It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s officially Christmas season in Geneva.

My favorite addition is the large Sapine de Noël (Christmas Tree) at Place du Molard.   Each morning I walked to the gym, I noted its progress.

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Day 1….Tree going up

Tree being decorated

Day 2….Tree being decorated

And...magic

Day 3..magic

In our household as well, our tree has been fully decorated.   However, it pales in size compared to the one in Place du Molard.   While we bought the largest the store offered, I am still taller than it.

Most people don't have to bend over to decorate their tree

Most people don’t have to bend over to decorate their tree.  Our fern is also almost bigger than the tree. 

Tree with a snowy backyard in the background

Daytime tree with a snowy background

Because we did not bring any decorations with us in the move, we have been accumulating ornaments from some places we’ve traveled, to complement our paper ones we made last year.  These include a bike from Brugge, some tiny clogs from Amsterdam, a snowy chalet from Chamonix, a hot air balloon from Chateaux-D’Oex:

Sometimes, when we couldn’t find an ornament, we had to get creative.  Take this airplane bottle of Scotch for example.   Hey, we had to have something from Scotland!

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We will miss going back to the States this year for sure.  However, it does feel good to be surrounded by the signs of Christmas already in Geneva.

Gratitude Friday: A Blue Sky in November

This week, I have been in a bit of an Eeyore mood.   Not sure if it is November in Geneva, the perma-cloud the rests above the city for 1-2 months this time of year, the incessant rain, or the fact we are still in limbo with our next steps & move.

Image courtesy of tvtropes.org

But low and behold…..today, out came the blue skies, if even just for a bit.

I captured this shot on my iPhone last night while waiting for the bus:

I am thankful for a small break in the rain and clouds, especially this burst of blue & cotton candy in normally dreary November.

Bon weekend, everyone.

Gratitude Friday: Thanksgiving

We weren’t able to make it home this year for Thanksgiving.   It is the first time for both of us not seeing family during at least one to two days over the long weekend.  To boot, Gabe doesn’t get Thanksgiving off as he is on the European system.

Instead of being sad, we decided to infuse Thanksgiving into Geneva by hosting a traditional dinner at our flat.   Our group was comprised of 5 from the United States, 1 from Ireland, 1 from Finland, and 1 from Germany.  Oh, and a Swiss dog!   It was our first International Thanksgiving.

Those of us from the US made some traditional dishes –  green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.   It was my first attempt at making turkey and we used the recipe from this site.      Many thanks to the friends and family who sent me recipes over email since I was nervous.

My “Virginia biscuits” didn’t turn out so hot, due to the fact they don’t have self rising flour here.  Oopsie.    The pumpkin pie had a crater, but oh well. It still tasted like a piece of home, and was fun to share an ‘authentic’ Thanksgiving with our friends from other countries.

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While we miss our family and friends back home, we feel fortunate to have been surrounded by wonderful friends and good and plentiful food.

Bon weekend everyone!

Headlines from Geneva

I always glance at the headlines of  Le Matin and Tribune de Genève while walking down rue de Rhône each day to the gym.  I am used to translating the day’s feature from French to English in my head for practice.

However, today’s news caught me by surprise with a topic familiar to all of our US readers, mainly because it was a day late.  But it does make sense that as the election was confirmed in the USA, it was 5 or 6am here in Geneva, well past the print deadlines for that day.  So, today was the big day for European media to cover the US election.

Text reads: Obama re-elected. Their hopes. Their challenges. The photos.

 

 

 

Being An American From Afar

This Election Day, I wanted to share a few of our experiences as “being Americans from afar”.    We are US citizens and hold US passports, but for the last 1.5 years, we have been residents of Switzerland.

The Swiss flag in Old Town Geneva

What’s that mean for your life in Switzerland?   We have the right to work here, as B-permit holders.   We do not have the right to vote in Switzerland.   Speaking of rights, we also do not have the right to do our laundry, dishes, or make any type of noise outside of the hours of 8am-8pm, including taking out our trash or recycling.  All of these rules are also applicable all day on Sundays and holidays.   But, we feel lucky.  Some apartments in Zurich outline that you can’t flush toilet outside of these times.

What’s that mean for being an American from afar ?   We do have the right to vote in the US even though we are not current residents.  We have the right to pay taxes.  Which Switzerland requires we do to them too.  Funny how everyone is clear on equality on that one.    As non-residents, we cannot bring as many goods duty-free into the States as a US resident can.  Learned that the hard way when importing a suitcase full of Swiss chocolate and stuffed cows.   Also, we don’t get our mail forwarded further than a year which means it lives in no-man’s land.   I wonder how many collectors are after us.

How was voting?  Actually, awesome.  Big kuddos to Mecklenburg County, NC.   I thought that voting abroad would require lots of mail, follow-up, calls, more mail.    But, we successfully registered from afar this Spring, requested ballots this Summer, they arrived in September, and we returned them in October.   An individual called me at home to get clarification on Gabe because we had to register him in Mecklenburg Country prior to the election and his voter card got returned  in the mail [see mail problem above].  After we submitted this form, she confirmed that our ballots were received and counted.   The only downside is that we had to send our ballots in so early that we missed the commentary in the Charlotte Observer, detailing each candidate’s position on the county ballot, that comes out so close to the election.  So, we had to do a lot of our research online.

How was doing your taxes?   Good question….they haven’t been submitted yet.  I’m not sure what takes so long as we submitted them March 1st to the consultants, but they had to request extensions in both the US and Switzerland because they are so complicated.  In fact, after 6 months of them working on it, we got our ‘draft’ for Switzerland last week, which has to be completed before the US ones are started.  It was in French.  We had to have the consultants translate it verbally on a conference call yesterday so we knew that there were errors which they are now fixing.  We knew to expect this….one Swiss ex-pat warned us that he still hadn’t cleared everything up 3 years after his assignment.  Joy.

What else is weird about being an “American from afar”?    I’d have to say that phone #s are weird.   I tend to visit old doctors and service providers when visiting the States.    You should hear the reaction when I cannot provide a current 704 number for their computer.   My phone number in Switzerland is like this:  0041 079 XXX XX XX.   It apparently can’t fit in the computer.  Nor can our address which only has a four-digit zip.   They would rather not see me that deal with the numbers.  It’s a battle.

What is awesome about living in two places?  Health insurance.  It rocks.  And, I love the fact that I can go to a doctor in whatever country I need to based on our situation…as long as they take me as a patient because of our complicated phone #.

Nevertheless, today, as Americans from afar, we are so proud that we are from an amazing country where we have the right to vote for our leaders and our country gives us so much in terms of safety and infrastructure.

From across the ocean, hope everyone has a Happy Election Day!

Gratitude Friday : S-Squared

If you are a frequent reader, you know one of the downsides to living in Geneva is saying goodbye.    It is bound to happen and living in this transient city is somewhat of a “Survivor” show come to life.   Except our challenges come in the form of tasting chocolate, doing laundry in the worst of conditions, gorging ourselves with fondue, and navigating a life in a foreign language.   And no one ever knows when you are going to go home.

So, this week, it is time to put out a torch, and this one is a doozy.   We will miss S & S tremendously as they move back to Charlotte.    Mrs. S is already there starting her grad school program, and Mr. S was wrapping up some projects in Geneva before heading back later this week.

So onto Gratitude Friday….we’d be remised in saying that our ex-pat experience wouldn’t have been the same without them.  We can’t believe our luck that we actually had friends from Charlotte that would be taking on the same adventure as we were.  That has made our experience a lot easier, comforting, and enjoyable.    Their gracious hospitality extends not only to excellent parties, but beyond that to knowing you always had a friend to count on.   From playing tag-along to road trips, to having someone to check in on us when they suspected we might be “down”, it was priceless to have these types of friends in a foreign country.    If you know these two, you know what I am talking about.

 

Anyhow, to S & S, we’ll miss you greatly.   We are excited for the things in store for your next chapter.   And we can only hope that when our “torch” blows out, we’ll be back in Charlotte….particularly, if we can continue some of our Genevan traditions.  Fondue at the annual Lawn Olympics, anyone??

 

 

 

Bon weekend, everyone!

Slow Up. Wait a minute…

We recently participated in the Geneva Slow Up.   I had read about this bike event last summer.  I noticed it again when flipping through a pdf of the Fête de Genève brochure.   Gabe and I decided that we should do it since we’d been delinquent about riding the bikes we had shipped all the way from the US.   However, we woke up to rainy skies and they were continuing to drizzle at the start time of 10:00.    At 11:00, they cleared and Gabe mentioned that maybe it wasn’t a “hard start” that it was continual.

I was skeptical, but we rode down to Quai de Gustav Ador anyhow.   And, we were pleasantly surprised.  More belated bikers.  And lots going on.  You can start when you like, as long as you finish by 16:00.    You can be on bike, trike, roller blades, or unicycles.  Or even on foot.  The only rule was you had to go in the same direction.

First impression of Slow Up. Cool. (For our non-Swiss readers, rivella is a Swiss soda).

We did our first few km and were impressed by how well executed this event was.    First of all, cars are banned from the roads completely.   Guards blocked every road that interfered with the 33km course.  A heck of a lot of roads.  We counted easily 100.     This made it so enjoyable for me.  I am not the best rider and since bikes ride with traffic in Geneva, it is intimidating for me to bike around town.

The first ascent gave us a nice view of Geneva near Cologny. As a side note, this little field was where part of Frankenstein was written!

There were “garages” in case you had a bike mishap.    This was also a bonus, to know you wouldn’t be stuck 16 km away from Geneva, without aid.

Migros Sport “garage” helping bikers

And there were plenty of refreshment stands offering cereal, energy bars, apples and Rivella.

Camp in Choulex

As we started, we exclaimed how awesome it was.   It was my assumption that I had missed the last eleven events and I was mad at myself because of what a great time it was.   However, we found a brochure later in the day that showed that these take place in different places all over Switzerland.  You can see the future ones here.  So, it just comes to Geneva once a year.

We also found a map to find out where the heck we were going.

Our route

Our route continued through vineyards and cornfields.   It was so peaceful.   We stopped in Gy, where they had a really cool Slow Up Village.  Most people were drinking wine and beer.  They might have been in better shape than us.  We opted for water.  And a sausage.

Not sure if this is the best meal for biking 33km, but it was the only option.

We then crossed into France.  Spectators gave us a bottle of Evian, a local French product, as we cruised along.   This is the closest I think I’ll ever get to being a rider in the Tour de France.   For one, it was my first time riding a bike in France.  Second, we got swag.   And, I told Gabe, we sort of did a little tour around France….

Great way to spend a Sunday

After 33km, we were looped back into Geneva and we crossed the finish line.

Thanks, Slow Up!

We aren’t experienced bike riders so couldn’t even make it up the hill to our house after riding 3 hours.    However, we were happy and content with our little Sunday activity!

 


Gratitude Friday: Living near the Lake

“I should like the window to open onto the Lake of Geneva, – and there I’d sit and read all day like the picture of somebody reading.”

– John Keats.

Living near Lake Geneva never gets old.    This Gratitude Friday, I echo John’s thoughts in my thankfulness for this beautiful body of water.     From a nice relaxing place to read or picnic, to summer sporting, to picturesque sunsets, we feel lucky we have gotten to live on this gem for the time we have.   While our apartment is a ten minute walk, it is still pretty cool to be so close.

Here are a few of our favorite shots we have captured of Lake Geneva:

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Bon weekend, everyone!

A Perfect Swiss Day

Hooray!   Isabella and Ferdinand have been here!    They had a wedding to attend in England and we were lucky that they came to Geneva to visit us beforehand.

Ferdinand had to work at the beginning, organizing a golf event.  Once work was done, on the weekend, the four of us set off on a Swiss adventure.

Our first stop was the Lavaux wine region.  Isabella can’t drink currently (she is expecting), but we wanted to show them this UNESCO gem nonetheless.  So, we took the Chexbres exit off of the A1 and descended down the village towns into Rivaz.   They were breathtaken with the gorgeous terraced vineyards as we are every time we visit.

Next stop…..Gruyères.

Ramparts of Gruyères

Walking around the château

Lovely little village

We skipped the cheese tour (we knew we were having raclette for dinner), but all did order Gruyère-cheese based dishes for lunch.

After Gruyères, we drove to Broc, home of Cailler chocolate factory.

Smelling the cocoa beans.

Branche candy bar machine

Ta da! The tasting room!

I just go straight to the good stuff at the end now. I am trained.

Discussing the merits of milk & white chocolate

Weeeeee!

 

 

After playing on the playground a bit, we headed back to Geneva.  We had a big night in store.

The Schwingen & Switzerland crew was hosting a raclette party before the big Fête de Genève fireworks.   Ferdinand and Isabella had raclette their last time in Switzerland, in Zurich, but they were impressed by S’s monstrous spread.

The spread at the S’s

Raclette in action

 

For dessert, S had “Creme de Gruyère” and “Creme Brulée” Movenpick ice cream.  She surprised her dad and me with a candle in each carton for a birthday surprise.  It was the loveliest ‘cake’ I have ever had.  If you have an opportunity, I urge you to try Movenpick ice cream.  Full of Swiss whole cream, its the real deal.

We left their house and were immersed in the madness that is Fête de Genève.  We say it is the absolute busiest, craziest time of year in Geneva.

We luckily found a spot for 12 of us, near the rides, and watched the magnificent hour long fireworks:

The beginning of the fireworks

 

Love this type!

Jet d’eau, in harmony with the show

What a perfect Swiss day!

 

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Cheese Wars

The Swiss Watch Blog:   It’s Raining – I guess we have to go to the chocolate factory

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Chocolate

The Swiss Watch Blog: The land of chocolate and cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog: Thanks for a Joyeux Anniversaire, everyone

The Swiss Watch Blog:   The fête commences

 

 

 

A day at the beach…including killer ducks

Hermance is located north of Geneva.  It is 30 minutes on Bus E.    I mentioned in a previous post, it is a nice little village, beautiful and charming.  Also, for guests, it can be a quick way to cross the border into France, as we did this spring.

Charming Hermance

It also has a really nice stone beach.   I visited this summer with my friend San Francisco Gal.  We made a picnic and enjoyed the sunshine.

A few things to know about the beach in Hermance:

-entry is 4 CHF for adults and 1 CHF for kids

-they have a snack shop, so you can purchase food & drinks (alternatively, we brought our own)

-its really windy since it is on a point…be prepared for temperatures cooler than Geneva

-its a rock beach as is common on Lake Geneva.   Maybe bring water shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking/swimming.

Hermance beach

-there are a lot of scuba divers.  They have special scuba showers and it is common to witness scuba activity such as this:

 

Scuba guys

-They have some ‘killer’ ducks.   It started as innocent as them pecking at my big toe, but then they quickly took over our picnic.   Have you ever seen anything like this?