Thursday, March 8, 2012

... and the winner is ... me!

So, it finally happened. For the first time in my life, I have won something!
There I was, browsing Kristen J's Hopscotch The Globe's Facebook page again (as I often do), when I saw a call to post a picture that proves you are living your life: the contest Proof of Life. This contest is given out by something called Operation Unplugged.
Operation Unplugged is a Canada-based organization, which takes 8 technology-dependent people and unplugs them. Literally, I mean. No more phones, computers, tv. No more Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. These participants are guided on a coast-to-coast, challenge-based adventure through Canada's National Parks and National historic sites.
Operation Unplugged call on people to become more aware of the world around you, to enjoy it, to go out, explore.

I stumbled upon this contest and decided to enter one of the pictures of my skydive in Queenstown, which was one of the moments when I really, truly felt alive. I posted this on Hopscotch The Globe's Wall, who reposted it on Operation Unplugged's wall.

And lo and behold, what happened? I just got notice from Kristen J that my pictures has been the winner for this week! I have won an Atmosphere gift voucher (which is a type of AS Adventure shop) and 1000 Operation Unplugged points. Wheeee!

But you know what? It doesn't even matter what I've won, if I can be honest - just the fact that I did, that my picture did, fills me with pride. It proves that, at least for a short while, I have lived!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Breakfast in Chur, lunch in Milano, dinner in Lugano

The funny thing about living in Europe, which I sometimes tend to forget after roaming around NZ, Australia and Asia for a while, is that in most places, it just suffices to take your car and drive for a short while to cross a border. This is so cool: in one day, you can do three or four countries! How amazing is that. It shouldn't surprise me that much though, because I am crossing a border every day anyway, but still.

I got this feeling again last Sunday, when Rosario and Victor had planned a trip to Lugano and kindly invited me along (would this have anything to do with the fact that Germaine is in my life? ... Hahaha I'm joking!).
Lugano is in the Italian part of Switzerland, straight south from Chur and very close to the Italian border. I took Germaine very early in the morning, picked up my two friends and we set off for the 1.5 hour drive south. However, after crossing the Alps (in a very hectic way ...) and approaching Lugano - which, by the way, lies in a beautiful area - we saw the road sign for Milano. It said: "Milano, 100 km".
Hmmmmm. Tempting.
Victor said: "Anyone in for a trip to Milano?"
Marie-Anne said: "Oooooooh! Why not!"
Rosario said: "It's all up to you, I just want sun."
So the decision was made pretty quickly, and indeed, why not - we passed Lugano, crossed the Italian border and headed for Milano.

We were so happy to have done that. While Lugano promised us a bright and sunny 15 degrees, in Milano we were surprised by a very decent 20 degrees and a fierce sun. There we were in our Swiss clothing: off with the scarves, jackets and even sweaters!
We walked around for a short while. We didn't have a lot of time since we still wanted to do Lugano, but on the other hand we were really enjoying the sun - or, that is to say, Rosario clearly needed the sun and Victor and me were happy to stroll in her wake :-) - so we just hung around a short while and then decided to go for lunch.
I was very good - I am still in my "Days without meat"-challenge, which is actually going pretty well, thank you for asking - so I ordered a cheesy pizza. What else do you order when you have 1 day in Italy? A certain someone though, cheated very hard, dropped all ties to the challenge and ordered what must have been the most juicy, delicious-looking steak I have seen in a long time. Sigh. I shortly cursed myself for my commitment to this challenge, but hey, commitment is commitment.

After lunch, we took out the time to see the beautiful duomo of Milano, where I had fun playing with light and photography. Not much came out of it though, but it's all about trying, isn't it?
Later, we headed back to Germaine and set off towards our original destination: Lugano.

This city is the largest Italian-speaking city outside of Italy. It is located on the banks of Lake Lugano and is facing south, which means it basks in the sun all day. It is the most popular destination in Switzerland and apparently attracts a lot of celebrities lately. I can see why; it has a kind of calmness but still some glamour to it that everybody would be jealous of.
When we arrived though - jackets, beans and scarves on please! We're back in Switzerland! - it was pretty quiet. Loads of people were strolling along the lakeside, restaurants and bars closing rather than opening, people sitting in the park or on the tiny beaches along the lake.

So did we - tired of all this sun (;-)) we just sat down for a while, staring into the beautiful sceneries and catching the last rays of sunlight. It somehow reminded me of Queenstown in New Zealand, but - how could it not be - a bit more European. What a great explanation, huh :-).
We only stayed for a short time, which I think was actually all we needed, so we were quite happy to have made the choice to go to Milano as well, and when the sun was gone and it got sensibly colder, we headed back towards Germaine, who still had a while to go.

We wended our ways through the Alps again, and lo and behold, in the San Bernardinopass it was actually snowing quite heavily! So for all you snow geeks out there: not to worry yet, the season isn't over.
Germaine, in the hands of Victor, got us home safely back to Chur, after a day well spent.
Breakfast in Chur, lunch in Milano and dinner in Lugano - how many people can say this? :-)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Days without meat

Hmmm, here we go. Another challenge, albeit a bit different from last year's Dry July.
This year, for lent, I am going to abstain from eating meat and fish, in order to think more ecologically. Apart from my ecological footprint, it is also just a challenge to myself - will I be able to eat no meat and fish at all for 40 days?
Luckily, the website of Days without meat offers some great recipes to get me through those days. So not only should I help the environment (a very, tiny, little bit), but I should also learn some great new stuff in the kitchen and I should be proud of myself if I will have been able to not cheat, in the end.
I am proud to say that I have been able to mobilize at least 2 other people to join me in this challenge: Gautier and Victor, colleagues in the office. At least this makes my lunches a bit less heavy :).

So, here we go, day 1. Let's see how we go with this. Cheers!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The föhn, bringer of strange tidings

Have you ever heard of the föhn? Because it is here! In Vaduz, I mean.
The föhn is a type of wind that is typical for the Alps. It blows in other parts of the world as well, but there it has a different name, usually.
This föhn is a very peculiar phenomenon. I had been warned about it by my colleagues in my first week at the office, but I had never given it any real thought. Until last Tuesday, when everything felt different.

To give a bit of an explanation about this wind: through a whole lot of meteorological movements - which I am not going to explain here - a compressed and hence warm wind is formed. This wind can elevate the temperature in no time with 10-25 degrees. The air humidity is strongly reduced, and because of sometimes very hard wind blows, the sky usually opens up and you get superb clear views over the Alps.
I think my explanation might be lacking a bit of detail - or let's say, a lot of detail - so if you want to get more (and more accurate) information, Wikipedia is the place to be I think!

When they say that the föhn brings strange tidings, I actually believe it. The day started different already with heaps of snow in Chur, very unexpectedly. When driving towards the highway, the light that has always been green so far, was now red. The highway hadn't been cleared at all, and there was even a traffic jam. A traffic jam! In Switzerland! I kid you not. Because of that, it took me one hour instead of half an hour to Vaduz.
When I arrived in Vaduz, there was already about 10 cm of snow on the ground, but the temperature seemed to be higher than normal.
In the office, I got an amazingly strong headache that seemed to come from nothing, and everybody seemed rather restless.
Then it started blowing so hard outside that even the windows started rattling. We all stopped working and stared outside, and then someone said "I think the föhn is here", and everybody went like "Aaaah." So that was my first experience with it. Yay!
When I came out of the office in the evening, literally all the snow in Vaduz had melted. All of it! In about one hour time. Now I find that strange. It was also about 5ºC as opposed to the -15 we had been having just a few days before.
To top it all off, at the end of the day while entering Chur from the highway, I was stopped by the police. It was a routine check, to see if all my papers were fine (of course they were) and because it was Valentine's Day, they gave me a pot plant. A plant! Now if that is not a strange tiding, I don't know anymore :-).

Now, at this moment, even though it has snowed in Chur again, the temperature is still above zero, and today at the office we did have very clear skies with nice views on the mountains, which brought a spring restlessness with everyone in the building . How I wanted to be out there! How everyone wanted to be out there :-).
But not to fear, dear föhn; the weekend is here, so bring it on!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

When driving your car in Switzerland

I have now been in Switzerland for just over a month. Time to give you some heads-up about how to get around here.
Obviously I have my car here, unlike many people that moved here. I need my car to get to Vaduz every day, so it is a big part of my Swiss life. I have driven around quite a few kilometers at the moment, so I think it is safe for me to tell you a bit about the Swiss highways.

1. Changing speed limits. 
The thing I have noticed most about Swiss highways, is that the speed limit changes constantly. That may or may not have an obvious reason, as in weather conditions etc, but change they do. For example, when I get to the highway from Chur, I get to drive 120 kph for about 3 minutes, after which it changes to 100 for no reason. 2 minutes later I get to do 120 again. Don't ask questions, just do it. If you get caught speeding, you get a ticket, and believe me, they are not cheap. They start at 20 CHF for speeding 1-5 kph (yes, that is different from Belgium), and prices rise dramatically. If you go more than 25 kph over the limit, your drivers license appears to be taken immediately.
There are these fixed changes, but there are also places where the speed limit changes day by day, usually due to weather conditions. My tip is to keep your eyes open for the speed signs all the time.

2. Snow, snow and snow. 
Switzerland in its lowest moment.
Be careful of the weather. I have often left Chur in a snow blizzard, to arrive in Vaduz with a watery sun shining and the temperature 5 degrees up. That's of course a good thing, but not if you do it in the opposite direction. Swiss highways have a lot of tunnels - and now I'm talking about the road from Chur to Zurich / Luzern - and the weather after a tunnel can be completely different than before. Strange, I know, I have been amazed many times myself.
Another thing is that the weather can change rapidly. A cute, tiny snowfall can rapidly turn into a thick fog with snow coming from everywhere, so you need to be prepared for that. Usually, speed limits change when that happens as well, so be double aware ;).

3. Be patient. 
Driving in snow conditions, especially with rapidly changing weather, means that you might get stuck behind a snow plough or two. I don't mind that much - I have every respect for snow ploughs. Those people do a tremendously great job. The roads in Switzerland are usually sparklingly clean. Only in the case of a very unexpected or very heavy snowfall, the snow ploughs can't keep up and then the driving might be sketchy.
Usually in the morning the roads are already clean. However, when you do get stuck behind a snow plough, there is nothing to be done except be patient, smile, listen to a nice song and think of the fact that these people are clearing the road for you. They usually work with two and spread out over the highway, so don't try to pass them, it's not possible. You can only wait until they run out of salt ...

4. Be prepared not to see through your wind shield. 
This might sound strange, but I've had some problems with my wind shield - and I'm sure I'm not the only one. With all the salt lying on the highway, then rain or snow falling on it, which makes everything splatter up on your window, the salt sticks to your window and is a bitch to get off. I don't know how it works with other people, but the more I try to swipe my windshield, the more the salt spreads and the whiter it becomes. I try to use the fluid but that seems to clean the window only in the wrong places ... and only helps for about 3 minutes. So, anyway, again, be careful :).

5. Pay when you park! 
This is not a joke - please pay when there is a parking meter! You only have to turn your back for 5 minutes and the police already put a fine under your swipers. Usually this is done very neatly with a nicely printed text and an accompanying sheet that says how to do an international transfer, all put together in a plastic bag - we wouldn't want our fines to get wet now, do we?
These fines aren't cheap either - I have had 2 tickets of 40 CHF, and that is in a residential area outside the city centre of Chur. I don't even want to dream how much it might be in Zurich.
So, bottom line is to always have coins with you, because these meters only work with coins. There is also no paper ticket in a lot of cases, so this machine just happily eats away your money without any proof.

Some fun facts
the Vignette
- it is obligatory to have winter tires. Just so you know.
- when driving highways in Switzerland as a foreigner, you have to have the Vignette, which is a motorway tax. Do not enter Switzerland without it, even if it is for an hour, or you will pay. Again.
- Apparently it is not allowed to honk your horn after dark. We all need to sleep well ;).
- Swiss people drive on the right, and unlike in Belgium, they usually do this. I have also never ever seen anyone passing someone on the right - again, unlike in Belgium.
- people wearing glasses or contact lenses should have a spare pair in their car. I did not know that, might have to look into it. Hmm.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Top of the world

Snow, snow, snow. That is what you get when you go live in the Alps for a while. Snow, and lots of it! Flakes in all sizes and weights. Thick, sticky ones, or small wet ones, where you are not sure if it's actually raining or snowing. But most of the time, it is a beautiful white shower which covers everything in a thick, powdery carpet. That's what I give a big like!
Snow in Chur means ... even more snow in the mountains around Chur. This, of course, means that I go out to the slopes just about every weekend. So far, in the 3 weeks that I have been here, I have visited Lenzerheide, Hochwang and Brambrüesch.

Lenzerheide is a 40 minute bus ride from Chur. The ski field is a tad more commercial than the others I've seen, but it has nothing from the fame that Davos has. The slopes are nice and easy, but a bit too crowded for my liking. The other fields I have seen so far (except from Davos) are also small, but very 'local' so not many people go there. But ahh, you need fields of all sizes and levels and I think Lenzerheide is a very good option - I'd definitely go again. There's also a few nice bars at the middle station, so an apres-ski - or should I say 'middle-ski'? - is always nice. Relax, face in the sun, gluhwein in hand. What do you want more?

Powder in between the slopes - Hochwang.
The week after, I went to Hochwang with a few of the Chur girls and my colleague. I had promised my colleague and another friend to try and teach them the basics of snowboarding - I say try because it is rather difficult to relate to other people what your body does. But hey, look at that! Both of them were off rather quickly. Victor - the colleague - even came down with us on the last run, turns and all, towards the bottom of the lift. How good is that? I felt rather proud - I taught him that. Maybe I might have the teaching gene after all? As I said before, never say never ...
Apart from teaching, I went up and down with roommate Claudia in the afternoon - and had so much fun with that! The slopes in Hochwang are very nicely groomed and are actually beautiful: above the trees with an immense view; in between the trees with thick packs of snow on all sides. The funny thing was that a thick fog was lying in the valley, so we constantly went from bright sunshine to a foggy soup. Exhilarating!
A mountain with a view - Hochwang.
I also convinced Claudia to go on her first powder side trip ever. In between the slopes there are heaps of untouched patches - or let's say, touched by people with the same state of mind as me - so it was the perfect time to get her to do it: short stretches in the powder, just to know what it feels like. Ohhh man, did she curse me at first :-). As you probably know by now, powder is very, very heavy to work through if you're not used to it. You constantly get caught in deep snow, and then it's a tricky matter to get yourself out of it without getting completely wet. Well, completely wet was a certainty in our case, so I just decided to laugh about it and try harder :-). In the end we finished a nice patch in between the fog and trees. I have to say - afterwards, Claudia had the widest smile imaginable and I even got a big hug. Again, a blast of pride rushing through my veins and a smile on my face. Teaching gene?

Just now, I went to Brambrüesch. This is actually a very specific ski field because it is the only one in all of Switzerland where the lift leaves from the centre of the city. Chur, to be clear. You basically just walk there, take the gondola to the middle station, then another gondola and poof, there you are. Easy peasy, no difficult car rides or annoying train rides. I really like Brambrüesch because it seriously reminds me of a true Winter Wonderland. Mini-Narnia, so to say. You arrive in between the trees and have to walk a little while before you get to the anchor lift. On this walk, there are a few houses scattered over the place, all covered in a thick pack of snow. How people live there, is a mystery to me, but the scenery is wonderful.
As by a miracle, the fog opened up as well and we witnessed a bright sunshine and blue skies. The cold front that has hit Europe, has obviously also hit Switzerland though, and at -20 up there it was rather chilly. But not to worry, we'd be up the lift soon.
Now, this anchor lift is something that I hate. I 'strongly dislike' the word hate, but hate it is in this case. For snowboarders - especially the solo ones, like me, and who are somewhere just above beginner but far under pro - these lifts are hell. They are inelegant, exhausting, stupid and difficult. You have to stick this anchor between your legs, which means your butt will be blue. When you are alone, like me, you have to do all you can to balance yourself on the thing, or it just jerks you right up, you lose your balance and you fall off. Usually with one leg still around the thing so you get dragged along for some 10 meters before you get the chance to shuffle to the sides. Sigh. But, as every day is learning day, today I learned to use it well. I actually succeeded to get to the top 3 times, and 'only' fall off 2 times. In one of those falls, though, I hurt myself and now I have difficulty to walk. But that's beside the point. ;-).
I thought this lift was way too much work for what the slopes are worth - there are not a lot, and most of them, though finely groomed, are not a real challenge - but then the chairlift to the top opened up. While my friend Linda kept on practicing on the lower slopes, I decided I wanted more out of my day and went up the chairlift (big sigh of relief). The freezing wind struck at once and gave me an immediate, hammering headache ... but then I got to the top. What - a - view. There is nothing up there except for the ski lift operator's tiny, tiny hut, and a gorgeous, amazing, breathtaking 360º view over the Alps. White carpets as far as the eye can see. It made me want to jump, run, turn, ... just play. Sadly enough, by then the battery of Linda's camera had frozen to death so I have no pictures of the view. But it is locked in my memory. So I think Brambrüesch is a perfect place both for beginners and pros. I think, once I get better, it would be awesome to get to the top and just fool around in this thick, thick powder. Only question would be how to get up to the top again, but that is a worry for later :-).

So that is how I spend my weekends. A day of snowboarding, sometimes bouldering, sometimes swimming, maybe a little run here or there ... And of course the beers on Friday night with the girls I met in Chur. Perfect!

Claudia and me on the slopes in Hochwang.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

An interview with ... myself.

Once again: hear ye, hear ye! When I say that I love my writing and that I want to do something with it, I am actually serious. So serious, even, that I created a Twitter account (yes, you read correctly) solely to promote my writings and other travel related likes.
I am very happy that I did this, because I am again featured on the world wide web.
Global Goose Travel is Canada-based and are 2 people who are passionate travelers themselves. Via Twitter I learned about their interviews et voila, that's how fast it can go.

This time, you can read my story through There are also some pictures of mine on display.

I am very excited about this. Does it show? I think I might 'tweet' it quickly! :-)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A visit from the Social Traveler

Yesterday I got a visit from someone who calls himself the Social Traveler. He is Bjorn, from Belgium, and already for 2 years he travels around the world wherever people invite him. He has a website, The Social Traveler, and on this page people can post invites, challenges or tips. This way, he lets himself guide from country to country.
Bjorn was in Geneva last week, so I said that Chur is not that far and he was welcome for a visit. At first the timing didn't seem to be right for him, but apparently plans changed later and so we met up in Chur.
It was a fun night. Chur is still an enigma for me as much as for Bjorn, so we just hung around the Old City for a bit and set out in search for a place to eat. I had a typical Swiss dish, 'bratwurst mit rösti' - sister, if you're reading this: I'm sure you would have loved it! Starting to discover the local cuisine, aber natürlich!
Afterwards, we went to Werkstatt, the place where I went with all the architects, which is the only place I know by now in Chur. But I kind of love it. A nice place for a beer! On the way there - I miraculously lost my way again in the Altstadt - we got to talking with someone who is definitely a local, because he started telling us about the city. With the little German I know by now, I got to understand that Chur is the oldest city in the Alps, if I'm correct. The friendly Swiss guy also showed us the oldest lamp in the city, which works on gas. They used to light it manually every night - again, if I'm not mistaken. I find this funny; these are the kind of facts you want to know about a city, right? I have seen the oldest lamp in Chur :).

Apart from that, nothing special happened, except that it was a nice evening full of travel talk and discussion about how to blog, how to get material out in the open and how to chase your dreams. Talk that suits me fine, in other words. I am planning to create a website which centralizes all my writing and photography material. I am not sure yet how to do this, so if anyone can help me with this, or give me tips or tricks in any way, you'd have my eternal gratitude. And that means a lot ;).
And so, the Social Traveler has seen Chur, which is another city on his list, before he moved on to Strasbourg. Nice, right?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A champagne glass with my name on it

Sunday morning. Almost a week has passed since my last post. Only a week, but it already feels like a lot longer.
The week started with my first day at work with Baumschlager-Eberle. I was immediately taken in well by my colleagues. They all greeted me with big smiles and hellos and welcomes. My spot was ready, my computer completely set for my user, my name is on the website (Baumschlager-Eberle), and the funniest thing is that there was a champagne glass ready on my desk, with my name on it. I kid you not. Imagine someone would dare steal my prosecco! Soon I'd learn that prosecco-moments aren't rare in the office ... But work first, of course.
The main thing I have been doing this week is just learning the drawing program and the structure in the office etc. This interspersed with a lot of laughter with my colleagues - and you all know, I love laughing :-) - so I had a pretty good start. The biggest change though, is getting up again every morning at a set hour, getting ready, driving to work (which I have never even done before, so that is completely new!) and staying put for a few hours at a time. It's been a long time since there was so much structure in my life. I am very tired every night, so I think my body has to adapt to the new rhythm as well :-).

Apart from work, there was my guest post on Hopscotch The Globe which I felt so proud about - and still do. (for those who missed it, here is the link once more (it doesn't hurt to boast about my own writings a bit, does it? :-) I want to get my writing more out there, so this is a great step forward. I was also proud to see that people have been twittering about me - I don't even twitter myself and I am still out there! Social media are amazing, I am astonished by it time after time.

My 15 minutes of fame on the world wide web

I also got to meet a few people already in Chur. Last week, I went out with my roommate Claudia, to her own goodbye party - Claudia has accepted a job in Luzern and will only be in Chur during the weekends. That is a shame, because we are actually having a lot of fun together!
Anyway, I went out with her so got to know some of her friends. They are all girls, and all architects, so it is a good bunch of like-minded chicas. This week we did the same: drinks and chats and laughter in a place called Werkstatt in the old city of Chur. Everybody is in the same position here. We are almost all from different countries like Italy, Portugal, Germany, and very rarely from Switzerland. We all arrived in Chur to work and live, so now we are all seeking each other's company. Works fine for me!
This weekend I was supposed to go snowboarding, but the weather forecast was too bad - it has been snowing badly all weekend - I actually mean 'good', snow is good! - but I prefer it to snow badly now, and me going up on a sunny day AFTER the snowfall :-). Win-win situation!
Not going snowboarding doesn't mean there is nothing to do though. Close by my apartment there is the Obere Au, which is a big swimming pool with outside pool and gym and so on, so that might become my Sunday spot - I did it last week and will do it later today, so I've started off well. Somewhere this week I might also go bouldering with a few of the girls, and there appears to be a nice running track not far from the apartment, along the river.
As I said - Sunday, a week has passed - but it already feels like a lot longer!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Scriblings and writings

Hear ye, hear ye!
Some of you know this, some of you don't, but I actually really enjoy writing. I also enjoy - excuse me, let me clarify that - I also love talking about (my) travels. You can imagine my ecstatic feelings when I can combine the two. Add to that my pleasure in taking pictures, specifically of those travels, and I am in seventh heaven.

Up until now, I haven't done much with my writing except for this blog, that some of you seem to enjoy so much (but no one more than me :)). I say 'up until now', because I am delighted to tell you that I have written a guest post for Kristen J's travel blog Hopscotch The Globe.
She asked me to write 'anything that I am inspired to write about' New Zealand. Boy, did I need to be asked twice? Hell no! This is my first step into a wider audience. Exciting :).

The results of my musings and afterthoughts can be found on this link:

Kristen told me to be very proud of this piece, and I actually am. It might not be written in the cleanest English, but it comes from my heart. How I love New Zealand!

Thursday, January 12, 2012


As you know, last Saturday I returned to Belgium with my head full of Chur, snow and apartments. I thought I had it all figured out. On Monday though, I heard from the office in Vaduz that my address had to be registered - it didn't do to just state that 'yeah yeah, I do live in Chur'. Silly me, I should've known.
I learned that if I brought in all the paperwork in the office on Wednesday, I could start working on Monday. Unfortunately I was still in Belgium, amidst all my possessions at that time ...

So I hurriedly finished packing and, without even saying all my goodbyes, I left again for Chur on Wednesday, 11 January. The drive started off grey in Belgium, went over wet in France and turned to sunny in Switzerland. When nearing Chur I had a spectacular view of the snowy mountains with the pinkish skies laying on them, and clouds hanging in the valleys. A smile slid across my face spontaneously - and I love it when smiles do that to me :). The image reminded me of the Remarkables in Queenstown, New Zealand, which I still love so much.

I checked into the same hostel I had been in last week. I had a meeting that evening with Oral, the guy from the shared house that I had set my mind to, and this time I would also meet the girls, Claudia and Eva.
I was very tired after a full day's driving on my own, but I had a good time anyway with Oral and his crazy friend Leah. We had dinner and laughed and talked a lot.
Later in the evening the girls arrived, and we seemed to hit it off immediately. We had a short talk and almost immediately agreed that I could take the room. It will be a bit shuffling with me moving in too early, but that will be alright. I'm used to sleeping on sofas and in hostels by now.

With the address settled, the 'only' thing left to do was to go and register it in the Chur city council (or rather: the 'einwohnerdienste') and send it to the office. Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story - how could it be? :).
I went to the city council in the morning and found someone who spoke English - hurray, hurray! The friendly man told me to fill in a form, get my working contract, my passport, a picture and ... of course ... a section of the form had to be filled in by the office. So, with all my stuff still sitting in my car, I had no choice but to drive to Vaduz for this form.
Luckily Gabriele - my partner in crime at the office - was very welcoming. She greeted me with a very jolly "Do you have time? Like an hour or two? We have some forms to fill in." :).
Of course I had time, so we set right to it - until my soon-to-be colleagues decided to go for lunch and I joined them. Delicious, cheap-ish Thai food in Liechtenstein, you all have to experience it. The place, called Phuan Thai, is actually a home: the dining space is the living room, and the kitchen is the actual house kitchen ... There's only restricted choice but the servings are huge. Cute!
In the mean time I got to know a few of the new colleagues and that was very nice as well. I can't wait to actually get started!

Back at the office, Gabriele and I finished the papers and then it was time to get back to Chur, to the city council. The friendly guy was still there and was surprised to see that I had brought everything with me - apparently people tend to forget one or two things when they want to register in Chur.
With a big smile, he got out his stamp and stamped off the form - there it is, I am a resident of Chur in Switzerland!

From the city council I went to Manor, a shopping centre, where I could find Oral, Leah and yet another friend of Oral's, Kamilla. We had a little wander around town - how I love the clean, fresh, cold air! - and ended up at his (or should I say: my?) apartment again. I got to talking to Kamilla, who is an Erasmus student here in Chur, and we may go snowboarding on Saturday, yay! Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to Leah, who is leaving for Italy tomorrow morning.

Life in Chur kicked off well and at full speed. I have a room to call my own, a job to look forward to and a few contacts to keep in touch with around here. In the mean time I enjoy hearing every gossip, great and small from Belgium and everywhere in the world, so don't hesitate to contact me. I'll send you some fresh mountain air in return!

PS: address and phone number - when I have one - will be given on request :).

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Schnee, Schnee und Schnee!

A new year. I hope it started off great for all of you - my NYE was amazing! I had a lot of fun in Ghent with a few friends - dinner and a party. It was different from Berlin in 2009 and Sydney in 2010, but no less fun. Just how it should be.

On January 2nd, my sister and me hit the road towards Chur. We  packed up Germaine, who is actually surprisingly big for his cute little body. The trunk was full but the back seat was empty - room for someone extra :).
We arrived in Chur at around 7 pm and checked into the only hostel in town: JBN, which stands - very originally - for Just Be Nice. It is a squeaky clean hostel, and boasts about having the cheapest rooms in town (35 CHF for a dorm bed for one night). All that is true, but the downside is that it doesn't have a real kitchen ... So all our food had to be microwavable or cold. Ah well, it can't all be golden. The guys at the reception were very friendly though, and they helped with the apartment search.

I didn't have a lot of appointments set when I left. The only 2 real ones were with a guy named Oral, on the 3rd of January, and a girl named Annina on the 5th. However, Caroline and me went out to dinner when we arrived, and the very friendly waiter at the restaurant gave us the name of someone who had an other apartment for rent - hurray! Another appointment, thrown in my lap.
The next day, in between the 2 appointments, we thought it might be 'a good idea' to check out Arosa. Dear god. We thought, since there was no snow in Chur, that the roads would be clear. Boy, we have got a lot to learn about Switzerland. Just about halfway, the roads got a bit dirtier and wetter, and not long after that, we were in a true snow zone, with uncleared, pretty steep roads. I'm lucky to have Germaine in my life though - although the boy had a bit of trouble in some particularly sharp bends, he stayed very cool and slowly but steadily pulled us up the road and brought us into the centre of Arosa. The sky was blue, the snow was white - life was great :). We just took a few obligatory pictures, and then had to head back - it is sad to say that we drove about 2 hours to be on the spot for about half an hour or less ... But ah well.
The day after, we went to Davos, this time by train though. It snowed a lot and was still snowing when we arrived. This was very good since the snow was fresh and powdery by the time we got to the slopes. I strapped on Burtie the snowboard, and ahhhh, there it was, the feeling I had lost a bit, although it had only been 3 months - snowboarding! And especially the fact that I hadn't forgotten how to do it, haha. I fell a lot, but as someone said to me before: if you don't fall, you can't improve. So I'm trying to keep that in mind every time my buttocks feel sore.
At times there was a lot of wind and snow in the face, and I said to Caroline: "It makes you feel alive, doesn't it?!" (She replied with a "Hmmmpf.")

5 January was again reserved for apartment hunting, accompanied by a trip to Vaduz and Feldkirch in Austria - just to show Caroline where it would all be happening. I'm happy to say that the trip, even in very snowy weather, will not take me more than 40 minutes. That's not too bad, I'd say.
On our last day then, 6 January, we met again with Oral, the current roommate in the first apartment we visited. He had 2 friends over, Leah and Naima, and since the weather was so bad (heard about any snow storms in the region lately? I have ...) we decided to go south to the Italian part of Switzerland, where we were sure the weather would be better.
Ha-ha-ha, I say to that.

Germaine having fun
It was snowing very hard in Chur already, and by the time we got to the highway, it only seemed to get worse. The roads weren't cleared at all, and everybody had to drive very slowly, about 50 km per hour. We had planned to go to Lugano, but soon after leaving Chur, I already knew that that wouldn't be happening. We decided on San Bernardino instead, the next 'big' stop on the way. After about 15 minutes, the snow only got thicker and thicker and we realized we were driving in a true blizzard. I have to say they have been about the most stressy moments in my driving career. At some points, I literally couldn't see anything, not even Germaine's outside (remember how I told you about how white he actually is? ...) and there was no option but to stand still with 4 indicators on - in the middle of the highway, that is - and hope that no one would bump in the back or front of me. It was an experience though.
In the moments that the fog and snow lifted for the rare 5 minutes in a row, the view was gorgeous though: trees full of snow, everything white, roofs loaded with meters of snow. Simply breathtaking, our own little Winter Wonderland, our own little Narnia.

Road to San Bernardino
San Bernardino wasn't much, since it was still snowing so hard and the only thing we could do was find a bar, drink a hot chocolate and then turn back before it got dark. But we all had a lot of fun and it was a great way to get to know some people already. I think I might like it in Switzerland :).

We finished the day with a lovely traditional cheese fondue. Caroline had been craving it since the day we arrived, and of course I wouldn't say no - I love cheese fondue! Oral and Leah also had no problem with it (Naima already left for home by then). It was the perfect ending to a very nice day, and I am happy to say that Oral's room might soon be mine, if the 2 remaining girls and I get along. But if they are anything like their current roommate, I'm sure that won't be a problem.

Cheese fondue
Now the only thing that is left to do, is fill in all the paper work and get the work permit started. Not so long now before the move and the re-entry into work life - I am getting anxious, nervous and excited. A good mixture of feelings, I'd say :).