Switzerland, two years on

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I meant to write this post yesterday, on my actual two-year anniversary of moving to Switzerland, but work and stuff got in the way and I didn’t get round to it. I’m here now though to say that, after two years, I still love living in this amazing place!

Since last year’s post I have:

Swum in the Rhine three more times (getting braver!).

Attended Fasnacht again, this time including the fire parade in Liestal.

Visited even more Swiss places, including the Rhine Falls, Kaiseraugst, Chur and, just this past weekend, Bern and Fribourg again.

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Chur and mountains

Made two friends. Or at the very least acquaintances. We go to the pub quiz together anyway. (Two friends from Karlsruhe have also moved to Basel, so I now have a whole four friends/acquaintances here!).

Had a lot of visitors, including my mam twice and even my sister! Now I just need my dad to get a passport and come over (then I will assume that the world as we know it is ending).

To sum up, life is brilliant and I cannot imagine being anywhere else right now. We are hoping to stay here for a long time, so fingers crossed nothing gets in the way of that (Brexit…). Happy two years in Basel to me!
Now, maybe by the time I write next year’s post I will have a whole group of friends to tell you about…

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Switzerland, one year on

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I have to interrupt my recapping of our New Zealand trip to make a very important announcement… 😉
Today is exactly one year since I moved to Switzerland!

Regular readers will have been following along with my adventures from the start, so in the interests of not boring you (any more than I have to) I’m going to make this a very brief recap in numbers.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve been doing for the past year:

Times swum in the Rhine: Once – I’m a bit of a wimp!

Fasnacht events attended: Four(ish)

(Swiss) places visited – 16 (Fribourg, Lucerne, Mount Pilatus, Sissach, Liestag, Olten, Mariastein Abbey, Papilorama (butterfly park), Engelberg-Titlis, Bottmingen, Bern, Zurich, Lausanne, Arlesheim, Laufen, Allschwil)

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Lucerne from above

Friends made – possibly 1? I haven’t heard from her since we had coffee though.

Meetup.com events attended: 10 (that’s almost one a month. At least I’m kind of making an effort)

Chocolate bars consumed: More than I care to think about…

Visitors shown around Basel: 17 (that’s more people than I showed around Karlsruhe in 8 years of living there!)

Times I’ve had to remind myself that I actually live in this beautiful place: At least once a week!

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Look at it though! So pretty.

All in all, you could say living in Switzerland agrees with me (but not with my waistline… why must the chocolate be so tasty… and the cheese… and the Rösti!). I definitely do not regret deciding to take the chance and move here. Now if somebody could just tell me how to make friends as an adult (a socially awkward adult who fails miserably at small talk and is scared of people…) that would be great!

Friday letters

The blogosphere seems strangely quiet lately. Or maybe it’s just me? I don’t know.

Anyway, exciting news people… tonight Jan and I are booking flights to New Zealand! We’ve only got about 12 days there, so we need to narrow down what we see a bit. We are definitely going to Roturua to visit my uncle and his partner (and meet my cousin for the first time!) and we’ll be flying into Auckland, where my aunt lives with her daughters and my other cousin, who is her au pair. But other than that, nothing is sorted yet. If anyone out there has been to New Zealand, please tell me your absolute must sees!

And now, letters!

letters

Dear January. Nearly over already? What happened? Don’t tell me this year is going to be another one that’s half over before I can even get my head around the fact that it’s started!

Dear little birds. I love watching you on the balcony when I’m having my morning tea break. I just wish you wouldn’t get scared when I enter the dining room. I promise, I have no intention of opening the balcony door!

Dear BBC Big Read. Why are so many of the books on you so long? I recently received The Magus and it has 667 pages! (Maybe this letter should have been addressed to the people that voted on the books. Doesn’t anybody like normal length novels?!).

Dear New Zealand. If we get the flights we want, in just 50 days we’ll be on a plane to you! We really must get planning.

Dear Swiss health insurance. I’ve had you for 7 months now and I still don’t understand you! All I know is when I go to the doctor, I will be receiving a bill for a lot of money! So why do I have health insurance again!? (Alternative letter: Dear NHS. I miss you! People who complain about you should try living abroad for a while!).

Happy Friday, everyone. I hope your weekend is a happy one.

A meeting with some expats in Heidelberg

A while ago, Charlotte from Sherbet and Sparkles suggested that the English-speaking bloggers in Germany should arrange a meet up (that’s a long-winded way of saying expat bloggers purely so that I can avoid referring to myself as such ;-)). The meetup location was Heidelberg – which I was happy about because it’s incredibly easy for me to get to – and the chosen date was Saturday 26 April.

Before I left, I was both excited and nervous. What if I couldn’t find everyone? And what if nobody liked me when I did? Luckily, my fellow bloggers were all just as lovely in person as online and I managed not to make a fool of myself or accidently say anything weird or offensive… at least I don’t think I did. And if I did, then I apologise!
Despite the weather forecast’s claims that it would be cold and cloudy, it actually turned out to be a lovely day. My raincoat was quickly relegated to my handbag as we enjoyed a lovely walk up to the castle and then around its grounds.

Having seen all the castle had to offer (including the giant wine barrel, which claims to be the world’s largest… as does the one in Bad Dürkheim. I shall refrain from hazarding a guess as to which one’s lying, but will say that the one in Bad Dürkheim has never actually contained wine…), it was time to head into town for lunch. We ended up going to Café Knösel, mostly because we happened to be near it at the time and it had a decent choice of food (including a few vegetarian items). Also, those with access to TripAdvisor were able to find out that it had good reviews. Steven has since discovered that it’s actually the oldest café in Heidelberg, so it seems we accidently picked something traditional 😉 I had the Flammkuchen with spinach and goat’s cheese, which was delicious. I loooove goat’s cheese! No photo for you because I’d eaten it all before the thought even occurred to me…

After lunch, we headed down to the bridge – the Karl-Theodor-Brücke (also known as the Alte Brücke, Old Bridge) – which was just around the corner. Steven discovered these cute little metal mice that I had never noticed before in all my visits to Heidelberg. Thanks Steven!

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On the bridge, a group photo was taken and we all admired the view of the castle. We also spotted some ducklings down on the riverbank, but my zoom didn’t stretch far enough to get a photo of them. Never mind, here are some shots of the castle and bridge:

Sadly, Frau Dietz and her gorgeous baby son had to leave us after the bridge, but the rest of us continued on to the Studentnkarzer – student prison. This was another thing that I did not know was in Heidelberg! How do I miss these things? The prison is unique to the University of Heidelberg and was in use from 1823–1914. Students could be sent to prison for offences such as being drunk and disorderly, messing with the police or fighting. Many o the prisoners documented their “crime” on the walls… for example, one rhyme told of how a student being “concerned about the police getting their rest” snuck into the guard room at the poolice station and switched off the gas lamp. You could be sent to prison for anything from a few days to several weeks – the writing on the wall in one room told of how a student had been sentenced to four weeks! There was no mention of what he had done though. (All the prisoners were male by the way – the first females were admitted to Heidelberg University in 1900, but apparantly they managed to behave themselves for the next four years until the prison closed). The prison has been preserved in pretty much its original state, with all the old graffiti on the walls and the original furniture – although the straw mattresses that would probably have been on the beds are no more.

The ticket for the student jail also includes the University Museum and the Große Aula (Great Hall). There were no halls at my university that looked like this, I can tell you!

Heidelberg

With the sun now firmly out, our final stop of the day was for frozen yoghurt… or FroYo. I had never tried it before and I must say I’m grateful to everyone for introducing me to this delicious treat!

Frozen yoghurt

Yoghurt eaten, the group slowly strolled down Hauptstraße (the main street) to Bismarckplatz (Bismarck Square) where we caught a tram back to the main station then carried on back to our final destinations. I can’t speak for the others, but I certainly thought the day was a success, and I hope we can do it again some time.

The other bloggers I met up with were (in no particular order):
Charlotte from Sherbet and Sparkles
Frau Dietz from Eating Wiesbaden
Kathleen from Leher Werkstatt
Steven from Doin’ Time on the Donau
Jordan from Beer time with Wagner
Nina from Indie Rock Kid

Go check out their blogs and say hi to them… they’re a fantastic bunch.

Return to Feldkirch

Locator map of Vorarlberg in Austria.
Austria, with Vorarlberg in red (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may or may not know that after graduating from university I moved to Austria for 10 months. I had originally wanted to go to Innsbruck for my year abroad, but my uni only had one exchange place there and somebody else got it. I was left with my second choice… Karlsruhe. So when it came to deciding what to do with myself after graduation, I decided now was my chance to go to Austria. I applied for the position of English Language Assistant through the British Council, selecting Vorarlberg as my first choice Bundesland because it was the closest part of Austria to Baden-Württemberg (where Karlsruhe is) and, because almost nobody actually chooses to got to Vorarlberg, I got what I wanted!

I was assigned to two schools, with the main one – where I would work three times a week – in Feldkirch and a second one  in Götzis, a few train stops away. I decided to live in Feldkirch, partly because I was going to spending most of my working hours there but also because Götzis is a pretty small town, while Feldkirch is the second largest in Vorarlberg (which doesn’t mean much when you consider the size of most towns in Vorarlberg). That year was the start of my love affair with Austria. I had always wanted to go to Austria (thanks to the Chalet School books!) but I was never really in love with it until I actually lived there. Admittedly I didn’t always have the best time there – the other language assistants had a tendency to “forget” to invite me to things and I was lonely a lot of the time – but I never tired of the scenery. Even now, I miss looking out of my window and seeing mountains (climbing the hill with all my shopping not so much!). And if I ever see something Austrian on a menu I will always order it.

I hadn’t actually been back to Vorarlberg since finishing my assistantship, so when Jan and I were invited to a birthday celebration at a hut in Switzerland, close to the Austrian border, and Jan suggested leaving the day before (a public holiday in my part of Germany) to spend some time together first, it was obvious that I was going to want to see Feldkich again. Luckily, Jan agreed so we booked a room at the Best Western in town and he arranged for a car.

The view from our hotel room window
The view from our hotel room window

We arrived in Feldkirch at 3 pm, after driving a route that took us through most of Vorarlberg, and quickly checked in before heading out for a walk around while it was still light.  It was a dull, cloudy day but I took photos anyway. And I discovered that Feldkirch hasn’t changed very much – they now have a Müller, one of the book shops has gone and two of the bars we used to go to have closed down, but other than that everything looks the same.

After walking around for about an hour and a half, we’d basically seen everything – the main centre isn’t very big and there’s not much to see in the other parts of town. We had been driving for about four hours and hadn’t stopped for lunch, so we decided to go for some food. Rösslepark was exactly the same (except that it now has a smoking and non-smoking section). The beer is still good and I enjoyed me real Austrian Wienerschnitzel.  Jan chose the Schlachtteller – literally slaughter or butcher platter – which consisted of meat, meat and more meat! But not just any meat… it included things like liver sausage and blood sausage… and tongue! So I can now say I’ve tried beef tongue (of course I sampled some). It tastes a bit like beef, but has a weird texture and is slightly bitter. Not something I’m likely to eat again…

After eating, we went back out into the dark and had a walk up to the local castle – the Schattenburg. There’s a museum in there, which I’ve never been to, and a restuarant that is best known for its giant Schnitzel. I ate there once when I lived in Feldkirch and I can confirm that those things take up an entire plate! They come with chips (fries), which have to be served separately. Here’s the Schattenburg and some terrible night-time shots of Feldkirch from above – my camera doesn’t do too well in the dark!

The next morning, after checking out of the hotel, we drove over to Dornbirn – the second biggest town in Vorarlberg. A couple who had lived in Feldkirch when I lived there moved to Dornbirn three years ago so we went to visit them and their 11 week old son! It was lovely to see my friends again and the baby was very cute.

A little church in Dornbirn
A little church in Dornbirn

After a cup of tea, some baby hugs and a catch up, it was time to move on as we had another long drive ahead of us…
Check in soon to read about our further adventures over the long weekend!

Buying British food abroad

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I am a firm believer that if you choose to live in another country you should also make an effort to adapt. People who spend all their time complaining about how different everything is to back home annoy me! And I love trying all the local foods and drinks. But that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your roots completely! There are plenty of things I miss from home, and most of them are edible! My local Irish pub is celebrating its 5th birthday tonight, so of course I will be going along – both for the live music and to indulge in some yummy food that reminds me of home. Arranging my night at the Irish pub got me thinking about the other methods I have for getting my British food fix… and so the idea for this post was born. Quite a few of the things below are specific to Germany, simply because that’s where I live, but there a few that will be useful to anyone looking for British foods.

  • The most obvious place to look is an English shop. Many cities have them and some are better than others. My nearest one is The Piccadilly English Shop in Heidelberg, and it comes in useful when I make an English Christmas dinner for all my friends every year! I don’t go as much now it’s moved from opposite the train station (so convenient!), but whenever I’m in Heidelberg I’ll pop in for a look. It’s pretty small (the old premises were much bigger), but they usually have a reasonable selection of foods, and they will also order things in for you on request.People in Sweden… while on holidays in Stockholm I spotted an English shop in Södermalm. We had gone to the Söderhallarna to buy food for a picnic and I spotted the English shop upstairs. Sadly, the person I was with wouldn’t let me go in, but from what I could see it looked quite big!
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    Photo credit: Wikipedia

    If you’re in Germany, Karstadt’s food department is good for British (and other international) foods. Unlike America, Mexico and Asia, Britain doesn’t get its own special section, but with some searching you can find familiar foods. There’s mint sauce among the chutneys, Heinz baked beans with the tinned vegetables (but be warned… they’re not cheap), Cathedral City Cheddar with the other pre-packaged cheeses, Bovril and Marmite on a shelf of sauces and an entire shelf of Kettle Chips and Tyrell’s crisps! My Karstadt also sells various jams/marmelades from the UK and a few British ales, but I’ve yet to spot any malt vinegar.

  • Another Germany-specific one. If you’re looking for international foods and you have a Scheck-In Center near you, it’s definitely worth taking a look! Scheck-In is where I go for anything that I can’t find elsewhere – not just British foods, but things like vanilla extract and turkey mince! Some of the British foods available at my local Scheck-In include Cadbury’s chocolate, Heinz tomato soup, Cathedral City Cheddar, sliced Double Gloucester cheese and baked beans. Again, there is no “British” section, so you’ll have to go around the shop trying to spot things.
  • One for Austria. When I lived there, Billa sold both Heinz baked beans and a reasonably-priced own brand that was actualy quite good – not just a couple of beans in a lot of liquid like most cheap ones and the sauces tastes pretty authentic. They also sell (or did then) corned beef – although I may be the only person in the world who’s interested in that 😉
  • The English Shop, Cologne. I know I had English shops as my first item, but I’m including the Cologne one separately because they deliver! I’ve never even been to their actual shop (I’m just assuming they have one?) but have ordered from them a few times. Deliveries within Germany cost €4.99 and are usually fairly quick. They will also deliver internationally, but it will cost you! They have all the common brands – Walkers, McVities, Heinz, Baxters… but only tinned/dry foods – nothing that needs to be chilled. Click the name of the shop to go to their website.
  • British Corner Shop. Another online one. I’ve never ordered from there, but I’m seriously considering it despite the high delivery cost! The actual company is located in the UK, but they will deliver worldwide and they even do chilled foods. How, you ask? Here’s the text from their bacon page:  If you are an expat who is craving a spot of British bacon, then British Corner Shop has the answer to your prayers: we are able to ship chilled bacon direct to your door within 48-72 hours using our special chilled shipping boxes – problem solved! Also, they sell medicinesgain, click the shop name to go to their website.
  • Another Germany one… it might seem a bit odd, but Asia shops are a good place to find British foods. I buy PG Tips teabags from one, in huge boxes, and there’s another in Karlsruhe that sells Colman’s English mustard (only the powder though) and Bird’s custard!
  • *Update*: Now that I’m living in Switzerland, I would like to add a new place to my list, specifically for Basel. The bookshop Bider and Tanner has a whole range of British foods upstairs in the English book section – from chocolate bars and Walker’s crisps to breakfast cereals and jars of mamelade and even tins of Heinz cream of chicken soup!

Where do you go when you want food from home? And has anyone actually tried to order from the British Corner Shop website? Let me know in the comments!

10 foods that are missing from my life

I was in Rewe today looking at cereals, trying to find one I would actually be willing to eat (me and cereals are not a good combination) when I realised that half of the names I know don’t actually exist in Germany. Not that most of them are a big loss – I can’t say I’ve found myself craving wheetos (do they even still make those?) or crunchy nut cornflakes recently! It did get me thinking about all the English stuff I do miss over here though. So here, for your viewing pleasure, is a list of tasty stuff from the UK that you just can’t get in Germany:

1. Decent crisps. You can get Walkers crisps here, but only in Irish pubs where they cost a gazillion euros. And you can’t get any of the interesting stuff, like Skips and Hula Hoops and Monster Munch. German crisps just don’t cut it. For a start 99.9999% of them are paprika flavour. It’s got to the stage where even the mention of paprika flavoured crisps makes me lose the will to live. Then they have something called “Erdnussflips”. Thy’re shaped like Wotsits, but instead of being cheese flavoured they’re a weird concoction made from corn and peanuts. They smell awful and taste like mushed up peanut flavoured cardboard. Not good.

2. Galaxy chocolate. It is sort of available here, but only in boxes of celebrations where it goes by the name of ‘Dove’. I’m hardly going to buy a whole box of celebrations just for the Galaxy though am I? And anyway, there’s only ever about 3 pieces in there. The rest is all Mars bars which I hate.

3. Pasties, pies, sausage rolls. Why have no Germans ever thought of taking some pastry and shoving something savoury in the middle? The closest they get is something called a “Geflügelrolle” which is sort of like a sausage roll except the sausage meat stuff is made from some kind of bird instead of pork. It’s very tasty but there are about 2 bakers in the whole of Karlsruhe that actually sell them.

4. Ready Brek. An odd thing to miss, I know, but it’s one of the few cereals I can actually eat a whole bowl of. Currently I have to give half of my muesli to Jan or throw away the leftovers. (It’s chocolate muesli by the way – I’m not that healthy!)

5. Malt vinegar. No wonder the Germans think we’re weird for putting vinegar on our chips – the right kind of vinegar doesn’t even exist in this country! And chips with white wine vinegar is just wrong.

6. Baked potatoes. You can get them in restaurants very occasionally, and I did recently manage to find some potatoes that are actually big enough to make my own, but it just isn’t the same over here. On the few occasions that you manage to find a place that serves baked potatoes it always comes with either sour cream or herb quark. There is one place that does one with bits of fried chicken, but even that comes with a huuuuge dollop of sour cream all over everything. I long for a nice baked potato that’s piled high with yummy cheddar cheese. (To be fair to the Germans I did spot a baked potato cafe/restaurant thing during a weekend in Hamburg. It’s probably the only one in the whole country though.)

7. Spaghetti hoops. Or actually any kind of pasta shapes in tomato sauce.

8. Brown sauce. If they had brown sauce here I would put it in my non-existent spaghetti hoops.

9. Proper gravy. They have something similar to gravy here. It’s called Bratensoße. It’s pale brown, incredibly runny and tastes weird. Give me Bisto any day (yes, homemade gravy is better but I’m lazy and only know how to make instant Bisto gravy)

10. Squash. You cannot get squash in Germany! What they like to do is take some fruit juice, half fill a glass with it and top it up with fizzy water. It’s called Schorle. It isn’t actually bad and I do drink it but it’s just not the same as a nice glass of apple and blackcurrant squash, or dilutey juice as my sister and I would call it when we were little.

So there you are.  A list of 10 things I wish were available in Germany.