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Photo an Hour: 28th April 2018

29 Apr

I have missed the last two Photo An Hour days because I was on holiday in South America. For the February edition, I actually landed in Buenos Aires at 6am and was so excited to be there that I completely forgot. For the March edition, I think we were transferring from one country to another which possibly wouldn’t be so interesting to photograph.

Now back in Switzerland with no distractions and a few helpful reminders on my phone, here is what I got up to on 28th April 2018.

7am: it’s early and it’s quiet so I decide to read some more of my book. I’m reading Crime by Irvine Welsh at the moment.

8am: Making a spot of breakfast: on the left scrambled eggs for him, on the right a vegan “scrambled egg” made from tofu, turmeric, chilli and coriander

9am: It looks like the weather will be nice today

10am: Writing a few posts for my blog

11am: Time for German homework

12pm: Snack time

1pm: Forgot to put the dishwasher on this morning!

2pm: Decided to label all the jars we have in the cupboard so we know what is in what, especially with the different types of flour

3pm: Someone (not me!) has fallen asleep so I will go back to doing some reading

4pm: Time to use the one gadget I have bought this year and go for a run

5pm: Back from run looking like a beetroot but need to do my exercises for my knee

6pm: Homemade dips to have with our grilled vegetables later

7pm: The sun has gone in but the BBQ is ready! All homemade apart from the bread!

8pm: We are watching The Godfather

9pm: We are still watching The Godfather

10pm: Time to write my diary before going to bed

Post-holiday Blues

29 Mar

Since I have arrived back, I have got a bad case of the Post-holiday Blues. I honestly wasn’t ready to come back. I thought after five weeks of moving from one place to another would be enough but I could have carried on travelling for at least another few weeks.

I don’t start my new job until next week and I had more than good intentions that this week I could get X,Y and Z done and use the time wisely and productively. I have no idea when I will next have to opportunity to spend a week doing what I want without any outside pressure.

So far I have only been able to find the motivation to download my photos (but not sort them or make them into a photobook) and to wash all of our clothes, which took the best part of a day.

To cheer myself up, I have decided to make a list of reasons why it is better to be back at home rather than on the road.

1. No daily application of suncream

I don’t need as long to get ready in the morning because I don’t need to apply suncream to every exposed part of my body before going out. I did go out once in Bolivia without suncream on and I was almost burnt to a crisp, even though the sun was hidden behind layers and layers of clouds. In fact, the only part of my body that is remotely brown are my feet. How am I meant to show that off in the office.

2.  I know where things are

On the road, I was constantly searching for things that I needed that had managed to find their way to the very bottom of my bag. It would take me five minutes to find the charger for my Kindle. Broadly speaking, at home I know where things are and they haven’t moved around during transit.

3. I have clean clothes

My bag was organised by using three plastic bags: one for clean clothes, one for “wearable” clothes and one for dirty clothes. At the end of the trip, I was nervous about opening thing bag with the dirty clothes. It really did stink. I was thinking about incinerating it when I got back home because I wasn’t entirely sure if I would be able to cope with the collective smell at the end of five weeks.

4. No mosquitos

Mosquitos are one of my pet hates. The ironic thing is that they really, really like me. No, I mean it. If there is one mosquito within twenty miles of me, it will find me and bite me. I’m like a walking-buffet for insects. This means that every early afternoon/evening I was reaching for the DEET, anti-mosquito wristbands and any other method which is remotely proven to keep mossies away. I don’t have that problem in Switzerland. At least not until the summer…

5. Toilet paper

This seems like a strange one but in a lot of South American countries you aren’t supposed to put toilet paper down the toilet. There is always a waste bin beside the toilet that you are meant to use. My problem with this wasn’t that I forgot to put the toilet paper in the bin but the fact that in public toilets this is just not so hygienic, although I get that the sewage systems in these countries aren’t so good and paper being flushed down the drains would increase the likelihood of blockages. I’m just glad that I no longer have to use a toilet paper bin.

6. Food

Although I did find the food amazing, there are always things that you miss when you are travelling, things that you can’t buy abroad. So it is nice to be back to essential foodstuffs that you are used to. In South America I was surprised by how few vegetables there were. It could have been the time of year that we were there but I’m glad to be back in a place where there is a greater variety of vegetables on offer.

7. Tea

Other countries just don’t go an English Breakfast tea right. I have been drinking coffee, which is not like me at all, and juices. There were “tea” options but the one time I tried it, I was bitterly disappointed. I saw on the menu that they served tea with milk. Perfect! Nice cuppa in the afternoon. Below is what arrived. I just didn’t know where to look. Lesson learnt: lay off the tea until you are back home with a Tetley teabag and just a splash of milk!

That’s the list. Now that I’ve written it, I do feel bit better. Experiencing amazing things each day makes you forget the little things that you miss. What do you miss when you are on holiday?

Christmas traditions

23 Dec

This year I am flying back to the UK for Christmas. I have a feeling I will be missing out on a White Christmas in Switzerland but last year I missed out on a lot of traditions that we have in the UK.

There are quite a lot of differences between UK and Swiss traditions. Firstly, Santa Claus (or Samichlaus) doesn’t come to Switzerland on Christmas Eve. He arrives on 6th December and he doesn’t bring presents. He brings cookies and sweets to children who have been good and behaved themselves. For naughty children, there is a character called Smutzli (literally, “little dirty one”), who is dressed like Samichlaus but in black instead of red. He finds the naughty children and carries them off to the woods and beats them with a stick and they get given a piece of coal instead of sweets. No wonder Swiss children are so well behaved! I don’t think the six-year-old me would have said boo to a goose, if I was threatened with corporal punishment instead of sweet treats.

The Swiss, and most other Europeans, have their presents delivered by Christkind (literally, “Christ child”). He normally arrives so that presents can be opened on 24th December. Why the person who delivers presents is called Christ child is anyone’s guess but it seems to have something to do with the baby Jesus giving the gifts. What I don’t understand is that Christmas is Jesus’s birthday, so why is he giving gifts to everyone? I don’t hand out vouchers for Amazon and Boots to my friends when it is my birthday. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? And, if Christians are right and he was born to absolve us of our sins, then hasn’t he given us enough anyway?

In the UK, our traditions are just a great big mash up of these traditions. Santa Claus, which must be a corruption of Samichlaus, Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas (who’s Saint day is 6th December) are all the same person to us. I remember being told that if I wasn’t good that I would get a piece of coal and no presents. I used to think that Santa must be very forgiving or completely senile because I never once found even the slightest trace of coal in my stocking on Christmas Day.

My first Swiss Christmas was great because of the whole variety of food that we had: Cheese Fondue with lashings of garlic on Christmas Eve, Mongolian Topf for Christmas Dinner and Fondue Chinoise for Boxing Day.

I know that this year I will most likely be eating the same meat (in our house normally beef or lamb) for the next 3 days in sandwiches, cold meat platters, curries etc. But that’s ok because I am so looking forward to a lovely Christmas lunch. Christmas lunch is basically a Sunday Roast on a more epic scale. I can’t remember the last time I had a Sunday Roast. I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

But even if the Roast is burnt and the Brussel sprouts have been boiled within an inch of their life and I don’t get any Christmas presents because Santa has realised that I was actually very naughty in the summer of 1987, none of that really matters. What matters is the people sat round the table, the laughter that echoes around the house and the memories that we make together.

A Very Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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Old problem, new experience

17 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonfire Night

9 Nov

Although it might be a bit late to be blogging about Bonfire Night (it was last Sunday after all), I have just finished watching the BBC Drama Gunpowder, which is a dramatisation of the events leading up to the 5th November and the plot to kill the King of England and the politicians in the House of Parliament.

After the first installment of the three part drama, the BBC was flooded with complaints about the episode, saying that it was unnecessarily gory. I was actually quite surprised that it wasn’t gory enough. One scene showed the public executions and the camera “looked away” at the really graphic parts. You did see someone having their intestines pulled out while they were still alive, but I am sure that the guts and gore was mainly made up of sausages and other things that you might find in the bin of the local butchers. I am convinced that what went on in the Jacobian era was actually a lot more horrifying.

The drama reminded me of what a rich history we have in England. Try to explain to someone from another country that in each November we gather in a field and set fire to the effigy of a Catholic from the 17th century and they will look at you in complete dismay. In Switzerland, there is the ritual burning of a snowman in April to get rid of the winter, which has a lot more positive and much less sinister message than burning someone because of their religion.

Bonfire Night is one of the traditions that I miss. Nothing is quite so British as waiting in the freezing cold for someone to set off some fireworks. All the while complaning about how much it cost to get in and that you will not be doing this again next year. As a child I remember being so cold that I couldn’t feel my fingers or my toes. I was so glad to be back in the warmth again to thaw out. By the time the next year came round we had forgot how cold a November evening could be and we were excited about going again. It’s a shame that the torch light parade that used to happen in our village stopped because of health and safety reasons. The world has gone mad.

It was Abba who said “the history book on the shelf, it’s always repeating itself”. I wonder if Guy Fawkes would have been inclined to use the same tactics today? Back then, people were complain about how the country was being run and people are still making the same complaints today. If he had have been successful all those years ago, perhaps we would have a parade in his honour and not be burning him on a pile of old wood.fireworks-2922007__340

Expat Questions

30 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zurich

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Long weekend in Wales and the British countryside

8 Oct

As well as taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon, I spent some time in England and Wales. One of the main things that we had to do was to visit The Morgan Car Company. I bought my other half a driving experience for his Christmas present.

He took off with the instructor for an hour of driving, while I sat in the cafe reading Ian Rankin and doing a bit of German vocabulary training. Rock and roll all the way!

When he returned, I have never seen him so happy. He was like a kid at Christmas, who had got the bike that he had been hoping for since June. After that we had a tour around the factory. In an age where most British car manufacturing has been moved abroad because of cost reasons, it’s perhaps surprising that all of the cars are made by hand. By that, I mean, every part. It’s an incredibly labour intensive process but the outcome is something beautiful to behold. If I come into some money, I will be ordering my car straight away – the waiting list is over a year long.

On the Friday we had an appointment to have afternoon tea at The Manor Hotel in Castle Coombe. Castle Coombe is famous for being where the film War Horse was filmed. The village is tiny and so quaint. There was even a little shop set up outside one of the houses that said that the lady was the baker to the film and TV industry and there were different cakes, jam and drinks laid out. You just popped the money into an honesty box.

The afternoon tea was lovely. The room itself was a beautiful, rich yellow colour. The food was excellent as well: cucumber, salmon, coronation chicken and cheese sandwiches, a sweet and a savoury scone and a selection of intricate cakes and macaroons. Yummy!

I don’t think that I have ever been to Wiltshire before. It was a lovely day to drive through the British countryside and relax.

On Saturday we took it easy because we had the half marathon the next day. So we wandered around the shop, walked along Cardiff Bay and the Barrage and had enough pasta to sink a battleship before retiring for an early night before the hard work on Sunday began!