Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guest Post: An Expat in Switzerland Demystifies Those Christmas Cakes

Each December, the Swiss grocery stores overflow with different Italian cakes and it didn’t seem like a good idea to keep myself wondering just what the heck they all were. So I tried them, and here’s my take:

The first cake I tried was Pandoro. I admit that my husband and I bought the cake more out of our excitement at opening a “Pandoro’s Box” than anything else (terrible pun, I know, but I’ll use anything as an excuse to eat new desserts). Anyhow, the Pandoro was a tall yellow cake, which came with a packet of powdered sugar. I wanted to love it, but I didn’t. To my over-sugared American taste buds, the cake wasn’t sweet enough—even with the packet of sugar—but it was still a fun thing to eat, made more fun when I found out the cake originated from the Verona area in Italy, where some of my ancestors were from. To be fair, the Italians call this stuff bread, not cake, so maybe I had the wrong mindset when I ate it. Darn, I just might have to try another for the sake of justice. Poor me.

Panettone, sometimes known as Italian Christmas bread, originated in Milan. My ancestors would be disappointed, but I preferred this bread to the Pandoro, mainly because the Panettone was filled with raisins, candied oranges, and almonds. If I only could have added the powdered sugar of the Pandoro to the Panettone it would have been perfect.

Anyhow, before you invest in a big Italian bread/cake thing, I recommend buying a mini one of each kind to see which you prefer. Mini Panettones and Pandoros can be found at Migros, perfect if you just want to sample each (or bring some home to the family). Some people even pack these for their lunch. Sounds like a good idea to me. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Do you have a favorite Christmas treat that you enjoy in Switzerland? Please share.
Chantal Panozzo is a writer and blogger. She’s the author of One Big Yodel and Writer Abroad . She also blogs for a new expat community blog. This blog offers affordable calling cards in Switzerland as well as information about living abroad in Switzerland and in many other countries.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guest Post: Why Being an Expat Blogger in Switzerland is a Great Thing

by Chantal Panozzo

When I started my expat blog, One Big Yodel, back in 2006, I had no idea what I was doing (and also no idea that anyone would actually read it besides my mom). It was an innocent little hobby that helped me relieve the stress of not knowing a German word from a Swiss German one and it was just an added bonus when someone like my husband would actually leave a comment.

Fast-forward three years, and my blog is now getting over 3,500 visits a month and comments from people I actually don’t know but can’t wait to find out more about. Maybe it’s lame, but now I’m addicted. How many comments will this post get? Will someone else subscribe to my blog today? I’ve gone from blogging newbie to blogging nerd. And it hasn’t taken much.

I’ve made friends through what I’ve deemed “Blogger Blind Dates”, gotten writing and blogging jobs, and found a sense of community here in Switzerland that I couldn’t quite find through traditional organizations meant for the proper Hausfrau that I am not. And I’ve got my blog to thank for it all.

If fact, blogging has been so great, that I recently started another blog, Writer Abroad, for all of you expat writers out there (and those just dreaming of being an expat writer). This hasn’t done much for my Internet addiction, but I won’t blame myself, I’ll just blame the power of the all-mighty blog.

But now I’m starting to get nervous. There are thousands of unread blog posts in my Google Reader and I’m determined to read them all.  Because if I don’t, I’ll feel like I’m letting down my big blogging family. And that would just be wrong.

Why do you blog? Does it make being an expat in Switzerland (or elsewhere) more bearable? Are you as addicted to blogging as me?

Chantal Panozzo is a writer and blogger. Besides keeping her own blogs, One Big Yodel and Writer Abroad, she also blogs for a new expat community blog. This blog offers affordable calling cards in Switzerland as well as information about living in abroad in Switzerland and many other countries.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


So Chantal asked if we could detail what cleaners we used and I was all ready to write up a big report about how expensive but how great they were, but then they SCREWED IT UP! Let me explain.

When you move out of your apartment in Switzerland, the place has to be clean. And this is Switzerland after all, so they mean eat off the toilet seat clean... they mean so clean you can sterilize things just by placing them in the uber clean oven. We are talking spotless. So when it came to deciding whether we would clean the place ourselves or hire someone, we decided to hire someone... mostly because hiring someone meant that we had a guarantee that during handover the cleaner would be there on site, mop in hand, in the event that something needed to be spot cleaned... AGAIN.

We knew this would cost a pretty penny from stories we heard, but we also had heard that if the cleaners were not called in and the apartment was not handover ready and the rental company had to call in cleaners to clean up after you, they would take the cost of this out of your deposit anyway - so you might as well pay for it the first time and save yourself the back ache. This was our plan....

So I got two quotes for cleaning. Both four digit figures. I am NOT kidding you. (Keep in mind, these quotes were based on our Swiss equivalent  4.5 room apartment with two bathrooms...)Now, I imagine there are back door services you could use that would indeed be cheaper, but I used services that came recommended on the expat sites - I got quotes from Markus Leutenegger and MrClean. In the end, I went with MrClean because their quote was CHF 500 cheaper... plain and simple.

To be honest, MrClean really did a great cleaning job. I did in fact eat off the toilet seat before leaving the apartment and didn't taste a thing... just kidding. But really, all was SUPER clean. We are talking every nook and cranny, they powerwashed the blinds (lot of work), cleaned the oven, machine washed the carpets, got all the calk out of the taps, and did a makeover on our two bathrooms. They even locked up on their own and showed up to the handover on time... but...

When I arrived at the handover, I noticed something on the floor and thought, 'Well, good thing they are coming as they will have to do that again for the price I paid them...' but after I showed it to them, I realized after much scrubbing on their part that it was not just dirt, they had chemically burnt the wood flooring in two places - right in the middle of the entry and near the dishwasher. At first they wanted to blame it on the movers but I made a big hoo ha and told them that I walked the movers through the place the day before after all was packed - no damage - and that this was their mess and they would pay for it. After some arguing, they decided to send their specialists and Wincasa sent theirs and the latest word is that it is chemical damage... and someone (NOT US!) will have to pay... that is the nightmare part of this whole story....

I am not sure how we could have avoided this, or if we could even, or if this means I would not recommend MrClean as it was obviously a spill from one of their super cleaners, but I cannot help but be disappointed that my handover was marred and my bond is being held until this crap is dealt with... so Cleaner Nightmare indeed, but I am still really glad that we had the professionals do it.

Moral of the story - professionals good.... just take photos of everything before they clean so you can assess damages afterward. I realize that is crazy as I type it but what else could we have done.... ah the joys of moving out of your Swiss apartment.

There you go, Chantal! ;) Speaking of Chantal - she will be guest posting on Swisstory tomorrow about
Why Being an Expat Blogger in Switzerland is a Great Thing... do join us will you? ;)

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Update! 10 Days in Australia and counting...

Hello all! Well, I am still alive. I am totally off the grid, but alive. How did we ever survive a life without cell/mobile phones and the Internet before? I have NO idea. All I know is that I cannot wait to be connected again. The application is in with iiNet (any former colleagues want to do me any favors? now is the time! :) and Virgin owes me a mobile phone that I ordered before I left Switzerland. Once I am back in touch with the world, you will hear and read more from me. I promise. Until then, a short update.

We have been REALLY busy getting back into the Australian way of life. Last week I started my new job - that is right, I already had a job lined up before I left Switzerland, and I started oh three days after landing back in the country. Finding the job before leaving Switzerland - brilliant. Starting the job before getting over jetlag - DUMB. Needless to say, I am over the jet lag as of this past weekend but for some reason I REALLY suffered this time. We are talking waking at midnight and not getting back to sleep until 4 am, and all that the night before my first day of work.... NIGHTMARE. But I made it through and I am really enjoying the job so all is well on that front. Thank goodness they did not throw the towel in on me during those first few lethargic days! ;)

We are back in our house as well - which is also lucky as the tenants could have been in the house until December 11th. On the other hand, that means we are sitting around in an empty house until January 10th at the earliest when our container arrives. Thankfully, a few good friends and family have set us up with extras - extra fridge, extra bed, etc. With that and the stuff we had stored at family, we are set! Just don't be stopping by for dinner unexpected as we only have so many camping chairs and frozen pizzas to go around. ;)

Sometimes I feel like Switzerland is so, so far away in my mind and like it never happened - being back in a familiar place with familiar friends and places. It makes me sad sometimes that we left, especially during my favorite time of year - Christmas. The holiday season is just not the same when instead of snow and Gluhwein you have Santas in board shorts and barbecues. I have to keep reminding myself that when I see 'Summer' on campaigns at work it means they go live NOW and not in six months. But I will suffer through the seafood buffets and Christmas pool parties and endless days of sunshine and blinding tinsel, thinking of you all that I left behind.... oh yes. I will suffer. ;) But what I wouldn't give somedays for some Apfelchuechli and some snow... once I get this Internet hooked up at home and don't have to 'borrow' it from neighbors I will read all the Swiss Christmas blog posts with a tear in my eye... and perhaps some hot cocoa (probably a la mode - this is Australia) to remember the good times.

I have not been blogging much on the new blog, Aussie Story Blog, but only because of the lack of Internet. Rest assured I am taking lots of photos and blogging in my mind, waiting for the day when I will be back on the net... until then, know we are doing well, that we are happy to be home, and that we are thinking of all of you. Thanks again for all the well-wishes... moving back home is a lot of work, and it is sad to leave those behind, but being the first time I have returned to a place I can call my home, I am happy to say it is a really nice feeling to be back.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

We made it back!

Just a quick post to let everyone know we made it back safe and sound! A few highlights that I hope to blog about this week from the trip are:
  • The movers - all about how great Crown Relocation is. This will have to be a two part thing, as we have to wait until January 10th at the earliest when our stuff arrives in Perth. But so far, tre impressed.
  • The clean up. We paid a rather small (make that large) fortune to have our apartment professionally cleaned, and they mucked it up. More on that this week. I am livid... I hope they will cover their damages without me having to come back and open up a can of whoop-a$$ on them.
  • The handover was EASY apart from the cleaning damages... I think the professional cleaning really helped despite the costs, but... see above. More coming soon! I will dish it all out.
  • How to pack light and avoid 500 CHF fines from the airlines for excess baggage - actually, this was a NIGHTMARE but we did not have to pay it in the end. I might have an open marriage proposal out there to the airline employee that saved me this fine. I think Jace is ok with it though considering the dough we saved.
  • The return home - seeing your old country with new eyes... well, old eyes as it would be this time. I have to admit, I am in a bit of shock after having been away for 4 years. Plus this is probably the first and therefore only place I have returned to in my life, knowing I am going to be staying for awhile. How do you get over the fact that things have changed while you were away and that the things you liked might be gone and those you did not like before might still be there... it is easier to escape to another country, we'll see... but all in all, I am ready and willing to start this new adventure in Australia and see the old girl with new eyes! ;)
I will have limited access to the internet for a few weeks (unless any former iiNet colleagues want to give me a hand here ;) , so please be patient and if you are still interested in guest blogging, please email me! Thanks again for all the kind wishes for a safe trip home. It is really great to be back!

Ps. I have started a new blog as promised!!! It is really in the early phases as I am still posting on both Swisstory and the new Aussie Story Blog.* Please sign up for the email alerts on Aussie Story now or add it to your feedreader, because when then New Year begins, this is officially where our adventure continues.

*I know I am so creative when it comes to blog names...hope you like it. ;)
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Räbeliechtli - Photos!

Today I am flying across the ocean to our new life in Australia... but I have not abandoned you yet! Here are some of the best shots from the Räbeliechtli - which MrsMac explained via her GuestPost a few weeks ago. All of these lanterns are made from turnips!

It was an amazing event, despite the rainy weather. The parade went about an hour and half. I would advise getting there early as the streets fill with people quickly and you want to ensure you get a good spot to take in the action but not be taken out by a float - some of them are very wide!!!  Just grab something yummy from one of the many street vendors and find your spot.

Before or after the parade, make sure you walk around the neighborhoods as well, because all of the houses and side-streets are also decorated with the turnip lanterns, making for a very magical display indeed. It's highly recommend that you take this in next year - the date is set for Saturday the 13th of November, 2010 in Richterswil. Thanks again to MrsMac for sharing this traditional event with Swisstory readers. Be sure to check out her blog, Swiss Family Mac.

Here is a slideshow with all of my best shots. . . see if you can guess what some of the floats are!

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Guest Post: What do the Swiss think of Expats in Switzerland?

After some conscious research and experience living as an expat in Switzerland over the last three-plus years, I’ve come to some conclusions about what the Swiss think of us, the expat in Switzerland. This is by no means scientific research, and if you’re Swiss and would like to throw in your two cents (I mean Rappen), please do.
  1. The Swiss think we American expats in Switzerland all used to be fat. But then we got here, and suddenly we got skinny. (If this were true, the South Beach Diet would have been replaced with the Swiss Chocolate one long ago). Anyhow, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a Swiss person say, “Wow, you must have been here awhile. Because you’re not fat anymore.” Or the other good one is, “You don’t look like an American at all. Because you’re not fat.” Oh, Switzerland.

  2. The Swiss think it’s weird that we eat chips with our sandwiches. To that I say, just wait. The new Subway in my little town of Baden is already stuffed with kids from the school across the street. And they’re all buying the meal combos that include your choice of Zweifel chips. Poor Switzerland. It will soon be as chip crazy as America.

  3. The Swiss don’t understand why we don’t smoke since smoking makes you skinny. To that I would just tell them, “No, don’t you remember, me being in Switzerland alone makes me skinny. I don’t need to smoke.”

  4. The Swiss like us as individuals but think as an expat group that we’re ruining their country. As my neighbor once said to me. “Now Baden is trashy, dangerous, and filled with foreigners.” I looked at her and then she added, “Oh, I don’t mean you.” They never do.
What do you think the Swiss think of us based on your experiences? Or if you are Swiss, please tell us, what do you think?

Chantal Panozzo is a writer and blogger. Besides keeping her own blogs, One Big Yodel and Writer Abroad, she also blogs for a new expat community blog. This blog offers affordable calling cards in Switzerland as well as information about living in abroad in Switzerland and many other countries.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ten things to do before moving out of your Swiss Apartment (part 1)

I am not sure if you are aware or not, but the Top 10 Things to do Before Moving into Your Apartment in Switzerland is the most read article on this blog. So I figured, it is only right if I let everyone know the 10 things to do when leaving your apartment in Switzerland as well... here goes:
10 - Give notice regarding your apartment
This is VERY IMPORTANT - as I mentioned before the notice periods are WAY in advance in Switzerland. We had to give four months notice, and you cannot give notice to leave in December... the whole December thing is tricky to me, so if you plan to move out in December, contact your agency FAR FAR in advance to ensure this is possible - as most tenants want to stay put in the holiday months.

You also have to give notice IN WRITING. I had someone assist me here to ensure the German was appropriate. You should also send the letter via registered mail. The way you do this is you write 'EINSCHREIBEN' above the to address on your letter, and when you take it to the post, the post person will know that you want to send it registered. This costs CHF 5 to ensure a signature is received. This is a requirement as far as I know. So just do it!

9 - Give notice to the EKZ and Cablecom
These two need the most notice, as EKZ (electricity company) needs to set up a time to do the final meter reading - usually the day after you move our and you do not need to be on site. Cablecom requires a 3 month notice for cancellation of accounts, or you can do it at any time if you have a letter from the Gemeide notifying them that you are leaving. See number 8.

8 - Deregister from the Gemeide
I wrote all about this already, it was an ordeal. What is important to know here is that you MUST do it before you leave the country. Do not leave this important, important step out or you may not be able to return to Switzerland again. If you want a confirmation of your deregistration, and I recommend this as we needed it for several service cancellations and our retirement money transfer, it costs CHF 30 per person for the confirmation letter and any additional original copies you want/need. Make sure that you keep your now de-registered permit - our has holes in it now so that officials know it is no longer valid - and the confirmation letter in a safe place, especially to show officials if required when leaving at the airport.

7 - Get quotes from Movers
We contacted two moving companies to get quotes - Crown Relocations, who moved us to Switzerland in the first place, and Interdean. In the end we went with Crown because they were cheaper for our move and we were very happy with their professionalism in moving us to Switzerland. We went back and forth between moving our stuff and selling our stuff. It is a personal choice, definitely dependent on your finances. We saved up so we could take our stuff back with us to have something to start with in Australia. Make sure you also look into any insurance options, storage, additional charges for stairs or delivery, etc. They always seem to get you with those extra charges - and also check if the charges for moving some and/or all your stuff differ much. The difference in cost to move all our stuff compared to just some was so small that in the end we decided to take it all. I guess once you get above a certain volume, you get a container and the cost is pretty flat after that. So check all options... then decide what stays and what goes. I will let you know after we get our stuff back in Australia whether it was worth it or not! ;)

6 - Get quotes from cleaners
Have you heard? The Swiss are pretty anal when it comes to cleanliness... so you can either clean the apartment yourself, or you can hire someone. Just know, that if you do clean it yourself, you really need to be thorough. The list of things they are going to clean in our apartment, as we decided to hire someone to clean, is HUGE. And as we need an empty apartment to clean it and we will have no supplies, we thought it worth the effort and cost to get someone to assist here. Also, on handover, it something is not cleaned to scratch you either clean it again or it comes out of your bond to have a professional clean it. By hiring the professionals from the start, the handover is included and someone will be there on the handover day as well from the cleaning company, so that if something is not clean enough - they will do it again. It really saves us the hassle and allows us to hopefully keep our entire bond/deposit. Here's hoping. Again, get multiple quotes, as the differences here were great for us - the second quote was about CHF 500 cheaper! And they were doing more! Shop around. But I would advise you go with the professionals if you can as I can only imagine the troubles if your cleaning is not up to snuff.

That is part 1. Part 2 next week! Stay tuned. ;)

Tomorrow, Guest Post from Chantal!
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Guest Post: Look Me in the Eye and Say That!

by Kathy Lyon

Yesterday I was riding along in the tram, staring out the window absentmindedly, and it happened again. I caught a passerby's eye. This inadvertent eye contact seems to happen all the time here, and it startles me every time. Then there's the staring. And not sexy come hither looks, but just some unknown person who clearly feels perfectly comfortable observing you as you wait for the cashier or while you read the paper on the train.

This just does not happen in the US. Looking a stranger right in the eye is an invitation or a threat. Looking at directly at a stranger for more than a few seconds, staring, means you are evaluating that person as a partner or an enemy and you want them to know it. (It can also mean you're crazy.) These actions are never neutral and accidental eye contact is really pretty rare.

Not here in Switzerland. However, I get the feeling that looking at a stranger here is relatively neutral. Maybe that's because the (German speaking) Swiss are accustomed to much more prolonged eye contact than Americans. There's the toasting ritual, where you look the other person right in the eye and toast them by name (repeated in pairs for the whole table). And then there's the expectation that when meeting people you will maintain direct eye contact for the whole introduction and ensuing conversation.

I had read about this, and I made every effort when we were looking at apartments and opening our bank account to demonstrate my probity and general good egg-ness by looking people right in the eye for the whole interaction. I couldn't do it. Especially not with the male bank manager. It just felt much too intimate.

These kinds of cultural differences are tough. Eye contact is not something we usually think about or try to consciously control. The same is true for the physical distance we maintain from others (jammed hip to hip on the train or carefully maintaining a micro-millimeter separation?), or for speaking volume in public, and for hundreds of other little things we just never think about. But all or any of these can push another person's cultural buttons.

Good to know, in abstract at least. I say tomato, you say Tomate. Not so easy in real life. Hey! Stop staring at me!

Kathy Lyon is an Expat Living in Switzerland. She writes about her adventures on her blog TwoFools in Zurich.
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Catch up... the last week!

Our last week in Switzerland is here. I really felt sometimes that this day would never come, and other times I felt like it could not come soon enough. We are stumbling over ourselves and bags (and bags of garbage - where does all this stuff come from?!) and the piles of things to take and things to leave with friends. The week will be filled with movers, cleaners (really expensive ones, too - so the white gloves WILL be coming out), handovers and hopefully a bit of fun and relaxation inbetween. Can we do it? I think so. Do we have a choice? Not anymore! We have left our jobs behind us, the apartment is officially someone elses come December 1st and as of tomorrow our bags will be packed... Bring on Perth!

Last week and the weekend was both really tough and really memorable. Last Thursday at work we had a bowling event, which turned into a quasi going away party, in which I showed off my smooth bowling moves and had a really good time downing the beers and the pints. It was great, too, since it was a work event everyone had to come out - plus there were few surprise guests - Martin, where is that email! - so no one was able to sneak away without saying goodbye.

Moreover, Friday was the big last day at work - handovers and cleaning up are never fun, but the work crew really made me feel special giving me a warm sendoff and one of the best going away gifts EVER. More on that later... actually, I got TWO very thoughtful, wonderful gifts. That in addition to the warm words and cards and I felt completely, totally bummed for leaving everyone here behind. Pity it took so long to make these friendships, but I am so lucky to have met and worked with the people I did. Thanks again to everyone for making the last few days so unforgettable.

The weekend was spent cleaning up and organizing everything to get us to the state we are at now - one in which I feel comfortable that we are not taking anything we do not need (hopefully less cubic space to pay for!) and we are not forgetting anything we need for the first 4 weeks - the minimum amount of time it will take to get our gear to Australia.

I had a great Sunday as well - a really wonderful sendoff from a few friends, which included a trip to Alpamare (I am a sucker for a water slide) and some crazy antics inbetween. ;) Thank you again so much to everyone for making us feel so special and that we will be missed. We will surely be missing each and every one of you - and the spare bed is ready in Perth (well... it will be in 4 weeks!).

This is not my final goodbye on the blog, so don't go anywhere... I have some great Guest Posts coming this week from Kathy and another from Chantal... this is just a little update to say we are still going strong, ready for the big week ahead, and a big thanks to everyone that gave us such a great sendoff. We could not have asked for more!
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Taking our Swiss Retirement with us...

Our days really are numbered now. I can count them on my hands without having to use my toes. Boy am I talented indeed! Our last days are filled with mini adventures, but not like you might think - more like showing our apartment, throwing out the crap that accumulates after a few years abroad, figuring out what we can and cannot take back to Australia due to customs regulations, and therein arguing about whether or not down comforters are allowed in the country... to say I will be happy when this whole moving scene is over and I am on that plane to Australia is an understatement.

One of the things we have had to do a lot of leg work for in the last few weeks is getting our retirement money back. Now, I am not really hip on all the terminology when it comes to the Swiss retirement scheme, so bear with me, but what I do know is that if you work in Switzerland, you contribute to a retirement plan and (I believe) a pension scheme automatically. When you leave the country permanently, this money is yours to take with you. If you leave to go to another European company, you can easily transfer the money to your next retirement scheme - very much like American 401k programs or Australian Super programs. If, however, you leave Switzerland to go far, far away, outside of Europe, you can get the money paid out to you to go on a shopping spree!!!!!!! Err, I mean, to put into your international retirement program of choice. Er hum.. That's right.

Just so you know what we went through to enable this retirement plan payout and in order to help others, here is my retirement payout checklist:
  1. Deregister at the Gemeinde and get the 'Abmeldungsbestätigung'  This is important, because in our case SwissLife, the retirement program, neededw confirmation that we were in fact leaving the country. Information about how we deregistered...
  2. Fill out necessary paperwork that says you are leaving and where you want the money sent - in our case we are having it deposited into our Swiss bank accounts and we will transfer it to Australia before we leave. We got this paperwork from our employers - so enquire within if they do not come to you with it first.
  3. If you are married, and this is important, you need your spouse to sign off that it is OK that you are getting this retirement money paid out - so that at least the government knows you knew where the big spending spree money came from in the event your significant other decides not to support your future... so not only do you, as a spouse, need to sign the form, but in our case you also have to...
  4. Get the form witnessed - not only does the spouse need to ok the pay out, the signatures must be witnesses... All in all, we needed 4 signatures witnessed at CHF 20 a pop or CHF 80... just another example of how Switzerland likes to rip off the foreigners as they leave... did I mention the Abmeldungsbestätigung in step 1 cost CHF 30 each!??!
  5. Make a copy of said form and witnessed forms for your own safe-keeping. You will thank me later. It is always a good idea to keep a copy or scan yourself a copy if you are going GREEN.
  6. Send the form, copy of the deregistration confirmation and witnessed signatures to your HR department or directly to your retirement agency... 
This should be all that is needed - or at least it was in our case - and you can just sit back and wait for the money to roll into your account and be used for Christmas gifts... er, I mean, be used for your future retirement goals. In all honesty, we are big fans of saving and compound interest, so not to harp, but do roll it over and start saving early. At least we are trying to do so! :)

More on our last days and tips for leaving Switzerland coming soon.... 10 days to go. Good God.
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Guest Post: West Side Story in Basel

Guest Post by Tejal

Planning a weekend in the Swiss autumn is a no win proposition - there is the gorgeous colour and that sweet nip in the air that makes you long to be outdoors - only, when you are outdoors, the chill and the damp make you long to be in the warm indoors, cozy and tucked in.

Go out we did, the Musical Theatre in Basel was staging a revival of "West Side Story ". I chose this because it presented a great cultural alternative in a scene otherwise dominated by Depeche Mode and the guy who takes you trekking (also, I confused Basel with Bern, I thought it would be a oneish hour drive from Geneva. Yes I'm that clueless.)

The stunning drive to Basel made the journey totally worthwile from the get go. And the play was in English (the one fact I got right!)

While it can't be said that the production staged at Basel is upto A list Broadway or West End standards, there were a few great moments - Oneika Philips, playing Anita, managed to strike a chord.

To summarise, West Side Story is a Romeo and Juliet style love story set in the backdrop of teenage gang wars in New York. It has become iconic for its choreography and music (I Feel Pretty, Somewhere , America)

Check out "I Feel Pretty" as the theme song for this really cool Nike Commercial.

The unexpected icing on the cake was the beautiful town centre of Basel, as we wandered around the autumn goods market in the town centre, we regretted not getting there early enough in the day. Well... there's always a next time

(The West Side Story runs at the Musical Theatre in Basel till the 22nd of November, tickets can be found at

Guest Blogger Bio: Tejal Nangla is a blogger and amateur writer, currently writing on her blog, Wide Eyed Gypsy

Monday, November 16, 2009

Car Owners BEWARE: Marders Eat Your Car's Rubber!

Picture from

A friend of ours recently had the unfortunate experience of taking his car in for its regular service, only to be totally shocked by the quote for the work when he came to pick up his car. When he asked why it was so expensive, the mechanic had one word, 'Marder.'

I imagine the conversation went something like this.

Friend: You want to charge me how much for this regular service? Is this highway robbery or what?

Mechanic: No, it's marder.

Friend: Yeah, I know I am going to be a martyr if I pay this ridiculous bill... you have to be joking.

Mechanic: No, it's marder, Sir. Little animals. They eat car.

Friend: Uh huh. And if I feed my car at night-time it also turns into a wild gremlin. I get it. HA HA. I want to speak to your boss. This is a disgrace.

Mechanic: No, no, you do not understand. It is a marder. These animals like hot tire smells and rubber smells and eat your car if you not careful. Marder. (showing teeth in a fast chewing motion, hands like paws crouched at the chin, making a chewing sound like a crazy rabid animal...)

Friend: Oh you think you are funny, eh? You think I am supposed to believe there are some rubber eating weasels out there that like the smell of my tires? HA! Well, we'll see about that! Yeah, that is what you will look like when I am done with you, you stupid cow. (Tearing quote into pieces and storming out...)

There ... my role playing is fulfilled for today. :) But honestly, this is true. The scene above is not, but the marder is real enough. I would not have believed this had I not heard it from a very reliable source... make that several reliable sources because all my colleagues at work went on and on about how this little weasel creature will and does in fact ruin lots of cars in Switzerland, eating the hot rubber at will. There are even insurance plans that protect your car from these creatures, although I am certain the Swiss do not buy them as I am convinced that the Swiss do not inform the foreigners in advance of this real-threat of a car rubber eating creature, there in turn protecting their own Audi's from imminent consumption... It is a ruse, a conspiracy I tell you! Show me THAT in the Living in Switzerland Guidebooks! (Ok, if it is in there, I give up! :)

So PLEASE if you have a car, make sure that you are doing something to protect it from marders - or else you might, too, be slapped with a heafty fee to replace all your marder eaten rubber plumbing in your car. Good luck!

More on the Marder here - in German and in English, although I am not convinced it is the same creature as described in the German text.

More about Marder's eating your cars:
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Friday, November 13, 2009

Guest Post: Räbeliechtli

by MrsMac

Last Saturday my husband and daughter attended our town's Räbeliechtli.  It's a parade celebrating turnips.  Kind of.  Basically, the kids parade through the town carrying hollowed out and decorated turnip lanterns with floats made out of turnip lanterns.

We were lucky that a friend of ours made the lantern above for Marion. 

I'll be perfectly honest and tell you all that I have tried my hardest to find an explanation behind Räbeliechtli and have come up with nada.  I've googled, I've questioned neighbors... nothing. 

But that doesn't stop us from enjoying it!  Our town's parade was fairly small but all the kids got involved.

 Pictures above by MrsMac

However, this Saturday night, Richterswil is having a fair, Räbechilbi, before their Räbeliechtli.  The whole town is lit with lanterns to celebrate.

The Richterswil Räbeliechtli is the largest turnip (or sugar beet) parade in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.  And from the pictures I've seen online... 

Picture above from

... it looks gorgeous!

The festivities start at 3 pm and the parade at 6:30 pm,  Maybe we'll see you there!

Guest blogger bio: MrsMac's is an American expat in Switzerland. She enjoys exploring life in a different country with a bossy toddler and sweet little baby in tow. She writes about her adventures abroad in Switzerland on her blog,  Swiss Family Mac

Note from Swisstory: I am really excited about this and hoping Jace wants to check out some turnip-o-lanterns with me. I did find some more information about this interesting holiday, but in German only... and more here.. After reading this, I found out that this is a kind of Thanksgiving, as in the middle-ages turnips were the modern day potatoes, so the townspeople gave thanks for the bounty and celebrated the harvest each fall. Now it is just another tourist event - the residents of Richterswil are REQUIRED to decorate their homes during the big event with turnip lanterns - and over 25 TONS of turnip are grown in the Zurich area each year for this event alone. WOAH. Thanks, MrsMac for sharing this cool tradition. It is the first I have heard of it! See you Saturday in Richterswil!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flammkuchen = gastronomic heaven

Are you hungry? I hope not, because I am REALLY hungry now after looking at these photos of the Flammkuchen we had for lunch in Colmar, France... they are not helping AT ALL. Yummy, yummy, yummy. Let me explain what these are if this is your first do-si-do with the Flammkuchen.

Flammkuchen (or flammekuche in Alsace or sometimes called tarte flambée in French) are, as described most wonderfully by Wikipedia: ' of the most famous gastronomical specialties of the (Alsace) region' but you can find them in Switzerland, too. For example, I have had them in Lucerne before.

These thin bread pizzas are traditionally served with a topping of crème fraîche, onions and bacon. And I have to tell you, this traditional combination is the most wonderful - add some mushrooms, like mine below, and lit is gastronomic heaven. Jace's was also nice - had chorizo on it as well as the standard base... but honestly, mine was SO MUCH BETTER! :)

This is one of those dishes in which each time we eat it, we promise ourselves that we should eat it more often, or make it at home! I would recommend you do the same - it is a delicious lunch or dinner, freshly baked in a wood fired oven most often, quickly served which is great if you are ravenous like we were that day, and light enough that you have room for a pastry afterwards - which is important if you also happen to be in Colmar!

If you are not in an area where you can walk down the street and order up one of these babies, try out these recipes - in German. I am sure there are also some in English or please share your own in the comments. YUM! ENJOY!

Flammküchen Recipes from Saison Kuche:
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Colmar, a wonderful day trip from Zürich

Colmar, another little gem of a city in the Alsace Region of France and also just hours away from Zürich, was visited on our way back from Strasbourg a few weekends ago. The city has the most lovely Altstadt, or old town, and every new corner is somehow guaranteed to be quainter than the last. A canal runs through the city, offering lovely outlooks from here and there, as well as beautiful reflections of the colorful houses and being that we went in November, in our case, also of the colorful Fall leaves.

We arrived via train (take the fast train to Basel and then the regional train to Colmar - takes 2 hours or so - there is also a TGB to Strasbourg and a direct connection from Colmar to Zürich if you get the timing right) and as the old town was not as clearly marked as we would have liked, so we grabbed a map and were happy to see that the major sites were within 10 minutes of the train station. We enjoyed slowly meandering around the town, catching glimpses of things not on the tourist trail, but finally making our way to the more touristy bits. For a Sunday in a touristy town, it was pretty empty... which made for a really relaxed visit.

Watertower in Colmar

Fall is here!

There were people (presumably tourists) in the small boats on the canal, just gliding along and seeing the sites. I would like to do that if we return to Colmar someday - looked enchanting...

Many of the houses in Colmar are of this wooden beam style - can someone please tell me if this style has an official name?... or do they just call it GORGEOUS?  Then again, when you are inside these houses, they seem a bit wonky! :)

I was surprised to see that while a lot of the shops were closed, being a Sunday and all, many of the restaurants, cafes and bakeries(!) were open. I think that the culinary delights in Colmar are many- there was chocolate, cookies, pastries, cakes and of course Kugelhopfs all over the city. Make sure you come with an appetite! More on what we ate on Friday...

The center of the town is marked by a cathedral, just like Strasbourg, and although this one is not as ornate, I found the sandstone and red brickwork to be just as charming... and I loved the green tiled roof of the side chapel! The city is full of beautiful architecture and photo opportunities really.... Even Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi is from Colmar - so there is a miniature Statue of Liberty in town, but we did not see it unfortunately.

All in all - lovely. I think this ranks high on my day-trips from zürich list. If you want more information, Kerrin has done Colmar better justice - especially if its Colmar's culinary pleasures you seek, please visit:

Tomorrow - a public service announcement about the small animals eating your car right now... I am not joking. Until then. :)
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Guest Post: How to Make Friends in Switzerland, Part Two

By Chantal Panozzo

Last week over on ACC, I talked about the difficulty of making Swiss friends and gave a few tips for how to make friends with your neighbors.

Today, I want to tell you a story about my friend Peter. Peter recently started a new job in Zurich after changing companies and for his entire first two weeks at work, no one asked him if he’d like to go to lunch and most people barely acknowledged his existence. He told me he was frustrated with being ignored, but slowly, he started to make some friends, especially when he approached people first about  going to lunch or getting a drink. And Peter is Swiss.

The point? It’s not just you, the expat, having problems making Swiss friends. Even the Swiss people have trouble making Swiss friends. The main ingredient needed? Patience. Like the story of not knowing my neighbor’s first name for an entire year even though we ate cheese together a lot, the Swiss are private
people. They need to get used to you just being there. Slowly but surely, they will most likely warm up to you. Just give them the time and then, put in the effort. Learning a bit of their language will help too.

Even though you might be the new one at your office, it might have to be you to ask your Swiss officemates for a lunch date first. This can be a shock to Americans like myself, who may be used to organized welcome lunches on their first day of employment.

Strangely enough, another way I’ve made Swiss friends is through my blog.  I’ve had a number of “blogger blind dates” with some of my readers—in fact I have another one next week. Blogging is a great way to network, and you’d be surprised that there are Swiss out there that blog in English and by reading their blogs and leaving comments, you may just make a friend.

More information of making on friends in Switzerland can be found here:
Chantal Panozzo Bio: Chantal Panozzo is a writer and blogger. Besides keeping her own blog, One Big Yodel, she also blogs for a new expat community - This blog offers affordable calling cards in Switzerland as well as information about living abroad in Switzerland and many other countries.
Thanks for a great post, Chantal! If you, too, would like to be a guest blogger on Swisstory while we are in transition, please email me at jessica (at ) swisstoryblog .com! 

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Snails in Strasbourg, France

Two weekends ago, we decided that we needed one last mini-weekend adventure, so we bought some tickets for the weekend to Strasbourg, France - a beautiful city, the seat of the Region, in the Alsace Region of France. The tickets for two with half-tax cost 200 CHF and then I snagged a four star hotel for 80€. Not bad for a weekend getaway.

Stasbourg (or Strassburg/Straßburg in German) is a strange city actually, because they speak French and are French but being on the border and having changed hands so many times throughout history, a lot of the city feels 100% German - I mean, check out these buildinging above - nothing says Germany to me like these wooden decorated homes with the geraniums. Perhaps everyone in Strasbourg suffers from a bit of a cultural identity crisis. In one hand, they have a big fat Bavarian-style pretzel, in the other they are washing it down with a Bordeaux. Not literally, but that is how I would best describe Stasbourg.

The highlight of Strasbourg, like many major German cities - er... nevermind... is the Münster or Cathedral.  This beautiful piece of Gothic architecture was definitely the highlight of the city. The church is made of beautiful sandstone - in need of renovation if you ask me - and inside is a very nice astronomical clock in which a skeleton chimes the bell on the hour - very similar to the astronomical clock in Prague, which in in my opinion is the better still.

Details on the Strasbourg Münster door and entry-way.
I love gothic entry-ways with all the carvings.

Naturally, when going to Strasbourg, you will want to make sure you stop in one of the many bakeries and try some of the regional specialties - there are sooooo many yummy looking bakeries to choose from. We of course, at the advice of Kerrin and others, had to try a Kugelhopf, local to the Alsace region.

Perhaps it was just me - then again, Jace agreed - they look sweeter than they are. If you have had the  British/Aussie Easter specialty, the hot-crossed bun, they are just like that (bread with raisins and powdered sugar) but without the ever so sweet and delicious icing cross on top. So I liked the Kugelhopf/Gugelhopf, but I prefer something with more sweetness - like one of the million other cookies in the bakeries or the chocolates and macaroons on offer in Colmar - more on that on Wednesday!

The souvenier possibilities are HUGE in Stasbourg if you love to cook - lots of lovely French linens and tablecloths and these great big pots. Any idea what these are for? Just casseroles or are they more like a big cast iron pot? I think they were ceramic actually. They were lovely, but I could not buy any more now that I know how much it costs to take it all back to Australia with us! :)

For dinner, we stumbled upon a restaurant overlooking the locks, and of course being in France, Jace just HAD to have snails. We really like them really and if you have never tried them, I recommend you do! Honestly, if you like garlic and butter you will love snails. I understand these were done Alsace style, but honestly the butter and garlic was no different - perhaps it was the addition of a bunch of parsley? Either way - yum! Do try them. Up to you if you get 12 like Jace, or 6 like me. :)

Enjoy Strasbourg if you are looking for a getaway just 2 and a half hours from Zürich by train. It really was a lovely little spot for a relaxed Saturday . More from the Alsace Region on Wednesday, as we also visited Colmar! Tomorrow, a guest post from Chantal!

Ps. If you would like to be a guest blogger on Swisstory, contact me. Through the end of the year, while we are in transition I am looking for guest bloggers. I look forward to hearing from you!
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Saturday, November 7, 2009

International Ski School Apero - November 11th

Just got this via email - for all of you wanna-be snowboarders or skiers, this is a MUST DO for your first snow season in Switzerland - the International Ski School! I highly recommended joining. You learn a lot and it is totally worth it - here are posts from my lessons last year:

11.11.09 Info Apero Online Registration Ski School 2010 
A get-together with the chance to get information about ski school, the new online registration, etc. Ski instructors from Flumserberg and members of the ISCZ committee will be there to answer your questions. Or come by to just party!

Place:  SwissotelTime: 18:00
How to get there -

Am Marktplatz Oerlikon
Schulstrasse 44
8050 Zürich
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wanna be a guest blogger on Swisstory?

It always happens like this. I have a good idea - but I keep it to myself... then someone says, 'Hey, what about this?' and I say, 'That is exactly what I was thinking!' And then I do it. I don't get the credit - that is cool - but I get the confirmation that it was a good idea in the first place.

This is one of those times. Chantal offered to be a guest blogger on Swisstory while we are in transition, and I jumped on the offer as everyone loves her blog, One Big Yodel.

So I thought - yes, guest blogging is good. Why not offer guest blog spots to others?!

Would you like to be a Guest Blogger on Swisstory?:
As a guest blogger on Swisstory, your blog will be exposed to the hundreds of daily visitors I have and you will hopefully get some new readers and great link juice. If you are interested, please email me (jessica (at) swisstoryblog . com ) and we can work out the details. I would prefer Swiss related blogs apply, but I am open to other posts from bloggers that would appeal to my savvy travel, expat, adventure loving readership. :)

So email me already and I look forward to seeing your posts on Swisstoryblog!

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Update! 3 Weeks until D(eparture) Day

I have been pretty lazy with the postings lately. I chalk it up to a few things -
  1. I am making a Blurb book for Christmas this year of the Swiss Tour 2009 that I took with my family, and if you make a book before the 24th of November, you get 20% off... (Promocode for 20% discount is: BLURBTREAT3) so the pressure is on and my free time for blog photo editing and publishing is tight. Ps. I made this book with my brother last year for Christmas and it went down A TREAT! Highly recommend book gifts.

    Family Cookbook
    By Jessica Cartwright

  2. We are in the thick of getting things together for the move:
    • More people are coming to check out the apartment tonight. If you are looking for an apartment, conact me via email for details and come on over! I will even let you look in my fridge. :) Just so you all know, we have no obligations regarding the apartment - we have given our proper 4 months notice, so all we have to do it leave. We don't need to pay any penalties because we complied with the notice period. Actually, we are not vested at all in whether or not someone takes our apartment before we go - hence, I am so moody that we have to show the apartment for the 4th time tonight, as I am tired of the inconvenience of having to clean up everything for strangers to come through when I don't care if they take it or not!  Ok... Sorry for the ranting. That is off my chest. Come on over. You can see my dirty clothes pile!  :)
    • Handed in the mail forwarding notice at the post...
    • Figured out how to get all our pension and retirement money back.
    • Filled out all the customs paperwork and ensured that we are not brining anything into Australia that we should not.
    • And much more... more on all that fun stuff later. There will be a BIG POST coming soon about all the things to do before you leave Switzerland.

  3.  Finally - to be honest - with all this leaving talk - I get a bit depressed. Don't get me wrong - we are excited to go back to Australia! But at the same time, it is a chapter closing and it doesn't get my creative juices flowing as well as they did when we had just arrived and the Swiss adventure was full of excitment and promise. . . so bear with me . . . posting will be a bit thin but I am still here... and a new blog will be up shortly!
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Monday, November 2, 2009

Gemeinde Update

We had a great weekend in Alsace. More on that this week. For now, I wanted to write a quick update about the Gemeinde and how we (FINALLY!) successfully deregistered on Friday.

Actually, I called before Friday and talked to my favorite Gemeinde employee, Frau B., and asked her what it was that we were supposed to be doing - because if you recall, the last instructions we received were that I was supposed to call all the utilities again and ask exactly what form they wanted this letter in to prove that we were leaving the country....

Well, I did that. And when I asked, "What is the name of this form? As the Gemeinde tells me they have heaps and I should know the name of the form..." they (Cablecom, Assura, the Radio thingy) were all like... "There is no name... it is just a deregistration confirmation." Dandy.

So this is what I told Frau B. when I called on Wednesday, and she was like, "Um yeah just come in and get the general confirmation for 30 CHF per person and be done with it." GREAT! Where were you last Friday. "I had a day off..." Figures.

Then I asked her about the fact that now that we are deregistered and they want to take away our permits how do we get around without being thrown in jail. And she said, "Oh that is easy - we don't take your permit - we just punch holes in your permit, you can carry it around until you leave and keep it as a souvenir and if you get stuck show them the hole-y permit and your deregistration confirmation and you should be fine."

Uh... what about the "We have to take it from you NOW! You will never see it again!" that I got last week? "Um, no that is not what happens," said Frau B. GO FIGURE. Never leave me again, Frau B. NEVER!

The moral of the story is - talk to someone who knows what they are doing... because, as if by magic, when we went in on Friday, I got the same girl as last week and THIS TIME she was suddenly of the same opinion as Frau B. - giving us three original copies each of our deregistration confirmation, punching holes into our permits and handing them back and wishing us a wonderful day. Ahrrrrrrrwww... I wonder if this all would have gone easier if I had done it in English. I really do.

If only that had happened the first time, I would still picture Gemeinde Urdorf Einwohnerkontrolle as the utopia of Swiss registration... Either way, we are deregistered now. No going back. And the letters are in the mail to stop services on all our utilities and accounts.

Just a few more weeks to go...
Also, thanks to everyone that stopped by on Saturday for the World Blog Surf Day. If you missed it, you can still surf from blog to blog - although it might not link you to the exact post from the day. And make sure you sign up to partake next time if you missed out!
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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Favorite Holiday in Switzerland: Christmas

My favorite Swiss holiday has to be, without a doubt, Christmas. I am so unbelieveably bummed that we will be in Australia this year for December, so I will miss all the Christmas festivities - but that does not mean that you have to miss out on them!

Naturally, Christmas is an important religious holiday in Switzerland but most of the Swiss partake in the Christmas celebrations in one way or another. At the beginning of December, the Advent begins, in which families count down the days until Christmas, either with an Advent Calendar or an Advent candle, marking the Sunday's until Christmas with a candle for each Sunday (4 candles total). But Santa actually comes long before Christmas Eve! In Switzerland, Santa, or Samiclaus, comes on the 5th of December and kiddies that have been good get some sweets, nuts and mandarins (and probably some toys!) on the 6th. Those that have been bad get a sack full of coal from Schmutzli - the anti Santa. Otherwise, Christmas is very similar in Switzerland compared to the US or Australia - tree (check), gifts (check), lots of food (check)... but the festivities are very special and celebrated by many families.

Last year I committed the entire month of December to Swiss Christmas celebrations and the Advent count down... There is just so much to love  - the Advents candles, the Apfelchuechli mit Vanillesausethe Zürich Samiklaus Swim, and the Weihnachstpyramide - but my favorite part of the Christmas festivities are the Christmas markets! Here is a list of Swiss Christmas Markets in 2009.

If you time it just right, you can probably hit up at least 4 or 5 Christmas markets, perhaps even some in Germany or France where they are also a big to do.Christmas markets tend to start at the end of November and run through Christmas Eve and sometimes the day after Christmas. Make sure you take some warm mittens and lots of money with you - as you will definitely want to sample some of the Glühwein (to keep you warm of course!) and buy some of the best handicrafts and decorations available.Fröhliche Weihnachten (in October) everyone. Start making those Christmas plans now! Before long, it will be 2010 (wowzers has time gone by!) and you will have to wait another 12 months for Christmas. :)

Now, please check out the Next blog on the World Surf Day Tour - Peterhals in Zürich...

I read this blog often, and know you will enjoy Deb's post. Thanks for stopping by Swisstoryblog and please follow me to get future updates on our adventures in Switzerland.
This post was written as part of the World Blog Surf Day. You can also follow the World Blog Surf Day on Twitter, thanks to our Twitter reporter Karen. Karen is an American expat blogger last seen in Prague. The Wall Street Journal said, "Her blog makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing--and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic." Read Karen's Czech Republic Expat Blog-Empty Next Expat.
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