On top of the duomo

I’m beginning to suspect that the bottom portion of the scaffolding on the front of Milan’s duomo is there for good. I believe it went up in 2003 or 2004, and it’s still in place as of last weekend, sporting ads for Marie Claire and Elle magazines. Perhaps the church is using the advertising proceeds to pay off the latest victims of priestly indiscretions?

But I’ll forgive them for keeping the facade covered, since at least I still get to wander around on the roof. Walking on the roof of Milan’s duomo is one of my favorite things to do on a beautiful day in the city. You can take the stairs or (for a few extra euros) a teeny tiny elevator up. Like the rest of the duomo’s facade, the roof is ornately decorated with thousands of statues.

When we lived in Milan, we required all of our visitors to have their picture taken in a particular spot on the duomo roof. Here’s the latest photo for my cherub collection:
More duomo photos here.

So you want to move to Zurich? Have I got some tips for you

Midsummer Night’s Knitter asked me a while ago if I had any advice for someone moving to Zurich. While I certainly don’t feel like an expert on the subject, I suppose I might have some useful things to suggest after 2 years here. At least I should, shouldn’t I? I mean, it would be pretty pathetic if I had spent all this time here and not learned anything useful. So here’s what I came up with:

Read Living and Working in Switzerland: A Survival Handbook. It has its faults (like how it perpetuates scary myths about Swiss apartment house rules) but overall it’s pretty useful info to help you feel more prepared.

If you plan on exploring Switzerland by train (which I highly recommend), consider getting a GA card. This is something I wish we had done, but we didn’t consider it soon enough. It’s an investment, but it pays for itself if you’re a frequent traveler. Plus the money goes to a good cause (Swiss public transportation counts as a good cause in my book – I love it so much I once wrote a poem about it). Plus no buying tickets. Plus when you know the trip is already paid for, you’re more likely to jump off the couch and go get to know a new city or Alp on any given day. If you don’t get a GA, definitely get a half-fare card. These things pay for themselves with one or two trips.

Random grocery advice: sign up for a Migros card right away (they send you coupons for free money!); get outside the big chain supermarkets some and shop at the outdoor markets, your local Reformhaus, and specialty shops such as Asian groceries and El Maiz.

Zurich things to see/do at least once: Street Parade, Sechseläuten, a movie on the lake, the Kunsthaus, the food basement at Globus (the cheese counter has cheddar), the Limmat Swim, the Uetliberg, the zoo, the Christkindli Markt, ice skating, swimming in the lake, a Laughing Lemon class, museum night, the Blinde Kuh, Expovina, an evening stroll down Langstrasse.

Things to see/do on day or weekend trips from Zurich: a cow parade, Murren, Fribourg, Lucerne, Bern, sledding, skiing, Basel, Art Basel, the Matterhorn, Bellinzona, Lugano, Rapperswil, Milan, Strasbourg, Colmar.

Glacier Melt

Last Sunday afternoon we headed down from Murren and went to visit the Trummelbach Falls. This is a series of waterfalls roaring through a mountain, runoff from the melting glaciers of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. It is truly spectacular. The dim lighting combined with our puny little camera made it impossible to capture even a hint of how beautiful the various interior falls were.

Trummelbach Falls are reachable via bus (7 minutes) from Lauterbrunnen, and admission is CHF 12 (definitely worth it, despite what the disgruntled German tourists in front of us in line may have thought when they found out the ticket price).

Kind of reminded me of Ruby Falls. OK, not really.

Bernese Oberland, oh how I will miss you

And now for a more beautiful side of Switzerland this weekend found us back in one of our favorite destinations, Murren, where we stayed at the Hotel Eiger. We paid a bit extra for a ‘superior’ room, which was superior, I imagine, only in the fact that it came attached to a balcony with a spectacular view of said Eiger (the room itself was fine, but unremarkable). The hotel’s staff was exceedingly friendly and helpful, and we much enjoyed our stay.

Murren is so idyllic it almost makes me weep. There are no cars in this little 400-person village nestled cozily into the side of an Alp, and the only way to arrive is via one of two big ski gondolas. We spent Saturday afternoon wandering around the village and taking pictures, with a brief stop at Coop (yes, even in this remotest of outposts there is a Coop) to stock up on happy hour essentials (i.e., beer and snacks). Then it was back to the hotel to sit on our balcony, consume our consumables, and soak in the view. Next we visited the hotel pool, which was full of various jets and bubbly things to massage and stimulate various parts of your body, and also had a panoramic mountain view. We also popped into the sauna, but given my aversion to heat, my stay didn’t last long.

We watched sunset from the balcony, then headed down to the hotel restaurant for dinner (which wasn’t bad, but I would not recommend the vegetarian cutlet thingies). The next morning we went out for a hike (after a lovely hotel breakfast and another dip in the pool).

We decided that although it’s not quite as perfect as it is during the winter, Murren in the summer is pretty gosh darn lovely, too. More summer Murren pictures here.

Tired of all those pesky non-white foreigners? Perhaps the SVP can help

So today I open my mailbox to find a brochure from the good old SVP (the Swiss political party of black sheep infamy). I decided to flip through and see what new and improved bigoted scare tactics they were using in the run up to the election. I didn’t have to flip very far.

This young man was featured on page two, alongside a story about how very, very many foreigners are criminals. Did he scare you?


A few pages later was this woman, along with statistics (obviously designed to alarm the reader) about how the Muslim population in Switzerland has been growing exponentially in recent years. Under a list of ‘facts’ about the Left (the SVP’s political opponents), I found these fun facts: not only does the Left want a multicultural society, but if we leave it to them, soon they’ll start handing passports out to everyone!

I’m sure there were plenty of other juicy tidbits contained in this 8-page SVP ad, but I had to stop reading. It was making me sick to my stomach.

Which country would you choose?

So our two possible destination cities are Limerick, Ireland, and Munich, Germany. We have made our choice, but it wasn’t easy. I’m interested in hearing what you guys would have chosen before I tell you what we decided.

Munich has a lot of obvious benefits, including…

  • Large, dynamic city with plenty of cultural activities and groovy neighborhoods (no, I’m not counting Oktoberfest as a cultural activity)
  • Decent public transport
  • Proximity to Alps for skiing and winter frolicking
  • People speak real German there (well, it’s closer to real German than what we hear now, anyway)
  • Pretzels, Weiβbier, oompa bands and Lederhosen
  • Beer gardens
  • 6 weeks starting vacation

But Limerick, although less glamorous, has some very tempting attributes, as well…

  • Cute little city centered around a lively walking district
  • Lower cost of living (meaning we could afford, among other things, a brand new apartment with a giant, American-sized kitchen. Goodbye, shoebox freezer!)
  • 24-hour shopping
  • Gorgeous nature nearby – especially ocean!
  • Cool, mild weather (remember – I’m not a fan of the sun or summer)
  • People speak English, and with adorable accents, to boot
  • The Irish are incredibly friendly, especially compared to the Germans
  • Cozy, smoke-free pubs serving delicious Irish ales
  • People named Seamus
  • Cheddar cheese!!

So which one would you choose? I have a feeling the responses will be a landslide, but let’s see if I’m right…

Ask the serial expat

I’ve received a bunch of questions, both here on the blog and in person, related to our decision to leave Switzerland for yet another expat adventure. Below are some of the most common. Think of this post as a serial expat FAQ.

Why do you keep moving? Don’t you want to settle down?

I always assumed I’d get the urge to settle down sooner or later, but so far that just hasn’t happened. If anything, the opposite has become true – each new city reinforces my love of living in new places. Daily life becomes an adventure when you’re somewhere new – new foods, shops, languages, restaurants, streets, and so on and so on. Yes, there are some negative aspects to a move (leaving behind friends, move logistics, etc.), but to me the stress is more than worth it for the chance to intimately get to know another new city and country. I’ve very, very lucky that my husband feels the same way.

Why leave? What’s wrong with Switzerland?

It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Switzerland. Life here has its share of good points and bad points, just like anywhere else. We’re not leaving because of some intolerable situation, but more out of a desire to move on to something else. Overall we’ve really enjoyed our time in Switzerland, and it will always have a place in our heart. (Is that the sappiest thing I have ever said? I think it might be…)

How is it that you can work in Europe? Aren’t work permits hard to get?

Getting a job in a foreign country is not as hard as many people think, especially if you have certain qualifications (such as a degree in something useful – for example my husband is an engineer, and I have an MBA in international management) and are willing to be flexible. The legal process for an American looking to work in Europe is usually pretty painless*, as long as you can find a company that wants to hire you enough.

I could never live in a foreign country.** I have kids/ a gerbil/ rabies/ acute xenophobia/ lives to save/ asses to scratch/ something important going on in my life that you obviously don’t have.

Nobody’s asking you to move. You don’t have to tell me your reasons or excuses. Really, it’s perfectly fine for you to make different life choices than I do. [I know this one isn’t actually a question, but it’s something I hear all the time.]

So, any more questions?

* With the exception of Italy. Anything involving Italian bureaucracy is by default extremely painful.

** If you really, really wanted to, I bet you could. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a legitimate excuse from someone as to why they can’t.

How do you choose a new country?

We will soon be leaving Switzerland.

As I deliberate over international move number seven, I realize that the process has become much different over the years. The more experience I gain abroad, the more opinionated I become regarding what I want out of my next home.

You don’t always know enough about your possible future host country to consider many different factors – you just have to jump in with both feet and see what happens. But in our current situation, we know a decent amount about our two top contenders. As it turns out, this isn’t making the decision any easier.

Just a few of the factors on our long, long list:

  • Language: we are looking forward to escaping the 2-language system of Zurich. Beyond that, how much of a challenge are we up for?
  • Travel opportunities: both places offer easy, affordable travel to different cities and countries
  • Quality of life: hard to put a finger on, but some cities are just more appealing than others. Factors like public transport, walking areas, parks, a body of water, art and other cultural aspects, outdoor cafes and yummy restaurants all go into the ‘quality of life’ category.
  • Friendliness: ever notice how in some cities, everyone you encounter seems to hate you just for existing? This attitude can kind of get to me after a while.
  • City size: We like to think of ourselves as big city folk. I thrived in cities like Berlin, New York, and Milan, whereas Zurich has felt a little too small at times. But why do we really need to live in a big city? It’s not like we ever go to the opera or the theater or other things that only a big city can offer. Is it just nice to know they’re there?
  • Beer: both locations have considerably better beer than Switzerland, so at least that’s a win-win.

At the end of the day, we have two fabulous opportunities laid out in front of us. Either way we will probably be happy with our choice. But still, it’s a hard choice.

What factors are most important to you when choosing a new home?

Bring on the junk mail, Herr Postman

In this part of the world, you’ll notice that many people’s mailboxes sport stickers that say things like “no advertisements, please”. That’s all it takes to avoid a box full of Werbung (ads and leaflets). Mass mailings from political parties and charities still come through, but nothing else. Less junk, save a few trees… who wouldn’t want that? In fact, almost everyone seems to take advantage of this easy way to opt out of junk mail.

The other day we received a piece of mail from Swiss Post itself. The envelope contained a sheet of mailbox stickers (in a variety of convenient sizes) which all say “Werbung? O.K.!” The accompanying letter was an impassioned plea for the implementation of the stickers on our mailbox, containing lines such as “maybe you’ve changed your mind about receiving Werbung” and “perhaps it wasn’t even you who made the decision to halt the Werbung flow, and you just inherited your ‘no ads’ sticker from the previous occupant” (in fact, this is true in our case). The letter attempted to make Werbung sound like something you were missing out on, something that would make your life fuller, more complete. It made me laugh. Hard.

I’m dying to know if anyone actually placed the “Junk mail for me, please!” stickers on their mailbox after receiving this letter from the Swiss Post. I’m also tempted to stick them on other people’s mailboxes, or perhaps even on our mailbox, right before we move out.

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