Gratitude Friday: Our time in Geneva

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Thank you, Geneva.   We are grateful for our time here.   We have learned many valuable lessons.

We have struggled with a new language, cursing it, shedding tears, and jumping for joy when finally mastering a phrase or actually starting to form these foreign sentences in our own heads. While we still are far from French speakers, we value what it has taught us.  Humiliation (ourselves).  Appreciation (those who are kind to us even when we butcher the pronunciation).  Admiration (that the Europeans know so many languages).

We realized a language barrier isn’t always the biggest roadblock.  Most of the time, we delighted at the cultural differences.  Other days, we didn’t.    We judged when to bend the rules (still running at crosswalks sometimes) and when to really respect them (Bonjour, Madame.  Bonjour Monsieur).

We met truly interesting people.  The small table, 3 serving dishes, and 6-place setting we brought thinking we wouldn’t meet any true friends here, soon became a laugh.     We were fortunate and met oodles of fantastic people.   We learned from them.  We traveled with them.   We taught them about Halloween, 4th of July, and Thanksgiving.  They generously shared their customs with us.   Our way of thinking and understanding the world broadened and became different because of them.

At work and through my volunteering, we got exposure to having a professional relationship with different nationalities.  At first, we languished the difference in speed and approach, yet walked away later thinking maybe our workaholic mentality has a lot to learn from other countries.

We fell into the pace.  While we once spent life apart in different cities, we enjoyed precious evenings together.  Just us.  No obligations.  No dozens of activities to consider and balance.   We only had a working TV for half the time and didn’t miss it a bit (maybe had to do with my VT football team having such a cruddy season!).   We walked to the market on Saturdays we were here, just to buy a fresh chicken and some vegetables.  We attended every festival Geneva had to offer and came to really adore the fabulous street food that came with it…roasted boar anyone?     We embraced a leisurely during-the-week  lifestyle with less stress and chaos.

We got healthy.  We enjoyed not eating steroid-induced, processed foods.   Gabe ate full fat yogurt every day (that tasted more like ice cream) for breakfast or a “pain au chocolat” which is like a croissant stuffed with chocolate.   He still lost 15 pounds over here.    I loved the bread, getting fresh baguettes a few times a week.  I went from needing chiropractic care, acupuncture and massage weekly for chronic back pain, to having a body free of any maladies.   When I went home, my masseuse, she said that my back…it wasn’t the same one she used to treat back then.

We became weekend warriors, soaking up all Switzerland and the neighboring countries had to offer.  We learned to adore France and eat our way through most of Italy, traveling to each country over 10 times.   We also made it to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scotland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Turkey, The Vatican, Monaco, Greece, Spain, Thailand, and Cambodia.   And visited over 30 UNESCO world heritage sites.  What I never dreamed I’d see in a lifetime became a reality in less than 2 years.

We fortunately skied on the Alps many times.  And we watched it snow almost every single day the December before we had to move.   We continually witnessed amazing winter wonderlands that continually took our breath away.  Long periods spent in the car became a delight instead of a dread….just seeing the snow on those Alps and those tall pines…I always got giddy.  God did amazing work here in this part of the world.

We built our first home here.  Having moved a few days after the wedding, we are honored to have spent the first year and a half of our marriage in this place.  We are grateful for the strong foundation that this expat experience brought to us.  We wouldn’t trade it for a thing.

Genève:  Merci beaucoup, toujours.  Au revoir, ma chère ville.

A Page From The Swiss Rule Book: Leaving Switzerland

For as hard as Switzerland is to get into as a resident, they surprisingly make it pretty hard to leave.   In the US, you just notify the post office, send friends & family a “New Address” card, and you are off.

Here are a few differences we encountered:

Uber-notification.   Globo Gym requires 3 months notice by registered post.    So I have to go to a post office, pay CHF 6 to send them a letter, signed in blue ink, by us.    Also required as an attachment is an official letter from the company or a copy of a one-way plane ticket showing your departure.   We ourselves received five weeks notice on our move, and still don’t even know where we are officially going.   I actually composed the letter the day I received the official notification from Gabe’s company we had to depart Geneva.  While it was Dec 4, and we were leaving Jan 14, I figured we’d have to eat the other 7 weeks of membership.   In turn, I received a letter notifying us our membership was cancelled effective APRIL 1, 2013.   My Dec 4 letter wouldn’t take affect until the next first of the next month..January 1.   So, we are looking forward to paying 750 CHF extra in gym fees AFTER we leave.  This is coming from a gym we belonged to for 20 months.

Permission to leave.   Before we can cancel things like our mobile phone or our internet, we have to have a letter from the canton (equivalent of county in the States) saying they acknowledge our departure. It also serves as a guarantee you are going to pay all your debts before you move, like your phone & electricity.   This becomes a problem when you get short notice like us.  You need the letter to do things….but you don’t know when/where you are going, so you don’t have firm details in order to secure the letter.

Flawlessness.   I had a Pre-Inspection one month prior to the move, so they could detect anything wrong with the flat so we’d have time to fix it.      I nervously cleaned the apartment from top to bottom and used an entire box of my imported Magic Erasers to clean up scuffs, deep clean the sink, and stove, before the committee was to come.    Even with my bad French, I knew the gentlemen muttering ” dommage” and “dégât” was not good news.   Before this, I thought “dégat” was reserved for circumstances like tornados and hurricanes but apparently not in the eyes of the Swiss.   Our  small apartment inhabited by just 2, no pets, for 1.5 years, and cleaned by me for a solid day, was in his mind, a ‘disastrous situation’.   Floor technicians – an actual hardwood company – had to be hired to address the scuff marks and scratch he saw.   Additionally, we had hung 20 paintings/photos on our walls.  I had to show evidence I’d paid a painter (CHF 150, in fact) to patch my holes….they required evidence of a professional….no DIY putty jobs here in Switzerland.

Also, after your movers come, you are required to hire a professional cleaning crew.    While Gabe’s company kindly helps us with this, this crew costs 1042 Swiss francs, so like 1200 USD for cleaning a tiny apartment.  Insanity.  And maybe I should’ve been a cleaning lady here.

Soon after, comes the Final Inspection.  This is where the committee judges your final work and decides if you are allowed to leave.   Not to put any stress on the plane tickets you have for the next day.

Turning Out the Lights.   In Europe, you have to provide your own light fixtures.  So, we had to purchase them or either live with a lone lightbulb dangling from each room.   We requested that we are happy to leave our fixtures here for the benefit of the next renter, since we cannot use them in the United States.  Perhaps it could save them a few hundred francs we wished we didn’t have to spend?   This was debated and in the end, we are allowed to leave OUR light fixtures here in our apartment….as long as we promised each would have fresh new bulbs.  It was cheaper than hiring an electrician, which is required for the electrical work to install and take down your fixtures.

Too bad one of the bulbs got stuck and we ended up having to hire an emergency electrician to help us out in changing to a new fixture to comply with the agreement.

Letting in Strangers. Even though we are renters, we are obligated to show people the flat who are interested in becoming the next tenants.   While it didn’t happen to us with our crazy tight timing, it would be expected that arrange our schedule we show them around, with a complete tour.   Isn’t this nuts for renters to have to do this?

Immediate Bank Account Closure.  You have 90 days to transfer all funds out of Switzerland.   These days, they aren’t too keen on Americans due to the US regulations which forced Switzerland to turn over private banking information.  Thus, you are only allowed Swiss bank accounts now as a resident.    You are given 90 days of course, so you can make sure to pay all those bills you owe from your move.  Ouch.

Oh, Switzerland, how I’m gonna miss your rules.

Saying Au Revoir

We are officially packed up and in a hotel.  Our entire Swiss household has been loaded into a container that will travel across the Atlantic arrive to the United States in March.

snowymove

Snowy moving day

Goodbyes are hard.  Today in particular.  I managed not to cry all day until a happy hour with Gabe’s colleagues where I erupted in emotion as they handed us a bag of Swiss memories – a fondue pot, chocolate, and a yodeling Swiss mug.   Yes, I cried over a yodeling mug.  But it had been building throughout the day, saying goodbye to some very special people.

And, let me tell you – another lesson learned….tears aren’t pleasant in below freezing temps.

Let’s hope for warmer weather tomorrow.

 

Switzerland’s Unsolved Mysteries

It makes me a little sad that it is time to leave, yet I haven’t solved some of Switzerland’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries.  Such as:

#1 :  Why doesn’t anyone carry water bottles in public in urban areas?    Sure, they order a petite bottle of Valser occasionally at the restaurant, but how do the city Swiss stay hydrated?  Whenever you are out in the urban Swiss cities, you never seeing people drinking water.  I know it is not as common to drink-on-the-go or eat-on-the-go here, but seriously, how do you stay hydrated???? Do you do it in secret?

#2:  Why are gym clothes so taboo?   I recall the time the fire alarm went off at Globo Gym, in the summer, mind you, and the attendants came running out with towels for everyone to cover up.   In 80 degree weather.    I think that I am the only person who wears gym clothes in public in Geneva.   Granted, I only do so when going to the gym, but why is there such a stigma around this?    The looks I get of confusion and pity are far worse than those given to homeless people on the streets.

#3:  Why the tram cram?  In a country known for order and discipline, why must everyone act in a “survival of the fittest” fashion when it comes to getting on & off buses, trams and trains?   I’ve witnessed old ladies being shoved out of the way in the hurry to hop aboard.  Why no line, people??

#4: Why does no one in Europe take a carry on bag onto planes?   Even the tiniest bag gets checked!  As a business traveler, I am used to packing everything in a carry on and never parting with it unless forced by a flight attendant.  It saves time and also risk of losing a bag on a short trip and not have access to your things.  What’s the secret here?

If you have any mysteries of your own or answers to these deep and meaningful inquiries, please leave a comment below!

The List: Favorite Trips Of All Time.

This post is dedicated to all the travelers out there.  We often get inquiries about our favorite places that we have visited outside of the US.  Before we forget, we wanted to leave detailed notes on our top picks in rank order.    Instead of putting it as a post and making it impossibly long to scroll through, we have created a new page on the site here.   You can find it in the future on the top menu of the blog. We pledge to continually update it through our travels!

The reasons we’ll miss Europe….and the reasons why we are excited to come home

Our time is running short.   There are lots of lists on the blog lately, but I thought I’d sum up our list on what we’ll miss and what we are excited to come home to.    If you are friends & family, it goes without saying….we can’t wait to see you and on the flipside to new Geneva friends, we’ll miss you.  So, here is the rundown of all the other things:

Why we will miss Geneva / Europe:

Respect for environment – Sure I may complain about the time it takes to recycle here, but these guys sure do have their stuff together when it comes to less waste.  And I challenge you to count the amount of to-go cups, bottles, you see walking around Geneva.  You may get to ten in one day of counting.   People don’t take the lazy way out as much as we do in the US.

In the end, I got used to separating 8 different types of recyclables and taking them to different places each week

Food supply – It’s nice not to question if your food is good for you or not.  I’m not talking about BigMacs here either.  In the USA, you always have to question what drugs your meat has been given and whether your apple has been hyped up with steroids. In Europe, these horrific practices are illegal.  We’ll be buying organic when we return. Our bodies have never felt better during our time in Geneva.

The Plainpalais farmer’s market

Pace – We have a really nice balance here.  Stores are closed after 7pm and on Sundays so that employees can spend time with their families.  Vacation time is revered & respected in Europe.   In the USA, people (including yours truly) tend to wear stress like a badge of honor.   I’ve heard it called “the rush to the grave”.  We will miss the slower pace here.
Public transport – It’s awesome not to get road rage from a car.  Not having driven the entire 1.5 years we lived in Europe, it is actually a refreshing change.  Also, it’s nice not to figure out who is driving when we go out for dinner or drinks….the bus is our automatic designated driver.

Hermes tram, I’m gonna miss you!

Squares/plazas – There is not much better in Europe that hanging out in a square / plaza, piazza, place or platz.   We love doing this when traveling.  We’ll miss having many options just walking distance from our flat.

Place du Molard, one of our favorites

Fashion – This was Gabe’s.  He enjoys the variety and trendiness.   This is actually not on my list….see point #4 below.

The man scarf with a tee shirt is popular here.

Multiculturalism – We are constantly surrounded by different cultures and traditions.  It is very eye-opening to have exposure to friends and co-workers from all over the world, who open our minds to new views.  We have learned a lot from them.
Easy International Travel – What do you mean we can’t jet off to Italy for the night?  This will undoubtedly be one of the biggest things we miss.  We loved the accessibility to new and different places in Europe.
Being uncomfortable daily – There is a quote from one of my favorite brands, Lululemon, that says “do something everyday that scares you”.   Living in Europe as a foreigner has given us plenty of opportunities for this saying.  Every day, we have our challenges.  And, I think it is good for us.  It has given us a real sense of adaptability and also humility.

Geneva can be a little cold & lonely. But that can be good.

Why we are excited to come home:

 
Customer service – We have been stripped of any expectation of customer service during our time in Europe.  Forget a waiter checking on you or actually having a issue resolved.  In Switzerland, the store owner is always right and you should feel indebted to him for being allowed to even enter their establishment.
Speed/efficiency – Being a person who loves things done fast, I had to give up on any shred of this in Switzerland.  Hello, bureaucracy.  Can’t wait to go back to the States where speed is a virtue.
Being able to read things – I look forward to understand packaging and all signs.  Okay, maybe not political signs but all the other ones.

Hopefully I won’t buy the wrong ingredients anymore!

Not walking all our groceries home – as charming as walking everywhere is, hauling all your goods on your back is not so charming.  More like sweat and tear inducing.  I will vow to take my bike to the farmers market, bakery and occasionally the Harris Teeter, but will be happy never to have to carry all our groceries up “devil hill” anymore.

Won’t miss you, grocery cart thing

Gym clothes are okay – As someone who has gotten worse looks that the average Geneva homeless person, I can’t wait to get back to a country where it isn’t a crime to grocery shop in your lululemon. Seriously, people.  How do you wear your stilettos on cobblestones anyhow?

Grilling – oh how we have missed the deliciousness of grilled meat.  the fun of a backyard BBQ.  Corn on the cob. Baked beans. Steaks that actually taste good.  Mmmmmm.

No more fake grill

Laundry horror stories  – Having a load of laundry take less than an hour……heaven.

Won’t miss the 5 hour load, or having restricted hours!

Closet space – in Charlotte, my closet was actually the previous owners’ nursery.   Moving into a closet that was smaller than any broom closet I’ve ever seen, my clothing will be very happy to spread out. Even sharing with my hubby still gives both of us each 6x the room we have in Switzerland.

Lack of cobblestones – Sure cobblestones add charm and character.  But living with them and walking on them in day-to-day living can grow old.  I’m excited for some flat pavement.

Control over our own thermostat.  Living in a flat, we are at the mercy of when the regie thinks it is appropriate to turn on the heat in the winter.  Also, as much as we got accustomed to living without air conditioning, it can be hard to sleep in 95 degree heat sans A/C.  We’ll use our heat and A/C more sparingly now but will be awesome to have control again.

I was always one cold ducky

Gratitude Friday: Sunny Saturdays

Last weekend, we actually split up to experience some of our bucket list items remaining.

Gabe skied with Finnish friend A at Les Contamines, France for the day.  With my feet still not up to par for skiing, I opted for a scenic train to Rochers-de-Naye.

The guys enjoyed the day at Les Contamines, with sunny skies and great slopes.

Views at Les Contamines

Views at Les Contamines

I also enjoyed my day on the train at at Rochers-de-Naye.   One of the things that I love about living here is how much people take advantage of beautiful days.   I talked about this mentality in my “Profiter” post, but here are just a few examples of what I saw at the main station on the way out to my day trip:

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Skiers and hikers of all ages, ready to board the train

The reason I selected Rochers-de-Naye is because of its 2000m position at the far end of Lake Geneva.  I heard the views were magnificent and you could see almost the entire lake from the summit.  Having confirmed sunny skies, I set off on the two hour journey.

I quickly learned that sunny skies at Rochers-de-Naye and sunny skies over Lake Geneva were two different things:

Evidence of the permacloud

Evidence of the permacloud.  Lake Geneva is below the layer.

Nonetheless, I thought the ambience was pretty neat with the mysterious cover.   Despite my ill preparations of not wearing snow shoes (oops), I had fun seeing the mountains.

Gorgeous views @ Rochers-de-Naye

Gorgeous views @ Rochers-de-Naye

I didn’t happen to notice anything peculiar about the above scene.  However, when I was showing my French teacher, she commented….”ah, Mount Cervin”.   If you look at the pointed mountain in the distance of the photo, that is the infamous Matterhorn.  Wish the view was this clear when we were in Zermatt!

Also of note, the summit hosts 7 Mongolian yourts, which each sleep 8 people.   The ski slopes are only steps from the little huts, so you can easily ski from your doorstep in the winter, or hike in the summer.

Yourt with blue door

Yourt with blue door

Yourt with red door

Yourt with red door

After about 2 hours, I got a little break in the clouds to envision what the view would look like on a clear day.

Lake Geneva starting to show

The blue of Lake Geneva starting to show

We are both grateful for the beautiful weekend to experience some of our final must-do’s!

Related posts:

The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People: A New Year, Another Mountain, And A Gnome

Schwingen in Switzerland: It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye

The Swiss Watch Blog: Gratitude Friday – Ski School

Sending Away for a Swiss Army Knife

 

There is no doubt; I am still a child at heart.

Shortly after moving to Switzerland, we made a trip to Gruyères to taste cheese and visit the village.  During our cheese tour I came across a promotional offer for Swiss cheeses.

“receive a free cheese knife with four swiss cheese proof of purchase and 20 francs”

It immediately caught my eye because this promotion wasn’t for just any cheese knife.  It was for the ultimate utilitarian cheese knife made by Swiss Army.  Complete with cheese blade, cerated bread blade and, of course, corkscrew bottle opener.  I knew immediately I had to have it.

Given my penchant for cheese, it took no time at all to collect enough proofs of purchase to send away for my knife.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect when dropping the envelope into the mail.  Did I translate the offer correctly? How long would it take?  Would I ever see my Swiss Army cheese knife?

But with the precision of a Swiss watch, my cheese knife arrived in the mail less than two weeks later.  With the eagerness and awe of a small boy I opened my package. I didn’t image that such a treasure could be had so easily!

The box

The anticipation builds

And….cheese knife!

Blades for cheese and bread

Corkscrew for wine

 

Since that time it has gotten lots of use during our time in Geneva…picnics at the lake, road trip snacks, train ride meals with family/friends and, most recently, ski weekend meals in the mountains.

The French Cougar using the knife on the Glacier Express

So don’t forget to ask to see the cheese knife the next time you see me.  I am always happy to show off my new toy.

A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: Duties of Swiss Citizens

Many say Switzerland is said to have the most trained army in the world.  For a neutral country, you might find it surprising.   However, with their central location and a century of world wars, they had a need to be prepared.

Even today, as a Swiss man, you must serve in the military. If you aren’t qualified to be in the military or don’t fit the requirements, you can be exempted.  However, you must pay an additional 3% income tax until the age of 30.

As a Swiss woman, you can volunteer to serve, but it isn’t required.  It also isn’t required for foreigners.

My 86-year old French teacher, E, has told us on multiple occasions about the potato patches that apartment dwellers were allowed to cultivate in city parks.   She went on to say that if you own land in Switzerland, you are still required keep a potato patch.  Thus, if the country goes to war, there is a food supply to rely on.  I haven’t been able to find much evidence of it online, but I find it interesting that it could be still residual from WW2.  Although, a simple trip to the grocery store shows that they are in full agreement of supporting their own food infrastructure as a result of the wars.

You may recall from our post on our basement, that all buildings must have bomb shelters.  In fact, Switzerland can house 114% of its citizens in these fortifications if something happens.

Today, you can tour many of the secret fortresses built in the World Wars.  Many of the links below detail more about the cool places you can visit.

Related Links:

Rick Steves – Swiss Military Secrets

Wikipedia – Gun Politics in Switzerland

The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People – In Plain Sight: Villa Verte and Villa Rose

Schwingen in Switzerland – The Swiss Army – Ready to Blow Their Country to Smithereens

Schwingen in Switzerland - The Tobelerone Line, One Sweet Barrier

Schwingen in Switzerland – Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?

Schwingen in Switzerland –   Fun in the Alpine Fortress of Furigen

The Swiss Rule Book: Drinking in Public

Drinking in public isn’t a big deal in Europe.    We are constantly reminded of this with our guests.  We bring along a bottle of wine to a picnic or on a train and they ask us, “you can’t actually drink that here, can you?”.     The answer is yes.      Europeans are far more lax about things like this.  As a result, there are actually far less drunk people because it isn’t so taboo.  In fact, the Swiss can start drinking wine and beer at 16.  It’s 18 for hard liquor.  And, we have never seen drunk teens.

Here are a few photographic reasons to further demonstrate the point:

Recently, in Italy, we had a glass of champagne at a risotto fair.   They gave us cloth glass holders to string around our neck so that we could take it “to go”.   This has become my favorite new accessory.

Me with my champagne glass necklace, walking around town

They  put reminders up about the legal drinking age:

Babies can't drink in public.

Babies can’t drink in public.

However, some don’t pay attention.

Before….

After….

Sorry little guy.  You have to wait a few years.

And, those ‘on duty’ don’t mind enjoying a cold one.

This guy might have just had his 16th birthday

People drink in random places.   It is most common on the bus to see a guy in a suit enjoying a beer on his way home from work.   I prefer this photo of a lady in her 70’s opening up her bottle she purchased grocery shopping and drinking it out of the bottle at the bus stop.  There is no time like the present.

It’s 5 o’ clock somewhere.

Here’s hoping that this New Years Day, you didn’t have too much to drink!