Friday, September 24, 2010

Zurich: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

22 Sep 2010

Okay, so far I've been waxing eloquent about my new city and how lucky I am to be here.  It's time to reveal the nitty gritty: the good, the bad and the ugly.

First, here are (some of) the good things:
  • our apartment
  • the cleanliness and friendliness


  •  the view from our apartment

  •  the food

These are all olive oils and they had about fifty samples.

There are Zurich markets every day but Sunday and Monday.
We've been feasting on mushrooms

A good day at the market!

 This is what Greg had to say about the food:
There are lots of great things here. A fabulous bakery is 2 blocks away. Did I
tell you Zurich is in a glacial valley? The two blocks has an elevation change of
about 100 meters (300 feet). On the bright side, there is a restaurant that makes
its own outstanding beer across the street from the bakery (that part is level).
We went to the Oerlikon Market yesterday. The produce is awesome. We got
3 different wild mushrooms, tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes, red and
yellow carrots (did you know that carrots have flavor?), fish (didn’t smell like fish -
I think that it was fresh) and wild boar. We also found a discount store where we
bought good (not great) wine for 8CF (8 dollars) a bottle. So with a little work, I
think we will be able to feed ourselves for less than 100CF per day.
  • the flowers. Flowers are sold everywhere and are fresher and cheaper than we usually get in the States or Canada.

All right, enough of this Pollyanna crap!  Let's get down to the nitty gritty:  Zurich the Bad.
  • top of the list is the shower.  Here is how Greg describes it: How do we take a shower when the shower is smaller than an economy seat on a regional Jet?

  • a close second is the dryer. When we received the description of this place, I was pleased to see that it had a washer and dryer - even if the laundry room was a shared space in the basement. Well, here they are:

Here in Europe they have washers and dryers that are all in one. I was hoping that this machine might be one of those. No such luck. You take your clothes out of the washer and hang them on the clothesline. If you look closely at the picture of the hanging clothes, you can see a machine on the wall in the background. This is a fan that spits air out at the clothes in a mysterious cycle that eventually (kind of) dries your stuff. Laundry here is an all day commitment. And to think that I used to make fun of my friend Doris because she had a dedicated laundry day. (Doris do you still haul your clothes up from the basement to dry on lines in the attic? You'd feel right at home here!)

  • the size of the kitchen. Poor Greg! Here is pre and post.

Greg's comment?  Electric? I only do gas!
Of course, it's a typically efficient European kitchen so it's not too bad.

  • the garbage situation.  I'll let Greg tell you about it:
    Why are there six different kinds of garbage and how do we sort it? 
    Are there enough adaptors in the world to support our electronics?
    (Fortunately, manufactures have put transformers on most things so
    they work here.) I brought a surge protector so we can plug in all of our
    American electronics. When I tried to use it, I blew a circuit and toasted
    the protector. We weren’t sure of how to dispose of it here in this twenty
    kinds of garbage country and so we made Heath and Katie cart it home
    when they left.

  • the pets we left behind.  Greg wrote:

    Four days after Margo arrived, I hopped a train to a Gordon conference in the Swiss Alps. My arrival home was sad as it’s the first time in 12 years my dog Abbey wasn’t there to greet my return. Margo tried to compensate by barking and jumping but it just wasn’t the same. 

  • Katie and Heath report that the cat hasn't seemed to realize we're gone but poor Abbey is stressed and driving them crazy. She demands constant attention when they're home and chews up doors when they're gone. This is the e-mail we received from them yesterday:

    Abbey is now the proud owner of (don't laugh):
    A dog pheromone room infuser to calm dogs
    Dog relaxation vitamins
    2 new toys
    A radio to keep her company
    And a new gate that is hopefully indestructible.
    Let’s hope one of these things works.
    P.S. We also bought a shock mat to lay in front of the gate that Heath shocked himself on about 10 times while setting it up... and Abbey stood on it unfazed. I'm beginning to think maybe your dog is immune to shocks.

    • the friends we left behind.  (I hope nobody notices that I talked about the pets first.)

    Finally, on to Zurich the UGLY. Here it is, the one you've been waiting for! (Scroll down)
    Here I am with my old lady cart. 
    My family made me buy it.
    It was only 30 francs. 
    I wanted one of the sleek black ones that were 200 francs.
    Heath said he'd only let me buy one of the cool ones if it went out on its own to do the shopping.
    So here I am living in a cosmopolitan city with a bad haircut and an ugly cart.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    They ain't Niagara but ...

    September 21, 2010

    Last week, Greg eased his way back into the working world with a two day work week, leaving us Wednesday through Sunday to enjoy one of those weekly excursions I'd been promised pre-move.
    So, while Greg went off to his first day in a new labor force, I hit the guidebooks and came up with Wengen, a tiny village so high in the Alps, you need to board a cog railroad to get there.
    When Greg got home and listened to my enthusiastic burbling, he asked, "Did you check the weather forecast for the area?", his smirk belying the innocence of the question.
    I checked and the forecast was for ... SNOW! Okay, I do realize this is Switzerland and it snows in winter but this is September. I signed up for autumn leaves, newly harvested apples and orange mums in September - not snow.
    Thus, while Greg was off replenishing our dwindling bank account on Tuesday, I again got out the guidebooks. When mein Mann got home, I proudly described Ticino, an area bordering Italy with a Mediterranean climate that supports palm trees. (Of course, that's what they told us about Orcas Island, too - an assertion that was belied by island webcams revealing snow in December.) I sent an email off to a small hotel that boasted its own vineyard, asking for a reservation from Thursday (Greg was getting cheaper) to Sunday.
    The hotel didn't email us back until Thursday, when they apologized that they were currently closed. By then, inertia had us in its grip and we were caught up in shopping for all those little extras that make a house a home - like toilet paper.
    Meanwhile, I was discovering the pitfalls of having a spouse around 24/7 when you'd had two years of days to yourself. In fact, if Greg asked me one more time which day which set of neatly packaged garbage (paper, cardboard, compost or regular) went to the curb, I was going to have to kill him. My weapon of choice was a heavy glass vase holding sunflowers but smashing it over his head would require carefully sorting the shards into white glass and blue glass, to be deposited into the apropriate bins at the end of our street and the sunflowers ... well, we haven't quite figured out what to do with the compost: we fear we might have to eat it!  So, until I can find a cleaner weapon, spending three days in a small hotel room with possible inclement weather is perhaps best avoided.
    The weather last week went from sweater weather to jacket weather and back again. One day I even wore a turtleneck! 
    But Sunday, as I discovered when I woke up at 1100 hours (that's Swiss for 11 A.M.) was a beautiful sunny, short sleeved day. I dragged Greg onto a train for an hour trip to the Rhine Falls, the largest in Europe.
    When we got there, we found stairs ... about a billion of them going up one way and down the other. I suspect the existence of a huge rivalry with Zurich as to who can squeeze the most steps into a confined space. Undaunted, I knew that all the walking up and down stairs in my new city would make these stairs a chore of no consequence and indeed I bounced up and down them huffing no harder than an eighty year old woman (as opposed to huffing like an octogenarian when we first moved here.)
    Below you will see my carefully composed photos. (Who am I kidding? I can't see a darn thing in that digital window when the sun is bright. I can only point and shoot multiple times and hope for the best. If you want to see really good pictures, go to google images and type in Rhine Falls, Switzerland.)

    Of course, all that water made us thirsty and so m'lord and I adjourned to the castle for a flagon of wine.

    While we were sitting there, sipping wine and enjoying a last lovely autumn day, I waxed poetic on the beauties of the castle and its awesome setting and offered the opinion that it would have been wonderful to have lived there when it was built.
    Greg's response?
    "Are you kidding? It was built up here because people were trying to kill you and can you imagine how cold it would be in winter with those stone walls?"
    Scientists - they're so romantic!

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    learning German

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Well, I finally got back to Rosetta Stone German today. I had started it last spring and was working on it fairly diligently until life intervened - including Mom breaking her hip and me having to fly up to Canada to get her settled into a retirement home.  I was afraid that I might have forgotten everything but didn't do too badly on the review today.

    Which brings us to the signs in our apartment building.

    There's something really odd in German called a dative case  - maybe this sign and others like it will help me figure it out!
    I love the sign below. Maybe there's no fire department in Zurich?

    I bought a keyboard. In the US they're called QWERTY because that's the way the keys are lined up. Well, I couldn't find one of those so I got the European QWERTZ and figured that would be good because I just had to remember that y was z and z was y and it had the special characters needed in German like the a with two dots over it. Wouldn't you know it - my computer recognizes this new keyboard as an American one so now z is y and y is z and the exclamation point and other symbols are all messed up so I have to keep looking at my laptop keyboard to figure them out.  Arrrrr! Maybe I can get the kids to send me one from Florida and I'll leave this one lying about so people will think I've gone European in my techno skills.

    I don't have a good ear for languages but I'm determined to learn enough German that I can get around without having to continue asking everyone "Sprechen Sie English?"  Learning German is hard enough but there's an added quirk. People in this part of Switzerland speak a dialect of German called "Swiss German".  There's no Rosetta Stone for it.  I guess it's like the French spoken in Quebec.  Before we moved here, we were assured that "everyone" in Zurich spoke English. Nope. Many do but everyone here is so friendly and helpful that we seem to manage with gestures and a few words of English and German. 

    I gotta tell you, people ... I'm loving it here!

    Sunday, September 12, 2010


    Sunday Sept 12

    As I'm writing this, I am serenaded by a cacophony of tolling church bells and the wail of a lone ambulance.  The windows are all open, letting in a wonderfully refreshing breeze (such a difference from Florida!)

    Speaking of windows, here is what we see when we peer out:

     from the living room and dining room windows


    from the other MBR window and the kitchen:

    European windows are awesome. Watch while Greg, doing his best Vanna White impression, demonstrates:

    Greg/Vanna points to the thermopane window and handle
    Greg/Vanna shows that by turning the handle one way, the window opens inward.

    Greg/Vanna demonstrates that by turning the handle the other way, the window pivots inward from the base so that the top is open.

    Greg/Vanna shows that, by manipulating a simple turny thing, the storm shutters come down with little air holes for circulation. If you keep turning, the shutters close completely making the room as black as our left-behind cat Leon.

    Start sending out resumes, Vanna White: you're about to be replaced!

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Packing a Life into Six Suitcases

    10 Sept 2010 - Later

    I just love that title! Unfortunately, I didn't have the sense to take a picture of all six checked bags (including Greg's golf clubs) or a picture of the cat lying in one.

    Packing was tough.

    First of all, Heath and Katie will be renting our house (complete with our cat and dog) for the next two or three years and so I got rid of a lot of stuff including my kiln.  I debated long and hard as to whether I should sell Tiny the Freedom Mobile (my 2006 Toyota Tundra, full cab, long body gas guzzler) but decided what the hell! By the time we finish here, maybe I can convince Greg to retire to some island in Belize where everyone gets around using golf carts.  Mind you, Greg is holding onto his decade old Porsche.

    Having made the decisions on what to chuck, I was left with the choices of what to pack. This was made harder by Katie staunchly vetoing all kinds of stuff. I had to wait 'til she went to work each day to sneak it back in.  I told you I should have packed more office supplies, Katie!

    Okay, here's where we get to the bottom dime! Things here are very, very expensive.  The Swiss franc is about on par with the US dollar so it makes it very easy to have a heart attack whenever you try to buy a few office and household supplies.

    So ... when we had all 6 checked bags packed, daughter Katie and her hubby Heath and I all flew over to Zurich to join Greg who had come over early for a retreat with the ETH group he'll be working with. We had hired a chauffeur driven van to schlep all of our stuff but were instead met with an apologetic dude who explained there had been a mix up and all he had was a car. Since our stuff obviously wasn't going to fit, Heath broke the rules and grabbed a taxi van from the middle of the line. Fortunately, Greg was ready to meet us at the door of the apartment building and he and the kids carried everything up to the third floor (no elevator) while I pretended to be studiously studying a hangnail.

    It's been 32 years since I lived in an apartment and we had only seen the outside of this one.
    So, while trying to continue to view my wine glass as half full, the half empty part of me was convinced the place would be a dump. Was it? Well, see for yourself as I take you from the front door up five thousand steps to the apartment:

    Oops - no pic of 2nd BR. Beds must not have been made!