I have not posted in awhile, which I choose to attribute to a more structured and busy Swiss-life routine rather than laziness! But here is a little update for the New Year. Since a lot has happened since my last post, I could not choose a single topic for this one, so I decided to do a round-up style list of events and observations.
1. Apartment: One of the most satisfying and rewarding projects of the last few months has been setting up the apartment more completely. My husband and I had the bare minimum of ‘stuff’ shipped over from the US over the summer, but it has taken us awhile to identify those things that can be lived without, but which improve the convenience and comfort of daily life considerably once you remember you’ve forgotten to buy them. Examples of such items include: floor lamps to improve dim overhead lighting, a food processor, a filing cabinet, a bookcase (goodbye, Rubbermaid tubs full of random items!) and a clothes drying rack.
I must say that it has been a challenge to find exactly what we need at a reasonable price. In the US, one generally has a geographically-organized mental catalog of resources for obtaining the trappings of daily life: Crate and Barrel for home decor and accessories, IKEA or local thrift shop for furniture, Home Depot for home improvements, etc. etc. IKEA does exist here in Switzerland, but alternatives for all other familiar commercial outlets must be found. Locating and visiting a Swiss second-hand furniture store turned out to be particularly rewarding, as there was a huge selection of very nice, Swiss-made antiques with price tags that bore a sufficiently low number of zeroes for me to remain inside the store for more than 5 minutes. We were even able to find a wonderful set of affordable antique speakers on a second-hand online forum.
One of the local home improvement outlets here in Lausanne is called “Mini Prix, Maxi Choix” which means “low price, big selection.” I always joke to my husband that Switzerland’s national motto should be “Mini Choix, Maxi Prix,” but in fact, this is not really fair. It is indeed possible to find items you like at a reasonable price in Switzerland…you just have to know where to look. This as opposed to the US, where cheap ‘stuff’ is advertised everywhere all the time.
Of course, we did pay a visit to our local IKEA as well…there is nothing that makes one feel quite so stupid as being stymied by the idiot-proof instructions, and nothing that makes one feel quite so smart and capable as having your own, slightly crooked KVIKNE to put your clothes in!
2. Winter sport: Switzerland is synonymous with skiing and snowboarding, and its reputation as one of the best winter sport locales in the world is very well deserved. This year I went with my husband, his extended family and my parents to a small ski resort in the canton of Graubünden – way over on the other, eastern side of the country. The resort itself is quite private and low-key, with slopes that are generally described as “easy” or “boring” by the Swiss (this as opposed to Wengen, which is one of the world’s most challenging locations for championship and Olympic ski events, where professional skiers often clock in at 100 mph or more). However, these hills were quite enough of a challenge for me as a ski novice!
I would wager that the only thing more difficult to master after the onset of adulthood than a foreign language is skiing. Like second language acquisition, skiing requires skills and instinctive reactions that are otherwise never used, and learning to use them for the first time is a bit like trying to teach a dog to eat with chopsticks. It feels very unnatural! A lot of coordination is required, and on Alpine ski slopes at least, so is courage. The hills we skied on may seem easy to the little Swiss toddlers whizzing by on skis the size of hot dog buns, but to me, they are still very steep and very scary.
I have actually skied these mountains before while on vacation several years ago, but apparently, only some of my muscle memory was retained. The most important lesson to remember, I have found, is to keep moving forward. The guaranteed recipe for ski slope disaster is to balk at the crest of a particularly steep hill…once you stop, you do not get moving again without falling, crying, removing your skis and walking, or possibly all three. I am proud to say that I only fell once, although my husband maintains that it was more like catching myself with my face than a real fall! By the end of the trip, though, I was skiing almost parallel again, and able to enjoy some of the breathtaking scenery in between bouts of intense concentration.
3. Transportation: In December, my place of work moved from the EPFL campus in Lausanne to a new site in Geneva. This means that instead of the Lausanne metro, I now take the Swiss train – SBB-CFF-FFS – twice a day for about 35-45 minutes (the odd initials refer to the official name of the train system in German, French and Italian, respectively). While my commute time has increased significantly with the train journeys and medium-long walks on either end of them, I have to thank my lucky stars for Swiss train travel. It is quiet, efficient and comfortable, and certainly the best way to commute if one is obliged to do so. It is a far cry from the white-knuckle traffic I was dealing with a year ago!
Another perk is that I have become much more train-savvy. Growing up as I did in a rural US town, I have only become familiar with public transportation as an adult, and there has been quite a steep learning curve. I admit that I have yet to take the New York subway alone, as its endlessly complicated network of letters and numbers and outages and re-routings never ceases to confuse me to the point of staring slack-jawed at the grubby subway map for up to half an hour before daring to board a grubby silver capsule hurtling towards who-knows-where. Trains are even scarier, because while a mistake on a subway might take you several blocks out of your way, a train error can leave you one or two cities removed from your intended destination. This is not such a big deal in the US, but get on the wrong train in Switzerland and you are bound to get off in a city that uses an entirely different language and/or currency! But after a few weeks of daily train trips, I have become a lot more comfortable with the schedules, the multilingual loudspeaker announcements, the crowds, and the seating arrangements. It is actually quite pleasant to see the Swiss countryside out the window twice a day… the sheer beauty of this country never ceases to amaze me.
That’s all for now, folks. I am planning another jaunt back to the US this spring, and am really looking forward to seeing friends and family. And a 24 hour grocery store. And maybe a Clif bar.