Saturday, May 31, 2008

Getting a Cell Phone in Switzerland

So a few weeks ago I wrote about how I finally canceled our cell phone contract in the States, well today we finally got around to getting Jace a cell phone.

Wait, scratch that.

We got around to it - but didn't get it. Let me explain.

When you arrive in Switzerland, you can't take out a cell phone plan unless you have a Swiss Ausweiss - or a Swiss residence permit. Once you register within your canton, they'll give you a temporary permit until you get your 'permanent' permit. You can use this piece of paper to get a cell phone plan. Just take it to any cell phone retailer... however, there is a catch. You can't take out a monthly payment plan until you have your permanent permit... or so we thought!

Today when we went to sign up for a monthly plan, the kind customer service person told us that you can only take out a contract if you're going to be within Switzerland for the next 12 to 24 months. Well, since we just got our permanent permit and since 3 months are already up (regardless of the fact that the permit is renewable so long as you're employed), our permit says we'll be here through March next year... and therefore, they wouldn't give us a monthly cell phone plan. It's prepaid or nothing.*

That's so strange because even the relocation agent we used said we could get a monthly plan once we had the permit. I wonder if this is just a hiccup for us or if anyone else has experienced this.

For those of you with a limited permit, do you have a monthly cell phone plan? or only prepaid!? or does this strangeness only occur if you sign up for a plan with a contract?


*Actually, the rep said we should try another store where they might not be as diligent... but technically, that retailer has rules against giving monthly plans (on a contract) to people that can't guarantee that they'll be in Switzerland for the duration of the plan. Interesting.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Urdorf & the Giant Strawberry Man (VIDEO)

Here's the first of what I am sure will be a series of short videos about our time in Zürich and Switzerland.

This video highlights the newest, BIG addition to Urdorf that we can't get enough of... the Giant Strawberry Man. It cracks me up to see it waving in the breeze as I walk into town.

The strawberry fields, just 2 minutes from our apartment, are 'pick your own' and I've already picked one 500g box of strawberries so far - we'll keep a tally of all the deliciousness that we consume this summer. But for just 2.50 CHF (approximately $2.50 USD or AUD) per 500g who could blame you for eating a whole bushel? My fingers are already bright pink with delight. The plants are heavy with fruit...

Got a good strawberry recipe to share? Email me or post it in the comments!

Ps. Jace actually does some commentary on the video so I'd call this his first contribution to the blog, wouldn't you!? ;)

Do you know how to donate bone marrow?

In my excess of time I ran across another Zurich expat's blog which led me to another blog called "Baldy's Blog," written by Adrian Sudbury from the UK. Adrian is suffering from a very deadly form of leukemia and only has a few weeks left to live. He is making it his legacy to educate others on how to become bone marrow donors, seeing as though bone marrow donation is oftentimes misunderstood and is this best chance of hope for those diagnosed with leukemia and approximately 70 other diseases.

I found his latest post and video to be very informative - as I, too, thought you had to have some painful operation that included boring into your bones or spine to collect the marrow - not so. So I wanted to do my part and pass this on... perhaps I'll look into donation, too.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SEOmoz's Web 2.0 Awards now live

I just wanted to share this list as it's one that I quite frequently visit to find the best of the best as far as websites go.

Take a look - and you'll see all my secret web resources unfurled.

Love this list: SEOmoz's Web 2.0 Awards

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The German Wedding - Part 3

Here are a few final pictures from Connie and Peter's wedding in Au, Illertissen, Germany. Thanks again to them both for inviting us! We (obviously-this is a three part series you know!) had a great time. (Part 1, Part 2)

The happy couple, post ceremony.

Connie and Peter, married on Saturday, May 24th, 2008.

Connie, after her uncle read a poem that had something to do with toilet paper!

Dancing the night away. I love the blurriness of the photos - it shows all the action of the evening!

One of the games from earlier in the evening.

Below is a short video that I took of some of the AMAZING DANCERS at the wedding. These guys could really move!
I want to be able to move like this!!!

video

The German Wedding - Part 2

Last Saturday, we woke up around 9 am and walked the 2 km into Illertissen to get Jace some hay fever medicine and to check the little town out. However, Illertissen was surprisingly bigger and nicer than we had imagined. It has a lovely little main street that we walked down and got some essentials that we had forgotten to bring with us. There is also a market on Saturdays and Wednesdays that was in full swing. Knowing we had a full day ahead of us, we picked up some lunch and then walked back to the Hotel to get ready for the wedding. Here we are in our wedding finest before the bride's father came to pick us up:


The bride's father picked us up right on time, in punctual German fashion. It was lovely to see him again. Jace and I actually had shown him around Perth a few years ago when he was on a 6 week (or more?) Australian tour. The bride and groom are also quite well traveled - I met the groom when he did an exchange at the University of Akron and his (now!) wife when she was studying tourism in Sydney! There were so many friends from their travels at the wedding that there was an entire international table!

The ceremony and reception were actually in a nearby Au, Illertissen, Germany. The ceremony was in the most darling church and we walked down the street to the beautifully decorated reception hall. Being a tourism major, the bride really used her skills to plan an amazing reception - excellent food, beautiful decorations, and the couple's friends chipped in to entertain us throughout the night with quizzes, games for the couple, poems, and dancing.

A heart napkin. Such a simple touch, but really lovely.

Jace trying to avoid another photo.

Here we are at the international table. Guests in this picture are from Norway, Sweden, South Africa,
Mozambique and naturally Australia and the US!


I can't recall what this was, but it had a peppery cheese crust that was just divine.
And who doesn't want Spaetzli (small potato dumplings) with gravy day or night?

The bride made the centerpieces. I loved the orange, red and green color scheme.

Having the guests as entertainment was something new to us and we really enjoyed it - it gave the reception a lot of personality and enabled you to learn a lot about the couple through their friends and family. We loved one game in particular. The friends of the bride and groom prepared a list of about 15 questions - eg. Who are the parent's of the groom? Who met the couple while overseas? Who has changed the groom's diapers? Who is responsible for the couple meeting? etc.

And instead of the guests answering the questions, the questions were read aloud and the guests stood up if the question applied to them. So for example, we stood up when the question 'Who met the couple while overseas?' was read aloud. Then the bride and groom had to guess what the question was based on who was standing! It was genius. It's a great idea to introduce everyone and have some laughs.

The menu was excellent. Schwaebische Hochzeitsuppe or wedding soup of the Schwaebisch region, how fitting, for starters, followed by a fresh salad and the peppery pork (above) with Spaetzli or Spaetzle as a main. Then for dessert you could choose between vanilla ice cream with berry sauce or Schnapps. Later in the evening the couple cut the cake and a huge dessert buffet and coffee were on offer. Delicious... and the wine and spirits and good spirits, naturally, flowed through the night.

Ps. I'm awaiting the ok from the bride and groom to post some pictures of them... so perhaps there will be a Part 3! If not, I'll just say they looked beautiful and classic and leave it to your imagination. ;)

If you missed Part 1 of the wedding adventure you can read it here.

AWCZ Spring Bazaar - You going?

There is a good chance that we'll be attending the AWCZ Spring Bazaar on Saturday... perhaps we'll see some other Expats there. If you've been before, please post a comment and tell me if there's anything special I should do/bring/etc! I will also look into joining the American Women's Club of Zürich... please let me know if you think it is worth it!
AWCZ Spring Bazaar

YARD SALE & BAKE SALE

Time for some spring cleaning and good food! Please join us!

yardsale

When: Saturday, May 31st

Time: Drop off and set up: 8am – 10am, Yard sale & bake sale: 10am – 3pm

Where: AWCZ Clubhouse, Schöntalstrasse 8, 8004 Zürich

How you can participate:

YARD SALE: Rent a space for CHF 20! bakesale

BAKE SALE: Calling all bakers! Please donate an item for the bake sale!

VOLUNTEERS: We are looking for volunteers to assist us!

For more information on the yard or bake sale or to volunteer, please refer to May's Round Robin

Money from this event will go to the AWCZ Clubhouse Capitol Fund.

Swisster - News - Madonna ticket 16 francs cheaper than taking train

This is really incredible. Not only is Madonna coming to Zürich (actually Dübendorf) in August, but a return ticket to the concert from anywhere in Switzerland is included in the ticket price!

As the article says, you actually could be MAKING A PROFIT when you buy the concert ticket, as the tickets are 16 francs cheaper than, for example, a round trip ticket from Geneva. Wow, that speaks to my cheap charlie ways. Too bad I already live in Zürich!

God, I love Switzerland and their amazing public transportation... and their deals to make the most of it!

As read on Swisster - News - Madonna ticket 16 francs cheaper than taking train

Monday, May 26, 2008

We're back from the wedding!

We left Friday night to go from Zürich to Illertissen, between Memmingen and Ulm in Germany, to attend our friends', Connie and Peter's, wedding. With luck, we actually got a ride there with one of Jace's coworkers. He was an excellent guide, not only because he grew up in the area but also because he really went out of his way to show us around. He took us via Landau, an incredibly cute and touristy location on the Bodensee. We walked all around and had a coffee on the boardwalk. Lovely little area on the water.

From Landau Insel






Afterwards, we stopped in Berkheim at the Gasthof Ochsen for one of the most amazing meals I've had since we moved to Europe. Actually... scratch that. Ever. One of the most amazing meals ever. It was that good.

We got this plate of Schwabisch specialties to share, including all kinds of delicious meat dishes, no doubt because in addition to being a restaurant they are also a butcher. Here's the before of this 'Riesenteller' (just in case you need to know, that's how you say 'huge plate' in German, I would call that essential German...):

Delicious Schwabisch plate for three at the Gasthof Ochsen

And the after... that's right. Leave the veggies and eat all that delicious Schweinbraten and Kasespaetzli. Lecker, lecker, lecker...


I so wanted to eat up the whole plate... Oh it was delish. Please do stop by the Gasthof Ochsen if you're in the area. You won't be sorry.

We waddled into the hotel around 11pm, and the lovely owner was up waiting for us, keys in hand. We stayed at the Hotel Reiterhof, which I later learned means it is also a boarding stable for horses. Really it was just the quaintest little guesthouse - well decorated, excellent breakfast, great shower, and lovely people managing it. I would go back again if I'm ever in the area - especially for the bargain price of 62 Euros a night.

(All about the wedding tomorrow... Ps. No job yet but some great prospects.)

Hotel Reiterhof in Illertissen, Germany


Friday, May 23, 2008

Can it be??? After 4 Weeks???


Yes, that's right!!! IKEA came today!!! They were supposed to come on Monday so when they called saying they'd be here in 15 minutes at 7:45 this morning I was, to say the least, startled into a very, very awake state.

But who cares!!! We now have our furniture... well, after a few greuling hours of 'montieren' or assembly we will have furniture. For now it's just a bunch of lovely, glorious boxes.

But at least we can say goodbye to sleeping on the floor and hello IKEA. Can't wait to post photos of the finished furniture and beds.

For now, I'm off to an interview this afternoon and onwards to Germany for the wedding this weekend!

'Til Monday!
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Review of Mobility Click & Drive

Here's the Mobility car that I rented for three hours today.

This is the entry-card that you tap on the front windshield and magically gain entry to the car.
The keys, as the car still needs keys to start, are in the glove compartment.

This is a terrible photo of the on-board computer under the rear view mirror that you may or may not need to use.
It was sort of cool calling customer support using it though. Very helpful.


Today, I ventured into the unknown and drove for the first time in Switzerland! Yeah, I am not dead.... As we don't have a car yet and since I've heard good things about Mobility.ch, I decided to give them a try.

Mobility is a 'car sharing' service, just like Zipcar in the US and the UK. Basically, you can get a membership to rent one of their many cars/trucks/vans around Zürich by the hour. Membership costs about 70 - 290 CHF depending on the length of membership and whether or not you have a Migros Cumulus card or Halbtax card and get a discount. You still have to pay a per hour rental fee and per kilometer fee on top of the membership but it's pretty reasonable.

But since I thought I'd only need Mobility once or twice, considering we'd like to buy a car soon, I went for the Click and Drive route instead. I would call this the 'pay as you go plan.' You don't get a membership, so you pay a bit more per hour and there is a three hour minimum, but the kilometers are unlimited. I paid 50 CHF for a combi car for three hours... plus I was guilted into getting the 20 CHF extra liability coverage so that if I got into an accident my deductible is capped at 300 CHF. Not a cheap ride after all, but I was going to pick up some second hand goods that would cost 10 times that bought new so it was worth it for me. And getting the membership takes up to a week, and I need to pick the stuff up NOW!

So here's my review:

1. I had ALL SORTS OF TROUBLE picking up the car and returning it.

The website makes it sound as though you can easily walk into any of the 50 SBB (train) stations in Switzerland and present your reservation and license and drive away. Not true.

Whether they were having a bad day or what not, it was a pain. I got there at 12:40 pm for a 1 pm reservation. The guy at the station couldn't pull up my reservation and initially just said, "Sorry, can't find it, and I don't know where the car is anyway, so... sorry!" Unfaded, I kindly asked if he wouldn't mind calling Mobility to figure it out as I didn't know either and I'd paid in advance! After 30 minutes of back and forth on the phone, figuring out that there was a system error with my reservation, re-doing the contract manually, faxing it in, and having the guy give me directions to the car which was in fact a bus and a tram ride away, I had the entry-card and was on my way. Let's just say the 20 so people behind me at the station were not pleased either. At least they accepted my foreign license without question. I thought I might have an issue with that.

I finally got to the car at 1:45 pm, so this is 45 minutes into my reservation. So I called Mobility to tell them what happened and ask for an extension of my reservation, and they didn't have a clue why I needed an extension and I couldn't waste my time telling them what happened at the station so I said forget it and tried to speed up my agenda. In the end, I got back in time so all is well... especially because there is a late fee if you don't get back on time! But I am still not happy that 45 minutes of my ride was wasted.

2. Incorrect information.
I have a feeling that Mobility's website and brochures aren't up to snuff. Because for starters, my reservation said that I had rented a 'Renault - Grey - manual.' And since I don't drive manual (yet) I called, panicked, as I reserved an automatic. The customer service rep at first said that she could cancel the reservation for 30 CHF... and I thought that was crazy. Couldn't she just change the reservation? Nope... so a few minutes later she reads back the reservation and indeed in the computer I had reserved an automatic. I tried to tell her three times that the reservation I had printed says 'manual' but in the end she promised that I had a 'Honda - automatic' and all was ok. This ended up being a problem when the whole episode above occurred as well, resulting in a third call to Mobility to confirm the car so that the new reservation made on the spot was correct. Get your systems together Mobility!

Also, when I finished my reservation the brochure reminded me to 'end your reservation using the on-board computer.' Uh, what? I found it after awhile - there's this computer on the rear view mirror and I thought, 'This is cool' and I pushed 'End Reservation' (rather something in German - didn't see how to change this to English) and it asked for a pin code. Alas, I don't have a pin code... another two calls to Mobility later (one using the on-board computer and another to my cell because the guy couldn't hear me - go figure), and they confirm that Click and Drive users don't have a pin code. Again, go figure. How tough is it to make a new brochure for Click and Drive?

3. Not worth the cost if you're going to use it frequently.
Click and Drive is a good option if all you need is a one time rental car. In hindsight, for 70 CHF, I should have just got a membership. I will probably need a car again sometime soon and I'll end up paying for the cost of the membership anyway. The Click and Drive model is probably best for out of town visitors or when your car is in the shop.

Then again, looking at rental car places - it was a good deal for a three hour rental. I didn't need the car all day and the cheapest rental I could find was 111 CHF per day with SIXT (smaller car though). Let me know if you can find a better deal for next time.

4. Nice ride. Easy to drive once you get going.
The only thing good about the event was that the car was nice - a Honda Hybrid of sorts. I think it was a Civic (?). When you stopped for more than a few seconds, the engine would shut down to conserve energy. I liked that.

There was also plenty of room for all the knick knacks I bought. Thank goodness... (using front, back and boot).

And unlike Zipcar, I knew exactly where the gas card was (right behind the on-board computer) which made me feel better in the case I had to retank... not that I could read the car diagnostics to see if it needed refilling. Very hard to read on that model car for some reason.

How I would improve Mobility.ch:
  • Better communication - Tell me exactly where the car is. Give me an address and a map so that I know it's not near the station. Tell me it's 20 minutes away so that I can plan accordingly and pick the key card up earlier. Also I would have liked an email confirmation for my reservation... never got that. And going the Click and Drive route you can't check reservations online either. You have to print your reservation or you have got nothing. Also, make sure the reservation is 100% correct. If I am getting a Honda, make sure it says Honda. If you can't give me the exact model, fine, but if I requested an automatic, make sure the reservation says automatic. If I had not called to confirm, I might still be looking for that Renault... and trying to figure out how to drive stick just to save myself the 30 CHF cancellation fee - because I hate cancellation fees.
  • Better customer service - I have to admit, customer service is friendly and I've never waited more than 2-5 minutes for someone to pick up. They also speak excellent English. But perhaps take better notes when someone does call. The rep should have known that my reservation went bad and that I was already 20 minutes into my reservation when they were re-doing it manually (via fax) and they could have given me an extra 30 minutes gratis because from our conversation it was clear that the car was available later. That would have been the right thing. When I asked for the extension they wanted to charge me for that extra time and that is not ok.
  • Upsell - If someone books a Click and Drive, why not call them before and after they travel and ask if they'd like a membership instead. Since the fees are comparable.... why not push for the membership? We'll see if they contact me afterwards, but the lady on the phone when I checked the automatic vs. manual fiasco didn't even bother. In hindsight, I would have preferred that she upsold me then and collected all the paperwork later - because that's what takes up to a week to process. If they don't get the paperwork in a week, they charge me the Click and Drive rates. It's that easy. Instead, it's their and my loss. Now, I don't think I want a membership... or another go with Click and Drive.
Have you tried Mobility.ch? What do you think?

Ps. Mobility, I am an experienced marketer and am unemployed at the moment. Perhaps you need some marketing help? ;)

What? No Wurst?

With the run-up to the Euro 2008 in full swing and Austria and Switzerland preparing for a huge influx of visitors, naturally there are things that people are worried about. For example, I got a letter in the mail yesterday about how best to get around town and use the public transportation system while hundreds of thousands of foreigners flock to the city... but really, they've already added like 5 bazillion more trains to fix that problem so I'm not stressed...

But this on the other hand, this has me worried. Switzerland and Austria fear that with all these mouths to feed during the Cup that there might just be a....

SAUSAGE AND CHIPS SHORTAGE!

What... will... we... do..

This cracks me up. You have got to read this article from the TimesOnline: "Switzerland's Wurst Nightmare..." I love that title, too. Give that copywriter a raise, will ya?

Image from Flickr user tiexano

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Swisstory Update- Week 9 in Zurich.



Spring in Urdorf

Wow, has it really gone by so quickly already? I can't believe we've been here 2 months already. Then again, waiting for Jace's second pay check is always a handy reminder! But as I mentioned a few posts ago, the job hunt is still on for me and it's going well... two open positions so far (well, as far as I know), and an interview on Friday. Keep those fingers crossed for me!

The weather this and last week hasn't been as lovely as the first week in May. Although it's still quite comfortable, the skies are overcast and dreary and it often rains at night. I suppose all the green countryside must get it's juice from somewhere. That has slowed down our weekend adventures for the time-being, BUT it won't stop us this weekend. Oh no, this weekend we're off to Germany to attend our friends' wedding! We're really looking forward to it and it will be our first trip together out of Switzerland since we arrived. Connie recommended that we return via Konstanz and the Bodensee as she said it's lovely and that's just what we're going to do. Looking forward to it. Photos next week...(Today's photos are my effort to coax back the Spring like weather!)

The electrician came today to connect the lights. He unfortunately couldn't do two of the three spots as one is on the stairway and quite tricky to get to with his wee ladder, and the other will require some materials he didn't have. A plot to pay for a second visit... ? We'll see! Either way, we now have a new light and three -oh that's right, THREE - light switches that work it because how many light switches does it take to turn on the entry light...? Obviously three! Which will do just fine!

Jace is enjoying his work and seems to have a great group of friends there. One colleague, a German, brought back some Bavarian yumminess to share with the team and I profited from the leftovers - Weisswurst and Bavarian Brezels. Yum. He also shared some of this delicious mustard that Jace couldn't stop talking about. We now have a big jar of it for a later date. Another visited us to a backyard barbie a few weekends ago and it was just lovely.

I am slowly enhancing the apartment in my vast spare time, making it more livable and ready for our upcoming guests in June and July. The moving company came and took away the empty packing boxes and wrapping paper on Monday so as Jace says 'It's feeling bigger already...', I mentioned the electrician's visit, I finally got to buy a new vacuum and thank God IKEA will come on Monday to deliver our furniture, most importantly our new bed so that we're no longer sleeping on the sofa mattress on the floor. (Val, I am so sorry, but I have to say that sofa bed isn't very comfortable! Don't worry though, we have a queen bed for the spare room for you this time around! Sorry to our guests that will arrive in multiples - it's either a slumber party in the spare room or onto the sofabed!)

Tomorrow I will venture into the unknown and rent a mobility car to go and pick up some items that I'm buying from an expat that will move back home soon... So we'll have a few more items that we needed, at good prices, if only I can make it there and back in one piece. This will be my first Swiss driving adventure as well. Thankfully foreigners can drive for the first year on their international license, so I won't need to go through the hassle of changing my license just yet.

I also signed up to be on the wait list for a Familiengarten in Urdorf. There are community gardens that apartment dwellers can rent for the year and plant whatever they want on them. There are two such areas for the allotments in and around Urdorf and they rent for about 100-200 Chf per year. Pretty good deal if you ask me. That includes water, the plot, and some maintenance. We'll see how long the wait list takes!

Now I'm off to the store with the nanna trolley to pick up some more food for the week... if only shopping weren't so expensive it might be more fun. I think I might have to try the delivery service soon too if Jace doesn't stop drinking so much coke - those bottles are heavy!!!

Ps. Send us some love in a comment. I must admit, only three comments for Jace to contribute... that's sad. That didn't persuade him one bit! Perhaps I can pressure him somehow.

Now if only she could do a Swiss German accent ...

Check out this video done by Amy Walker from... well, geez, I'm not too sure. But it's pretty amazing how many accents she can do! As found on the Budget Travel Website...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Loose ends... Cancelling the cell phone plan

Last week, I finally got around to tying up some loose ends back in the States. For example, I still hadn't gotten around to canceling my cell phone plan...

Yes, yes, I know! It's been weeks and weeks and I sold the phones, but when I originally tried to cancel the plan they said the cancellation fee was $300! And that just wouldn't do... (I can hear Jace calling me 'Cheap Charlie' even as I write this...)

The only option to get out at the time was to transfer the accounts to someone, anyone, else. So, I tried to transfer the plans. To my amusement, I found a lot of sites out there that will put potential buyers and transfers together so that you can get out of your plan and you don't have to pay the cancellation fee. I would imagine these buyers don't want to be roped into the 2 year contract themselves, so they can take over a shorter term plan and perhaps your phone with no connection fees to pay and voila, you get out of your contract without the cancellation fee... but let's just say it's not as easy as it sounds. In the end, I did find someone to take the plans from Craigslist actually and I thought I was home free.

Then, when it came to the actual transfer, AT&T changed their story three times (first the person could have all my rollover minutes, then only 1000, then none; they also said it was free then there was a $29 changeover fee and a minimum 11 month contract, why 11 I have NO idea...). So again, easy it was not. And after I went through it all and spelled out the deal to the potential transferee, the person never came through. They just vanished. Go figure.

In the end, I resigned to pay the $300 disconnection fee and when I called to put it into action, I actually told them that I was moving to Switzerland and they said, "Oh, well then we can cancel that for you without charging you the fees, you just need to send us a copy of a utility bill from Switzerland as proof... and..."

At that moment, I think I literally proposed to the gentleman on the phone... actually, I did. This was the conversation:
-----------
Me: "Oh my God, are you serious? That is amazing! That is great! Oh my God, I think I love you. Did you want to get married? Now or later? Or did you want me to ask your parents first?"

AT&T Dude: (Laughing) "Ha, ha, what do you mean my parents? I am 21 years old, I don't need my parents' permission... but thanks. It's no problem. Let me just transfer you now." (Still laughing...)
-----------
Boy, that conversation still kills me. He's able to drink, vote, and decline random marriage proposals from happy customers without his parent's permission. I love it. God I feel old. Anyway, no doubt it was the happiest call he got all day and I was definitely happy so all was good...

And I finally sent through a utility bill to AT&T last week that hopefully they will accept... that's a whole other story...

Moral of the story, do as Swiss Family Mac did and just tell everyone, "We're moving to Switzerland" and revel in the 'Get out of jail free' pass... it's that easy. If only I'd known.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Donating to a good cause with Network for Good

With all of the natural disasters occurring as of late, especially Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and most recently the earthquake in China's Sichuan Province, I thought it was important to help out however I could. So naturally, I went to the web... and found some great resources that I wanted to share.

I found a lot of great information on who to donate to for crisis relief efforts on the Network for Good: Crisis Relief site. I found Network for Good through their partnership with Charity Navigator, a charity search engine with unparalleled comparison and research capabilities. It allows you to search thousands of charities and find one that works for you and find those that do the most with the donations they receive (look for the four star charities). Really impressive site.

Once you find a charity you'd like to support, the actual donation happens on the Network for Good site. It's really easy to use, so I won't go through the motions for you. What's great is that you can even set up regular donations and they'll send you a summary come tax time. I learned through the site as well that it's better to donate online as it's cheapest way for the charities to receive donations (checks cost money to cash... for example). Please click here if you'd like to donate to Action Against Hunger, the charity I chose.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What day is it today? Not laundry day...

Now that Jace has a handle on where he's going in the morning and now that he has the Bonus Card (a super reduced yearly train ticket that is subsidized by his company - for 400 or so francs a year he gets unlimited travel within Zürich!), I no longer wake up early to accompany him to the station to translate. Instead, I sleep in and have given into the laziness for which I later repent...

Once I do wake up, my day consists of a mix of job hunting (hence, no job yet but here's the run down: three interviews to date, one offer reneged, one interview next week... keep those fingers crossed), domestic duties, Etsy browsing and learning the lay of the Swiss land... So naturally my days tend to blend into one another, this morning being an excellent example of just that.

(7:15 am...)

Jace: "What day is it?"

Jessica (half asleep, rolling over): "Ehrrrrrr.... What? Huh?"

Jace: "What day is it today? Thursday or Friday?"

Jessica: "It's Thursday."

Jace: "Are you sure?"

Jessica: "Yes, I am sure." (going right back to sleep...)

Jace: "Oh ok."

(9:30 am the mobile rings....I crawl around to find it and get it just in time. I see that it is Jace.)

Jace: "Hey! It is Friday."

Jessica: "What are you talking about?" (having just woken up by the phone call, so sad, I know.)

Jace: "I could have worn jeans today! It is Friday today."

Jessica: "What? It's Thursday... Are you kidding?" (checking the calendar on the computer...) Oh... oh, ok. Yeah, you're right... I guess it is Friday. Huh. Go figure."

And the only thing I could think about was that I missed my stupid washing day. I signed up for Thursday. Doh! Just another intricacy about life in Switzerland. If you aren't one of the few, few lucky ones that has their own washer and dryer, you share them, generally one washer and one dryer for the building, and you sign up for a wash day. Not really a problem if you can remember which day it is! However, if you live in a very traditional apartment, you can't wash on Sundays... let alone do anything that makes you break a sweat (no lawn mowing, car washing, etc...) or even make a noise. Be mindful. Jace loves this. He thinks it's a gift from the Swiss, giving him permission to sit around all Sunday and do nothing. Silly. But, I admit, it is nice and quiet and lots of families are around and about.

Thankfully though, our apartment isn't that strict, and we can sign up for day or evening time laundry slots - even on Sunday! Easy peasy. But here's a few examples of how laundry has been known to cause issues for expats in Switzerland:
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Ps. Don't worry about the state of our dirty laundry. I ran down to see if today's slot was still open and I grabbed it! Laundry done... hopefully the building doesn't hate me for appearing to have signed up for two days in a row... stay tuned!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Top 10 things to do before moving into your new apartment in Switzerland

Now that we've arrived at our new and permanent apartment, I thought I would put together a list of helpful tips of the "Top 10 things to do before you move" - please add a comment if I missed something:

#10 - This is an obvious one. Make sure you pay the deposit for your rent and your first month's rent. In Switzerland it is typical to pay a 1 - 3 months deposit. You, too, might think three months is a lot - and it is - but this is what we had to pay. So be prepared. This leads me to number 9.

#9 - Figure out how to do bill pay with your ebanking program (online) or through the bank or post office. Ebaking is easiest, but if you don't want to do that, going through the bank is actually pretty easy too. Those machines that look like ATMs at the bank but aren't are used to pay the pink and blue slips that you get via post - those are bills! Ask the bank staff to show you how to pay using the machines. UBS was nice enough to tell me when I went to the counter to pay that it costs 30 francs if they pay the bill for me or I could use the machine for 30 cents. Thank you UBS lady! They might be losing billions of francs because of the US housing crisis, but they still have excellent customer service. (They even called me yesterday to make sure I didn't have any questions about our account - how nice!)

#8 - Sign up for your cablecom or swisscom products in advance. If you want TV, internet or phone, or a package to save on all three, sign up as far in advance as possible. As soon as you know your address, do it! We were told it could take up to 6 weeks to get our cablecom account (thank goodness it only took 1 week!). There is no installation service like in the States, so you sign up in advance and get the connection boxes in the mail for self-installation. Just check with your new apartment about whether there is a mandatory provider (eg. we had to have cablecom TV) and if there are cable jacks for cable services. (If you get cablecom, let me refer you and we'll share the referral bonus! Comment this post.) You can compare service providers on comparis.ch.

#7 - Ask for recommendations for a good electrician and buy some lights. The Swiss generally take their lighting fixtures with them when they move, so when you move in there are likely to be a few wires here and there for you to install your own lights. This HAS to be done by a registered electrician. Don't even think about it... Then off to IKEA for the lights!
(Ps. I used Markus Leutenegger - he is great, does cleaning and handyman work and is a certified electirian ... and speaks English! Call him! )

#6 - De-register and re-register in your new canton. If you have been living somewhere temporarily and you already registered, don't forget to de-register within 8 days of moving from that municipality/kreis. Naturally, you then have to re-register within those 8 days at your new canton. Don't forget your registration papers and your passport (Jace!). They also asked to see our marriage license when we re-registered and there is talk about some asking for a police clearance... but we didn't have to show these.

#5 - Figure out how you're going to get to work/IKEA/the city/where ever in advance. As you might not have internet for a few days (weeks!), go to the SBB site and plot any upcoming journeys. They also have a great feature that you can use to send the instructions to your mobile phone if you already have one. Here is more information on the SBB sms timetable.

#4 - Find the recycling containers, get a schedule and buy some garbage bags (usually at the grocery store or Post)... This will save you time later and allow you to unpack and settle in with ease. You need to recycle. So just do it and do it regularly to make the load lighter. You can pick up a schedule for the recycling that you can't do in the bins from your local Gemeinde or Kreis Office. Also, regarding the garbage bags, garbage service is payed for when you buy the bags. For example, a roll of garbage bags here is 20 francs, because it includes the garbage removal fees.

#3- Speaking of grocery shopping, if you don't have a car, buy a roller cart or reusable bags. I just bought a shopping cart and yes I feel like a nanna, but it will save my back and allow me to buy more at once (a la American shopping and not the 'buy something everyday for dinner tonight' Swiss way.. who has the time?!). You can buy heavy drinks and washing powder easier this way. Or if you insist, at least buy some reusable shopping bags as it will costs you 20 -30 cents to buy a bag at the grocery store... they're not free here! I like Baggu bags. They come in a dozen colors and have little pouches so you can store them in your purse. I always have one with me these days...

#2 - Get the US to Swiss electrical adapter (in the US if you can!) in advance. This will make it easier for you to unpack and plug in your electronics (those that you could take with you that have the converter within from 100 to 240v.). We made the mistake of buying them all there and they're hard to find (you can get them at Interdiscount and Media Mart for sure. They're not well marked though - they just have US to Swiss in small print on the adapter. They're about 7 francs each here, but you can get them in the States (online) for less. You just need to know if you need a grounded adapter (three prong) or an ungrounded adapter (two prong) plug... see it's that easy. If there isn't a converter in the electric item you're plugging in, you'll need to buy a separate converter.

#1 - If you are buying new furniture, buy it WAY in advance and be prepared to wait for delivery. If you have a car, you're golden. But let's say you buy a new bed from IKEA and want it for your new apartment and you arrange delivery thinking it will be there within the two weeks they noted. THINK AGAIN. We are still waiting for our new furniture and when I called yesterday they said it wouldn't be here this week either. That's three weeks now. I should have know! It can take up the 4 or more weeks to get furniture delivered here. Not sure why... smallest country ever, it's not a delivery thing, it's a demand thing. Either way, this is frustrating. So order early and push back the delivery if you apartment isn't ready yet. More than likely you'll still have to wait a bit for it to arrive. Crazy. . . BUY FURNITURE EARLY!
  • Here are the places that I would recommend to go furniture shopping in Switzerland (Zurich area):
    • IKEA - I love this place, despite all it's faults. Two locations around Zürich, 8 in Switzerland total. The Spreitenbach and Dietlikon locations are closest to Zurich.
    • Interio -A tiny step up from IKEA in terms of quality, quite a bit pricer though. Very modern furniture and home goods.
    • TopTip - Quality is meh. But they do have a good selection and interesting products.
    • Moebel Pfister - High class, great quality, but you pay for it. A little ueber modern for me though.
    • Diga Mobel - only checked this out online - but they look interesting.
    • Shubiger Moebel - also online, looks promising but expensive.
    • Fly Moebel - Same as above, but I like their style more. Good luck finding antique or American style furniture anywhere!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Would you like to hear from Jace? POST A COMMENT!

So, basically, I have been writing these blog posts for the last month now... and I've been trying to get Jace to write some posts as well so that it's not always so one sided. (I hear that a lot of Jace's Boston friends are reading the blog!!! you'd like to hear from him right???) He's been invited to contribute to the blog, and I've asked him to email me things he wants to post, but to no avail... no Jace on the blog. (I know, sad, sad, sad...)

I've even shown him how many people from various places (Boston, Australia, etc) are viewing the blog. Being an online marketer has its perks - I put Google Analytics on the site! But still, not convincing enough, no Jace.

So, here's the last straw. If you'd like to hear from Jace regularly... or jeez, even once, let's start small, eh, please add a comment to this post! Let's see if we can't convince him to put his blogging cap back on. Thanks in advance for your gentle nudging. ;)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ode to Urdorf, Switzerland

Oh Urdorf, you little village you
So small yet pleasant with skies of blue
Houses tucked amongst the farmers' land
Children run safely by hand and hand
With all one needs within a small walk
Grocery, post, bakery, and more just down the block
Only 10 minutes to Zürich on the bus or train,
Pretty in sun, sleet, wind or rain.
Oh Urdorf, our little village, I now understand
Why you're the best kept secret in all of Switzerland.

The path on the way to Urdorf's center

The view of the hill over the fields in Urdorf

Our local driving range, close to our new apartment

Believe it or not, this is a 'pick your own flowers' stand - tulips are in season now.

Urdorf's cute little fire station. I love the red.

... so... I like it here, can you tell?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Back online in Urdorf, Switzerland

We are back online (whew! thank goodness it didn't take 6 weeks... thank you cablecom!) and settled into the new apartment in Urdorf, Switzerland. It's not far outside of Zürich, but it isn't part of Zürich either. It's a dorf, or village, and I have to say that being Spring and all it is unbelievably quaint and beautiful here.

We moved on Monday. Luckily here the Swiss give their employees a moving day, so Jace got the day off and we took a cab with all of our huge bags to the new apartment, just in time to meet the movers. Naturally, we live on the top floor without an elevator, so the movers weren't pleased, but they sighed heavily and within an hour and half had all of our boxes and furniture moved in. They even assembled some of the furniture that they disassembled when they packed it and took away all the boxes. Great service... and not a glass broken or scratch on the furniture. Very impressive for having come across the Atlantic.

After they left, we then proceeded to do what everyone does when they finally get their things after 6 weeks. . . take a nap! ;) In the afternoon we went back to Seefeld to deregister from the Kreisburo so that we could register in Urdorf yesterday. Very important that you do that so that the Swiss can keep track of you.

And now we're pretty much settled... all the computers are hooked up, the tv is finally connected and ready to record all my favorite shows, and I even got some new art of one of my favorite artists, Camilla Engman, in the mail today, so we're ready to decorate too! I've been all around the little dorf and I'll do a posting with some pictures and highlights tomorrow.


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Sunday, May 4, 2008

We'll be right back!



Just a heads up... Tomorrow we'll move into the new apartment and we won't have Internet or phone for awhile... from 10 days to 6 weeks! I know, I might go crazy.

So until we get the connection pack from cablecom, if you need to reach us, email Jace as he'll be checking his email from work. He is also a big Facebook person now. Thanks! Bis dann. ;)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Labor Day Laborings

Near the Zürichhorn, on May 1st, Switzerland's Labor Day

Jace made a good point - check out which parts have worn down! ;) So funny. hehe

Magnolias in the park near Zürichhorn

Spring has officially sprung - a beautiful flower on Dufourstrassse

Just a bit over a month in Zürich already! My how the time flies. We're about to move into our permanent apartment and say goodbye to the lovely temporary apartment in and around Seefeld, Zurich, in the thick of it all. We'll miss being next to the lake as it's just so beautiful, but alas all the beauty will only be a 10 minute train away. So we'll be back 'at least once a week' as Jace said today.

Yesterday was Labor Day in Switzerland, and while a lot of people got up to no good, participating in some kind of demonstration in Zürich, we decided to take a walk around the lake instead. The shots above are from the walk and show how lovely the lake side area is now that Spring is in full bloom.

Then just a few hours later, we were back out there again, but this time we ran. We recently both bought nanos and nike+ to take advantage of all the trails in Switzerland... and have an expensive excuse to get back into shape. If you don't know what nike+ is, read this. Basically, you wear this thing in your shoe that talks to your ipod nano and records how long you've run, how fast, etc. Then you can sync it up and see how good/bad you're doing compared to past runs. Here is what my run looked like yesterday.


I've even started a challenge and I made it public - and unknown to me at the time, it's a popular thing. There are not 15 people making the same challenge (50 km in one month... I'm just starting so this is ok...)! Feel free to join by searching "Start Slow" in the nike+ challenges.

Anyway, we had a nice relaxing day yesterday, despite the sweaty run, and we're going to enjoy our last weekend downtown before moving out to the country when our stuff arrives on Monday - yipppee!

 

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