Archive for May, 2013

Note to Self: Always Take Weather Forecasts Seriously

May 28, 2013

You are not in Seattle anymore.

P.S. Get yourself an umbrella.

Zurich rain is some serious stuff. None of that sissy Seattle “oh I think I’ll take a sprinkle today. For the entire day.” I mean, that Seattle has over Zurich for sure. That is, the amount of day taken up by raining (drizzling). But many in Seattle really see umbrellas as unnecessary. Or even as “a quick way to spot someone not from Seattle.”

Seattlites: “You’re joking, right? My sprinkler produces more water than this.”

Seattle’s got nothing on Zurich. I’ve found that Zurich is the type of city where when it rains, it pours. And unlike in Seattle, where you really never know what the weather will be like regardless of what the weatherman says, Zurich, I have come to realize, actually has relatively reliable forecasts. And if it was sunny and warm with a bright happy blue sky at 5pm and you go in for an hour and a half yoga class without a coat, umbrella, or a care in the world, thinking: “there’s no way that silly rain prediction will come true,” then you’ve got another thing coming.

FML

I found out the hard way.

Yes, I specifically took the long way home with two trams just to minimize the time spent in that downpour. Yes, my already slightly see-through shirt was soaked even still.

Just imagine if you will, a poor bewildered — and very chilled — girl clutching her yoga mat fiercely to her chest as if to ward off the bucket-loads of water carelessly thrown her way.

See her shivering, the water streaming down her hair in constant rhythm as if reflective of her state of being and regret upon deciding earlier to not pack a jacket. See the wise ones shaking their heads, safely under their umbrellas, as they watch this pathetic creature desperately waiting for the warmth and dryness of the tram to take her home; defenseless and without even a fricken tram shelter to stand under (I mean, come on Switzerland! In Paradeplatz, no less).

You see that? No shelter on the left side! Yes, yes, I know, 1st world problems.

Watch as she frantically leaps into the arriving tram, hardly waiting for the doors to fully open. See her seek sanctuary in the nearest seat and then abruptly make a concerted effort to appear as though everything is normal. After all, everything is fine now. She is dry. For the moment.

Look how she rides the short distance home, all the while dreading the torrent that awaits her merely minutes later.

Her stop arrives. The time has come. Back into the storm.

She sees the doors part and cautiously sets a foot on the ground.

Wait. What is this? Can it be??

It has stopped raining.

Never thought I’d say this, but I love (this kind of) rain!!  Really, I don’t care how hard it rains, as long as it passes quickly. No more 40 days and 40 nights of miserable weather for me, please.

Though my next purchase is most certainly an umbrella. That I will always carry when the forecast has rain in it.

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Myths About Apartments Debunked

May 17, 2013

In Zurich, it can be tough to find an apartment, no doubt.  There are several pieces of advice I have heard from others regarding the rental search process as once you have gone through it yourself, you understand just how much of a pain it can be.

However, there are some things — let’s refer to them as “myths” — that I have heard and some that I likely just imagined myself; several of which I have shared with many of you in conversation and now I would like to take the opportunity to clear it up.

Myth #1.

Apartments in Switzerland do NOT come with any appliances!! You must buy your own fridge, stove, oven, etc.

This fridge cost me more than the apartment itself

Fact

ALL Apartments we looked at in Zurich came with a fridge, stove and oven. Many even came with a dishwasher. Only a handful offered to sell the washing machine in-unit.

Myth #2.

If you do not search for an apartment during the two “moving months” (March and September), then you are out of luck because the market will be severely limited.

Why can’t I find a single listing!!??

Fact

While it may be true that there are not as many places listed, we certainly were not lacking for apartments on the market. We signed up for homegate’s daily mailer with our search criteria and received an average of 5-8 new listings per day. We considered close to 100 apartments before finding “the one.”

Myth #3.

That is your price range? Yeah, you might want to consider expanding that…  (I.e. Apartments are very expensive here)

I’m worth *much* more than I look

Fact

Sure, if you want to live in the heart of the Niederdorf, you’re going to pay for it. However, there are quite affordable options in and around Zurich city. Several apartments we considered were well below our anticipated price point. When you look in Oerlikon, Horgen, Schwamendingen and Albisrieden you can find particularly good rates. And all are within a 20-25 minute tram/train ride to downtown.

Myth #4.

World’s smallest kitchen.

Enough space for bananas in the windowsill

Fact:

Yeah, this was pretty much proven true. Kitchens in Europe are tiny.

Ok, so in addition to myth busting, there were a few new things I learned about apartments here.

Interesting Fact 1.

Nearly all apartments here come with storm shutters!

Safe for the winter. Or to sleep in until 5. PM.

Interesting Fact 2.

Previous tenants will sometimes offer to sell you things they would like to leave behind in the apartment. For us, this means we will get an extremely discounted washing machine! Several others we saw offered to sell such things as wardrobes (which most apartments do NOT have built in), lighting fixtures (also not guaranteed to come with your place), tables, coat hangers, shelves or curtain hangers they installed.

How else would you inherit funky ceiling lights?

How else would you inherit funky ceiling lights?

Interesting Fact 3.

Nearly all apartments we saw had balconies. It seems a standard of living here is that you are expected to have a large balcony.

You get a free balcony. And you. AND you! You ALL get free balconies!!

You get a free balcony. And you. AND you! You ALL get free balconies!!

Interesting Fact 4.

Bomb shelter!

Yep, you heard right. Apartments in Switzerland are required to have a basement storage unit that serves as your fallout shelter. You are expected to keep food and water rations there. (In addition to your bikes, ski equipment, furniture and other goodies that won’t fit in your apt.)

Enough space for all your boxes of miscellaneous stuff. And you of course.

Apartment searching is always stressful. We suffered through just over a month of stress and then – hooray!! – we found the place. The good news is it has nearly everything we were looking for and we are very happy with it. The bad news is we will not move in until the last week of July. Thus begins the search for a temporary sublet.

Spring Seekers: Copenhagen at a Glance

May 9, 2013

Mr. Goat and I have had the great fortune to not only enjoy the budding leaves and flowers of Seattle in late March and early April, but also Spring V2 in Zurich for the remainder of April and now Spring V3 in Copenhagen this past week. I guess that’s what happens when it doesn’t get remotely warm/sunny until May.

Cherry blossoms blooming in May!? Who would have guessed.

Cherry blossoms in May!? Who would have guessed.

Initial impressions of Copenhagen:

1. Flattest city I’ve ever seen (elevation varies from 3ft to 299ft – on the one hill of the city).

2. Bikes everywhere!

3. Such diversity in architecture.

4. All buses should play classical music.

We stayed in what Mr. Goat dubbed a “bro-tel” (AirBnB apartment rental by a couple of dudes who totally had a bachelor pad). One of my favorite features was the bathroom, which had a toilet, sink, and then this odd looking device.

HelloShower

Thanks for taking this photo, Peter!

Yeah, that’s right. The shower was just hanging there (looking more like a phone), out in the open with the rest of the bathroom. First time I’ve had to squeegee the floor around the toilet after taking a shower. No socks allowed!

We spent a few days exploring the city, enjoying good food and beer and counted ourselves very lucky with the sunny weather. Copenhagen is definitely rated in my top favorite cities in the world now. I really fell in love with the town.

Here are my top 15 things to do in Copenhagen:

15. Christiania – no visit to Copenhagen is complete without visiting this alternative-lifestyle (read: hippies), “green-light-district” part of town.

14. Amalienborg Palace – four royal palaces flanking a square. The winter residence of the Danish royal family. Not really recommended to see the changing of the guards at noon. More like a 20-minute long staring contest of the guards.

13. Kastellet – fortification with a church, prison, windmill, Commandant’s quarters and other houses. If you walk farther along the greenery towards the water you will eventually hit the Little Mermaid sculpture, if you’re into that sort of thing.

12. St. Alban’s Anglican Church. Near Kastellet, beautiful church and fountain.

11. Climb the Church of Our Saviour spire and get the best view of the city.

10. The Royal Library – aka “The Black Diamond.” What a marvel.

9. Christiansborg Slot – This palace struck me as more grand and impressive than the more famous one mentioned at 14.

8. Støget – longest pedestrian shopping street in the world – gorgeous cobblestoned road. Pass by some lovely churches, fountains, and squares.

7. University Botanical Gardens – huge peaceful and picturesque park. Also, there is a 19th century greenhouse that felt like a sauna (in a good way) due to it being somewhere around 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than outside.

6. Mother – Italian pizza restaurant we visited twice during our visit, we enjoyed it so much. Recommended: the Prosciutto or Affumicata pizzas. Opt for wine over beer.

5. SMK (National Gallery) – Free entrance. Very interesting merging of new and old artwork right down to the very buildings they are housed in.

4. Ny Carlsberg Glypotek – primarily a sculpture museum housed in a gorgeous building (the architecture and decoration inside the building is worth visiting alone). Free entrance Sundays.

3. Schønnemann – Traditional Danish lunch. Absolutely delicious. Order a beer to drink throughout – their house brew was great. Start with a herring dish and pair it with a “snap” (schnapps), afterwards move to a fish dish. Then, if you have room, order a meat dish (we did not). We did, however end our meal with some amazing cheese. Wish I could go back. Every day.

2. National Museum – Free entrance. The museum covers 14,000 years of Danish history as well as collection of objects from the ancient cultures of Greece and Italy, the Near East and Egypt. My favorite exhibit was “Stories of Denmark,” where most rooms you walk through are representations of how a room in a Danish home would look at that period of time (from 1660-2000).

1. Mikkeller. Or their new bar Mikkeller and Friends (which I went to nearly every night of our stay). Best beer selection in Copenhagen (not to mention, much of Europe). Anything you get should be amazing, but I tended to lean towards the sours (spontan). If you ever see the fig or lychee beers – go for them!

When we were at the Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, there was a group of “Bird Women” performing. They sang for most of our visit and it certainly added to the artistic experience; to find ourselves walking through rooms of larger-than-life sculptures of Greek heroes and historic figures with the bird chorus in the background.

Here’s a snippet of what we heard:

Volunteering in Switzerland Shouldn’t Be So Hard

May 1, 2013

Since I followed my husband who got a job transfer to Switzerland I find myself in a boat with many other expat women I am meeting here.

Jobless in Zurich.

Hmm….not nearly as catchy as “Sleepless in Seattle.” I’ll have to work on that.

Anyway… I knew one of my first tasks was going to be getting involved by volunteering. Easy, right?

Apparently not.

After a little over two weeks here I can be quite certain that I have hit up nearly every expat site, every advice column for English speaking wannabe-volunteers, asked every jobless woman I’ve encountered, and looked in and under every nook, cranny, corner, and rock that I could find.

The consensus? Unless you want to volunteer at an expat organization (which, don’t get me wrong, I’m working on), you need to know German. And likely Swiss German at that. For English speakers, the list is limited. The American Women’s Club lists donating blood, driving food to charitable organizations, driving elderly to doctor appointments, helping with parent support groups, and donating articles of clothing. Nothing very sexy. Nothing you can really put on your resume and say “hey, while I was jobless in Zurich for three years, I did X. How cool is that??”

Except for the Red Cross that is. Hallelujah -I am in the land of the Red Cross!

I knew I would get involved with the Red Cross before my plane even landed. So I started emailing with the volunteer coordinator the first week I was here. And last week I went to visit their Zurich headquarters! Turns out they just started their English speaking volunteer group in 2011 with the fundraising team (which has a grand total of 1 staff member at this location). The fundraising team has since established school charity runs and Christmas gift wrapping and is working on organization/company sponsored runs. Andrea, the volunteer coordinator, invited me to come to the next meeting with the group arranging a school run for May.

So I came, met several other English-speaking volunteers and listened as they discussed all the many pieces that go into setting up a charity run. Sounded awesome and I’m very thrilled to now consider myself an official volunteer of the Red Cross! The one thing I will say – this program has a lot of room for growth, as right now there aren’t a whole lot of activities for volunteers to get engaged with. Not a problem! Room for growth = potential awesomeness on resume. That is, if I can come up with some amazing new idea for them to incorporate.

Red Cross aside, I’m really quite shocked that there’s such a lack of volunteer opportunities here. It seems like most women I’ve come across haven’t really become engaged in volunteering here. So I’ve been on my own to try and figure this out.

If anyone is out there who has gone through this process and especially if you have managed to get involved with an amazing volunteer opportunity – let me know your thoughts in the comments!??