surely isn’t that the aim of all the games. I was a little bit disappointed that there were no references to the hugely popular pop group Steps in the room. Having said that, I am not sure that their influence has yet made it to Switzerland. Probably for the best.

I enjoyed playing this game because, as the game unfolded, it was clear that our individual strengths were all slightly different. By that I mean that what was instantly clear to one person was not to the others so it meant that we were able to make our way quickly through the puzzles without too much of a hold up.

This was the first escape room that I have ever escape without any help at all. Basically, if you get stuck on a certain puzzle, you can call or walkie-talkie a member of staff and ask them for help. As the game last only an hour and you have no idea how many puzzle there are ahead of you, being able to take a clue can be a huge help. This time we didn’t need it! And we escaped in 47 minutes! It wasn’t a record by a long shot. The record for this room was 28 minutes. I have no idea how people manage to do it so quickly because I thought we were fast. However, I think it was the beer that we had before doing the game that gave us some fluid thinking and creativity.

On Sunday I played my last game of 3 for the week. A colleague of mine has a slight Sherlock Holmes obsession (the BBC TV series and not the Arthur Conan Doyle books) and when I mentioned that there was a Sherlock room, her face lit up like it was Christmas. So I agreed to join her and her husband. The premise of the game was that Sherlock had gone missing and John Watson needs you help to find out where he is.

Using the clues in the room you have to book Watson a flight to the right location, date and time so that he can go and help Sherlock. This was the most hi-tech room I have ever played. We had to make QR code (though I am still not 100% sure what they are) and soundwaves to uncover a message. There was even a printer in the room so that we could use an iPad to print off the ticket for Watson.

The problem with this room was that it was hard. I mean hard as in only 10% of groups make it out in under an hour. We were up against it. We did take a few clues and some of the tasks really were difficult but we managed it! I was so happy – what a team! The best part was that we got out of the room and went to the reception. We stood there for a few minutes because the employees were busy with other customers. When one of the customers noticed us stood there, he looked like he had seen a ghost. I guess that he had already judged that we would not be part of the 10% who make it out. I am know considering applying to MI5 but I am not sure successfully escaping a room will be counted as necessary work experience.

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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!