A Grape Day, Geneva’s Wine Festival

Last weekend was Geneva‘s Caves Ouverts.  This translates to “Open Cellars.”  All of the area’s wineries were open for visits and to taste the latest wines.  Wines produced for consumption within a few years are usually bottled in March or April.  As a result, they are first released for sale in May.  Since it started in 1987, it has grown into a huge event.

Buy your tasting glass and we will gladly serve you. The glass is 5 CHF. Taste moderately. Love passionately.

We bought special wine glasses for five Swiss Francs ($6) each.  With these glasses, we could taste any wine at all the wineries.  The proprietors were great an were happy to talk about their wines.  I was glad that we’d done the wine tour of Burgundy and learned how to taste wine so that I knew how to tell them what I liked.

As a result of the tasting, we are now a bit more knowledgeable about Geneva’s wines and wineries.  We didn’t buy any since we didn’t have a backpack with us (rookie mistake), but will be heading back to buy our favorites.

I like that you can see my reflection in the bottle.

Most of the wineries provide tasty food at reasonable prices.   We opted for the sausage.  They had a choice of white or red and asked which I would like.  I asked for the red sausage please.

Others in our group had the Tomme, a wonderful goat cheese.  They served it grilled on bread.  We also saw: Tartiflette, hearty meat dishes, wonderful pastries and pies.  Many wineries also provide entertainment.   Accordion music anyone?

If you are thinking about visiting Geneva, Caves Ouvertes is the weekend to do it.  The countryside is beautiful.  So are the vineyards.  I love that you can always see the mountains in the distance around here. Even the towns are picturesque.  These old villages consist of stone farmhouses and massive wood barns in which people gather around barrels or picnic tables.

As the day progressed the crowds grew, spilling out into the courtyards and the streets.  It was a wonderful atmosphere.  Everyone was very friendly.  Even the usually reserved Swiss were wonderfully chatty. We went with a group; it was great to share the day with people from all over the world.

As the crowds increased, the weather deteriorated.  Being the idiots that we are, we dressed for the morning’s weather (another rookie mistake).  In Switzerland, the weather is changeable and the temperature dropped drastically over the course of the day.  He wore shorts and flip-flops (not very Swiss).  I wore a skirt and wells (also not very Swiss).  At least he remembered to bring a jacket.

Yep, the wind was blowing so hard that it turned the umbrella below inside out.  We had umbrellas too.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do a lot of good when the wind was blowing sideways and we called it a day.

I have grumbled discontentedly about Geneva’s public transport (TPG) since they drastically changed their routes in December.  After they provided free shuttle buses that loop around the wine villages, I feel much more kindly disposed towards them.  Thanks TPG!

Advertisements

Another Fine Mess, Fines In Switzerland

In a country where personal responsibility, obeying the rules and money are all taken very seriously, fines are inevitable.  We have heard that you need to budget 1000-2000 CHF a year for fines.  Thankfully, we’ve only had one ticket thus far.

Here, a diverse array of behaviors are punishable by fine. Here are some interesting Swiss fines:

  • Highest speeding ticket in Switzerland (tickets are on a percentage of income)
  • Naked hiking (instead of banning it, they just decided to fine naked hikers…uber Swiss)
  • Entering a private drive
  • Putting your recyclables in the bins on a Sunday or holiday

A friend of ours was unlucky enough to get her car towed. Five hours = 250 CHF or $275. Ouch.

 

Find Everything From the Everyday To the Eclectic At Geneva’s Plainpalais Flea Market

Historically, Plainpalais was an area outside the densely populated city of Geneva where they brought the sick to avoid contagion and an epidemic.  Located close to the Old Town and a public transportation hub, Plainpalais is now used for special events like festivals, the circus and markets.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a large flea market, marche des puces in French, there.

There are several reasons to love flea markets.  They include:

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love a bargain.
  • Individuality.  Having the same stuff as everyone else is just plain boring.
  • It gives you a chance to buy quality things for a reasonable price.
  • Phenomenal people watching.
  • Sustainability.  Keep something from going into the rubbish bin.  Recycle it.
  • It’s free to go walk around.  It’s a great and convenient place to meet up with some friends to walk around and chat.
  • In expensive Geneva, it is a great place to pick up some cool souvenirs for your friends and family.  When the nicest girl in the world visited, she purchased a Tastevin and some beer steins to take back to her brothers.
  • Where else are you going to buy fossils, a mounted Boar’s head or old Swiss army gear?

Plainpalais flea market is a Geneva institution and has operated since 1848.  It is not as large as those in some larger European cities.  Geneva’s wealth and highly mobile population means that it makes up for it in quality.  As Geneva is home to so many foreigners from all over the world, it has a larger number of unique items from all over the world.

Here are some of the great things you can regularly find at Plainpalais:

  • Old books,
  • CD’s

  • Kitchen gadgets;
  • Dishes and cutlery;
  • Decorative and practical household wares;

  • Furniture;
  • Antiques;
  • Paintings, posters, and other great wall art;

  • Clocks;
  • Fabric, trim, sewing machines and other craft items;
  • Records;

  • Old watches and watch parts,
  • Clothing,
  • Shoes,
  • Toys

  • Suitcases, briefcases and purses;
  • A lot of the things you could find at the dollar store;
  • 1 CHF/2 CHF boxes and 5 CHF tables;

You can also find more unique higher end pieces.  Invariably, there is a constant supply of eccentric, unusual and sometimes slightly freakish pieces (see the mounted Boar’s head above).

People begin setting up as early as 8:00 (perhaps earlier but I’ve never been there earlier than that) and continues through out the day. On days with poor weather and little turnout, vendors tend to close up shop early, as early as noon.

Most items are not marked with a price.  You pick up an item you like, take it to the person that looks like they might have set up the stall and ask “how much”?  Be ready to negotiate and have coins and small bills handy.  When I go, I don’t walk around with a Starbucks cup (at 5-7 CHF/$8-10 a pop, I don’t do that here anyway).  I carry a backpack instead of a nice purse.  Why? I like to negotiate and an expensive handbag screams “quote me a higher price.”  Haggle, negotiate, be prepared to walk away, drive a hard bargain.  Oh yeah, and have fun.

Related articles

How To Finance Building Roads in the Alps

Every car that drives on Swiss highways must have a sticker (referred to as a vignette) showing that the car has paid the yearly approximately 40 CHF fee.

What if you don’t live in Switzerland? Even better. If you are a foreigner heading south and taking the Swiss roads because they are the fastest, most direct way to your Italian vacation, you’ve got to pony up. If you don’t have one, you have a large fine that must be paid on the spot.

Looking at these photos (I swear I was changing lanes in that one) you can start to get an idea of why roads might be expensive. We aren’t even in the alps yet and you have tunnels, mountains and lakes to contend with.  Please note that even though it regularly thaws and freezes here, there isn’t a pothole in sight!

 

Naughty Naughty – I Got A Speeding Ticket

I’ve been bad.  I should have known that as soon as I posted about driving over here, something would happen.  I went 9 km an hour over the speed limit and got a ticket mailed from the French government.  In my defense, I was going 119.  I thought the limit was 120 km/hr; it was 110.  Oops.  We have noticed that in France the speed limit inexplicably drops with little warning.  Lesson learned.

On the bright side, we didn’t get a ticket in Switzerland.*  Here, tickets are based on a percentage of your income.  Depending on your speed, this can get expensive.  Notable whoppers include:

By the way, were you wondering how I got a ticket in the mail.  On the highways here, there are radar detectors and cameras.  The police mail you the ticket in the mail.  I am told that if you fight it and/or ask for the photo, the fine increases.

*I get to pay my fine in Euros, not Swiss Francs.   I had to go to the newstand, buy this nice little stamp, put it on the ticket and mail it in.  I mailed it from a French post office because it would have cost me 40 CHF ($45) to mail it from Switzerland!




 
 
 

Geneva Expat 101 Lesson 3 – The Best Fondue In Geneva

Finally, I have gotten to the really important things for expats in Geneva.  The Buvette at the Bains de Paquis has the best fondue in Geneva.  As much as I want to bring you the scoop, I am certainly not about to eat every fondue in Geneva.   Regardless, I stand by my statement.  Here’s why.  It is really good fondue.  At 20 CHF, it is reasonably priced.  The best part though is the location, its wonderful view and relaxed atmosphere.  This is your view.  Outstanding.  I rest my case.

It is a great place to bring out-of-town guests.  When my mom was visiting, we brought her here (by boat from Eaux-Vives) for a very memorable evening.  She ate it up.  Heck, I ate it up.  Literally.

 

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.

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?