Tag Archives: observations

Back to reality

7 Apr

Sorry for the recent radio silence. This week I have been pushed into the deep end and I am fully immersed in the world of work and life back at home. This week has been business as usual: I’m back in German lessons twice a week, I skipped the writing club this week to meet up with some friends and, suddenly, it is the weekend again.

My first day in work I was absolutely dreading. For the record, a six week break is not a good preparation for starting another job. On the train into work, I was thinking about all the things that I would be missing out on doing at home: reading, drinking tea, having a nap and watching Judge Rinder in the afternoon. But it wasn’t long before these thoughts were a distant memory and I had Excel spreadsheets back on my mind.

The bad thing about working in Finance (and there are a lot to choose from so it is a tough decision to make) is that the beginning of the month is the busiest time. It is also the time when you normally start your job. I have had so much information thrown at me that, by the end of the day, my head has been spinning.

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It’s always interesting to see how things are versus what you were actually told in the interview. Interestingly, this is where our travels in South America have been very useful – nothing shocks me anymore. It is clear that this job will keep me busy and I will not be able to say that I am bored at any point. The best thing is that I know that I can make a contribution in this job, in a way that I wasn’t able to in my last job. I think it will be rewarding and hectic at the same time.

I have enjoyed being in the centre of the city and being able to go out for lunchtime or going for a walk along the river, when the weather has been good. It’s also nice that the company is a lot smaller and there are mini-perks, like fresh fruit is delivered twice a week to the office and tea and coffee is free. It is a different feel to the company but one which reminds me of the first big company that I worked for.

It’s now the weekend and I am taking time to recover from getting back to work. I was beginning to think that next week would be easier because I have already adjusted to working life, until I realised that this week was only a four day week. Oh well, perhaps next week will be even worse. Who knows? For now, I will enjoy the weekend. I hope your weekend is as relaxing as I am hoping mine will be!

The demise of the humble postcard

17 Mar

On our travels in South America, I’ve been slightly shocked at the demise of the humble postcard and the Post service in general.

In Bolivia, we were keen to send a few postcards back home but, no matter how hard we tried, we weren’t able to find any at all in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. In fairness, these two cities are definitely not tourist destinations in the true sense of the word and we hardly saw any other tourists. So perhaps it wasn’t so surprising.

In La Paz we found postcards and stamps. Hooray! My general rule is that if you find a shop that doesn’t sell stamps to accompany the postcards then don’t buy them. You’ll end up forgetting to find a post office and end up carrying them with you for the whole time and then bringing them home with you. I also used the sneaky trick of asking the hotel to post them for us rather than look for a post box (and I have no idea what colour they are in South America, so it would take me ages to find one).

In Uyuni we found more postcards but no stamps. As I said before, my rule is if you can’t buy both together, don’t buy at all! But I was overruled. We found the post office but it was “closed for a week for a public holiday”. That seemed slightly suspicious to me as no one could tell us what public holiday it was and everything else seemed to be open.

We still had the postcards in Oruro. We found the post office but two days previously it had gone into administration!

We still had the postcards in Iquique, Chile. We found a post office that was open! So we now had Bolivian postcards with a Chilean stamp on. That wasn’t part of the plan and some people at home are going to be a bit confused if they study their postcard in detail.

We thought it would be good to buy some postcards of Chile at the post office because they had some on display. But it turned out these were for display only and they had none to sell us. In the rest of Iquique, we didn’t find any other postcards and now we have sort of stopped looking.

It is perhaps no wonder that people are sending less and less postcards because the stress of finding a stamp to send it home means that you need to plan another holiday for all the time you have spent looking for a post office.

I wonder how long it will be until postcards are no longer printed. I hope they continue for a long time to come. There is something quite lovely about receiving a note from someone you know who is in a far away land and marvelling over the pictures on the front and trying to decipher handwriting. This is a holiday tradition that I would hate to see no longer with us.

Testing times

10 Feb

On the first Wednesday of February each year, the sirens are tested across Switzerland. Even though the testing is publicised in the newspaper, radio and television to remind people that it is just a test, I had completely forgotten this week until the piercing sounds rang out at about lunchtime. The sirens last for about one minute and sounds about as apocolyptic as it gets. I have no idea what tourists think when suddenly all of the sirens begin.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like to be alive in the blitz and to hear these sirens again and again, day after day. I also find it about surprising that a country that hasn’t been to war in over 500 years feels the need to have a general alert signal but we have nothing like this back in England. I guess we would have to just rely on social media and the BBC to tell us if a state of emergency had been declared.

In the current political climate, it is easy to see why such practices still take place. Virtually every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is check the news to make the rest of the world hasn’t been destroyed by one of our world leaders accidentally pressing a button that they shouldn’t have.

When my friend came to stay last weekend, she was surprised that we had a nuclear bunker built into the house. The entire population of Switzerland can be accomodated in nuclear bunkers with a reinforced steel door, if the need arises. This might seem paranoid but people in the UK were still building nuclear bunkers into the 1980s. The bunkers are also checked periodically as well. Inside they have a built-in radio so that messages can be relaid about what it happening and when it is safe to leave the bunker.

Our nuclear bunker is actually what we use as a basement now. So, if we did have to go down there and shelter, we would be sharing the space with ski equipment, bikes, recycling that needs to be taken to the recycling centre and a nice collection of wine. I remain hopeful that these things are like travel insurance: you have it just in case but you never have to use it. Let’s hope it stays that way.

40 Before 40: Challenge #17

2 Feb

I am officially 8.5% of the way through the seventeenth challenge on my 40 Before 40 list. My 17th challenge is to write a diary every day for a year. 31 days of the year have already been and gone so I can be very accurate with how much of this challenge I have completed.

The reason I decided to add this challenge to my list was because I have tried several times to write a diary for a whole year and I have always failed after a few weeks. I’m not sure why I have managed to fail so often but this time I am determined to complete the challenge. Of course, if I fail to complete the challenge again in 2018, I still have a few more years to try to complete it.

Recently I have been wondering why people write diaries at all. Famous diarists, like Anne Frank and Samuel Pepys, would never had known that their daily musings on every day life would be still being read today and the insights that they would be able to give to us into historic events.

I have no doubt that what I sit down and write each time before I go to bed will possibly never be read by a wider audience and probably not even by myself. Personally, it had more to do with the act of sitting down at the end of the day to reflect on what I have achieved and what I have found difficult about the day. I have found, even at this early stage, that it offers time to sit quietly after a day which might have been very busy or stressful. This is something that modern life doesn’t often allow us to have.

I was hoping that it would also help to clean out my thoughts before I go to bed and, therefore, help me in my New Year’s Resolution to get more and better quality sleep. Unfortunately, I haven’t found this helps all that much. People often advise that writing something down that you are struggling with during the day is a good way for you to get these thoughts out of your head. I find the opposite is true. After writing things down, I find that I want to think more about these things and try to solve them if possible.

I will persevere though. It takes 66 days to form a new habit. So I still have a number of days to go until this has become a habit. It does help that I have set a recurring alarm on my phone so that I remember to do it every day and the diary lives on the bedside table. There is no way that I have been able to forget to make my diary entry for the day. Every habit needs a bit of encouraging and I hope that my sneaky tricks to make sure that I write every day will get me closer to ticking off another challenge from my list.

My very colourful diary

My very colourful diary

Travel preparations

13 Jan

As you may or may not know, I love to travel. Since I first set off on a solo trip to Peru in 2011, I haven’t stopped exploring. In my case, it is certainly true when people say that travelling is a bug that you catch. I enjoying seeing other parts of the world and seeing how other people live. As well as trying different types of food, of course.

Soon I will be heading off on another adventure. This one will be longer than I have ever done before. It will be 35 days, in fact, and we will be visiting five different countries in South America. We have already booked all of the flights, buses, boats and hotels.

I find preparing for the travel almost as exciting as the travelling itself. I can spend hours pouring over books, the Internet and asking people for suggestions and recommendations. It’s so much fun to thinking that in a few weeks you will be doing X, Y or Z, or even all three!

One part of travelling that I am not such a fan of is the packing. For a beach holiday, a weekend away or going back home, I can cope. Just throw some things in a suitcase and off you go. It’s only for a couple of weeks or days so there is not a lot of planning needed.

For five weeks on the road, spending only a few days in each place, it is a bit more difficult. I have found in a lot of my recent trips that I tend to panic just before I am about to leave the house and end up throwing things into the bag because I am convinced that I might need a heavy-duty rain jacket in South Africa in summer or I should definitely pack that exfoliating face pack from the bathroom because that would really be useful while camping in the wild in Botswana. Incidentally, I have stopped taking makeup with me on holidays where the weather is hot because I realised it is a waste of time to think that I will feel the need to apply makeup when I am basically melting from the heat. I very rarely wear make-up at home so it doesn’t really make that much difference to me.

I always make a list of things to take and I try to stick to it but it doesn’t always work. As we will be on the move every few days, it makes sense to pack as light as possible. I have been having a personal struggle about whether to take my electric tooth brush or not. On the one hand, it does mean that I have to take yet another charging cable with me (along with phone charger, battery pack for my camera, activity tracker, Kindle etc) but I think that it is the type of luxury that I don’t think that I can go without for five weeks. Plus oral hygiene, as dentists will tell you, is not a part-time hobby so I am almost 100% decided that it will be coming with me.

I read once that for these longer trips, you should pack everything once and then take everything out of the suitcase and take half of the clothes and double the amount of money. This is probably very good advice. There have been more than a few times when I have got back home from a trip to find at least three articles of clothing stuffed in the bottom of my bag that I haven’t used and that I forgot I had even packed.

However, and let’s face it, if I had double the amount of money available, I would be going for double the amount of time. Perhaps only the advice about the number of clothes applies to me.

I will attempt to be very strict with my packing, as I have been with my travel planning, but good intentions and all that. I still have about five weeks to agonise about what and what not to take. Do you see now why this is the part that I dislike the most?

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Good Luck for the year ahead!

2 Jan

Although I have been in Switzerland for New Year for the last three years, this year I learnt something new about what charms the Swiss think will bring good luck.

I went to a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve, where there was, what I can only describe as paraphernalia, to help predict what the year ahead will bring. This was a spoon, small bits of metal (which type I am not sure), a candle and a bowl of water. The basic idea is that you put a piece of the metal on the spoon and heat this over the candle. When the metal is melted, you pour the molten liquid into the water. The shape that the metal makes is then a prediction of what will happen to you for the next year. There is a small interpretation book provided, so you can check out the meanings.

My form looked like a rain drop or a meteor. These shapes weren’t described in the interpretation booklet so I settle for on it looking like a ball. This means that I should play more sport in the upcoming year. This is probably a fair assessment and much more preferable than what the two other options could signify: namely, spending a lot more time in the rain or the end of the world as we know it is right around the corner.

I have never seen or heard of this before, but the kits are available in the local supermarkets. It was interesting to see how many different forms and shapes were made. Of course, it is just a bit of fun but at a party, it was an interesting ice-breaker.

I was also handed a miniature figure of a chimney sweep. Apparently, in Germany and Switzerland, the chimney sweep is a very lucky symbol – a bit like a four-leaf clover. I think that this was doubly lucky for me because I was given the figure by an actual chimney sweep.

img_9896As I had never heard of the connection of luck with a chimney sweep before, I decided to do a bit of research on the Internet before. Because, as is often the case, when I asked why a chimney sweep has a connection to good luck in Switzerland and Germany, no one could actually give me an answer. I was met with a shrug, a blank facial expression and the answer “I’m not really sure. We just always hand them out at this time of year.”

So, I found out that a chimney sweep is good luck for purely pragmatic reasons. If a chimney was blocked, it meant that you would not be able to cook anymore and so you would have to get the chimney sweep to come round. Once the flue was cleaned, you could carry on eating again. Hurray! It also meant that there was less chance of the house catching fire because of the soot stuck in the chimney.

I think the connection is completely charming. It is a shame that this is a profession which is possibly in decline, as we tend not to have houses with fire places, as we did in the olden days. But through the giving of these charms the legend will live on for generations to come.

I am a firm believer in the phrase that you make your own luck, but it still nice to have a few good luck charms tucked away just in case.

Happy New Year

31 Dec

Before the bells start chiming at midnight, I would like to wish all of you a Happy and Healthy 2018, wherever you are in the world and whoever you are with.

2017 has been a good year for me. I have achieved a lot of things that are on my bucket list and have been able to travel and experience a lot of new things. For the upcoming year, there will be more travelling in the first quarter of the year and then, I hope, I can spend more time enjoying what Switzerland has to offer. I think that the year could end up with me staying at home more because of work reasons. But let’s see…

For many people, the New Year is not always something to celebrate. It is a time to reflect and perhaps unhappy thoughts or disappointing times come to mind more easily. Whatever your feelings about this time of year, I hope that you will be able to look ahead to the opportunities that might be available to you in 2018.

If there is one piece of advice I would give, it would be to do whatever you want but do it with all your heart, in pursuit of your happiness.

So, Happy 2018! I wish you all the Best and more besides. Whatever happens, an adventure is definitely waiting for us!

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