Saturday, 29 September 2007

Lombardy Lakes

Okay, so this is just a quick post to get back up to date. It has been a while since I posted anything significant since we're in an internet blackout at home at the moment which, I'm sure you'll understand, is stressful for both of us.

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A couple of weeks ago we went to the Lombardy Lakes in Italy. It may seem strange that we chose our first big outing since arriving in Switzerland to go to Italy, but it was a long weekend in Switzerland so we figured most things would be closed or, at the very least, very busy with vacationing Swiss.

This was a very last-minute bit of organising for us. Originally we were going to meet up with my sister in Ireland but the convoluted, overpriced flights to Ireland forced us to change plans and meet up a week later in England. In the end we (okay, it was Linda since I was at work) organised the train tickets, car rental and first night of accommodation on Friday, and caught the train into Italy that night.

We started at Stresa on Lago Maggiore which is the first major town on the Lakes after leaving Switzerland. Unfortunately it seemed to be something of a retreat for aging German tourists so moved on pretty quickly the next day to the nearby Lago d'Orta, which was a beautiful place to spend an afternoon and quickly made us feel like we were truly back in Italy.

In the evening we drove to Como and stayed in a place above the town where we watched the sun set over Lago Como and the lights come on in town before eating an enormous dinner in the hotel and passing verdict over the Tirimasu for desert (we'd had better, but have so many now we couldn't pinpoint where, exactly).

We ventured into Como itself the following morning, but were a little underwhelmed so continued up the winding, highly treacherous (due to the other drivers, more than the road itself) road to Bellagio. This is one of those towns that the guide books describe as over touristed, but really it is a lovely town with just the right amount of restaurants, tourist kitsch, and interesting history (its 'defensive ditch' was a pleasant change from the usual defensive walls).

We spent a very pleasant night in Bellagio, having aperitif at a local wine bar while we waited for our table at the trattoria across other side of the defensive ditch (these days just another street in the town).

The following day we spent some more time in Bellagio before catching the ferry across to lake to Varenna where I had the best cappuccino in all history (I had spent most of my time since arriving in Italy searching for a decent cup of coffee (the coffee in Switzerland is mysteriously bad)). We overheard someone talking about the Villa Monastero, so we wandered off in search of its botanical gardens and were suitably impressed, taking about a billion photos of flowers and trees with the mountains and lake in the background.

I risked us missing the ferry by ordering another cappuccino on the way out, and in the end we had to run for the ferry (which, of course, then did not leave for some time after we had gotten on).

Then followed a somewhat frantic trip home as we had decided going back down the road to Como was to risk certain death. Instead we took the car ferry across the lake to Cadenabbia, drove north around Lago Lugano (yes, that's Switzerland), back into Italy at Luino, and tried to find a car ferry across Lago Maggiore to return our car to Stresa and catch our train home.

We made it in the end, but more by lucky timing with the ferries than by good planning. We ran for our train home (yes, of course it ended up running late anyway) and had a minor disagreement with the women sitting in our seats on the train (apparently this was the last leg of a chaotic trip home for them) before settling in for the trip home.

We were very happy with our trip, not just because the Lakes were beautiful and the food was excellent, but also because it showed us just how feasible it was to organise a trip in a whole other country at such short notice. Now all we need to do is see some of the country we actually live in!

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Living in Nyon

Well we’ve been in Nyon a couple of weeks now and are thoroughly enjoying the change from Ecublens. Not that Ecublens wasn’t nice; it was green and quiet and handy for work, but we could have been in the suburbs of any number of countries you could name, and a bit too quiet. Nyon, by comparison, has an undeniably Swiss feel to it, with the lake, the mountains, and the Swiss style buildings, plus some nice shops and restaurants.

The other night I went for a run along the waterfront (I promise I won’t turn this into a jog-blog), on my return leg home I was running along the waterfront at dusk and the sky was a light blue with sunset lighting up the clouds and the moon reflecting on the water. The lake was calm with a couple of sailing boats returning silently to port and the Chateau above our apartment was uplit, creating a very dramatic scene. Of course since I was running I didn’t have a camera with me, but I doubt I would have been able to capture the very peaceful scene.

Now we have a bit of a dilemma since we have been told our application for an apartment in Vevey has been accepted. The apartment is more expensive, but is bigger and in the centre of the old town of Vevey with lots of shops, cafés and restaurants. Also, I think overall we preferred Vevey as a town over Nyon, since it is close to Montreax and has a lot of festivals and markets. But do we want to spend more to stay in such a place if we plan to travel a lot anyway?

We will have to make up our minds soon, but regardless of what we decide we are certain we only want to move house one more time in Switzerland!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Me and my iPod

Before coming to Europe I decided I should find a way to keep fit without having to lug around a lot of equipment or join a gym. As fate would have it, I had won an iPod nano (original 1GB edition) in a contest after joining a job search website. I didn’t actually expect my iPod to turn up after being notified of the win, and indeed it went missing for many weeks before finally arrived in a very beaten up box.

When I first got the iPod I was unconvinced I would use it since I could already listen to music on my phone. However, at some point I wandered into an Apple shop and spotted the Nike+iPod kit which lets you use your iPod to track your jogging progress. Now of course you need to buy a new set of running shoes to use with the Nike+iPod kit (the sensor goes in a dedicated spot in the sole of your shoes), but I didn’t let this deter me from my goal and new shoes were purchased too.

After arriving in Italy I didn’t actually make use of the kit at all, and the iPod only got pulled out for long train trips to and from Switzerland. However, since arriving in Switzerland I have decided it was time I started running again, if only to maintain the semblance of fitness I had built up walking all around Italy.

So in Ecublens I started running again, at the local running track which was nice and springy to reduce the risk of injuring myself. The running track also allowed me to finally calibrate the sensor, since you need a known distance (eg: 400m around the running track) to do the calibration and for this reason I had never gotten around to doing it before.

Since calibrating the sensor I have also changed modes of running, so now I set a distance (currently only 5km) and run until I hit that goal. This is a very motivational mode of running since the iPod announces various milestones; 1km, 2km, half-way, 400m to go, 100m to go. Also it records run history and personal-best times so you can compare your runs with previous efforts.

Now I am in Nyon I have not yet found a running track, which makes the runs a bit harder. I’m sure there must be one nearby as Switzerland is somewhat sports/outdoors obsessed. It also remains to be seen how motivated I will be to go running when the temperature hits freezing point in winter!

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


Last weekend we decided it was time we gave in to temptation and visit the IKEA store in Allamon. To get there you catch a special train that terminates in Allamon, and from the station the giant blue and yellow signage of the IKEA store beckons, along with those of several other warehouse-sized shopping centres.

When we arrived we were giddy with excitement, since for so long we had been abstaining from buying up on homey goods that we would have previously had to throw out or haul with us when we moved from place to place. We were encouraged by our move from Lausanne to Nyon, for which we hired a nice, comfy, VW van which managed to fit all our belongings.

The initial excitement ebbed away pretty quickly after entering, however, since the store is enormous and the number of similarly-hyped shoppers was a little overwhelming. We did our best to not buy anything we didn’t need, but still ended up spending nearly 500chf on bedding and kitchenware (this for our already fully furnished apartment!).

By the end of our little shopping trip we had definitely reached consumerist saturation point and practically ran through the last few showrooms to reach the cashier. We piled our goods onto the conveyor belt and struggled to fit everything into three of those huge blue IKEA bags for the trip home on the train.

We puffed our way home with our bags, and spent the next several hours recovering, ripping off plastic wrapping, and dealing with post-purchase guilt. I think it will take some time for us to get out of the spend-no-money frame of mind we have built up over the last few months of traveling, and get used to the idea of settling somewhere.

Also, next time we move house I think it will require two loads in the VW van.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Signing into Nyon

A couple of days ago we visited our new apartment in Nyon to sign the contracts. It was my first time to see the apartment since Linda took responsibility for the first visit, and I thought she had chosen well, especially since it is in such a nice location with cafés and restaurants around.

Once we had signed the contract and were heading home we looked back over the roof of our new apartment towards the lake. We could see the peak of Mont Blanc lit up by the sunset off in the distance, and in the clear sky it looked spectacular (dodgy mobile phone photo not doing it justice).

We will be moving in this weekend, which makes it our 3rd house move since arriving in Europe, and there will be at least one more move before we finally settle as the apartment in Nyon is only a temporary measure. Still, I think we will be happy in Nyon for however long we are there.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Long time no blog

It has been almost a month since my last blog post. I think there may have been a degree of blog-fatigue setting in after trying to keep pace with our travels around Italy, but really the main reason I haven't been posting is because we've just been incredibly busy! At least, it was after the first two weeks of keeping a low profile and trying not to spend money while I figured out if I really did have a job or if we were going to be chucked out of the country. In the end the final approval all happened very quickly.

First there was the mad dash into Milan to pick up my visa (I had entered Switzerland as a tourist and had to re-enter as a resident). Actually I was expecting some drama in this as my company had told me not to enter the country at all until my residency was finalised, but in the end no-one checked my passport either on the way out or the way back into Switzerland. I was in and out of the consulate in about 10 minutes flat and I would call the whole thing a waste of time if it weren't for the fact that I got to do some more shopping in Milan.

Actually it was very quiet in Milan since I was there in August which is the month of the year all of Italy packs up and goes to the beach. I had set my sights on visiting the Alessi shop to pick up some drastically overpriced espresso cups but when I got there it too was closed. I was forced to make my purchase one of the big department stores, and while I was there picked up another Bialetti Moka Express (when in Milan...).

Then the following Monday I started work, but only after registering ourselves at our local commune office as residents. I have now been at work for two weeks, which is obviously a very busy time, but this is far from the end of our dramas here.

When we were organising our initial accommodation in Switzerland from Italy we managed to get a two month sublet from a student at the nearby University (they had two months left on their lease and left town on holidays). The idea was that we would use this two months to organise longer term accommodation. The signs looked bad, however, when we started having people wanting to come and visit the apartment with a mind to moving in. We kept pushing back saying we had the apartment until the end of September, but in the end we had no choice but to cut our stay short by three weeks. On the up-side we managed to find a new temporary apartment in Nyon, and the unused portion of our sublet was refunded, but still it now means we have accommodation for only 3 more months, during which we still have to find more permanent accommodation.

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[possible apartment locations]

In regards to our plans longer term, we have been looking all up and down the lake from Vevey to Nyon for a suitable apartment. Our understanding of the rental situation here in Switzerland is that the vacancy rate is so low the estate agents merely have to put up a one sentence ad with no pictures and apparently this is meant to be sufficient to make a decision about whether you are interested in the apartment. Anyway we think we have found an apartment in Ouchy, which is down the hill from Lausanne towards the lake. We are just waiting to hear back from the land-lady, and that there are no nasty clauses in the contract to make a final decision. It will be fantastic to finally be able to settle in one spot and spend our time planning for holidays rather than searching for apartments or figuring out bank accounts, health insurance and the rest.

Of course, by the time we reach that stage it will probably be Winter!