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.

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Top 10 Posts

I’ve had a lot of fun doing this blog and am surprised by how many people have checked in to see what we are up to.  Thanks.  Here are links to my top 10 most popular posts thus far:

1.     Fabulous Fabian Cancellara
2.     Proof That I Will Write About Absolutely 
        Anything
3.     Fall Fashion Trends
4.     I Love Rick Steves
5.     Expat 101 Lesson Six – How To Exit A 
        Parking Lot
6.     Driving In Switzerland
7.     Naughty Naughty, I Got A Speeding 
        Ticket
8.     B.Y.O.K. – Bring Your Own Kitchen
9.     Belgian Trappist Beers
10.   A Glorious Hike In The Shadow Of The 
        Eiger  

Here are a few of my favorites that didn’t make the above list:

He wants to be my top all time post.  Unfortunately, he cannot seem to top Fabian Cancellara and toilet paper.  I love him and he’s still tops in my book.

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.

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.

 

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.
 

 

Does Anyone Need A Sherpa?

I can now add a new position to my resume.  Sherpa.  If you need a Sherpa, I am your woman.

We live in an old building from the turn of the century. As a result, it does not have a garage. Rather than rent a parking spot for a few hundred Swiss Francs a month, we are leaving the car at work. We will be able to park in the neighborhood when our local registrations come through. In the meantime, we are hoofing it during the week.

Everything we buy, we must carry home ourselves.  It’s not a problem and we don’t mind it one bit. It does yield some interesting train rides. Here is a top ten list:
10. I purchased a shelving unit from Ikea for my (admittedly excessive) shoe collection. I received lots of honks on and even a thumbs up with an “Allez, Yeah” on the way to the station.  Enjoy the photo above even though it doesn’t do it justice.
9. Carrying 6 bottles of wine home.  I tried not to look like an alcoholic. Funnily enough, carrying 6 bottles of wine doesn’t even merit a raised eyebrow here.
8. Walking down the street carrying an iron (purchased from the Salvation Army for a steal) with no box.  I couldn’t fit it in my backpack because it was full of groceries.
7. He and I carried our (possibly too large) TV to our apartment.  We had to carry it from the other side of the city because we also purchased this secondhand.
6. Although technically not in the same category, I have been carrying magazines home.  Everyone recycles here (more about that in another post).  On Wednesdays, everyone puts their paper goods out in front of their doors for the city to pick up. On our Tuesday evening walks, I have seen perfectly good new French fashion magazines sitting on top of the recycling.  They are perfect for me because I can easily read them and the articles aren’t too long.  I have scooped them up and gleefully carried them home.  The $6-7 that they cost at the newstand is prohibitively expensive.  Free is the right price.
5. Lavender.  All the old ladies on the tram (and a few men two) wanted to ask me about the beautiful plant I was carrying.  They wanted to know where I got it, tell me how lovely it was, how nice it smelled, etc.  It is currently ailing.  Here’s hoping that it will pull through.
4. A toilet plunger (again the backpack was full). Enough said.
3. A lamp that was taller than me. It was a smokin’ deal that the Salvation Army and even has a dimmer! How could I have passed that up?
2. An excessive amount of wine and beer bottles to take to recycling (see #9). We invited all 7 people we know in Switzerland to dinner.  Funnily enough, this didn’t merit a raised eyebrow either.
1. One day I carried this table home. To it, I taped a vacuum cleaner, a steamer and a plant stand.  Oh yeah, I wore my backpack too.  It was full.*
*Swiss people have been very nice.  That day, I had no less than four people ask me where I was going so that they could help me carry it.  I politely declined. For me, it was a point of pride. How else can I train properly for my Sherpa job?

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.