Tag Archives: Switzerland

40 Before 40: Challenge #2

9 Oct

For my second challenge of my 40 Before 40, I have decided to take on one of my passions in life – travel. My challenge is to visit 40 of the 51 countries in Europe before my 40th birthday. One of the plus points of moving to Switzerland was that it is in the centre of Europe and a lot easier to travel around. Over the past few years, I have been to a lot of new places but there are still more on the list to get through!

I was shocked when I realised that there were 51 independent countries. I have checked with several sources and they all say the same. So it must be true.

Technically, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey are transcontinental countries as they span Europe and Asia. Armenia and Cyprus are considered to be European countries, although they are geographically in West Asian territory.

Below is the list of the 51 European countries and next to the ones I have already visited I had put the date of when I visited. For some of the countries that I haven’t visited in the last 15 years or so there is just an approximate date.

So far, I have visited 25 out of the 51. I had better get packing my bags!

  1. Albania
  2. Andora
  3. Armenia
  4. Austria – August 17
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Belarus
  7. Belgium
  8. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  9. Bulgaria – July 2008
  10. Croatia
  11. Cyprus – sometime in the 90s
  12. Czech Republic – July 2016
  13. Denmark – July 2016
  14. Estonia – May 2015
  15. Finland – May 2015
  16. France – December 2016
  17. Georgia
  18. Germany – June 2017
  19. Greece – around 2000
  20. Hungary – March 2014
  21. Iceland
  22. Ireland – June 2003
  23. Italy – May 2015
  24. Kazakhstan
  25. Kosovo
  26. Latvia – September 2015
  27. Leichtenstein
  28. Lithuania – September 2015
  29. Luxembourg
  30. Macedonia
  31. Malta – sometime in the 90s
  32. Moldova
  33. Monaco
  34. Montenegro
  35. Netherlands – December 2015
  36. Norway – March 2017
  37. Portugal – June 2014
  38. Poland
  39. Romania
  40. Russia
  41. San Marino
  42. Serbia
  43. Slovakia – August 2017
  44. Slovenia
  45. Spain – Sep 2014
  46. Sweden – Dec 2014
  47. Switzerland – country of residence
  48. Turkey
  49. Ukraine
  50. UK – birth place. That must count as being marked off the list
  51. Vatican City – May 2015

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Five years

27 Sep

Five years ago, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket (still the only one-way ticket I have ever purchased) and one suitcase, ready to begin a new adventure in Switzerland.

It doesn’t seem like five years ago, and I never would have believed that I would still be here five years down the line and be enjoying living here. For at least the first six to nine months, I was convinced that I had made the wrong decision and I was wondering how difficult it would be to move all my things back. I spent a lot of lonely nights (and they were also dark and miserable because of the time of year) not really knowing what to do with myself.

After the first 12 months, I was more settled and learning the language definitely helped. Although at the time, it seems like I was spending a lot of time learning things like “Do you sell salt?” which aren’t so helpful in every day life. I also had a very bad habit in the beginning of never asking for anything in a shop, because I was far too embarrassed. If I needed salt and it wasn’t on the shelf where I thought it should be, I simply did without it. Luckily, I always managed to find the ice cream.

The time of being anxious that I had made the wrong decision is far behind me now. There are still things that annoy me about living in another country. Everyone thinking that you come from London when you say you are English is a particular bugbear of mine; as is the lack of fish and chips and the over abundance of paprika crisps. I still hold out hope that smokey bacon flavour crisps will be introduced here but that hope is fading steadily.

I appreciate that Switzerland is not a country that is for everyone’s taste. I know a lot of people who would struggle to keep up with the punctuality of this country and all of the rules that a well-behaved expat must abide by. For me, this part of Swiss culture has not been so hard to adapt to. I think I have had good timekeeping drummed into me from an early age. To the extent that if someone is two minutes late and doesn’t offer an apology, they are immediately struck off the Christmas card list. No second chances here.

After being here for five years, I have now successfully applied for my C permit. This means that I have the same rights of a Swiss citizen, apart from I can’t have a passport or vote. As the country seems to be running quite fine without my inputs, that’s fine by me.

A change for me will be that I no longer have to pay tax out of my wages, but I have to make a tax declaration once a year. I guess I have been here for so long that the tax authorities trust me that I won’t skip the country without paying it. It should be interesting filling in that huge form for the first time. I will definitely need a dictionary on hand when I come to complete it, as well as a calculator.

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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.

Sporting Misfortunes

29 Aug

Over the weekend I have had not one but two sporting misfortunes.

On Saturday I dragged myself out of bed early and decided to go for a long run in preparation for the half marathon that I am running in Cardiff at the start of October. I was completely mentally and physically prepared. What I didn’t take into account was that my bra strap would break after 2km!

I thought about turning back, going home and changing but I thought if I do that the likelihood that I will just stay at the apartment and not bothered doing the rest of the run would be about 100%. I hid in a bush and tried to rectify it in some way but it was no use. I did the British thing and kept calm and carried on.

Of course, I couldn’t run as fast as I normally would do but I kept going and did the distance that I wanted to. These “longer” runs that I do in the build up for the training are important in terms of distance, and not really in terms of time. Good job in this case!

It is entirely possible that I have a wardrobe malfunction on the day of the half marathon. Then I would only have the option of carrying on or stopping. It’s good training for an unexpected event on the day.

The second hiccup also involved clothing in a round-about way. I was in Luzern on Sunday to play a friendly hockey match. Push-back wasn’t until 5.30pm so I was already expecting to be home late.

After the game we discovered that we were locked out of the changing rooms. The door to the building automatically locks as soon as it is shut. The opposition hadn’t told us that we needed to bring the key with us or we wouldn’t be able to get back in. So we were outside and cold while our clothes were inside with the showers!

No one seemed to have a spare key, not even the President of the club had a key. After phoning round we called a locksmith and got a pizza delivered to the pitch. By now it was getting cold and I’m sure that I was really smelly as well.

Just before the locksmith arrived, it was discovered that a teacher who lived nearby had a key. So we avoided a hefty invoice to get in for a shower. Note to self: don’t leave anything in a changing room again.

When we finally got back inside the key was lying there on a table in the changing room. It was gone 11 by the time I got home. So much for an early Sunday night!

Hiking with Goats

5 Aug

This Saturday it was time to head to the mountains and go hiking for the first time in about 12 months. I wasn't going alone I was going with goats. Yes, that's not a typo! Quite a few months ago, I saw a MeetUp group activity to go hiking with goats. It sounded like something difference so I decided to sign up for it.

In case you don't know what MeetUp is: it is a online platform where people can organise different activities for like-minded people. The activity was limited to 10 people, the majority of which I hadn't met before. The main reason was because it was 2 people to one goat and there were only 5 goats on the trail.

After an early start, a train change in Luzern, a bus to a gondola and a gondola ride to the top, we reached Bannalpsee. It's a beautiful mountain lake that is surrounded by mountains. There we were introduced to the owners of the goats and the goats.

I was a bit surprised by the size of their horns. I wasn't expecting them to be so big and so strong. I can imagine that being headbutted by one of them would really hurt. I was hoping that the goat we chose would be mild mannered.

We had a small talk from the owners about how to handle the goats. I hadn't fully realised this but we would be actually leading the goats who were on a lead, like a dog. It was a bit of a bizarre concept. The goats also had small backpacks on their backs and we put our lunch in them so that they could carry them until it was time to eat.

The goat who I was responsible for was Luigi. All of the male goats seemed to have Italian names and I'm not 100% sure why. When the owners said that the first one was called Leonardo, I got excited that they were named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Alas! This was not the case.

Luigi was like me in some ways. He was a bit stubborn. When he had decided what he wanted to do, he wouldn't listen to what anyone else wanted to do. And he never stopped eating the whole hike.

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When he decided he was going to go left, he would just suddenly pull you in that directions. I was worried that he would pull my arm out of its socket. He really was that strong. The novelty soon wore off when he was pulling this way and that way or decided that he didn't want to move at all.

At one point, he just sat down and refused to move. The owner explained that he was probably just too hot and needed a rest. Luigi still had his winter coat so his hair was too thick. I know how he felt and it reminded me that I should go and get my hair cut soon as well. Throughout the hike, the goats were sprayed with water to keep them cool and they were also given drinks of water on the way via a spray bottle.

At the lunch stop, we stopped under some trees so that the goats could rest and cool down a bit. After the break, Luigi was much more lively and was like a different goat. For the rest of the hike he was more quiet that he was at the beginning. I think that he was slowly realising that I would not put up with much more nonsense from him!

The hike itself was not too difficult but it was made difficult by leading the goats. The place was beautiful, really stunning scenery and the weather was perfect. It made me think that I should go hiking more often. I enjoy being out in nature and it is good exercise so it's a no-brainer.

IMG_7463I took quite a lot of photos but the photos don't do the landscape justice. It reminded me that I live it such an amazingly beautiful place. I spend so many weekends in other places that I feel I have missed out on seeing a lot of Switzerland. There are so many places to discover and, if the weather is good, it is just perfect.

Now I am back at home and relaxing after a long, interesting day and I am ready to curl up with a book for the rest of the evening. Coincidently I am currently reading a book called The Trouble with Sheep and Goats by Joanna Cannon. So far, it hasn't mentioned anythign about difficulties of leading them through the Swiss Alps when they are hungry and I am more than half of the way through. Maybe that will come in the next chapter.

 

Happy Birthday Switzerland!

1 Aug

August 1st is the National Day of Switzerland which means that it’s a public holiday so no work today. Unlike a British Bank Holiday, the weather today is really good. It is meant to be around 34 degrees this afternoon, which is one of the reasons why I dragged myself out of bed early this morning to go for a run. Though to be honest, the mercury was pushing 24 degrees at 9am, which is still too hot for me to be running or doing anything at all.

One of the things that I haven’t got my head around is how the public holidays work in Switzerland. Today we have the day off work but if the 1st August fell on a weekend, as it did in 2015, you don’t get a day off on Monday to compensate. It’s just tough luck! I also find it a bit odd that the bank holidays take place on the exact date and aren’t moved to the start or the end of a week. It is a bit disruptive for companies and workers alike.

It’s a bit surprising that a country that is renowned for precision and efficiency isn’t very efficient when it comes to public holidays. It is a huge myth that Europeans enjoy more bank holidays than their British counterparts. At least in England you aren’t cheated out of bank holidays when they fall on a weekend. There would be rioting in the streets if that was the case.

Every canton celebrates today as the National holiday but, depending on where you live, depends on the number of public holidays you get. Zürich is a Protestant canton historically but in Tessin, a Catholic canton, they have more holidays because they follow the Roman Catholic traditions and, therefore, celebrate more feast days in like with the Catholic calendar. If I had’ve known that in the beginning, perhaps I would have decided to move another canton and maximise holiday time.

I can’t complain though. As I was running this morning, there were lots of agricultural workers in the field picking the crops that are ready to go to the supermarkets tomorrow. My day doesn’t have to involve anything to strenuous, apart from enjoying the fireworks tonight.

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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.