Thoughts on Coming Back to the US to Live after 21 Months in Switzerland

  1. My, everyone in the mall is wearing sneakers, rhinestone pocket jeans, and Under Armour fluorescent sweatshirts. Where’s the diversity?
  2. Wow. We use way too many plastic bags. They are piling up. I must remember to bring my own grocery bags to the store.
  3. I love not paying for trash bags!
  4. My laundry is upstairs. Dream come true!
  5. I love having a garage!
  6. I have way, way too much stuff. We got by with way less in Switzerland. It’s everywhere.
  7. I’m in the car all the time. Walking 1-2 blocks seems far when I used to walk much more than that all the time.
  8. People are so nice and friendly here. The customer’s always right, and I love it! The cashiers actually ask me how my day is and seem genuinely concerned. I am taken aback in a good way.
  9. No more anonymity. I miss this. Now that I understand everything, I am distracted by other people’s conversations while paranoid they’re listening to mine.
  10. French is going, going…
  11. Mountains are far, far away. I miss them.
  12. The weather is dry and cold. But, at least it’s sunny more!
  13. Iowa is familiar, yet different.
  14. Things initially feel less expensive, although by now I think I’ve adapted.
  15. Eating fried foods make me feel bad. I gravitate toward Panera-like places.
  16. Oh, the novelty of foods I haven’t enjoyed for 2 years! Ranch dressing! Tostino’s! Leggo waffles! Sprite!
  17. I miss real fondue. It’s not the same here. The Special K is also different.
  18. My darn Swiss iphone only gets 2G here. Slow internet is terrible.
  19. Portion sizes are too large.
  20. Walks in the woods are my favorite.
  21. I don’t miss hills.
  22. I miss seeing Lake Geneva.
  23. Did I really live in Switzerland for almost 2 years? It feels so long ago!

Laundry post (for Paige)

When we moved into the building we’ve resided in for 18 months, our landlord said to call the concierge to schedule a time where he can show me how to do laundry. “How to do laundry?” I wondered, “How hard can it be?” Turns out, it was more complex than I imagined.

In Switzerland, our laundry routine is so complicated it’s ridiculous. Maybe it’s because the machines are old and the “régie” (building management) doesn’t want to pay for new machines. Or, it’s rare to own a house and everyone lives in apartment buildings that share a “buanderie” (laundry room.) Either way, it’s progressed into many steps that I will demonstrate later on, with pictures. But first, a word about doing laundry in general.

The scheduling system for laundry varies. I know people that are assigned one day a month to do their laundry. On that day, many Swiss people take the day off work for this occasion. Other people are assigned one morning a week. Sometimes they get to choose this time; other times it is assigned to them when you move in. Our current apartment is first-come-first serve, thank goodness!

Our old apartment building had a sign-up sheet and our machines ran on twenty-cent pieces. I would go to the bank once a month to get a roll of them to power the machines. One twenty-cent piece equaled 5 minutes. If your money ran out in the middle of a cycle, too bad. The wash machine would just power down. It was about 2,50 CHF a load. All in all, wasn’t too bad, you just had to plan ahead. Usually it wasn’t too crowded and you could get your laundry done the next day.

Dryers exist but are less popular. There is a designated room to hang up your laundry. I usually did a mixture of both. People are very tidy and clean up after themselves, generally. People will remove your laundry from the wash if it is their turn.

Here are the steps for how to do laundry. But first, here are the instructions (2 pages!)

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Laundry room

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First, take the clean cap and filter (not pictured) and insert it into the drain below. Screw on cap. Keep bucket around for later.

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Use your “key” on machine on the I and keep pressing until it says, “Start.” Before, it will show how much credit you have on your key, then deduct 5 CHF as a deposit. Later, when you’re finished, you put the key back on and it gives you back 2 CHF. Thus, it’s 3 CHF a load.

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Also, turn the left knob from “O” at 9pm to “I,” or noon. For the dryer, follow the same process, only use the “II” and turn the knob on the right to “On” and “Off” when you’re done.

Turn water on.

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Now, you may select settings on machine(s) and start. The washer takes 45-60,” the dryer takes about 60-90.”

When you’re through using the wash machine, you must take out the filter underneath, clean it, and set it out to dry, along with the cap. When you take the cap off, watch out, as you need the bucket to catch the dirty water. After, you can dump it in the giant sink.

This is the dryer. Be sure that the lint is cleared out of the door and on the panel to the left.

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There is also a hanging room. Like I said, I prefer the dryer to avoid stiffness in clothes (if anyone can tell me how to avoid that, let me know!)

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Finally, the sweeper. We are encouraged to sweep up any mess we make.

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Happily, I have now mastered the laundry, and it’s really not so bad.

Do any of you have a complicated machine like this or used a machine like this in the past?

How to take a day trip by yourself (for Cassie)

Have you ever been on vacation and aren’t having fun? I, for one, am amazed at how are limited I am by my aging body. I get thirsty, hungry, stressed, tired, have to go to the bathroom, and cease enjoying myself. I also used to put undue pressure on myself trying to get through the top 10 things on Trip Advisor in one weekend.

Living in Switzerland, I’ve taken a lot of day trips, mostly to Geneva. When I travel with Andy on a work trip, this usually means I fly solo for the day while he’s working and meet up with him and his colleagues at night. I’ve learned a thing or two (or, 17) about day trips and have many pointers for those trying to enjoy a random or planned city by themselves.

Of course, if you’re at a destination for several days, just follow these instructions over many days. If traveling with people, however, this might not be very helpful- dealing with groups on vacation is a different topic entirely, and I can’t say I’m a master at it yet.

Thus, here are 17 tips for taking a day trip by yourself:

  1. Plan, plan, plan. This is very important. Whenever I try to “wing it” in some way, it usually means I waste time, or arrive someplace that ends up being closed on Mondays, or something. Basically, it usually pays off to google things in advance. And no, I’m not being paid by Trip Advisor, but typically those kind of sites give you a good overview of the city’s highlights and can help you narrow down what you want to do.
  2. …Yet, there must be an element of spontaneity/flexibility in your day. You’re not working or in school, so take the time to take that picture, stop in that interesting looking shop, etc.
  3. Try not to pack in too much in a day, just one or maybe two things, so at least you can tell people, “I went here and did this.” Just walking around doesn’t always give you a feel for a place.
  4. Cluster things together geographically so you don’t spend the whole day on the bus/tram/subway/getting lost. This can be achieved with a use of a city map. Stop by the tourist office and get a free one from your way out of the train station/airport.
  5. While still at the train station/airport, hit an ATM first thing to get some local currency. I find in Switzerland many small shops don’t take credit cards. Plus, you need coins for machines sometimes. Then, buy an all day metro/bus pass, even if it’s more expensive/you think you might be walking most places- it’s just easier not having to worry about it.
  6. Speaking of coins, if you go to a museum, have a coin ready to put your stuff in a locker. It’s really much more enjoyable if you’re not carrying your stuff around while looking at art.
  7. Forego fashion in lieu of wearing comfortable shoes and weather-appropriate clothes (see #1.) Wear a comfortable purse.
  8. Don’t put too much in your purse- water bottle, napkins (you’ll need these later), ibuprofen, thin book/journal (in case you get stuck waiting somewhere), phone.
  9. When arriving, suck it up and buy the minimum data package on your cell phone in the new country. I always refuse to buy this but end up paying for it later with roaming fees and being anxious about it the whole time. Plus, in case of emergency, you won’t be even more stressed knowing how much you’re spending.
  10. Be very careful not to shop at the beginning of the day so you don’t have to carry around bags. Be aware that shopping on a day trip is dangerous anyway because of the, “I’m only here today and this is my last chance to buy this” mentality- i.e., your judgment is clouded.
  11. Always tell your friend/husband/partner where you plan to be. I had a situation where I got lost trying to get to a park and felt very afraid. I kicked myself for not telling Andy where I was (don’t worry, I was okay- praise the Lord!)
  12. Always be aware of the bathroom situation. Some towns don’t have toilets readily available, and if they do, they’re not always clean and might not have toilet paper/soap/towels. For example, if you’re already in a café/museum, use the bathroom before you go.
  13. Have napkins ready in case TP (see #12) isn’t available.
  14. If the city/traffic/getting around is stressing you out, pass a grocery store and buy some pop/chips and hit a park. Green spaces always do wonders in lifting my mood. Actually, I usually plan to explore parks anyway.
  15. Schedule rest periods in your day (see #3.) You can’t have fun when you’re tired. If possible, get enough sleep and you give yourself a few hours sometime during the day to relax. I either relax after lunch or head to the hotel for a few hours before dinner.
  16. Stop at a café. Go to the bathroom, fill up your water bottle, crack open your book (or not), people watch. One nice thing about European restaurants is that they never rush you.
  17. Be sure you have dinner plans. This can be a restaurant you’ve researched ahead of time, so you know where it is, maybe even have a reservation, know it’s in your budget/taste, and you can not feel bad getting something random and cheap during the day. Also, you get to dress up a little and you have people you can relay your adventures/frustrations to.

That’s it- have fun!

Do you have any travel tips for solo day trips? If so, please comment below.

 

Lip balm addiction

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I had one in my purse. My computer bag. My makeup bag. My travel overnight bag. In the car. In my vanity. I used to carry it around in my pocket, always. No matter where I was, I made sure I was never without my lip balm.

I hated the feeling of my lips being dry. I would start to lick them, which apparently only makes it worse (your saliva is full potent enzymes!) I loved that tingly feeling when freshly applied. Upon researching Chap Stick ingredients, chief among them are camphor and menthol, which quickly evaporate dry skin and cause a cooling sensation, hence the “tingly” feeling.

That tingly feeling is exactly what makes lip balm addictive. My doctor friend, Judy, says that lip balm addiction isn’t a thing, but I beg to differ. I believe that I was addicted to it for at least 10 years. I mean, it’s not on the same level as, say, meth, but I do believe that there is a physical and psychological dependence on the stuff.

It was last summer when I realized that my dependence on lip balm had to go. Usually summer is a bit easier on my lips as it’s more humid out. I was on vacation in the south of France. We were traveling north for a day trip to a famous Roman aqueduct called the Pont du Gard with a visit to Arles afterward. I was carrying a travel bag and forgot to put a stick of it inside.

The whole day I felt my lips drying up, the dry skin hardening especially on my lower lip. I repeatedly licked them and couldn’t wait to get home to put on my lip balm again. It was then I realized that reducing my psychological and physical need for lip balm could only be a good thing.I actually tried to quit, like, a year ago. I can’t remember what exactly prompted that, but I do remember that it was too hard, and after 2 weeks, I rationalized that lip balm, while addictive, is at least a cheap addiction that’s not hurting anyone.

This time, I started to read about how quitting could be done. I should clarify, however, that when I do research on “lip balm addiction,” it’s not like I’m reading scientific articles on PubMed or anything (which further supports Judy in her claim that addiction isn’t really a thing.) It’s not on WebMD or even Wikipedia. We’re talking about homemade webpages created by laypeople. Anyway, I found that there are basically two schools of thought: quit gradually or go cold turkey. I decided to go cold turkey. They said that the physical withdrawal symptoms would take anywhere from 3-21 days to wear off.

I found that it took me a month. No kidding. It was painful. My lips started creating dead skin like crazy. The dead skin built up and my lips became white, hard, and cracked. I was the poster child for a “before” ChapStick ad. For about a week, it actually hurt to smile and laugh. It was hard eating spicy food and drinking hot or cold beverages. You may think I’m exaggerating, but if you want proof, ask my husband!

People often say that when breaking one addiction, you end up replacing it with another. I have found this to be true. For me, I started getting in the habit of peeling off the dead skin from my lower lip. It’s actually quite satisfying; however, you inadvertently end up peeling off too much and the result is bleeding and hurting lips. So, I started allowing myself a little bit of Vaseline in the evenings before bed.

I wish I had a picture of what my lips looked like during this time. I think people noticed that something was wrong with my lips. I would try to cover up the dryness and color of my lips with lipstick, but it would look patchy at best, clinging only to the uppermost layers of dead skin. Even at my dental checkup, the hygienist offered me lip balm as she was cleaning my teeth. I politely declined, talking between scraping and rinsing, unwilling to get into the whole spiel with a stranger.

And, eventually, it got better. My lips gave up protesting against 10 years of lip balm dependency and started creating new skin layers at a normal rate. Do I ever use lip balm now? As I said, I use a little bit of Vaseline. I also possess some lip balm made of cocoa butter. But I don’t keep it around the house anymore. And I won’t carry it in my purse. For your information, if you choose to wear lip balm, try to buy stuff that is free of menthol, camphor, and phenol. It’s important to look at the ingredients and not just assume that something organic is fine.

While I’m lip balm- free, I have to say that it’s not perfect. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my lips will never be as soft as before. It’s like I basically have some equilibrium where I’m not peeling off dead skin too much and able to tolerate a few dried pieces on my lower lip. And the dependence varies- there are times when I resort to too much Vaseline, like when I’m sick,  and I can feel myself loving the feel of it- but I know I have grown leaps and bounds since last summer.  And, I am happy to report that I can now go days without it!

Reasons I love Sweden

One perk about being in Switzerland is, obviously, being in proximity to many other countries. Andy has had many chances to collaborate with researchers in his field. They invite him to a workshop or as a university guest. This means that his hotel and travel is paid for. This also means that I am able to travel cheaply by extension and stay in Andy’s room for free.

One such trip was in Gothenburg, Sweden. I have never heard of this town before we went there, but it was there that the workshop was being held, in late March. The trip came at a great time, in my opinion, as Switzerland’s wet-to-the-bone winter was dragging on and I was getting bored with my daily agenda of applying for nursing home positions.

We left on a Thursday and arrived after lunch. The flight was short and comfortable. We took a taxi to our modern hotel right downtown. I had already researched Trip Advisor’s top 10 things to do, although I was worried about how I was going to fit everything in, given Andy would be working and I was planning on buying a 24 hour train ticket to see my friend, Moiken (more about her here.) We passed a huge amusement park on the way to the hotel. I knew from my research that it was called Liseberg but also learned that it was closed until May. It was very colorful, its rails outlining the perimeter of the park. I tried to make conversation with the cab driver by asking if he liked roller coasters, but he did not understand me and I gleaned that he wasn’t Swedish.

The first thing I noticed when we got to our hotel was that it was COLD. It was about 20 degrees colder than Switzerland, with a windchill. Automatically I realized that I did not bring enough winter layers. This could be a problem. The second thing I noticed was that the hotel check in person was very friendly and spoke excellent English with an American accent: both things I appreciated. We ate lunch at an Irish pub next door. The restaurant reminded me of something we’d find back home. We sat at the bar and I ordered a salad with goat cheese, walnuts, and honey with my buffalo wings. They also had many types of cider, so I tried the pear cider, which was served with ice. It tasted like a cold apple Jolly Rancher.

Andy and I took a walk around afterwards. We were on a very commercial street and walked by the art museum and briefly entered a free art exhibit. There was an old Ivy-league feel University behind it, with brick buildings and vines. Eventually, we made our way back on a street parallel to our hotel, checking out the row of Swedish buildings with nice boutiques and interesting stores on the bottom. We ended up at Gothia river. There was a botanical garden nearby, which I recognized from my Trip Advisor list, and thus made a point to walk around. There were children playing in the playground inside, but other than that everything was closed and it was too cold to see very many flowers. However, we found some statues to look at and still managed to have some fun.

On the way back to our hotel, the night life was starting to buzz. We passed many cozy restaurants and I made mental notes to frequent some later on. There were fast food chains I hadn’t heard of on the street and I could smell the grills where they were grilling burgers. The street tram was on our street and hoards of people were getting on an off the station. Later, I would find out that people in Stockholm make fun of Gothenberg’s above-ground tram, as theirs is underground.

Walking around, I noticed that people looked a lot like me. Tall, thin, wearing athletic-y gear like they were going to go hiking. Unlike me, many were blonde. People looked generally more affluent. Later, my friend Moiken told me that many people have country houses where they spend vacations, as the summers in Sweden are spectacular. I couldn’t get over how much it reminded me of Seattle, one of my favorite American cities. The gypsies, with whom I’ve grown used to encountering in Lausanne, really stood apart from the Swedes. Unlike their peers, they wore scarves and long skirts with big patterns. Instead of squatting along the street, they seemed to be more aggressive, wobbling and wandering around in circles with a cane, sometimes crashing into you on purpose. I tried harder to be careful.

That evening, we flipped on the TV and recognized several American TV series, un-dubbed! We were so happy to hear actor and actresses’ voices we recognized. There were Swedish subtitles, of course, and after awhile, Andy and I would make a game out of figuring out what words mean. One such word stuck out to us: Bra. Obviously it made us giggle due to its American meaning, but we did see it all the time and in several contexts and were able to deduce its meaning: good. We were learning Swedish with hardly any effort. No wonder everyone speaks American english without an accent!

The best part of our trip came the next morning in the form of continental breakfast. Continental, meaning free, and breakfast, meaning a morning feast! For hot breakfast, both traditional English breakfast and Swedish meatballs were featured. They also had: crêpes, all of the fixings for sandwiches (for breakfast!), including salamis, fresh cheese you cut with this special cheese cutter (something I’ve only seen in picture dictionaries), dried tomatoes, pickles, olives, various artisan breads with cutting boards to cut yourself, several dried cracker-type items (things I’d only seen in the Kosher aisle), sweet breads, fruits, juices, and an espresso machine. Lastly, they had organic yogurt of varying milkfat percentages with multiple nuts, grains, and preserves you could add, which Swedish people seemed to eat by the bowlful (I’m used to eating just little cups of it.) At Moiken’s, she even had some sort of nut grinder (a staple in Swedish households) attached to their breakfast table to freshly roll her oats. There was so much food, I had to make multiple trips back and forth to haul over everything to the table. As a bonus, I was able to save money making a sandwich for lunch later and grabbing snacks for the afternoon with my napkin.

Thus, Swedish people seem to be really healthy- everything organic and fresh- but how is it that they can eat all of that stuff for breakfast?! Maybe they skip lunch and then eat a really greasy dinner later, or have fika multiple times a day (a Swedish word meaning a mid-day break for coffee and treats.)

Another great part of our trip was hanging out with Andy’s colleague, Jasmin. He’s Quebeçois and hilarious. He used to live in Norway so actually knew some Swedish, as the languages are similar (he also confirmed our bra definition.) We had time Saturday after the workshop to walk around a bit. We headed across the river, walked through the Feskekôrka market (fish church in Swedish- because the building looks like a church), had a much-needed coffee at a record shop, then walked up a hill to see the Skansen Kronen, a historical watchtower. It was cool to see the city from up top. The next day, we tried to see the archipelagos, but it was freezing and we were running out of time so we basically just took a quick boat ride.

Sometimes the point of travelling is to gather new experience and learn about other cultures, and there was some of that, but essentially, I loved Sweden because I felt like I was back in America. I will be very happy to come back at the end of December.

Anyway, here are some pictures from our trip:

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Some Swedish buildings downtown as well as the view of Kungsportsavenyen Street, downtown.IMG_1519

In front of the fine arts museum.

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At the botanical gardens.

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Moiken, in all her glory, in front of the myriad of yogurts. On the right, you can see the oatmeal grinder. IMG_1550 IMG_1551IMG_1552

In front of the fish market. This sequence is actually quite hilarious because Jasmin is trying to throw his newly purchased wasabi nuts at me and succeeds in the third photo.

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We found a trampoline to jump on.

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View from the top!

Heat Wave

Switzerland does not have air conditioning. Most of the time, they don’t need it. Needless to say, our apartment does not have air conditioning, either.

Recently, we had a heat wave in Lausanne. For about two weeks the temperature has been in the high 80s or 90s every day. The other day I heard that Lausanne hasn’t had this type of weather since 2002. I’d believe it. We were here last summer and it was hot-enough-to-jump-in-a-pool less than 10 times. The park that I walk through every day went from green to yellow. I watered my tomato plants every day. Any excess water around my sink from doing dishes evaporated quickly. Our herb plants thrived in the tropical environment. Avocados ripened quickly. Coke tasted…amazing.

I believe I lost about 4 working days due to the heat (I know, I know, I don’t work, but this was unproductive even for me.) My head felt like a cloudy haze. I normally would be motivated to get things done, albeit errands or administrative tasks, but I couldn’t get organized enough even to go out. Instead, I ended up watching various episodes of Gilmore Girls to pass the time. Andy wasn’t much better. His office was also not air conditioned, and he had the sun pouring in through his windows. He said he didn’t get much done, especially around 4pm, when the heat was the worst. He would sweat just sitting at his desk. So he came home early.

We tried various mechanisms to cope with this. We started pulling the sun shades down to block out the sun. We tried various levels of closure to counteract the light/heat balance, but eventually felt shutting them all the way was best. The only problem is that this (obviously) made everything dark and no breeze at all came through, making everything stagnant and stifling. We hated being at home, because it was literally a pit of darkness, except for the side balcony window shining through the kitchen. I hate artificial light, especially during the day, so I never turned it on (plus it seemed to make things hotter.) Unless I was sitting on the couch with a cold beverage, I would be sweating, just moving around the apartment.

Our building faces the east, so it seemed to be hot right when we woke up. It doesn’t especially cool off at night, either, due to humidity. It isn’t get dark until 9:45 so it can be pretty miserable most of the day. Andy and I couldn’t sleep in the same bed, sharing each other’s body heat, so we alternated who slept on the couch. No covers. I started taking our hand towel, wetting it down with cold water and draping it over various areas to cool off. One night, it was my turn on the couch. A huge bug got in. It was super loud and plopped down next to me. I was terrified it was going to land on my face, since I had no covers. I reluctantly pulled the blanket over and crouched with my towel, miserable.

When I did go out, it could be awful, too. Everywhere you went, you sweat. I always remembered to wear sunglasses and put some sunscreen on my face and shoulders. You sweat walking through the heat, then you get on the bus. Most buses were not air conditioned. If some part of your skin was touching another part (like crossing your legs), you’d sweat. The only time I felt good was going into shaded places with good air ventilation, like Starbucks, with a Venti Berry Hibiscus Refresher at my side. I expanded on the wet towel concept and started draping it around my neck, kind of like a scarf. I even did this when I went to my work meeting. I must have looked pretty funny, but in my opinion, heating/cooling of self trumps fashion.

We thought about buying a fan. The heat wave kind of happened on a Tuesday. Friday I went out to price fans. A crappy, basic stand-up oscillating fan was 40 CHF, while the fancy lower stand-up ones were 50 CHF. I took note and moved on. We can’t bring the fan back to the States, so every purchase requires careful reflection. The heat didn’t get any better over the weekend. On Monday we decided it was a necessity and went back. They were sold out. I called various other stores. Nothing. Apparently over the weekend the Swiss people all went out and bought fans. I couldn’t believe it. The only good thing that came of this was that I found one store with air conditioning: wonderful! I didn’t want to leave.

We started taking showers twice a day just to cool off. We’d shower and not even wipe off with a towel. We didn’t put the setting on cold, but cool. It felt so nice- for about half hour. We also frequented our neighborhood pool. It’s typically jam packed with kids, so we’d just take a dip and sit in the 3 feet pool for 10 minutes. I found an excellent way to stay cool, longer: never take off your wet swimsuit. You know how you can get hypothermia from sitting around in wet clothes? When it’s super hot out, the wet clothes keep you cool for as long and they’re wet. It was nice to walk down through the park from the pool and sit on a bench and read for awhile in my wet swimsuit.

Finally, on Tuesday, the second week of the heat wave, it started to get better. We were supposed to get some huge storm and there was a dramatic change in the weather mid-afternoon. In fact, the rain came for about 10 minutes. Luckily, this resulted in the next few days being in the 70s- much more bearable. At the end of the week I saw that they were selling some fans in the department store again, but I knew we were going on vacation soon and wouldn’t need it after that.

The moral of the story is, we are now back in the States, where air conditioner abounds, and we saved ourselves 40-50 CHF. We made it!

Hospitality

Recently my mother-in-law came to visit. Now now, I know what can come to mind when I mention mother-in-law; however, Paige and I actually get along great. Thus, I was really looking forward to her visit. In general, when guests come, it forces us to do things that we normally neglect in our day to day lives. Which is a shame, because there is so much to see in our neck of the woods.

There’s something about people visiting you, too, where you feel like you’re being recognized as an adult. It’s like the fact that they’re spending so much money and traveling so far to see you means that they’re recognizing Andy and I’s little family unit. In turn, you act like an adult, taking responsibility for them arriving into a foreign country, thinking of activities that they would like, logistics, planning meals, etc.

Anyway, last fall, I was talking with someone about how hospitality always includes sacrifice. It’s not just the actual time the person is physically in your house; it involves careful, thoughtful preparation, deep cleaning (so people don’t think you’re slobs), and more cleaning after the fact. Not to mention the sacrifice of time, patience, giving up your will for the sake of the group, and the stress of it all.

However, 95% of the time I believe it’s always worth it. Especially here in Switzerland, it’s cool to see how people react to our surroundings, bringing us back to when we first arrived ourselves. It also brings us a sense of pride as we’re able to navigate the bus around town, show off the most scenic places, and avoid hills.

So, back to my mother-in-law visiting. We had a great visit. Julie was also able to join us for the weekend. It was mid-April and the flowers were blooming. We did a lot in the span on a week: day trips to Geneva and the chocolate/cheese factory, hiking, a boat ride, and the bird sanctuary.

Here are the things that stuck out to me the most on this visit:

Milk. One funny thing about our visit was that we were always running out of milk. Paige loves milk. Since the biggest jug of milk here I’ve seen is 1/2 gallon, I found myself hauling milk home every other day.

Pace of walking. Because I’m such a fast walker, I found myself at the head of the line everywhere we went- myself, then Andy, Julie, and Paige. I had to remind myself to slow down- I’m on vacation.

Steak tartare. Shockingly, Paige, who eats only plain-tasting foods, took the plunge and got steak tartare with me! For those of you who don’t know, steak tartare is basically eating raw hamburger meat seasoned with herbs and liqueur. We had many meals at restaurants together, which is kind of a treat for us since eating out is so expensive here.

Reformation museum. Paige, who’s interested in all things Calvin, was so excited to see Geneva. After seeing the obligatory Reformation Wall and Cathedral, we rounded the corner looking for the museum. There were balloons, a coffee cart, and people handing out cookies and wine. We wound up at the 10th anniversary celebration and got free coffee and admission, as well as the cookies/wine! Not gonna lie, it kind of made our day.

Books and games. Paige very generously brought along several gifts: Cheez-it’s for Andy, magazines for me, and a book about Swiss culture. I don’t know why I didn’t think to read a book on Swiss culture before. It was fascinating! She also brought Scrabble and all of us played several times in the evenings.

Birds. Paige is a ‘birder,’ and was really excited to look up all the birds here. At any given time on our trip, she would stop, whip our her binoculars, even mimic bird noises to get a better look! She would then try to snap a picture and then compare the photo with her bird book at our apartment. The cool thing is, her enthusiasm and excitement were contagious, and her interest gets me interested, too.

Sticking out. With my accent, height, and different way of dressing (i.e. not wearing dark colors and skinny jeans all the time), I already stick out, but am able to keep quiet and to myself. However, with company, it’s impossible to do that. You have entered the tourist mode. A group of people speaking loudly in english on public transportation stick out. Accepting this goes a long way.

I got to hand it to Paige. Completely jet lagged, she was able to take two quick naps on the changeover day, even focusing on a museum her first day here. She must have walked way, way more than she was used to. The only way you could tell was she was tired were her early bedtimes. I can tell she cares about us because she wants to see everything we’ve been talking to her about- our old apartment, Andy’s work, even the ping pong table that we play at.

Thus, hospitality involves sacrifice, but as you can tell, it was so worth it! Looking forward to my June guests- Anna and my parents.

Having lunch at a café

Having lunch at a café

Paige at St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva

Paige at St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva

Free Reformation Museum coffee!

Free Reformation Museum coffee!

Paige taking a picture of the birds

Paige taking a picture of the birds

Coming down from the bus stop to our apartment

Coming down from the bus stop to our apartment

Taking the bus

Taking the bus

The Car Saga

Lately, we have been having quite a bit of drama with our car situation. Some of you know that right before winter break we purchased a used 1.2V 1997 Ford Fiesta with 150K kilometers for 750 CHF from our friend, Daniel. Our budget for a car was 1-2,000 CHF, as we knew we didn’t want anything too fancy, just something to last us a year and a half. After asking around about cheap cars for sale all fall, our friend Daniel revealed to us that he was moving and would be happy to sell it, as he was just going to junk it anyway.

He came over on a Sunday afternoon. He used the car a lot for his job and said he never had any problems with it. He walked me through the process of registering it with the canton, the taxes I would pay, the highway sticker I must purchase, recommended the same insurance guy, and told me his uncle looked at it recently and the only thing wrong with it was that the back windshield wiper didn’t work.

The only caveat was that the car would be due for an inspection soon, or, “expertise.” In Switzerland, cars must be inspected every two years. This is to ensure safety and environmental regulations. In Iowa, we have nothing like this, although Andy told me they had something similar in Missouri. It had never been inspected, as he got it right after it had been inspected from the last owner. People had advised us to buy a car already inspected, but the ones we were finding were over budget. Our budget, as described by René, the head of Mercy Ships, was, “enough for a good scooter.” I would have been fine with a scooter, but Andy didn’t like the idea of them. Also, I guess it is a little scary to think about having an accident in a scooter.

When we test drove it, it didn’t seem as smooth as a new car, but I expected as much. It kind of just felt like an old, clunky car. You get what you pay for, right? All in all, the price was extremely under budget, and while we were worried about fixing the car up for inspection, the insurance was cheap (about 500 CHF/year), and we figured even if we had to put a little money in for repairs, we still probably had a good deal.

The pick up

We had arranged to pick up the car after Christmas break. We paid Daniel and I set off to pick up the car where it was parked, in Lonay, a small town near Lausanne. It was a cold, sunny day, and I took the regional bus to the center of town and walked a ways to the car. It was parked “by the woods,” as Daniel described, at a private residence where Daniel had been renting a small room while he was here. The lights were on in the kitchen when I got into our new car and took off. I imagined the landlady hearing the car and dashing to the window, wondering who on earth took off with the car that had been in her driveway a month.

Next, I was to make my way to the mechanic Daniel recommended. It was supposed to be across from some bowling place. There was a place near the bowling alley with some old cars in its tiny lot, but it was closed. It was the middle of the day and there was no sign of life there. I figured it was out of business and tried to find another mechanic. I navigated through several scary huge highway interchanges and went to a dealership.

I had to wait 15 minutes until they reopened from the lunch break. At 1:30 sharp, I head over to some guy opening a garage door. I told him I wanted to get my car ready for the expertise. He asked when it was. I said in month or so, as I had just gotten the car and needed to register it first. He said to come back when it was closer to the inspection. I don’t think we were communicating that well, because he took my name down, I think to appease me, and then tried to keep my keys. I asked what he was doing. He said I wasn’t allowed to drive it without it registered. I assured him I’d be going straight to the administration office to do just that.

It was a bit scary getting around at first. I know how to drive a stick, but I was a bit rusty. Plus, the roads in Switzerland were narrower, and there never seems to be any place where you can pull off if you get lost. You just have to keep going wherever you are, and if you make a wrong turn, there will certainly be a sign on the next turn the forbids you to go left or right or any logical direction that would enable you to backtrack. So, you just get more lost.

Finally, I found my way to the DOT equivalent for the canton. Getting my car registered was surprisingly easy. She handed me new plates, because apparently they change with every new owner? I tried to pay the tax and administrative fee right away, but the cashier waved his hand and said, “Don’t worry, it will be mailed to you.”

Swiss DOT

I went about the necessary steps of having a car. I got a permit to park in my neighborhood (500 CHF/year.) I got the sticker for the windshield so I could drive on the highway (40 CHF.) I got insurance. I never ended up meeting the insurance guy. He was really nice on the phone, Portuguese, like Daniel, and we did everything over email. The first insurance quote he sent over was for 900 CHF. I called him and said Daniel had paid 500. He said the collision and liability insurance, the one required by law that only covers the other driver/car, would cost around that much. I only want the minimum, I assured him. I did, however, opt for some sort of roadside assistance, which cost more, but Andy and I agreed it would be worth it.

We got our official inspection date: March 2. We drove it around town blissfully for 6 weeks. We drove it to church, the gym, small group on Thursdays, minimizing our commute times. We drove to IKEA and got things for our new place. We offered to take people home. I got more used to driving around town and reading the weird traffic lights, with both red and green arrow lights simultaneously flashing. I, in particular, loved driving around with the french radio on. Trying to understand DJs would give me something to do in traffic. And the traffic! Lausanne isn’t that big, about 133,000, but taking Andy home from work anytime between 5-7pm would take an hour.

The mechanic

The problem came when I took the car to the pre-inspection. I went to a different place that a friend had recommended in a neighboring town. They said it would be 250 CHF to look over everything, and they would call if something needed to be fixed so I could approve the estimate. I handed over the keys and walked to Andy’s office to hang out for the day.

He called me in less than half hour. He said the damages would be well over 3,000 CHF and there was no use repairing it as I could buy a similar used car, already inspected, for the same price. I agreed that it was not worth fixing and that I would go back with Andy that afternoon. Glum, I grieved a bit for the car we couldn’t keep. We would have to go back to getting to church the ol’ fashioned way- 50″ commute one way. However, after a few hours it honestly felt more like a relief. The car bills kept adding up and were stressing us out. It would be a relief to not have to worry about paying them.

The mechanic was great and even offered us coffee and oranges while we waited for the car to be hoisted up. Indeed, he showed us that we needed to fix the suspension, the front left rotor would need replacing, there was an oil leak underneath (as we visibly saw), and the clutch would soon give out. When I prepared to pay, he said it was no charge. Nice people.

Second opinion

So the story should end here, with my figuring out how to administratively cancel the car permit and insurance, right? Wrong. Well, I figured out which costs would be reimbursed and which ones would be lost, but in the meantime I had postponed the inspection two weeks. Why, you ask? Because we wanted to keep driving the car as long as legally possible and had also planned to go skiing for a day with some friends. As we waited around I researched junkyards, etc, which basically said they won’t buy our car, but take it for free, considering disposing a car here would cost a few hundred francs. We happened to mention the bad news about our car to our small group. Mark, the youth pastor from England, said I should give his friend David a call. He specializes in fixing up old cars to pass the strict Swiss inspections.

We figured, why not? This could be our last ditch effort to save the car. David’s British accent was thick on the phone. He said that I should most definitely take it to the inspection, as it’s relatively cheap (75 francs) and they will give you a list of exactly what needs to be repaired. “Mechanics are always over-cautious about what needs to be repaired,” he said. “I’ll take a look at it and see if it might be worth fixing up, and if it is, I will fix it for you myself, very cheaply. I was floored. We arranged to meet the following week in a neighboring town’s parking lot. He was in his late 30s, bald, wearing a bright blue zip-up hoodie.

He first gave me a pep talk on what to expect during the expertise. “Whether or not it passes depends on the day and who’s inspecting it,” he said. “Show up, be early, they’ll motion for you to enter the garage, and then make sure you pull in all the way, because it’s cold! The mechanic wants the door shut.” I nodded. “Have your registration card ready. They will want this. They will have you ride over this hump thing, and they’ll check the lights that you’ll need to turn on and off for them. Then they get in and take it for a ride around the block. They’ll warn you to hold on, and they’ll press hard on the breaks as you plow forward. Be ready. When they fail the inspection, they’ll write it down and you’ll go into this little office, where they’ll give you a new appointment in two weeks. Bring this list to me, and I will fix everything. I get my parts from Germany, so they’re inexpensive.”

He quickly looked at the car. “Looks like you’ll need new brake pads,” he said. “Probably need to replace that rotor as well.” I told him about the leak and he crawled under the car. “Yep, I see it,” he said. “From the looks of it, it shouldn’t cost anymore than 500-1000 to fix up the car. You’ll fail the inspection, but most of this stuff is routine maintenance anyway. Tomorrow, let’s get a car wash and wash the engine to get it ready.” Wash the engine? Lifting up the hood, he said, “You see all this dust? They like it nice and clean when they look at it. It’s all in the instructions for the expertise.” It seemed weird to me that you need to clean up your car for the inspection. Isn’t the point just to make sure the car is safe? “You have to give a good impression,” he said. I told him about the rear windshield wiper. “It’s electrical,” he said. “I can’t fix it without my equipment. For now, just take it off its hinges. What they can’t inspect they can’t fail you on.”

The next day he brought his toolbox. It took him all of two seconds to pull of the rear windshield wiper. In my trunk, randomly, was a new set of fog lights. He put them on, but they didn’t work. “Well, we’ll have to fix those eventually,” he said. We went to the car wash. He said there are signs warning you about cleaning off your engine, but he said we’ll just ignore them. He did this while I washed the car. For a final flourish, I bought a little more rinsing time and he aimed the nozzle under the car to clean up where the oil was leaking. “You should just fill up your oil more often,” he said. I had vacuumed the car the day before and the car was now looking pretty great. Driving back, he said that he noticed the suspension and that would probably be the biggest expense. “Let me know what they say asap,” he said. “If it ends up being too expensive, I’ll help you sell your car for a couple hundred online, or help you find another cheap, decent car.” This guy was a godsend!

To be continued…

So join me as I wait in expectation to find out whether or not we get to keep the car! I will find out what’s David’s final estimate is on Monday. I’m hoping the moral of the story is, “Get a second opinion,” but it logically might be, “Make sure a car is inspected when you buy it.” As they say, on verra (we’ll see!)

Old Apartment/New Apartment: Pictures

Luckily, our stressful transition into the new apartment has a happy ending: We love our new apartment! It is ~500 square feet. It’s the same apartment layout as before, save fewer doors, updated everything, and a more open kitchen concept. Scroll back to July’s post to see how it compares to the old apartment. Special shout out to Paige/Julie Reynolds and Hope/Howard Aldrich, who will get to see it in the flesh this spring!

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Paige gave us this for Christmas.

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Bathroom on the right: do you like our new shower curtain?

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Entryway from bathroom

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We don’t have any furniture yet for the little hallway.

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I bought the shoe rack from IKEA for 8 CHF and the mirror for 7

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We love our new bedspread! Sorry the picture is a bit dark.

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Giant wardrobe with entryway in background

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Andy’s desk area- we need to get a poster or something above his desk.

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Our giant, modern, low couch- it’s a bit hard to get up once you sit down. 🙂image_10

View from the living room window

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Balcony off the kitchen- it’s kind of boring, we put our cleaning stuff out there. But you can see the park bench still (it’s green through the third bush on the right)

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Our new kitchen and table counter area- this is my favorite part, as you can cook and chat with people in the living room! The refrigerator is smaller than our old one (on the left.) I love my 2 CHF rug near the sink!

Hopefully this post was a bit more uplifting than the last two. 😉

 

 

 

 

Old Apartment/New Apartment Part 2: Mold!

The Monday after I got the keys to our new apartment (as explained in Part 1), I was scheduled for an Etat des Lieux (moving inspection) with our previous landlords. I was actually looking forward to seeing our them again, as we had been on good terms our entire stay and was proud of my cleaning efforts. One was an older Swiss woman nearing retirement named Dorette. Her last name meant “white bread” in German. She had a charming British accent when she spoke english. She had introduced her younger colleague, Marcelina, early on, as she was new and in training. Marcelina was my age and originally from Poland. They were both very nice and respectful in all of our dealings.

The apartment was temporary as it was meant for the visiting spring professor at the University of Lausanne. Two ladies from the International Relations department kindly responded to my every request in a timely manner and even had a sense of humor. They had been there when I wrote and said we had bedbugs in the fall. It took them awhile to finally get the work order from the rental agency to call the exterminator, but they were excellent liaisons.

Right after Christmas break, we came back and discovered grayish mold in the corners by our front door frame that goes into the hallway. There were also pockets of mold starting in the corners of our living room. I wrote Marcelina and told her about this, as well as several other things I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to clean (for example, the dishes I never used that were in storage.) I also notified her of the few scratches the coffee table made on the wood floor. We worked out the cleaning responsibilities and she told me that she would tell the rental agency about the mold. She said not to worry about the scratches on the floor, as most likely the agency would eventually redo the floor anyway.

I had cleaned all week with a few of my friends, who graciously offered to help. My friend Helen and I laughed as we pulled ancient looking items out of the cupboard and put mostly everything in the dishwasher. I wasn’t feeling well the next day, so my friend Emily and I took it easy and just vacuumed and dusted the living room one day. It was while moving the sectional couch that we saw it: a huge wall full of green mold and a damp back of the couch. It was just along the side against the exterior wall; the other side was fine. We immediately let the damp part of the couch dry out and opened some windows.

When Marcelina saw the mold behind the couch, she was apalled. She said the new tenant is coming the week after and is bringing her two year old son. When looking in bathroom, she asked if I had cleaned the mirror. I said I had. She had me clean the mirror again, as there was some calcium buildup on the sides that were still there. I found some cleaning product that said something about “de-calcifying power” and the buildup came right off. She asked if I cleaned the shower. In fact Andy had, but I know he did a good job and I had gone over the black moldy parts with hydrogen peroxide, to no avail. However, it was like that when we arrived, but Dorette was there when we moved it, not Marcelina. She said she would get in touch with me about the mold and the wood floor that week, as I was responsible for paying to repair the floor. After someone comes to give an estimate, they could process the deposit. I said okay and went home.

Late afternoon the next day, I got an email from Marcelina. She said I might have to pay for the mold as the rental agency said the couch was “too close to the wall” and it’s possible we didn’t aerate the apartment enough. She said tomorrow the mold/floor guy would come and look over everything.

This time I was apalled. I immediately tried to figure out a game plan. I found a tenant association in town and decided to call them if did hold us responsible for the mold. They could tell us our tenant rights and advise us to further action. I also decided to ask if the mold/floor guy worked frequently for the rental agency, making his opinion somewhat of a conflict of interest. Also, wasn’t it just an insulation problem? If it weren’t, why did the mold only appear on the exterior wall? Finally, I thought I would just inquire as to how much it would cost to get rid of the mold, as if it was a few hundred francs, it might not be worth fighting.

The next day, I greeted Marcelina more casually. Was she on my side in this? She put me at ease when she said, “Can you believe they want you to pay for the mold?” I laughed nervously as we waited for the mold/floor guy. Finally he came, a friendly, Portuguese man. He looked around and said that the insulation wasn’t good and this is something that happens in plenty of apartments. He said it’s wise to not have the couch directly against the wall, but he will tell the agency it wasn’t directly related to poor aeration. He said to fix the problem they would need several days and a few people to do it, but they didn’t have availability for several months. No time to do it before the new tenants were due to arrive. I was so relieved; I didn’t have to use my game plan after all.

As for the floor, he said there’s no way to buff out just a few scratches; they’d have to do the entire living room. He said it would be around 600CHF. Marcelina then said that part of my rent paid for apartment insurance which covered things like the floor. She said she’d get in touch with them and let me know what she finds out. I was happy, but still frustrated that there were no clear answers or time frames on when we’re getting our deposit back. We didn’t have a lot of money left in the bank and were kind of relying on it.

That Friday she got in touch with us again. In an email in english, she informed us that Swiss standards of cleaning are higher and they decided to use our deposit to hire professional cleaners. The first estimate of professional cleaners she attached came to 1,400 CHF: 16 hours of labor costs, moving furniture fees, and a 200 CHF cleaning product fee. What was going on?

Andy called Marcelina and asked her why she didn’t mention the cleaning before. She admitted that her boss wanted to professionally clean the place before the new tenant arrived, since they weren’t able to clean the mold until the summer. Andy bargained with her: will you cancel the professional cleaning in lieu of us cleaning the apartment that weekend to her standards? She agreed.

Reluctantly, Andy and I set about cleaning the apartment again. We targeted the mold behind the couch. I came armed with a bottle of vinegar. Surprisingly, the green mold came right off. I mopped off the mold that collected on the floor behind the couch. Andy got out the vacuum and we were able to get some hard-to-reach places, like under the bed and behind the cupboards in the kitchen. He also scoured the bathroom again and was actually able to get the mold off the tile grout. All in all, the place looked great in under two hours.

On Monday, we presented our work to Marcelina and Dorette, who were impressed. The final piece of the puzzle was whether or not the insurance would pay for the floor scratches. “We are still waiting to hear from them,” Dorette said. Andy asked about when we could expect our deposit back. “That’ll take awhile, about three weeks at least, only after we hear form the insurance company,” she said.

So this is where we are today: two weeks into living in our new place, nowhere close to getting our deposit back, and waiting on Marcelina to get in touch with the insurance company. Theoretically, the insurance should cover it, and we will get our money back- even if it’s not for awhile.

I know better than to hold my breath.