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.

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Sugar Bowl : How the times have changed

Post by Lauren

My Hokies played in the Sugar Bowl against Michigan last night. The last time we played in the Sugar Bowl, in 2005, I made it down to New Orleans for the game with a group of friends. That city is definitely the best bowl game destination possible. We had so much fun I think I actually got walking pneumonia from the trip.

This year, a trip wasn’t possible. Also, to make matters worse, the 8:30pm kick-off meant it would be 2:30am for us in Geneva. I decided the best approach was to go to bed early so that I could get up at 4:30am to see the end of the game. Or so I thought I was going to see the end. Our Slingbox that was working perfectly last night was on the fritz this a.m. It was too late to call our Slingbox hosts for a re-boot so I tried to watch on ESPN.com watch live. Unfortunately, that didn’t work either so Drive Chart had to do for getting the play-by-play.

I was glued to the posts and Tweets to see how the game changed back and forth to go into overtime. It was actually surprising how suspenseful watching a game on a laptop screen can be!

In the end, Michigan scored a FG in OT and we did not. Since I couldn’t see the game, I couldn’t sum up how it went overall. According to Facebook*, about half of my Hokie friends say it was a bad call and half say it was bad coaching.

From Bourbon street to the laptop. Funny how times can change in seven years.

*Thank you Facebook for all your minute by minute sidelines chatter….it helped me understand what was happening! However, my favorite part of Facebook on Game Day is seeing all of my friend’s kids dressed up for the game. 

Virtually watching the Sugar bowl


Our stockings are filled…

Post by Lauren

We must have been very good this year because Santa filled our stockings with airline flights to Southeast Asia. He was very smart since the stockings were made out of paper this is a great gift that would actually fit into them!!

 

We are going for ten days and hitting three places. I figured I would make you a map in case you aren’t familiar with these locations.

Thank you, Thailand & Cambodia Santa!

P.S. – Thanks to those who sent us such lovely Christmas cards. As you can tell, they really brightened up our Swiss mantel since every other Christmas decoration of ours is handmade out of construction paper!

A Tree like Rockefeller

Post by Gabe
That’s right….Gabe

Hello all and Merry Christmas. I am breaking my silence this week to give you a glimpse into our first Christmas tree as a married couple. This tree sets the tone for all future trees so I have been laying the ground work with Lauren for quite a while. It would be 6 to 8 feet tall, very very full, symmetrical from all angles and have an intoxicating pine aroma. Regardless of the time required to find this magical gem it wouldn’t matter. Hours, days, weeks, whatever it takes….the time couldn’t be used more wisely. Had I not done this ground work…Lauren would have picked up the cheapest thing should could find. We probably would have ended up with a fake fern from Ikea. And that obviously wouldn’t cut it for our first tree.

As usual, I may have missed one small, very tiny, detail during my tree brain storming.

…we don’t live in the US.

In the US I would have proposed we buy a permit and head into the mountains to fell our own Christmas tree. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in Geneva. At least not that we are aware of. So instead, we did what every other Genevese (person in Geneva) does. We headed to the local grocery store to pick one up. And these babies are carry out….literally.

Take a look at our beautiful 3 feet 6 inch tree in its full grandure.

As usual, everything in Geneva is expensive so we opted for the smaller set of lights. Unfortunately that strand was so short they only made it around the tree twice. We had one ornament in Geneva to add to the tree thanks to Lauren’s Aunt J but we obviously needed more than that. So we spent two Saturdays ago making our own ornaments also. It may not be 6-8 feet tall, very very full, symmetrical from all angles and a bouquet of pine but I think it is a beauty. I am very proud of our first tree and think it is the perfect start to the many tree’s to come.

(check out the ornament Lauren made…I think it is cool)

Happy Holidays to you all!

First Geneva Snow

Post by Lauren

Below is the view from our bedroom this morning in Geneva. We were told it usually snows 1-2 times a year in Geneva. It snowed three times this weekend, so we are already above this so called “average”.

I find the snow a lot more pleasant than the monsoon of rain we have had in the last two weeks, so I am très contente with the temperature drop. It makes for a really nice Monday!

Fighting Eeyore

Post by Lauren

This week, I have been a big Eeyore. I didn’t adjust well at first to coming back to Geneva this time.

This is me, the last few days. Oh Bother.

I haven’t been able to pin it down specifically on culture shock, jet lag, or the big perma-cloud looming over Geneva (read more about permacloud here from S). Or maybe its a case of all three at once.

Last return, it was easier. I hadn’t seen Gabe for a month so was counting down the minutes until I got back. We also had Andres visiting so I needed to reorient quickly to snap into action. And it was summertime, so lots of light to help get over the jet lag.

This time, I have been sleeping an insane amount. I have been disoriented. I have been rejecting the French language. I have been grumpy while grocery shopping in the blowing freezing rain while my umbrella yanked from the wind in my grasp. I have been wishing I had a car to do errands. I have been cold in our apartment even though the heat is turned up as far as we can get it.

And it wasn’t just internally noticed. Yesterday, I went to photography group and they all jested when I yawned through the whole class. During Skype with Mom, she told me it look like I had black eyes on her screen. Gabe asked me if he should be concerned.

But today, something changed….we had a gorgeous day of sunshine. And I felt normal again.

I bumped into W, a warm Dutchwomen, who leads our photography group. She commented on my changed face from seeing me the day before and said that I was “sensitive to the colors of the weather!”

It’s a beautiful saying to describe the blues.

Anyhow, glad the weather, jet lag and overall gloominess are rubbing off finally.

Goodbye, Eeyore.

I’ve got wheels.

Post by Lauren

No…I haven’t learned how to drive our car, Sven, yet. But I have my own set of wheels. I finally got a grocery caddy. If you ever told me that I would get excited about owning a grocery caddy I would have laughed at you. But after 5 months of living in a city without the ability to use a car, the day has come.

The cool thing about it is that it folds up. My French teacher was quick to point out it wasn’t very good for heavy loads since there wasn’t a structured base. I agree. But nevertheless, I like it because if grocery shopping is 3-4 errands into the day, I don’t want to have to drag a full grocery caddy platform around.

Pulling this guy up our steep hill still gives a workout but its a lot easier than carrying four bags of heavy groceries on my shoulders.

The Price Is Right – France vs. Switzerland

Post by Lauren

Do you remember the Grocery Game on the show The Price Is Right? I used to love watching this show when I was a kid. So for the spirit of fun, we are going to play the game on this blog with the prices of goods in France vs. Switzerland.

Good luck guessing. A little more challenging than Bob Barker’s version.

The prices are equalized by currency, and I took it a step further to actualize it into American dollars. So, euros x 1.4 and Swiss Francs x 1. 2.

Be a sport. Scroll til you see the product and no more before you guess the prices.

Roll of Pizza Dough:

Switzerland:

$ 6.48 (5.40 CHF)

France:

$ 2.80 (1.37 euros)

500 Grams of Spinach

Switzerland:

$ 7.08 (5.90 CHF for 300 g)

France:

$ 3.50 (2.50 euros for 500 g)

Kronenbourg Beer 10 pack

Switzerland:

$ 10.68 (8.90 CHF)

France:

$ 5.72 (4.09 euros)

 


Guacamole, jarred*
I know, its gross, but beggars can’t be choosers

Switzerland:

$ 6.60 (5.50 CHF)

France:

$ 3.02 (2.16 euros)

Canned green beans

Switzerland:

$ 8.22 (6.85 CHF)

France:

$ 1.33 (0.95 euro)

Coke 4 pack, 1 liter each

Switzerland:

$ 9.12 (7.60 CHF)

France:

$ 6.72 (4.80 euro)

 

So how did you do? I hope you were a winner.

Me, I’m depressed after putting together this game.

Measuring. Never the same.

Post by Lauren

Aside from the language barrier, another barrier for those living in foreign countries is measurement.

 

No more inches, feet, yards, pounds, miles.

Everything is by the meter, the gram, the kilo.

And after 4 months, I still haven’t adjusted to grocery shopping in terms of measurements. I shy away from the meat and cheese counters as I am not sure I’ll know exactly how much to order. In the US if something like that happened, I’d just suck it up and buy whatever I ordered. Here, if I make a mistake in meat, my two steaks could cost the equivalent of $100 USD. No kidding.

And here are some more examples of how the quirks of measurement affect our lives:

Paper. Printer paper is not the same size. It’s about halfway between the US size and a legal size. I had to chop off the bottoms of my French assignments to get them to fit into my notebook.

Printing Photos. Here are the options for printing photos on my nearest photo lab machine. If I don’t happen to carry my tape measurer with me, I am screwed.

A4 is a apparently a common size in Europe to print photos for display. I needed to submit a display photo for the women’s club exhibition. After 2 hours of attempts to get my printer to do it and taking it on memory stick to printshop twice and not being able to find the right size, eventually, I had to ask someone else to do it. Talk about feeling incompetent.

Frames. Not the same. I am learning this with art. US canvases don’t fit Swiss frames. US frames don’t fit Swiss canvases. This was surprising to me that standards would be different in this area. I spent an hour in the art store and the frame store trying to figure out which ones would match each other for my upcoming art booth.

Weights. At the gym, all the weights are in kilos, not pounds. I feel really weak here.

Distances. Of course, everything is in km. We have tricked our GPS to talk in miles so we have a better concept of when a turn is coming up since we haven’t master the kilometer. Roughly, its 3.2 miles for 5 kilos, so I sort of just divide in half. The good news is that when you see a high number, it feels much faster when you reach your destination.

Outdoor temperature. I still remember someone at the women’s club exclaiming it would be high thirties in Spain that weekend. Everyone gasped and I just looked confused and tried to calculate it. I keep my weather updates in Fahrenheit on my iPhone & laptop because even though I know the math behind it, I have am not able to quickly do the conversion enough to make a judgement in what to wear.

Cooking temperature. Our oven of course is in Celsius degrees. I just tend to double what I think it should be in Fahrenheit. Truly, the math is to multiply by 1.8 and add 32, but doubling is just simpler to me. This might be why I burn a lot of things in our oven.

Furniture. They don’t have the same bed sizes here. A coworker of Gabe’s brought their mattress and sheets and planned to buy a bed frame in Switzerland upon arrival. They couldn’t find one to match so they ended up shipping a new US double bed frame to our house before our move so we could bring it with us.

Knowing this, I ended up bringing extra sheets since it would be impossible to get them here.

Gratitude Friday: Having a Place

Post by Lauren

This Friday, I am grateful for having a home, and the fact that I have never had to worry about having a place to sleep. I would include a “warm place to sleep” in this designation, but we don’t actually have that guaranteed anymore in our current apartment since our heat hasn’t been fully turned on yet by the regie 🙂

Kidding aside, I used to volunteer frequently at The Samaritan House back in Charlotte, cooking meals for and playing games with the guests. The organization was for homeless who were recovering from a hospital stay or had a serious medical condition. Traditional shelters, while good, were not an adequate place for this type of individual needing rest and recuperation. Samaritan House allowed them to live in a family-like setting for up to a month and also provided assistance for housing & jobs upon recovery.

In acclimation training, when I mentioned this and my intention on seeking similar opportunities in Geneva, our trainer commented, “good luck with that”.

When I first arrived, I did find it difficult to find places to give back. Most what I consider “real” volunteer opportunities have the pre-requisite of speaking decent French. I can’t check that box yet. Did you read Wednesday’s post?

The women’s club always has a need for people, and I have been helping with welcoming people and doing pro-bono marketing and PR. It’s a great organization. But, as a sole outlet, it lacked what I got out of my time at Samaritan House.

I phrase this exactly this way because without question, I get more out of volunteering with those in need, exceedingly more than the time or money that I put into it. It provides a paradigm shift for what problems actually are. When you see those give such gratitude for simple gestures like a meal or a conversation, it makes you realize how joyful you need to be with your own situation. I don’t know about you, but I need a healthy dose of that often.

I was so delighted when a friend at the women’s club mentioned her church cooks and serves lunches for a women’s shelter here in Geneva, Café Care. I had my first visit this week and am so grateful for the timing of the experience. I won’t go into the details, but sometimes life in a foreign country can get you down, and it was one of those weeks.

Café Care

We served the lunch, so sat down a few minutes after everyone had started eating, finding spots amongst the twenty women attending that day. As I unfolded my napkin, the girl in front of me looked up and said to me with kind eyes, “bon appétit, madame”.

Just what I needed.

Bon week-end everyone!