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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.

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.

Washing dilemmas

12 Jul

A friend brought a BBC news article to my attention this morning. In it, it is reported that there has been a huge backlash on Twitter about comments that Kirstie Allsopp made about the correct placement of washing machines in house. Apparently the British have been doing in wrong all along. Kitchens are not the place for a washing machine.

I have never thought about this before but it is only Brits, who typically have their washing machine in the kitchen. In American films always show the family laundry being done in a separate room well away from the kitchen. Apart from in Uncle Buck where the eponymous hero attempts to dry the socks in the microwave because he can’t work out how to use the tumble dryer.

Washing clothes in a room where you prepare food does have some unhygienic twists to it: both as the dirty clothes are going in and the clear ones are coming out. No one ever wipes down the surfaces are dirty washing has been sitting on the counter top before loading the machine. Well, perhaps no one who has been diagnosed with OCD.

In Switzerland, washing machines and the regulations of using them is where all the upstanding virtuous that you expect of the Land of Milk and Money are effortlessly turfed out of the window. The majority of washing machines are located in the basement, especially in older buildings. Of course, it is forbidden to washing during the night and on Sundays or public holiday. This rule is strictly enforced.

In order to wash, one of three things could happen: 1) you have a designated day to wash on and it’s obligatory that you only wash on this day; 2) you have to “register” by signing on to a rota in advance, and by advance I mean that sometime people sign up for a day 6 months in advance; 3) there is no signing up so everything is a free-for-all, which is problematic when you are single living in a house full of families, who are constantly washing and you can never find a time to casually slip your clothes in. This happened to me at my last apartment. Being one day from going into the office in tracksuit bottoms is not a great place to be.

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Woe betide anyone who uses the wrong day, forgets to register or is 5 minutes late taking the load out of the washing machine. I have heard reports of clean clothes thrown on the floor, washing cycles being stopped half way through and then the half-dirt, half-clean clothes thrown onto the dirty floor. I have also heard of people plotting to revenge neighbours when they have retaliated like this. I’m talking itching powder in underwear type revenge.

Luckily, I have never experienced this first hand and it seems that the machine is normally free when I need it. I just have to trundle down the stairs to get my clothes clean. Of course, I have no idea what my neighbours are putting into the machine and it does make me wince a bit when I think that other people’s dirty is circuling around and mixing it with my clothes that I am trying to get clean.

One option might be to put the machine on 90 degrees and get rid of all the bad bacteria. However, as I found out the hard way, hockey socks don’t wash well at this temperature. They are so small that I can’t get them over my shin pads anymore. Looks like they are heading for the bin. Can you imagine if I did this with all of my clothes? I am not sure if it would be a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it would be an excuse for why some of my clothes are a little bit snugger than they should be. On the other hand, I will be back to contemplating the acceptability of wearing tracksuit bottoms into the office.

I am remaining adement that the next apartment is new and has it’s own washing machine. So long as it is not in the kitchen…

Anti- Stress solution?

5 Jul

Because I’m not getting any younger and I probably should take more care of myself than I actually do, I booked myself in for a Thai massage last night after work. I am slowly creeping up to a birthday that ends in a nought (but aren’t we all?) so it might be time to take preventative action and make positive steps.

For those of you who regularly read my blog, you will know that I first tried Thai massage in Thailand earlier this year. As I had so many things to do, I ran out of time and had to have a quick upper body massage at the airport. Last night was the whole hog.

The thing that I like most about Thai massage is that you remain fully clothed. I’ve had other massages before and I really can’t stand the vulnerability of being half-naked in a darkened room with a stranger. When I arrived some comfortable clothes were laid out for me. The practitioner quickly realised I wasn’t going to fit into the aforementioned clothes and went to get me new ones. I’m pretty sure they were men’s trousers and they were massive on me. One more motivation to help me lose weight to add to the list. 

Thai people look small but then they are manipulating and stretching your body, they are surprisingly strong. I can only describe the feeling as being a bit like when a toddler or young child decides to walk over you instead of around you because they haven’t yet realised that when you put your full weight on someone it hurts. Elbows, legs and arms everywhere! At one point when she grabbed my neck to massage it, it reminded me of fighting with my brother as a kid and him grabbing my neck so I couldn’t fight back.


It’s probably not recommended to be reminiscing of childhood play fights while someone is treating to realign your body’s energy. On this part, I need more practice at this.

It is said that the massage should be leave the practitioner and the client energised after the massage. I certainly felt a lot better, even though I also felt I had just done 10 rounds with a Mini Mike Tyson. I was thinking how can the practitioner possibly feel energised after this really physical procedure? I think she probably felt great about beating up a person who is twice her size and getting paid for it.

In an age where our lives are dominated by stress, it is important to find methods of relaxing. It turns out that for me this could be someone standing on my back while pulling my arms up to the sky. 

Too hot to sleep

25 Jun

At the risk of sounding completely British, which I know that I do from time to time, the weather at the moment is just too hot. After this spell of hot weather surely no one in their right mind can deny the existence of climate change. 35 degrees in June. What is the rest of the summer going to be like? Weather like this means that I can’t sleep and me without sleep is not good news for anyone.

I have tried all different strategies. The first, a classic in anyone’s book, was to sleep with the window open. A grand idea until a mosquito woke me up while it was buzzing around my ear at 2 in the morning. Annoyed I trudge out of the bedroom and go to find the insect repellent. That will do the trick. Only it didn’t. I woke up with 5 bites on my right legs and three on my left wrist. I don’t know what was wrong with the rest of my body that the menace decided not to eat the rest of me.

So I can’t sleep with the window open anymore. I now have fans in the bedroom which I have found make no real difference either. They just tend to circulate the warm air around. Plus, they are loud and keep me awake at night.

Two nights ago in utter frustration, I convinced myself that the living room was actually cooler than the bedroom. (This was after a short period of about 3 minutes when I was on the balcony with my bed sheet in the lovely cool evening air. I suddenly realised that if they can bite me 8 times by coming through the window, advertising myself as night-time-alfresco-all-you-can-eat buffet to the insect was probably not the best idea I had even had.) Of course, the living room was no more cool than the bedroom. The heat is affecting my brain and impairing my ability to make sound judgments. I am not sure what my excuse is for the rest of the year.

thermometer-693852__340Being on holiday when the weather is so hot is no problem. In fact, it is the reason why we book holidays. When we have to cope with wearing business dress and going into the office, it is just not fair. I can’t sleep, think straight and I can’t run outside!

This morning was the first time that I have been able to go running outside because the weather had cooled this morning. I got the trainers on quick and got outside before the mercury was pushing towards 30 degrees again, as it was by the early afternoon.

Of course, there are advantages to weather, such as a BBQ every night, not having to remember to pick up the umbrella before leaving the house in the morning and the washing drying in super quick time. On Friday, it was almost dry before I had even hung it out!

It has just turned nine in the evening here and it is still 25 degrees. I am hoping that the combination of the heat and the run from this morning has tired me out and I will drop off effortlessly tonight but I am not holding out too much hope. It is still too hot to sleep…

A long weekend in Edinburgh

22 Jun

This time last week I was getting ready for an early night for a subsequently early morning flight back to the homeland.

I normally take the morning flights because they are cheaper and then normally run like clockwork. Not last week though. To my frustration, the flight was delayed by over an hour because of “technical problems with the aircraft”: a reason that I find a little nerve-wrecking to hear as I am about to board. Because of this delay, I missed the train I had pre-booked and had to buy another, more expensive ticket.

Nevertheless, we arrived in Edinburgh at around lunchtime. I had booked a serviced apartment on The Royal Mile for us to stay in. It took a while to find it because the GPS had us walking around in an area not near where it was and the name of the place was different to the name I had received on the confirmation booking. The apartment was really nice and we had the option of self-catering as well. The only problem was it was on the top floor and we had to go up 7 flights of a spiral staircase to get to the top.

The rest of the day we wandered around, saw the castle and had dinner at an all-you-can-eat Pan Asian buffet. It was a bit unhealthy but the choice of foods was surprisingly good and I limited myself to one plate of desserts!

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On Friday, we did one of my favourite things to do in an unfamiliar city – a free walking tour! We were told some really interesting stories, from the Middle Ages to the 18th century to more recent times, about the city of Edinburgh. We were lucky that the tour leader was a student of the University and had been brought up there so the information was definitely reliable. We even visited the grave of Tom Riddle, which was the name of Lord Voldemort, before he became Lord Voldemort, in the Harry Potter books. J. K. Rowling wrote the books while living in Edinburgh and it is thought that this was one of the many inspirations for her writings that she took from the city.

In the afternoon, we thought it would be a good idea to walk to the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is moored in Edinburgh. I completely underestimated how long the walk would take and promptly complained for every step at the end of the journey. We got the bus back.

IMG_6622In the evening after a lovely and slightly posh looking haggis, carrots and tatties and a few drinks. What better way to finished the day off than with a Ghost Tour! Wooooh! Spooky! Or in this case not. As the summer nights are with us, it wasn’t all that spooky, walking around hearing, not so much ghost stories, than gruesome happenings, which we had mainly heard about on the morning tour. All in all, there were only about 2 stories about ghosts and hauntings and I wasn’t really all that scared at all.

The next day we visited The Real Mary King’s Close. This was a live museum tour, where a person dressed in the costume of the 17th century takes you underground for a tour of how life was like in Edinburgh in the Middle Ages and beyond. Interestingly, because the city is so hilly, over the years they have just built on top of houses rather than knocking them down and starting again. This means that the city today is just one layer of the city, many more lie beneath. We were able to go underground and see the houses and the conditions that people would have had to endured. It was a really interesting way to learn about how life was. I think that this is far more effective than reading about history from books.

It got quite hot underground so I was glad when we could resurface. It wasn’t just escaping the heat that I was excited about; it was also our next stop: a gin distillery.

I have been to plenty of breweries but never to a gin distillery. The distillery was Pickering’s Gin at Summerhall Distillery and I can highly recommend it. The distillery only started in 2013 and is still relatively small but is already the official Gin of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is quite some going. The actual distillery is just three smallish rooms in an old veterinary school which is now one of the biggest arts centres in Europe and is home to many start-ups and art projects. We had the lovely Lisa, who had left Australia to come to Scotland to distill gin, explain to us the process and the challenges that the business faced in the beginning. It was fascinating from a business point of view and also to see how a kraft distillery operates. Of course, the best part was the tasting! Pickering’s currently have 3 gins: the original, the 1947 reciepe and the Navy Gin, which is 52%! My favourite was the 1947 reciepe gin as the flavour was a bit smoother than the others. On these sorts of things, I normally feel obliged to part with money and buy at least something but this time (and maybe it was because of the gin) I had no problem parting with my money for a bottle! As I say, I highly recommend this tour if you ever go to Edinburgh.

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After a nap in the afternoon, we headed out to see some former work friend of mine, who now live and work in Edinburgh. It was great to see Martin and Katie. I don’t think we have seen each other for 4 or more years but it was like we had never been away from each other. No awkward silences. This for me is a true sign of friendship: when you can carry on as if no time at all has passed. We had some cocktails at a bar and then headed to an Indian restaurant called Mother India for some delicious food. There is indian food in Switzerland but somehow it is not the same as in the UK when you go out, have a few pints and a good curry.

On the Sunday, we were heading back to Liverpool after lunchtime but there was time to walk to Holyrood Palace and see the Scottish Parliament. I don’t wish to offend anyone but the Scottish Parliament really isn’t a nice looking building. It’s sort of a mismash of ultra modern with a bit of traditional but too many glass surfaces. Just my opinion. And it doesn’t look as big as it does when you see in on the TV.

A 4-hour trip back to Liverpool, through the lovely green Lake District, meant that there was time to appreciate the beauty of the English countryside as well. A relaxing evening drinking beer in the garden and the weekend, as ever, was over too soon….

The Road to Hell…

14 Jun

They say that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions and if this is true, then I definitely have more than one foot on the cobbled stones. You see it was never my intention to have an extended pause from writing my blog when I got back from holiday. But it happened. It was an accident, an unintentional slip after I had tried so hard to continuing to blog while I was in Asia.

Sometimes when circumstances are difficult we manage to solider on regardless, like when I persevered blogging, without a laptop, but using an app on my iPhone which was made even more infuriating by my fat fingers mis-typing every second word. When things are infinitely easier, we tend to slip up.

I arrived back in Switzerland after my adventure (on reflection, it definitely was an adventure) and was straight back into work mode. It saddens me how easy it was to slip back into the work routine. Get up. Work. German lessons or hockey training (depending on what day it is). Home. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Within a few days and back into the frustration of daily work trivialities, it is easy to forget how big the world is, how many possibilities there are out there and how amazing my experiences on the other side of the world were.

So in the last six weeks that is what I have been up to. It’s nothing very exciting but it is what it is. One of the things that I am terrible about doing, when I get back from holiday, is sorting and organising my photos. I take thousands and thousands of photos. A lot of the time, I take pictures of things that are not even that interesting but I was determined this time to sort them properly and make a picture book so have to look back on. The actual organising of photos took at least 3 days (I did say I take a lot) and in the end I got bored so there are some that are not yet sorted properly.

Making and editing the actual book was like reliving the whole holiday: things I have seen, things I have eaten, things I refused to eat (they have some quirky things that are classed as food in Asia). It already brought back some great memories and as they say a picture paints a thousand words.

I did head to less humid climates in May – Manchester. It was a trip I had planned in October last year with a friend. The reason was the 25th Anniversary Take That tour. Unfortunately, due to circumstances that were all too tragic and well documented. The concert didn’t take place. It made me realise that we are living in a time when violence and terror is now on our doorsteps, whereas just a few years ago was confined to places that we can’t spell or would never ourselves visit.

Nevertheless, I flew back to Manchester because it was time to see friends and family: People who I am separated by distance on a regular basis. Time at home can sometimes be extremely time pressured but it also gives some unexpected surprises, like bumping into my godmother at the supermarket.

The next month will continue to be high paced as a trip to Edinburgh is planned and I have my German exam looming on the horizon at the beginning of July. For those of you who know me this is good enough reason to give me a wide berth until the afternoon of 8th July. Before exam stress levels =off the scale.

Until the panic sets in, I am happy  sit on the balcony, watching the sunset over my little garden while updating my blog. This feeling may not last long. I will enjoy it while it lasts.

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Last few nights before home

1 May

After the Farewell dinner and drinks, I did not get up early on Thursday morning. I got up and transferred to my next hotel in the city, which happened to be the one where I had stayed for the first two nights in Bangkok. I hadn’t planned anything specifically for today because I knew after being on the road for so long I wanted to have time to relax and just do whatever I wanted. Also, from experience, the Farewell drinks on these sorts of trips never finish before midnight so I had already taken that into account.

I spend the day trying to stay cool and doing some shopping. One thing about the shopping centres in Thailand is that they are well air-conditioned and huge. The main shopping centre near to my hotel was Terminal 21 and each floor has a theme. The London themed floor even had a double decker bus parked on it!

The next day was an early start as I had booked to go on a trip to see the Bridge Over the River Kwai. This was a film that my dad had made us watch countless times when we were growing up so it one sense I felt obliged to go and see it. To get there we got into some motorised boats and were given life jackets that would have been useless in an emergency. The scenery en route was lovely and the river itself seemed relatively clean.


If I am brutally honest I was a bit disappointed. For some reason, I had it in my head that it would be a lot bigger than it actually was. The bridge was original but was reconstructed after the allied bombing shattered the bridge.

After the viewing of the bridge, we went to the museum which told the history of the Thailand-Burma railway and what the conditions were like for the POWs who were forced to build the bridge. Again, this was an eye-opener and part of history that I never learnt about in school. Something else to go on the history reading list when I get back home. The facility is also continuing research into the POWs who were detained and forced to build the railway and, if you have a relative who was a POW, you can receive all the details that you have about them for the cost of the print out.

There was also a cemetery to visit where more than 6,000 of the POWs who died are buried. The cemetery is impeccably maintained and even while we were there there were 6 gardeners tending to the lawns and flowers.

We drove for about 40 minutes and then took the Thailand State Railway from Nam Tok to Tha Kilen. The scenery was stunning along the way as we crossed over the Tham Kra Sae Bridge. It was interesting to travel through the countryside and see a bit how local people live. The carriage was nice but even in our “expensive” carriage for tourists who pay slightly more than the locals for nicer seats, it wasn’t so comfortable. The seats were wooden and across the train tracks you could feel every bump and divert along the way.


We transferred back to our hotels. This took longer than expected, partly because it was Friday evening. The Bnagkok traffic really is crazy. It seems that there are more rules in Thailand than in Cambodia or Vietnam but the vast quality of vehicles is mind blowing. It takes so long to get anywhere. The problem is that the public transport, like trains and metros, are not part of the infrastructure in certain parts of the city but as there is no alternative people have to sit in the traffic.

The next and penultimate day I had a bike tour of Old Town Bangkok. It seems crazy to be cycling round in Bangkok in the heat but this was why I had booked onto the morning tour. Luckily, the weather had cooled down a bit and it was a bit cloudy. It was still hot as we were cycling though. The tour was not quite what I expected but in a good way. We cycled along through back streets and residential streets. It reminded me a little bit of the opening credited of Naked Gun. I was disappointed that I didn’t have a Go-Pro because I am sure that it would be interesting to play it back and see the whole tour again. We did get some strange looks when we were cycling around.

I asked our guide why more of the locals didn’t cycle around the city. She explained that Thai people are a bit lazy and that it was dangerous! But not so dangerous that tourists can’t go around the city. I had already checked that the company had comprehensive insurance(!)

On the tour, we saw the hotel where Hangover 2 was filmed, tasted Roti – a sweetened version of the Indian dish, which is served with condensed milk and sugar and bananas, cycled through Chinatown and visited Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese temples. What I didn’t realise is that 60% of Thailand’s population is descended from Chinese and you can see this in the influences on food, religion and in the faces of the people (That sounds a bit racist but that is not how it is intended).

At the Buddhist temple, which was a temple dedicated to friendship and partners, the guide gave us a lotus flower and showed us how to fold it. I can’t remember if I mentioned but on the night Tuk-Tuk tour I previously did, they showed us how to fold the lotus flower but this was a different technique. Being the smart arse that I am I did two different folds on my flowers. We actually went into the temple and left the lotus flowers as an offering to Buddha. I’m not really sure how I felt about this as I’m not a Buddhist but I thought it was a nice touch anyway.

The last stop was to feed turtles at another temple. There were so any turtles it was unbelievable and the greedy things would come straight up to you and eat the lettuce leaves out of your hands. Some of them were big bullies and would literally push the other smaller turtles out of the way. All’s fair in true love and war.

All in all the tour was great: it exceeded my expectations and was a great last thing for me to do in Bangkok. In the afternoon, I wandered around some shopping centres and had a manicure and pedicure which I never do at home and was unbelievably cheap in comparison with what we pay here.

The next morning it was time to pack my bag and head to the airport. At the airport I had a Thai massage. It was more expensive that you could get for it in town but I had Bhat to use up! Thai massage is fully clothed and involves the therapist pressing on pressure points. I was seriously concerned I was being assaulted. It felt so awful and really hurt while she was going it. She was slapping me about and kneeing me in the back while pulling my arms until they cracked. I was convinced that I would have bruises all over me the next day. When she was finished it did actually feel ok and I felt a lot better. The price we pay for relaxation!

I arrived home in Switzerland to a lovely 18 degrees which was great because a few days earlier I had heard it had been snowing and I only had sandals to wear home. My trip had been a lot more than I had expected but I was sure that a night in my own bed was going to be like a dream come true…

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…

First Christmases

22 Dec

This Christmas is a Christmas of firsts: my first ever, real Christmas tree and my first Christmas in Switzerland.

Growing up we always had an artificial tree and I have always dreamed of a real Christmas tree. There is a small farm not too far up the road so we went there and picked out a tree. The only problem is that when you look around at the trees and they are standing proudly outside, they look a lot smaller than they do when you get them home and have to find a place for it to go. We did choose the smallest one we could find but it is quite wide at the bottom so it takes up quite a bit of space in the living room.

After the purchase of the Christmas tree, we went to eat fondue. The farm has a Fonduestube (stube: a small hut or place where food and drinks is normally served) and we got a free glass of Glühwein as a thank you for buying the tree. The little problem was carrying the thing home, down quite a big hill, in the dark, after quite a few drinks. All’s well that ends well though.

My other first is spending Christmas in Switzerland for the first time. Normally, I make the trip home for the festive period. At my previous employers, there was a complete shut down between Christmas and New Year so I could book my flights home in June (or early) knowing that I had the time off. But that isn’t the case at my new employer.

In addition, there is a funny system in Switzerland that I still haven’t got my head around and which I complain about on a regular basis. Here if a bank holiday falls on a weekend, you don’t get the time off. In England, a bank holiday on the weekend means that you are entitled to another day off in lieu, normally on the Monday. So this year is particularly bad because Christmas Day is a Sunday so we only get the Monday (Boxing Day) as a holiday. I can only say that the idea that Europeans get more holidays than in the UK is a christmas-tree-christmas-1796131_1920.pngmisconception.

Apart from one year when we had a family holiday to Tenerife at Christmas, I have spent every Christmas in England. The holiday in Tenerife was a little bit strange – swimming, BBQ and karaoke as Christmas Day activities. This year it will be Fondue Chinose and no Queen’s speech.

I was beginning to regret not coming home for Christmas a few weeks ago but with reports of Storm Barbara on the rampage, I am better staying put and not travelling during the worst of it. Better to be prepared for not going home than to be expecting to go home and then the flight is cancelled because of bad weather. Or worse, the flight isn’t cancelled and the flight experiences extreme turbulence.

Besides, with Facetime I can still see my family for Christmas even though it is not the same at being there in person. And, I will be flying home in January anyway, when I hope the weather will be more favourable to travellers!