Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ten things to do before moving out of your Swiss Apartment (part 2)

Photos from the last few months of our Swisstory

Well, this is not a mistake... I am really blogging on Swisstory even though I no longer live in Switzerland. Imagine that! Meghan, a fellow, also soon to be former-Swiss Expat blogger, is leaving Switzerland and going back to Maryland, but before doing so she asked that I finish what I started with this post about 10 things to do before leaving Switzerland... and well, in this case I figured I better get out of retirement and see what I could do! We Swiss Expat Bloggers take care of eachother!

So let's see if - almost 6 months after leaving Switzerland - I can dig up a few more tips for those expats during that inevitable time - the Ruckkehr - the return back home!

5. Get organised.
Once you know you are leaving, and you've given notice at the Gemeinde that you are leaving you can pretty much tell anyone you want and you should, as there are lots of things that you'll need to do in advance, many of which I detailed in the last things to do post, but honestly the best policy I can give you is to contact anyone and everyone that you have had contact with and tell them you're leaving and ask if there is anything you need to do in advance. There were heaps of things that we just learned about too late - like for example that I had to give 4 months notice on my allotment garden and that while you'll need to post back your Cablecom box, and you think you have paid all your bills in advance, you actually have only been paying a portion of each month in advance - this is the one that got us! We had a late notice on Cablecom so make sure that is all sorted out. They also need 3 months notice and a letter from the Geminde! GEEZ!

And then, what I did was put all the latest bills for all the utilities, the tax details, the letter from the Geminde, and all that jazz that you think you don't need after you leave aside in a folder and I took it with me ON THE PLANE! Do not pack it away as no matter what happens, those papers will be in the box that you can't find or that you unpack last and no doubt, for some reason, you'll need them the most. So I'd put a statement for all policies (so you have the policy number in case you need it and the telephone number for support) in a folder and carry it with you on the plane. It helped me when I had no idea why I was getting a late notice for Cablecom and when I needed my Swiss tax details on the spot. Either that or scan it into your computer and email it to yourself - then it's also wherever you go, ready when you need it! I also recommend copies of passports and visas - especially the Swiss ones you're giving away. You never know when you need to show that again, just in case... so keep it digital.

Also, get the year's worth of mail forwarding. It has really been a great thing for us... it has given me some reassurance that I closed up all the accounts and left nothing outstanding. It's also fun to still get a bit of Switzerland every once in awhile in your post. ;)

Not sure if I said this yet - but also get everyone's email addresses or online details so that you can contact them from overseas if you need to. This has proven to be really helpful for us - with HR contacts, the tax people, with the apartment people, and more... you might think you sorted it all before you go-but ultimately, you'll need their email address. And email them all once you have left, so they have your contact details, too!

4. Get it in writing - especially when it comes to your deposit! And then hold on to that money!
If you do number 3 right, you'll have all your notes from all the places you contact and hopefully you'll have details in writing about the finnicky ones. The one that ended up being a bit crazy for us was our three months deposit for our apartment. I think you can get your deposit check deposited wherever you want, but we kept our Swiss bank account open so that we could have it deposited to our Swiss account, and then we're holding on to it to pay for our Swiss taxes. The Swiss always pay for their tax in arrears - so we have until the end of this year, I believe, to pay for our 2009 taxes... foreign residents do get money taken out of their pay but we ended up owing more so this was a simple way for us to be able to budget that money and put it aside.

To get our deposit back, we had to fill out a form that initially looked like the agent was going to steal all our money, and actually that is what the form is - they ask that you release the money to them so that if there is something you need to pay, they can take it out of your bond and then give you the remaining funds. We did this, and then it took - I kid you not - 2 months before we got the money put into our account!!! This wasn't so bad as we knew it was going to taxes - but still, to have this one BIG thing outstanding is a strain, especially because I couldn't beat the women down with a wooden spoon from thousands of miles away if she did walk with my money! Luckily she didn't - we got it - ours was held up though as they had to negotiate repairs to the wooden floors from the chemical burns caused by the cleaners. This could happen to you, too, as they have to get quotes for repairs and then they take that out of your bond. In the end, we got our entire bond back as the apartment agent worked hard for us and pretty much vouched for the fact that we couldn't have caused those marks in the first place... a lot of people hate Wincasa, but in our case, no complaints. Oh and I had her email address so we were in constant contact and I emailed her once a week to ask WHERE IS MY MONEY!?

Now, another question I get asked is - can you keep your Swiss bank account open? When I contacted UBS, they said that we could keep the account open as long as we wanted but that we had to cut up and return our credit card accounts... interesting, eh? So yeah, we still have Swiss bank accounts, but to be honest, as soon as the government cleans us out (again, don't forget about the taxes!!!), we'll close the account by withdrawing all the money.

Another thing you want to get in writing- as an aside - is your referral if you worked in Switzerland. You might not think you need the Swiss format, formal, written referral... but I've used mine already and Jace has used his a few times... it just makes it easier for potential new employers to get your background. So get it in writing! Use it!

3. Get your new life organised
So you haven't even left yet - is it too soon to be arranging an apartment? getting a new job? getting in touch with old friends? The answer it - no!!! It's never too soon. I can't tell you how much easier it made the transition having things worked out on the other end. For example, I got my new job via a referral and I interviewed over Skype - ok so having two days between landing and starting my new job was NOT such a hot idea, but since Jace has had a bit more trouble finding the right now, my having a job has made the transition WAY easier. I also gave notice to the tenants that rented our house WAY in advance, more so than they needed but that ensured we got into the house sooner and didn't have to rent a place in the interim. We also got in touch with utilities in Australia, ensured all visas were up to date, and enquired about things like new licenses and transport before we even left Switzerland... you might think you have all the time in the world, but trust me - in between all those goodbyes and the reuniting on the other side, you have little time to get your stuff in order after you land. Them ore you can do in advance the better.

For example, we saved HEAPS by getting into our house sooner as we didn't have to pay the movers to store our furniture and container for several weeks or months. We were able to get our health coverage turned back on in Australia before we left so we were covered for the flight and didn't need expensive travel insurance, and we were able to proposition relatives and friends for furniture in advance so that we didn't spend too many days sleeping on the cold, hard floor a la our first few weeks in Switzerland.

(psst... we ever got on the puppy wait list months ahead so that we could get our little Sasha - the Labrador - earlier than expected!!!)

2. Make a list of last things to see and do.
You will miss heaps once you leave Switzerland. It is a fact... a hard fact. I ate a chocolate croissant a few weeks ago that made me want to cry - and no, not because it was good. Damn Swiss. You've ruined the flaky pastry for me for life. The bar is so high.

While you won't be able to get it all in, as you are no doubt saving money to move back all your new European possessions, and to get home and to get a new home and the list goes on... make sure you have a Swiss-moon or something. Celebrate going home and do it big style. Just make sure it contains the following, as you'll miss these the most: mountains, mountains of cheese, huge mountains of Swiss chocolate, travel by efficient and clean trains, drinking from water fountains in the street, strolling around Zurich and memorizing the sounds of every last bell... honestly, I think we took advantage of Switzerland as much as one can, but there are so many things now where we say, "Well, if we were still in Switzerland, we could..." Yeah, you'll miss it. Soak it all up... and then soak up some more. The good life is coming to an end, and perhaps an even better one is around the corner, but you'll miss Switzerland. No doubt about it.

1. Enjoy the ride.
You knew this day would come... this is the definition of an expat... you have to go home eventually, even if it's just for a visit... so make the most of it all. Get gifts for friends and relatives far in advance, perhaps even send them home instead of packing them or sending them with your container, as you must ensure that you pack light (packing restrictions are way tougher than what the used to be - I almost got stuck with a $400 fine for over-packed bags, even after throwing some stuff out!!! But thanks to the kindness of the Singapore airlines lady, she waived the fine... but only because the flight was pretty empty...). Give everyone your new address or facebook details or email address WAY in advance, as you will forget if you leave it to the last minute. Embrace ever red shirt with the white cross that you're given, every stuffed cow, every flag... and don't get hung up on the fact that it's taken you years to get in with the Swiss and now you're leaving! They make friends for life, remember? We've even had our first Swiss visitors already!

When things get you down - just remember that only a small fraction of Americans actually have a passport and only a small fraction of those with a passport will get to live in Switzerland... yes, you are one of the lucky few, and if you get really home sick (for Switzerland that is!- as you inevitably will!!!) I am sure a ski-vacation is just around the corner!  Embrace the change and relish the fact that for a small amount of time you were an Auslander in Switzerland... and boy was that an amazing ride.

 Thanks again to Meghan for getting me to write again on Swisstory. If you're still interesting in reading my stuff - and you're not asleep at the keyboard after this marathon post, visit me on Aussiestory. I'd love to read a comment from you soon! I am always keen to answer questions, too, about life in Switzerland. Feel free to contact me.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Spotted by Locals Archive: Bürkliplatz Flohmarkt - Zurich's Best Known Fleamarket

It’s Saturday morning. You just had your cup of coffee. The sun is shining on the lake, and you are strolling down the promenade without a care in the world. What could make this day better? Well one amazing bargain of course!

The best place to do a bit of bargain hunting and antique shopping is the Bürkliplatz Flohmarkt. Positioned perfectly between the Zürisee and the start of the Bahnhofstrasse, this most famous of flea-markets in Zürich is begging you to wander on by. I love to check out the jewelry, vintage clothes, old postcards, Swiss paraphernalia (think huge cowbells and copper pots), and your expected garden-variety junk and nick-knacks.

Make sure you have your bargaining hat on though as contrary to most shopping etiquette in Switzerland, it is okay to do a bit of haggling here – even if they refuse to drop their prices, you can try! Make sure you visit the stand with all the cowbells – I have it on good authority if you buy a big bell, you might get a small one thrown in for free! And if you need a bit of mid-bargain-hunting nourishment, a sausage stand is usually just a stone’s throw away. Happy hunting!
Details about this spot
Bürkliplatz Flohmarkt | Relaxing, Shopping
Bürkliplatz | Kreis 1 City (area map) | +41444117350
May – Oct Sat 08:00 – 16:00
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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Spotted by Locals Archive: Bodega Espanola - Tapas muy deliciosas

Tapas are all the rage now, and while the trend has not fully hit Zurich, there are a few restaurants here and there where you can experience a fully authentic Spanish tapas experience – and Bodega Espanola is the best in Niederdorf.

Downstairs in the dimly lit, rustic tapas bar you can get drinks and tapas at any time, while upstairs a full menu is on offer (no tapas). After you find a seat and order a big jug of sangria, have a wander up to the tapas case and pick out a few nibbles of your liking. The friendly guys behind the bar will tell you what everything is and arrange it neatly on a plate and bring it to your table.

Try a Spanish tortilla, which is more like an omelet and not at all like a Mexican tortilla, with eggs, potatoes, onions and herbs. Delicious! You can also not go wrong with an assortment of olives, chorizo and some roasted eggplant. Tapas are just 5 CHF per plate to live a little and try something new!
Come early in the evening for an appetizer… tables fill up quickly!
Details about this spot
Bodega Espanola | Bars, Snacks, Restaurants (Spanish) | Plate of tapas CHF 5.00
Münstergasse 15 | Kreis 1 City (area map) | +41442512310
11:30 – 14:00 & 18:00 – 23:00 daily
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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Spotted by Locals Archive: Balthazar Cafe - Amazing Studel & Hot Chocolate

Despite being situated in an elite location, just 100 meters from the Bahnhof (train station), this little cafe remains quaint and inviting. In the winter especially the cafe is warm and cozy, and if there is no room inside or downstairs (smoking section) you are always welcome to snuggle up with the sheepskin chair covers outside. In summer, hundreds of chairs are lined up outside – so simply take your seat and you are in for a treat. This is where you can do some of Zurich’s best people-watching right on the infamous Bahnhofstrasse!

It is hard to miss the cafe’s pastry specialties on one of the carts strategically placed near the entrance – a not to miss being the homemade Apfel-Strudel. Oh the delicate pastry, warm apples, and vanilla sauce made with real vanilla bean are calling my name now (6.90 CHF + no skimping on the 2.50 CHF sauce). Or go nuts with my new favorite and try it with the Cinnamon Glaze! It is devine! What was that? The homemade hot chocolate (6.50 CHF) is more your thing? That’s okay, too. I sometimes have them together and call it a week. In summer, I recommend a big Weiss Bier (beer).

Don’t worry – they serve a wide selection of coffees, sandwiches, cakes, and even champagne so everyone can find something to suit at this darling cafe.

Details about this spot
Balthazar Cafe | Coffee & tea | Apfel-Strudel CHF 6.80
Bahnhofstrasse 104 | Kreis 1 City (area map) | +41442117866
Mon – Fri 06:30 – 22:00, Sat 08:00 – 22:00, Sun 10:00 – 19:00
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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Spotted by Locals Archive: Bäckerei-Konditorei Stocker

This is one of my all-time favorite bakeries in Zurich. If you go by on a weekday, they have a table out the front with all sorts of lovely baked goods such that you can easily swing by on your way to work or to your next engagement and grab a delicious, fresh baked something on the way. There is usually a line but they mean business here so it will go quickly.

On a weekday, and only on weekdays, make sure you try one of the excellent pretzels on offer. I like the one with sunflower seeds but they have several flavors – perhaps one for each day? They seem to have more croissants and rolls with nuts and seeds on a weekday, and more loaf like breads and delicate pastries on the weekends. But I dig it – it allows you to try something new no matter what day of the week!
They have some amazing specialty cakes, too, and they have their own brand of gelato or ice cream in the warmer months. Try something new! You cannot go wrong at this bakery near the Stadelhofen train station. (ps. this is a chain, so you can also find these babies in the Hauptbahnhof – or main train station – if you are not near Stadelhofen…)

Details about this spot
Bäckerei-Konditorei Stocker | Snacks | Sunflower seed pretzel CHF 3.50
Stadelhoferstrasse 22 | Kreis 8 Seefeld (area map) | +410442612663
Mon – Fri 06:00 – 18:00, Sat 07:00 – 18:00
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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year! Happy New Blog

Happy 2010 everyone! New post over on Aussie Story Blog.

I will be blogging full time over there from now on - so get the RSS feed now or sign up for email updates so you don't miss any of our new adventures Down Under! 
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