Tag Archives: friends

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!

CERN and Geneva

20 Sep

Last weekend I went to Geneva with friends. Geneva is about a 3 hour train journey from Zurich. We got the train on Friday night after work and stayed over until the Sunday.

The main purpose of the trip was to visit CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Reasearch. CERN was in the news a lot last year, or maybe the year before, because there were fears that the experiments that they were doing was going to create a black hole that the universe would disappear would into. Obviously that didn’t happen in the end because we are all still here. Most of the research that happens there is to do with particle physics; a little bit too technical for me but interesting nevertheless.

The tour was a little disappointing. We were shown some videos which were obviously out of date (they only mentioned things that had happened up to 2004, so about a decade behind their current research which made the news recently). The main experiments were in maintenance mode while the data that has been gathered over the past few years was being analysed in more detail. The tour lasted a hour and a half. Our guide was actually a person who worked at CERN who volunteered at the weekend to show people around.

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After the tour at CERN (which is in Switzerland but extends to France underground) we headed back to the city to look around.

I have never been to Geneva before. It was very strange that when we got off the train all the signs were in French and there was no German around. It was hard to believe that it was the same country. The feel of the place is totally different too. I’m not sure that I liked it all that much to be honest. Geneva seems to be a bit dirtier than Zurich. Maybe it’s because I have been living in Zurich for so long that Zurich feels like home and anything else feels different.

We walked around the Old Town which was nice and had a seat on the longest wooden bench in the world. We knew this was true because a old man came over to us and told us this. He first asked if we spoke French, we said no, and then he carried on talking to us in French anyway. I managed to understand what he was telling us. Seems like GCSE French was useful in the end.

Geneva was interesting for me because when I was at university my specialist theologian was Calvin who was based in Geneva during the European reformation. There were lots of monuments dedicated to him. There was also a museum dedicated to him, which we didn’t get to see because we ran out of time.

We had a lovely meal at a very posh and expensive Indian restaurant. It was worth the expense as it wasn’t type of place that you would eat on a normal day out and as Geneva is 3 hours away and it might be a while before we go back, it was justifiable!

On the Sunday the weather wasn’t good and I was starting to come down with a really bad cold so we got an early train back home. All in all another great weekend exploring a city I don’t know. There seems to be a lot of things to do in Geneva that we didn’t have time to do so maybe there will be another trip there next year sometime.

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Birthday visitor

13 Sep

One of my good friends from home, Jenny, came over to stay with me for my birthday. It was such a surprise when she asked me months and months ago if it was ok if she came. It felt like a lifetime ago wait until she was here but before I knew it, it was time for me to be a year older and she had arrived.

Here are some of the things that we did while she was visiting.

Zeughauskeller

After arriving at the main station we stopped for a few beers and when hunger hit we moved to Zeughauskeller, which is a lovely, but quite touristy, restaurant that serves traditional Swiss food.

Jenny didn’t need a lot of convincing to join me in trying a Corden Bleu, which is pork, ham and cheese in breadcrumbs with French fries. It went down a treat and so did the mass of beer that we both had. I’ll be honest I had to use two hands to pick it up! We also had a dessert, which was about the size of a UFO to follow. It hit the spot though!

Jenny's dessert!

Jenny’s dessert!

Biking and the lake

On the Tuesday, we hired some bikes and went cycling around the lake. It was the first time that I had been on a bike in a decade I think. I was a bit wobbly at the start of the day but as the day progressed it got a lot easier. Having said that it wasn’t too much fun when I managed to fall off the bike and into a hedge because I was trying to avoid a parked car. My chain slipped off as well because I was messing about with the gears when we were stopped looking at the scenery. I still don’t understand the gears on the bike. It’s a lot easier driving because you can hear when that the engine is struggling and, consequently, when you need to change gear. On a bike I always think that I’m not fit enough which is why I’m finding it tough going and not because I should change down gears!

The day couldn’t have been more perfect. The sunshine was out and it was about 28 degrees. We cycled from the main train station to Thawil and then got the ferry from Thawil to Rapperswil. In Rapperswil, we stopped for lunch at a nice pizza place that I have been to a few times before. There is also a medieval castle in Rapperswil that we looked round and they have some deer as well. It was idyllic. We then cycled from Rapperswil to Stäfa, where we stopped for a swim in the lake. Swimming in the lake has fast become one of my favourite things to do in the summer; the only problem is that I felt that I didn’t make the most of the lake swimming while I had the chance. I will do next year though! We caught the train back home and dropped the bikes off. I looked on googlemaps and saw that we had cycled about 25km, which isn’t too bad when you considered how long it had been since I had ridden a bike.

It was great fun. We both enjoyed it, even though we were both a little sore the next day.

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Our bikes for the day, parked up as we have a well deserved break at a cafe

 

Night out with friends

After the cycling and swimming, we joined some of my friends for some drinks. I celebrated my birthday at 12 midnight on the dot with tequila! We partied into the early hours of the night and had a fantastic time. I am sure that there are a lot of pictures and videos somewhere but fortunately I don’t have any of them so I can put up a link to them

Exploring the city

Jenny and I spent the next day exploring the city. Again, the weather was perfect which helped our enjoyment of the city. Like most places, Zurich isn’t quite as nice when it isn’t basking in the sunshine. But we were lucky. It was nice to show someone round (and we discovered that I actually know quite a few facts about the city – maybe guided tours could be a sideline for me if I ever need it) and it meant that I was a tourist in the place that I live. I can’t remember the last time I wandered the streets and just had a look around. We went to Grossmünster, which is a reformed church in the Old Town of Zurich, and to St Peter’s Church, which has the biggest clock face in Switzerland.

We also wandered around the shops but it was more like window shopping because of the famous and expensive names on Bahnhofstrasse!

Jenny was kind enough to buy me lunch for my birthday and we found a lovely Italian restaurant that I have never been to before. The food was lovely. And the company was even better!

It hadn’t felt all that long since I was meeting Jenny at the station but it was soon time for her to go. It was sad because Jenny was the first person (apart from my mum last year) to come and stay with me and because she had flown over for my birthday, it was extra special. It makes me realize how much I miss people from home. I hope that she had as much fun as I did.

Jenny also bought me some presents from home; things that you can’t get that easily over here, including about 1,500 tea bags! I have worked out that if I drink 3 cups of tea a day, these tea bags will last about 15 months. So I’d best get drinking!

Birthday dinner

I went to Ascot with Jon for my birthday meal. Ascot is a lovely restaurant in the city and probably my favourite. We went all out and had the surf and turf: a 300g steak, prawns and a lobster tail. It was delicious and perfectly rounded off an excellent few days.

Where we stopped for a swim, Lake Zurich

Where we stopped for a swim, Lake Zurich

Things that I miss about home

29 Aug

After almost 11 months living in Switzerland I have come to appreciate and miss some things from home that I have taken for granted. It is funny the things that you end up missing.

This list is not exhaustive but it is around 80% there.

  • Conversations – my German is still pretty appalling and I don miss having a proper natter with, not just a native English speaker, but a native British speaker. Otherwise you can get yourself messed up in all sorts of problems trying to explain what the different is between a bonnet and a boot or how to pronounce ‘aluminium’ proper with an American. And I miss innuendo. yes, it’s childish and immature but it’s bloody good fun.
  • Washing machine – this one sounds bizarre. But from leaving my washing machine behind in the UK, of which I was the sole user, I now have a communal machine to use. I can only wash on certain specified days and at certain specified times which can be annoying. Creeping down to the basement to check if the machine is free and waiting until the machine is free, reminds me of university days when you used to be desperate to do washing but all the machines are free. Every Tuesday and Sunday I can do my washing. What if I want to go out? I then lose my time and I have to go without. It’s frustrating. I am now at the point where I have to organize my washing around my social life. What I can’t understand is that I have a dishwasher in my apartment. Surely it would make sense for each apartment to have its own washing machine and do away with the dishwasher? All the times when I set the washing machine to on without a care in the world at home is now a million miles away.
  • Food – while being in Switzerland I have eaten quite a lot of foods that I haven’t had before, like lobster, sushi and sashmi, but there are some times that you just want a British classic. I can’t remember the last time I had chips and gravy, or steak and kidney pudding and chips, or a Boost! Being away from home makes you crave comfort food; food that reminds you of the good old days of your childhood. And you can’t find those classics over here. In fact you can’t find a chippy over here FULL STOP. I actually think it’s a huge opportunity to make money by opening a decent British chippy, with the large British expat community. Once I work out where to source the fish from (Switzerland is a land locked country after all) then it’s all systems go!
  •  Humour – sort of related to point 1. Having a common point of reference is the basis for most of the funniest jokes. If you have to explain the joke it isn’t going to be funny; more a long explanation of yet another cultural difference. Everywhere I go people tell me that the British have a wicked sense of humour. But, trust me, we don’t when we are far away from home.
  • Family and Friends – perhaps the most predicable one of them all. Leaving behind a country, a house, a job is the easy part. The hart part is finding new people to share your new experiences with. No one can suddenly fill in a gap which used to be filled by your oldest and bestest friend. I have hear a quote that it is sharing the little things that are what really make relationships. I think it takes a long time to find the right person to share those little things with. And little by little, I can see myself drifting slowly away from the lives of people that I know back home. I hope when I’m next home for a visit there are no hard feelings and we can carry on from where we left off.