Guests: How to Ride Swiss Trains

Post by Lauren

Swiss Trains are AMAZING. They run on time and get you to pretty much any place in Switzerland.

 

Handy map of Switzerland and its train system: http://www.swisstravelsystem.ch/fileadmin/pdf/STS-GB-M-11-EN-WEB.pdf

Here is some basic information on what approaches to take when buying train tickets:

DISCOUNTS FOR ANYONE:

Half fare card = 150 CHF to obtain – knocks all train / boat / cable-car purchases in half.
*You can just use it to reduce your fare in half
OR
    *Holders of half fare card may purchase day cards for 64 CHF which provide unlimited travel for a whole day on all SBB trains and Post Buses. Day cards after 9am are 48 CHF but can’t be used Sat, Sun or holidays
How it works: you must buy in Switzerland upon arrival. You must have a small passport photo.

Pro: If you are here a long time and are traveling long distances, it could be worth it

Con: It is a year pass, non transferable, and you wouldn’t be able to use it rest of year – unless you visit us again 🙂

DISCOUNTS, ONLY FOR TOURISTS:



Swiss Pass – must buy not in Switzerland at ST offices and travel agents or  www.swisstravelsystem.ch in advance of your trip. Covers all travel on rail, buses and boats and some cable ways. Must validate at airport upon landing in Switzerland. 4 day = 260 CHF, 8 day = 376 CHF, etc. Must be concurrent days. You get 15% discount for 2 adults.

Note: you must validate it to start or you’ll get in trouble

Pro: If you travel every day long distances, this is a good value

Con: Must be used in concurrent days so isn’t a good value if you are resting in cities or in Geneva other days
OR

Swiss Flexi Pass – allows between 3 and 6 days travel within one month. You get 15% discount for 2 adults. On the travel days, you can have free travel on most public transport. On days in between, you can travel for half the fare. You are also entitled to receive a discount on many gondolas, funiculars and mountain trains.
3 days = 249 CHF
4 days = 302 CHF
5 days = 349 CHF
Note: you must validate it for the days you use it

Pro: Makes a lot of sense if you are here for a week and we are traveling a lot in Switzerland
For more, see this: http://www.myswissalps.com/swissflexipass.asp?lang=EN

OR, BUY AS YOU GO

Supersaver single tickets – provide large discounts on selected long distance routes – http://sparbillette.sbb.ch  (limited in number and only 14 days out).
Pro: Good to know about for one-off trips

Con: you can’t book up until 14 days in advance

OR

We can buy as we go on the machines at the train station. You can see timetables and quote trips at:

http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html

Pro: flexibility
Con: not as many savings

General Tips:

What is best is to do the math for the individual trips. Example, If you invest in a 150 Half fare card, you can deduct the fares in half, but do the number of trips make up the 150 CHF investment? With the Swiss Flexi pass, are your savings more than adding up the trips? If not, it might be cheaper to buy as you go. Use this URL to quote one-off trips:
http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html

Please note that with day passes, Swiss passes and Swiss Flexi passes, you must Validate your ticket in an orange machine, provided on all platforms by inserting the ticket into the slot.

Some things to know about Swiss trains:

-The big train signs that show where to go to catch it always list the end destination. If you are not going to its’ end destination, make sure to note the other stops to confirm it is your train. It will then give you a “Voie” or “Bin” which means the # of the track your train will come on. Sub tips:
-If your destination isn’t listed and its more than 15 minutes until yours departs, don’t assume you are in the wrong place. Trains come through every 10-15 minutes so yours will show up soon if you are the correct Voie.
-Once its time for yours, your board will change. Then the next train that arrives is safe to get on. Also use the clock shown to verify. If its 13:29 (1:29pm), then its too early for the 13:42. If its 13:35-13:40, then this is about the time when it will arrive.

-Take heed to make sure you enter the trains marked 2 if you are in 2nd class. Otherwise, you might be contributing to Switzerland’s economy more than you want. We learned this the hard way.

-They don’t check your ticket to get on the train, but shortly into the trip, someone comes by. You must have all forms of documentation – for example, your ticket plus your half fare card together.

-They have bathrooms

– They do have a drink/food cart and on longer trains, a dining car. However, the food cart doesn’t look appealing and is expensive so consider bringing your own snacks and food (plus a bottle of wine!)

-You do not get assigned seats unless you are going to another country (France, Italy) or riding a scenic train (Glacier Express, Golden Pass, Bernina Express, William Tell). But you might get booted at some point from yours if you are sitting in someone’s who is doing a trip like this.

-If you ride the scenic trains, you need a reservation in addition to your ticket. We can help you get that at the station.

-You can generally get off in a city that looks appealing for a few hours, and hop on a later train to your destination

Bon voyage!

 

Guests: What you need to know!

Post by Lauren

We have visitors coming soon!! The next few posts are all about what you need to know when you visit us.

Logistics wise:

-We live in Geneva, so the GVA airport is the best to fly into. It is only 20 minutes driving or a 30 minute bus ride from our house.

-If we are picking you up: when you exit baggage claim, there is only one exit to the GVA airport so don’t worry about getting lost! We’ll be there waiting!

-If for some reason you are taking public transportation, please note that you can get a free transportation ticket in the baggage claim area, good for one hour. Make sure to get it at the time when you are leaving so you maximize the hour.

Push the button to get a free TPG ticket. Wait until right before you leave to maximize the hour!

 

What to Bring:

-Many of your small electronics may not work. We have a Swiss hairdryer, so don’t bother to bring yours. Use your curling irons and straigteners at your own risk as the electricity is known to eat them.

-We have a Swiss converter for you to use while you are here. But, if you are going to another country, you may want to buy one in advance for that country since the Swiss one is special.

-If you want to pack lighter and bring only a few outfits, you are welcome to do laundry while you are here. Just know that it takes 5 hours for one load. I will also make you do it so you get to see how fun it is!

-If you have any specific medicines you use or think you might need, bring them. They don’t have things like cold medicine, Pepto Bismol, etc. here. We do have a stock of American Advil and common pain killers though.

-If you have any special things you like, such as Lipton Tea or Sweet & Low, you may want to bring a stash. We don’t have that stuff here either.

-Same goes for snacks. It’s good to maybe bring a stash of your favorite stuff for day trips since a bag of chips at a convenience store will cost 8 francs. Also, they might not have a selection you like.

-We have towels, washcloths and linens so you don’t need to bring that stuff.

-We also have practical things like soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, band-aids, etc at our home so you can pack less of that. However, if you like a certain kind, feel free to bring it.

-If we are traveling during your stay to hotels, do bring a little bottle of conditioner if it something you like to use. European hotels don’t provide this. One of my pet peeves!!

-We only have one bathroom, so you may want a light robe or something to walk around in.

-The water is completely safe here and yummy. They have fountains everywhere. Bring a bottle to save money on buying bottled water.

-A large daybag or backpack could be handy for the plane carry-on and you
could also take it on our day trips.

-Women should bring a purse that zips fully and is secure. The main type of crime in Europe is pickpocketing, not violent crime, so you should select a purse that can be
closed up easily.

-If you are doing a smaller trip without us, you are welcome to borrow a backpack or small suitcase of ours.

Finances and Budgeting:

-Depending on where we go, you could need Swiss Francs and Euros (over the border). We recommend that you use an ATM card to take out money at an ATM here. There are a lot of ATMs at the Geneva airport, and around town. You could get them before you leave the US, but most banks charge $10 or so to order them for you, which is more than your fee will be taking the cash out here.

-You can use your credit card for big activities like train tickets, cable car rides and hotels. But, please be warned you’re your card could have a fee associated with it, at 1-2% for International purchases. Also, do not assume you can use your credit card at restaurants, convenience stores, or for street food….this is more of a cash society and they are often not taken.

-Call your credit card company beforehand if you plan to use your card while you are here….just to avoid it being shut off when they see a European purchase

-Switzerland is expensive! We can make meals at home as much as you like, such as breakfasts and dinners, but here is what to budget:

-Breakfast out if not provided by us or hotel: around 10 CHF for coffee & a pastry
-Lunches out: 15 CHF minimum but most places are 20-30 CHF
-Dinners out: 20-30 CHF minimum
-A soda or a water at a cafe: 5-6 CHF
-Train tickets: One hour away – about 30 CHF, two hours, about 50 CHF. See tomorrow’s train post for savings.
-If we’ll be taking public transportation, it only takes coins (3.50 CHF/one or 8-10 CHF/day), so keep your change. Also note that it doesn’t give change so its good to have lots of change handy so that you have the right amount.

-The exchange rate fluctuates between 10-20% over the dollar. So just know that if its marked CHF, its 10-20% more than the USD depending on when your visit is.

Other Travel tips:

-Make a color copy of your passport to slip into each luggage that you bring. Just in case it is stolen, its easier to recover with a copy.

-Always be aware of your belongings. Keep purses and backpacks in your lap on public transportation vs. at your side or on your back. Keep purses in your lap when eating at a restaurant vs. on the back of your chair. If you sit your backpack down on the ground when you are eating, loop your foot through the strap so that it can’t be grabbed. We don’t mean to scare you as you’ll be safe….the crime is just limited to theft. However, we know many very smart and alert people who have been robbed in Europe. Just remember, it is these people’s profession and they are GOOD at stealing.

-If you are traveling without us, its good practice to pick up a hotel card so you always have it in case you get lost, you can use it to get directions or a cab ride.

Gratitude Friday: Swiss Water

Post by Lauren

One of my favorite things about Switzerland is the abundance of free yummy water.

Whether you are in an urban area, a small town, or the middle of the countryside, you are sure to find a babbling spout, as can be seen below. You can easily fill your bottle up no matter where you are.

In the US we have things like this but you wouldn’t dare drink out of it. However, here is is 100% safe and super tasty. I have been told the water supply is monitored three times a day to monitor for any abnormalities. From the swissworld site, they quote:

The drinking water that comes out of Swiss taps is as pure as bottled mineral water – and 500 times cheaper.

In a country where everything is expensive, I am grateful for this natural perk.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

A page from the Swiss rulebook: Visit and Thank you specifics

Post by Lauren

When moving to Switzerland, I read quite a lot about how to properly thank people and what to bring when you are invited to a true Swiss person’s home. All these books advised that it would be quite rare to actually get invited to a Swiss home as an ex-pat, since they only invite trusted long term friends vs. folks who are only here in two year stints. ( See more on this and tu and vous on Schwingen in Switzerland )

However, I thought we better be prepared, so I have noted the following:

Rule #1 – When going to a dinner party, you should bring a gift for the gentleman and a gift for the lady. So, perhaps a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers. Or chocolate for her and whisky for him.

We saw this when Gabe’s co-workers came to pick up the large items we had included in our shipment for them, after they found out it wasn’t possible to buy in Switzerland. They brought him a very nice bottle of champagne and me this gorgeous orchid that has been adding so much color to our home this summer. They obviously read the manual and I was impressed by their gesture.

Sub-Rule 1a – if there are children, you must also bring something for them like a chocolate or a toy.

Sub-Rule 1b – if you bring wine, it is noted to make sure it is of high quality.

Check. Good to know not to bring the Boones farm to the nice gatherings.

Sub-rule 1c – if you bring flowers, they should not be carnations, or lilies which mean death or yellow roses.

Sub-rule 1c1 – do not ever bring an even number of flowers. Only odd. Its bad luck to bring even.

Glad to know about the even/odd thing. I’ll make sure to note this.

However, I am concerned that they had to put the clause about buying carnations in this book…who is out there buying carnations anymore?

Rule # 2 – Always wait for your guest to offer a toast such as “Santé”* before drinking. Don’t clink your glasses like American’s do. Make sure to stare deeply into everyone’s eyes before taking a sip.

Check. I can handle that. We have actually been practicing the “santé” quite a bit. Except everyone seems to interpret “deeply” as “creepy”. See A executing the creepy santé below.

Rule #3 – leave by 9pm.

Check. When I lived in Charlotte and went to the gym at 5am, I can appreciate this rule. Most of my Charlotte friends have witnessed me falling asleep at my own dinner party. That was usually their signal to leave.

Also, we have heard that we shouldn’t make noise between 8pm and 8am. So, no running the dishwasher, washer/dryer and certainly no footsteps. We haven’t had any issues with neighbors so far, but our friends have had neighbors approach them and tell them that they won’t think twice about calling the police if they hear a peep from them after 10pm.

Rule # 4 – never ever show up at someone’s door unannounced. The Swiss are very private people.

Check. Every building has a door code anyway. I don’t plan on breaking in to crash on new nonexistent Swiss friends.

So far we have only done Canadienne Buffets at friends homes, more in the style we are used to. We like this as everyone just brings a dish and we don’t have to buy each other gifts ever time we go over to each others houses. But now we are prepared in the case of Swiss friends. We shall keep you posted if we ever need to use such rules! I’m not banking on it….

*Santé means “to your health” and is pronounced sonn-tay! You should try it at home.

 

A page from the Swiss Rule Book: Personal Space

Post by Lauren

Today we are addressing the Swiss rule book on personal space. Or lack thereof.

My displeasure at this cultural difference has been brewing for months. It erupted most often prior to most recent events at IKEA. As you shop at European IKEAs, people brush beside you, even where there is plenty of room. By the time we get to the frames, I am usually really to kill somebody. Gabe knows I have a time limit at IKEA due to this issue and tries to get me out of there in under an hour. Sometimes we had to go only in for one thing as we knew that the time to decide on two items might push me over the hour limit, and thus over the edge of sanity.

This place makes me go bonkers

While noticeable throughout the summer, the invasion of personal space became a forgotten thing at the end of the summer. I spent a lot of time back in the US where everyone sticks to themselves.

And upon return to Europe, the number of people in Geneva has multiplied. Like rabbits. If you were wondering where they went, they were all on vacation. Trams, buses, places are generally more crowded. In a crowd, one might try to separate from others to not invade another’s area. Not true in Switzerland. Even in empty places, they try to snuggle up next to you.

Yesterday, I went to the gym at 6:45am. The bus is empty at that hour. People usually don’t get going until 9am. So, I happily found an empty row on the bus. There were about 10 empty rows. I even had room to put my gym bag / purse on the seat next to me. So guess what next lady to board does? Sit beside me. I had to move my bag to my lap. Really?

And this morning, Gabe and I went together to the gym at 6:30am. Empty. Blissful. You get your pick of equipment. I laid a mat down to do abs for 20 minutes before disco spin. And my keys to my locker that i have to keep up with the whole time. On the vast vast vast floor, a lady comes and lays her mat on top of my keys about 3 inches from me. I said “pardon” and reached under her mat to get my keys. And she gave me a nasty look. Really?

I am just waiting for what fun is in store for space invasion tomorrow. I am considering getting a bubble suit to protect myself.

The cure for jet lag

Post by Lauren

Transatlantic flights are getting easier with time. In fact, on this latest jaunt to the US and back, it only took one day for the jet lag to wear off, both ways. So glad that I am finally getting the hang of it, and wanted to share my recommendations for those traveling through multiple time zones:

Okay - you got me. This wasn't the plane I took.

From USA to Europe:
Upon landing, try to stay awake as long as possible. No naps. Take a nap and you will get screwy. Try to find sunlight and stay outside in it to start to teach your body about the new time zone. Since I don’t sleep well on the transatlantic flights, usually the max that I can make it is 7pm. This is generally good enough. Take some sort of sleep aid to ensure you can stay asleep as long as your body needs. This is usually about 11 hours for Gabe and I.

From Europe to USA:
Same rule about staying up as long as possible, so you adjust to the new time zone. I can usually make it to 7pm* or 8pm in this case.

Other tips for flying long flights and jet lag:
–Drink lots and lots of water to avoid dehydration. They say that you need an extra cup for every hour you are in the air, but take in as much as you can physically drink . They also usually have a beverage stand in the galley of most large planes. Visit it often to get more liquid intake.
–Eyemasks, earplugs and a neck pillow help me sleep better on the redeyes overseas so that the noise and light doesn’t bother me. I also have a special potion of Tylenol PM + 2 glasses of red wine that assists my ability to sleep. Check out my friend A’s recap of her latest transatlantic flight for more insights and tips.
–Don’t schedule anything important for the first evening of arrival – you will be a zombie and typically not functioning*

*On the night Gabe planned to propose to me (our two year anniversary), we had just landed back into the US from our first introductory trip to Switzerland and I was terribly jet lagged. I fell asleep around 7pm, before he could do it! Luckily it worked just as well the next morning!

 

A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: The Dryer

Post by Lauren

It isn’t unusual to see people wear the same outfit for a few days in a row in Europe. It’s a very common occurrence for your professor to wear the same outfit all week, or co-workers.

One theory I have is on the difficulty of doing laundry. We find ourselves very lucky to have a washer/dryer in our place. This isn’t normal. There are two main reasons someone wouldn’t have this in their home:
1. most buildings are older and don’t have the hookups.
2. the price is insane. I mean insane.

Buying a W/D in the US isn’t that bad. I did get a GE Friends and Family deal, but think mine maybe cost 800 for both, including the delivery. We were floored by prices upon arrival here. The low end units are about 3000 CHF for a pair, with most being in the 5000-6000 / pair range. Add on 20% for exchange rate and it ends up being more than a lot of cars.

I actually recently learned that there is a reason….that is, beyond the fact that everything is just laughably more expensive here. On of my books states that everything is tinier in Switzerland so they have to make special W/D units for this little country in order for them to fit into most bathrooms. You can then see how producing only a few units a year would raise the prices. And thank goodness we have the tiny ones. As you read in our post about their arrival, there are only 6 inches between the edge and our shower pit currently. If it were bigger, we couldn’t fit in the shower.

Don't be jealous that I can do laundry and shower at the same time.

But, these little guys can’t fit but maybe 8 garments at a time. Or two towels. Or maybe one set of sheets – if you are lucky to get the fitted and the normal in the same load. And then it takes 5 hours to do a completely load as the washer cycle is 2:20 and the dryer is 2:30. Don’t even think you’d be lucky enough to have a set of dry clothes after 2 ½ hours either. They are still wet at that point. I think it is some sort of protective mechanism to prevent wasting electricity. I mean, why would you even want your clothes to be dry when they come out of the dryer? So wasteful. Just kidding. I only have that attitude since I can’t trick the darn thing. I try to empty the bladder* turn it off/on and confuse the machine to dry it like a fresh load, but it knows. It’s smart. It turns for a minute until I leave the room. Then it shuts off again. There is no tricking a Swiss dryer to waste electricity. It wouldn’t be very Swiss of it. So I still have to air dry everything all over the house after it has dryer time.

*Don’t be jealous of the fact that our dryer has a bladder. You have to empty it after every load or else nothing gets dry at all. Don’t believe me or know what a dryer bladder is? Here is a shot….luckily the bathtub is right there so i don’t have to find out where to dump the entire tank.

This must be emptied between every load and sometimes during loads with heavy items like towels

Why Everything is Always Closed in Europe

Post by Lauren

Before we decided to move, one of Gabe’s cons to moving to Switzerland was that stores weren’t open on Sundays. I questioned why that mattered so much and proclaimed that I would gladly exchange my current over-stressed situation for one that forbade errands to be done on Sunday. It would give me a chance to relax, after all instead of to squeeze in 10 errands from dawn til dusk! He just shrugged.

The jury is still out on preference, but I will admit I was a bit naïve on the impact this has to day-to-day life. I figured it was time to delve into the topic of Sunday closings as well as European vacation time.

Stores
Here is how it works here, without exception:

#1: All stores are open 9-7pm** on weekdays. They close at 5 or 6pm on Saturdays. Clincher: this includes ALL grocery stores.
#2: All stores are closed on Sundays. Clincher: this includes ALL grocery stores
#3: Stores are closed on any holiday. Even the random ones in the middle of the week that no one has ever heard of. Clincher: this includes ALL grocery stores

**Note, most of the time small stores, post offices, and independent businesses are also closed two hours for lunch. Forget getting stamps or nails from the hardware store during this time.

The nice thing is you don’t have to wonder if a store opens late on Sunday or is open on Sunday. In the US it was only Chic-fil-a you had to be careful of. Here, you just know its EVERYTHING!

Grande Vacances

You may already know that Europeans take off 4-8 weeks every summer for their grande vacances. We knew this from working with Europeans in the US but never gave a ton of thought to it except to be jealous.

When we first moved, a lot of people asked us where we were taking our holiday. I would reply that we were just working on settling and we planned to take some time in the winter holidays to visit friends and family. They would look at me strangely.

My French tutor informed me in mid-June that she was going to depart in a week for 6-8 weeks of vacation and we’d resume in mid-August, date TBD. I asked if we were still meeting the next week since she still had a week before she left. She looked at me funny and told me she had to pack over the next week for vacation. Oh.

Gabe was on a conference call and the question came up as one of the managers wanted to get the schedule straight of who was in when. Pretty much every single person he works with is off at least a full month in July/August. He likes it as he is getting to do a lot of big independent projects without a single person in the office.

While this works for Gabe, if you are in client services, you can’t work as your client is gone. Our friend A works with a client who was closed for August, so they encouraged him to take the month off as well.

It is very common to see signs all over town – restaurants, businesses – just closed for 8 weeks. A ran into this when she was baking her cake treats for a Canadienne buffet. The only bake shop in Geneva is closed for the entire summer, so she had to make do without it. We ran into last night when out to dinner with S & S. We arrived to the restaurant I selected in Carouge to find “closed” signs on a primo Saturday night due to their 3 week vacation.

This concept is very hard for Americans to understand. We have a personality of production and are generally not given a lot of vacation time. A few of us had a big conversation on this at the AIWC one day. How do they afford to take four weeks on vacation? How do businesses run without anyone there for 4 weeks? Don’t they need groceries on Sunday? What if you need medicine? If you are single and work full time, how do you ever get groceries or necessities…especially with so many lunch closings!?

The short answer that I was given is that it’s for their health. The Europeans believe that they will simply get sick if they don’t take at least a month off to decompress in the summer. While it is a stretch to afford a four week trip, they truly think they can’t afford not to do it in terms of stress/illness.

And in regards to the Sunday closings and early evening closings, that is the time that they set aside for families and charging their “batteries”. That is why it is forbidden to do any type of work – cleaning house, yard-work, taking out the trash, recycling, laundry, even drying laundry on a Sunday or after 8pm. It’s a time for rest for everyone. You aren’t allowed to exercise your hyper-productivity as a foreigner either. You’ll be pointed at and corrected.

And, it actually isn’t rooted in religion like you might think. My theory is that it maybe originally was. But now, its simply that they fear the stress will kill them.

Switzerland has the #4 life expectancy rate in the world. Take a look at this life expectancy chart. Many Western European nations are at the top. Should I continue to complain or take heed….maybe they have figured something out?

 

Planes, Trains, Trams, Buses and Tubes, but no automobiles

These are all modes of transportation we took in a 3 hour period while going from Geneva to London. Granted, I’ll take fault on actually using both trains and trams in Geneva instead of a simple bus connection, but that is a really long story and we’ll just leave it at 3 simple tips for our Genevan friends:

1. When you plan a better route and the other bus option rolls up, stick with your pre-planned choice, especially when it involves an early airport connection
2. Never connect in Bel-Air with a 2 minute change unless you really know what you are doing, especially when it involves an early airport connection
3. Don’t rely on the train station always having an instant train to the airport, sometimes it can be up to 20 minutes. While this 20 minute wait allows for a delicious latte and roast beef sandwich train station breakfast for Gabe, its not a comfortable amount of time, especially when it involves an early airport connection.

Nonetheless, we both boarded our 7:30am flights to London, on separate airlines. Upon arrival, we realized we were in different terminals so actually just met in Hyde Park via the Tube. Which, by the way, is awesome! Mind the gap!

It is pretty amazing how we both ended up getting there and meeting without using a single automobile. Its so cool how this is so common all over Europe.