Schwingen In Switzerland’s Top 10 Posts Of 2012

Since everyone seems to come out with a Best of 2012 list at the end of the year, I thought I would list my top 10 most viewed posts this year.

  1. Everything You Don’t Need And Can’t Live Without – I don’t like to sit still, don’t nap and hate to be bored.  I realize that it doesn’t always make me the most relaxing person to be around, but it’s generally pretty entertaining.  When we had a free Sunday, I decided to go check out a little shindig they had going on in the cool Carouge neighborhood.  Unexpectedly, this post was selected for Freshly Pressed.
  2. Tschäggättä Parade To Celebrate Carnival In The Lötschental Valley – One of the best things about Switzerland is its festivals.  This one was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  This was my first post to be Freshly Pressed.
  3. More Pictures of the Versoix, Switzerland Ice Storm – Remember the picture of the frozen car?  Well, since it was taken in a suburb of Geneva, I couldn’t help myself.  I went to get the shot.  On a side note, it would have been smart of me not to wear high heals when doing so.  A couple of nice Swiss gentlemen helped me off the ice.  Yep, I’m an idiot, but the pictures are great.
  4. Our Basement Bomb Shelter, Otherwise Known As Our Storage Unit – I’m glad other people are as intrigued by this phenomenon as I am.
  5. Mt. Blanc, The Tallest Mountain In The Alps – I am profoundly grateful to have seen such beauty.
  6. The Spaghetti Tree Hoax, Aka Happy April Fool’s Day From Switzerland – Hilarious.  Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.
  7. My Introduction to French Cinema, A List of Great, Entertaining and Fun French Films – While I posted this before Jean Dujardin won the Oscar, some of his comedies made the list.
  8. Why Didn’t Hitler Invade Switzerland? – This was a hard one to write as it’s a difficult question.  I hope I didn’t screw it up too badly.
  9. Another Cultural Difference…Men In Spandex – Sometimes, it’s the little things…
  10. What The Heck Is A Bidet? – Please feel free to comment with any additional uses you can think up for a bidet.

 

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Our Basement Bomb Shelter, Otherwise Known As Our Storage Unit

Switzerland.  Swiss Army Knives.  The Swiss Guard.  Serious Military Defenses.  Our Basement?  Switzerland’s commitment to neutrality, their position between historic enemies of France and Germany, and the meticulous, rule oriented, precise Swiss nature mean that our basement is a bomb shelter.

All Swiss residential buildings have bomb shelters in underground.  Until Swiss law changed at the end of 2012, all inhabitants were required to have access to shelter space.   Given the Swiss focus on quality, these are serious, heavy-duty bunkers.

Our apartment is in a building that predates the mandatory bomb shelter law, so our basement’s shelter is on the rustic side.  Newer buildings contain way more impressive looking shelters.  Ours looks as though it is where the vampires from True Blood sleep during the day.  The first time he went down there, he did it alone, at dusk, after a True Blood marathon.

You see heavy, vault-like doors on public parking structures.  They serve as public shelters.  The parking structures have thick concrete walls.  In theory, the shelters have air filters inside to provide fresh air in case of nuclear, biological, or chemical attack.   I am unsure if the age of our building exempts us, but there aren’t any signs of air filters in our building.  Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any supplies down there either.

To get into our “bomb shelter”, you enter through an old wood door.  It doesn’t look as high-tech or safe as the door above, but hopefully we won’t have to put it to the test.  You descend an old, windy staircase, past bricked over doors down into the basement.

You can’t exit through this door

It is so narrow and steep that the wall warns “stopping is prohibited, serious risk”.

The basement, ahem, sorry, the bomb shelter is partitioned into sections for each apartment using wood slats.  Each partition is approximately the size of a twin bed (give or take a couple of inches).

Some people hide their belongings from view

In French, basement translates to “cave.”   It feels a little funny to say I’m going to the cave. Who am I, Batman?  While our cave is filled with extra suitcases, beat-up sports equipment and camping gear,  many people here use theirs as a wine cellar.  A German friend uses his to store cases of German beer.

Our key… I’m serious, this is it.

Les Incompetents Vol. 7 – Locked Out!

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  Apartment doors here automatically latch shut when they close.
Right after we moved, I heard a story about a poor lady who was 5 months pregnant getting locked out at 8:00 a.m.  They were so new, she didn’t know her husband’s work phone number and had no money on her.  Luckily, she got some assistance from the American Women’s Club and made it through the day until her husband returned home that evening.
Yesterday, I went for a run.  I walked out of the apartment and shut the door…with my keys still on the table by the door!  I was locked out.
Some people look cute when they work out.  Check out Jessica Biel above.  She definitely looks cute on her runs. I do not. I wasn’t wearing any makeup. I had on running tights with a burgundy dry fit top.  My clashing red sports bra was visible.  My blue gloves and white hat (covering up my greasy hair) didn’t exactly coordinate either.
This is perhaps the only running gear that is worse than what I had on.   Normally, I just don’t care what I look like when I’m running.  Once the door locked, I regretted my apathy because it meant I had to run across town to his work to get the keys.

I showed up at his very busy office building 45 minutes later looking like a hot mess. I was mortified. Compared to me, Snookie is looking good for a workout

Unfortunately, he was in meetings so I had to sit and wait in the lobby while people walked by.  It was worth it though because I was able to get the keys from him.  Once I had them in my hot little hands, I got the heck out of Dodge and ran back home.

 

B.Y.O.K. – Bring Your Own Kitchen

Here, “unfurnished” apartments can be a different sort of unfurnished than we are used to in the US.  There are usually no light fixtures (just bulbs with bare wires). Most of our friends have hired electricians install light fixtures. I am (a) lazy, and (b) cheap.  As a result, we still have bulbs hanging on wires.

We had to specify whether or not we would be bringing our own kitchen. Given that we were coming from the US where the voltage is different, I felt pretty confident when I stated that we would not be bringing our own kitchen.

Everything is relative.  Forget the idea of an apartment coming with a washer and/or dryer.  Sometimes, you don’t get curtain rods or toilet seats

Geneva Expat 101, Lesson Four – Furnishing an Apartment on a Budget

Switzerland is expensive.  Very, very expensive.  The high value of the Swiss Franc hasn’t helped (thank you Switzerland for devaluing your currency).  As a result, we have been looking for ways to get the things we need here on a budget.

We went to Ikea*.  It still seemed rather expensive, or at least more expensive than Ikea in the US.  I know that their prices are, in theory, the same worldwide.  Although I haven’t done the calculations, I suspect Switzerland is an exception to their standard pricing and is more expensive.

We tried to make our new home  organized, warm and homey. To do this on a budget, I relied heavily on brocante (secondhand). Since Geneva is such a transient community, you can get lots of nice things used.  Some of the best stores to go are Caritas, CSP and L’Armee Du Salut (Salvation Army). A few weeks back, I went to check them out with some friends. We were amazed by what we saw and all of us found “treasures”. 

Sometimes, there are extra markdowns on certain items.

 

Sadly, none of us purchased the Courvoisier cannon.
None of us purchased the mounted fish head either. It is still up for grabs. Interested?
Seriously, they have tons of whatever kind of household item you need.
They have furniture too.
Tons of it.
On the hunt for a smokin’ deal
Rugs, books and CD’s. Oh my.

Here are some places you can go to get what you need on the cheap:

  • Salvation Army (L’ Armee Du Salut) – We purchased a giant armoire here to store all of my clothes and a nice lamp (it fits Swiss plugs).
  • CSP (Centre Sociale Protestant) they are all over – I purchased a ton of flower pots here.  This is a great place to go for books too. 
  • Caritas stores are also all over – you can get just about anything here.  One day, I spent 49 CHF and came home on the tram with a table for our kitchen, a vacuum cleaner, a steamer/rice cooker, and a plant stand.  It has been a great place to get appliances.  We have gotten a hairdryer, a rice cooker, a fan and a raclette set there.
  • The classifieds on glocals.com has also been a really useful.  We were able to buy our spare bed and TV there.
  • Advertised brocante weekend sales
  • Plainpalais flea market 
*I bought Ikea’s version of the Slap Chop.  It didn’t cut anything and was a big waste of money.  He just laughed at me because I’d wanted it so badly and had been so excited about it.

Geneva Expat 101, Lesson Two – Pack A Swiss Army Knife

If only I could have packed the puppies…

I did a pretty good job packing. So far, we have had almost everything we need and it all fits in our apartment.  I have made a couple of mistakes.

I forgot to pack a can opener. When I needed one to open a can of peas fo my Indian food the other night, I realized my mistake. Luckily, we had a Swiss Army Knife. I used it to open the can and felt very Swiss.
Paramount’s Crocodile Dundee: “That’s not a knife…”
user posted image
That’s a knife! Who doesn’t love MacGygver?

Another packing mistake, I didn’t count on the oven being so small.  My baking sheets don’t really fit; they are too wide.  Oops.

Not the best photo, but trust me on this one.

Just Like In Pulp Fiction, It’s The Little Differences

Remember in Pulp Fiction when Vincent says “it’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same…over there that we got here, but it’s just…it’s just there it’s a little different.”
Now that you have seen our pad (both the before and after), I can talk a bit more about it. There are a few differences between apartments here and apartments in the US.
  • No apartment numbers. We don’t have an apartment number, just the street address. When you walk into a building, you will see a mass of letter boxes with everyone in the building’s names written on them.  When people come to our apartment, we tell them the floor and they have to look at the name plates on the doors.
 
Note the handles on both doors
  • No doorknobs. Almost all doors have handles, not knobs. This makes it easier to open the door while carrying things with your elbow (or other preferred body part).
  • Almost all doors only lock with a key (some will lock if you slam them hard enough without one). That being said, I am now guaranteed to lock myself out at some point.
The doors open in. In newer buildings they also lever up from the bottom to provide a bit of air without an open door.

 

The After

Please come visit

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday, it was a very busy day. I had my German lesson and went to Swisscom to get a phone (I waited so long that I got to watch a good part of the All Blacks-Tonga Rugby World Cup match). In the afternoon, I frantically tried to get ready because we had a housewarming party for last night. Pretty much, we invited everyone we know in Geneva outside of his work and everyone in our building. I hadn’t done enough preparation for a houseful of people so I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

Here are some pre-party pics of our place (otherwise known as “the after”):

We’e not vampires, but if we could make it any darker in here we would.
Want to visit us?  You will sleep here.
Another pic of your new room
Alcove in the entry – I swear I stored most of my books back in the states.
Note the fruit bowl from an earlier post (to prevent exploding bananas) 
Living Room
We can pull off the back cushions and sleep more people (it becomes a twin)
Dining room – 
Like our Swiss flag napkins?
Prepared for rain with an umbrella stand by the door
We call this our locker room (additional shoes not shown)
Bathroom
#2 gets its own room
Kitchen
My nemisis, the stove, tried to foil my baking chocolate chip cookies, but did not succeed. 
Our map board so we can find our way around 

 

Before

 
Dining Room

We have been very lucky.  Apartments are hard to come by in Geneva.  It is on a lake and surrounded on three sides by the mountains.  This makes land scarce. None of the buildings are taller than six or seven stories tall (preserving the mountain views).  It has made a perfect storm for a housing crisis of epic proportions.  I have heard that there is .5% vacancy (it may even be less). When we only put one offer and got our dream flat we were extremely lucky.  We were even luckier that we could get the keys within hours of landing!

Every makeover show has a before and after.  I decided to show our apartment the same way.  Plus, I am still putting things away.  Here are the before shots of our place:

Living/Family Room
Entry/Main Hall
The Number Two Room
Guest Bedroom (Washington did not sleep here)
Our Bedroom (insert cheesy “Cribs” reference joke here)
Bathroom (sorry about the toilet seat and notice the showerhead)
The kitchen with my nemesis (the stove)
You shouldn’t have to wait too long for the “after” photos should not take too long. I have invited everyone in our building over for a housewarming party on Friday (not a very Swiss thing to do).  I am frantically trying to get pictures up and get the apartment ready.
 

 

House Hunters International, Geneva Edition – Part One

We are about to become residents of Geneva. We have not yet seen the city.   On Monday, that will change for me.  He has some meetings for work, so he will not be able to go until later.  This means that I will be picking out a residence in one of the world’s tightest housing markets all by myself. Strangely, he seems unconcerned.

The housing market in Geneva is in a state of crisis with a .05% vacancy (of course, half of all statistics are wrong).  The city is wedged in between a lake and the French border so there is not much room to expand.  Therefore, finding an housing in Geneva is notoriously difficult.  Here is my understanding of how it works:

1. Being me, I would have liked to stalk properties online before going.  This has been strongly discouraged because anything that I see online, even mere days ahead of my visit, will no longer be available when I arrive.  As a result, I am merely looking places online to determine how little our money will get us (although it still looks like a great place to live).

2. Fill out questionnaire for realtor. For an American, this contains some unexpected questions.  Those of you who watch House Hunters International should not be surprised by this.  I had to check a box that said whether or not I wanted to bring my own kitchen.  I love my house, but for me this is a no brainer.  We will not be bringing our own kitchen.

3. A Régie is the Swiss version of a realtor/estate agent.  Property owners use them to rent their apartments and handle the complex paperwork.  They show the apartments.

4. After viewing apartments, I should be prepared to put in multiple offers immediately (before the end of that day).  We know people who have put in four; we know of people who have put in over ten.  This step includes signing a paper that we are not delinquent on any local debts.  By the way, that paper costs $20-25. Even putting in an application can carry a fee.

5. We wait a few days to see if any of our offers have been accepted.

6. If unsuccessful, start again at step one.  Cross your fingers.