The end of two years living in Switzerland

Wow. I can’t believe our two years living in Switzerland is over. On Thursday 27 July Andrew and I boarded a plane for San Francisco. Between flying back from Bulgaria on Tuesday 25 July and flying back to the U.S. on Thursday, we were busy. Immediately after checking into our hotel, we picked up our Mobility rental van to pick up all our belongings from our storage unit and close the unit.

All of our stuff as we took it out of the storage unit. We used a service called Zebra box, which was conveniently located in the city and had easy access for loading and unloading.
That evening we did our final packing. Similar to when we came over to move to Switzerland, instead of shipping we took all our belongings on the plane with us. We found it is about the same cost as shipping but beneficial to have everything with you rather than waiting for a shipment or needing to know where to have them send it. This is an issue when you don’t have a permanent address but need your belongings close at hand. We distributed weight among all the bags to meet the weight limits and also to help us limit the fees as much as possible. I have United Premier Gold status, which provides me two free overweight (70 lb) bags! This is a huge cost-savings when you’re transporting everything you own halfway around the world and an extra overweight bag can cost $400 a piece. We ended up with 13 bags, including our carry-on and the skis+boot bag (boot bags travel free with a ski bag). We are now self-proclaimed experts at airline baggage policies 🙂

On Wednesday 26 July, we had a wonderful last day in Switzerland. We got up early to go meet our {now former} upstairs neighbor, Esther, from Avenue Juste-Olivier. She has been of invaluable help during our move out of the apartment and was our main line of communication with our non-English speaking property management company. She had agreed for them to mail to her house the letter that documented the agency’s agreement to release the restriction on our rental guarantee account. They had to send it by mail, so we agreed this was the easiest option for us. This account has held three months rent as a deposit on our apartment and the bank required this letter for us to get the money back. Over the past two years, our property management company has proven itself to be inefficient/useless/you-name-it and this time was no exception. Esther had to call four times since our close-out inspection on 30 June to get this darn letter for us, and they finally mailed it the day before we came back. But we got it! Phew! We said our goodbyes to Esther and her golden retriever Milo, some of the best neighbors I’ve ever had. After that we were able to go to our bank and release the cash. Now it’s all ready for a deposit on our next apartment in San Francisco 🙂 We are so thankful to have had Esther as a neighbor. She has proven to be genuinely helpful in many cases and always a friendly face. We’ll definitely miss her!

That afternoon we had scheduled to use our departing gift from KPMG, a 50 minute massage at Lausanne’s beloved Beau Rivage Palace Hotel.  The massage was perfect to relax in anticipation of our 15 hour flight back to the US. Afterwards we walked down to the lake to enjoy the beautiful day by renting a pedalo for an hour to cruise along the coast.


We had a drink at a lakeside bar and capped the day with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Cafe de Grancy.

Drinks at the Terrasse d’Ouchy
img_4327
Beef tartare for the last time

Chocolate overload for dessert but it was so good!
On Thursday morning we were up early to go to the airport. We hired a private transport to take us and all of our luggage since we wouldn’t manage on the train or even in a taxi. The transport had to bring a trailer because their van wasn’t big enough!

IMG_4329.JPG

Andrew in the morning as we were dropped off at the airport by our transport. This was one of two overloaded trolleys of our stuff 🙂
The airline check-in staff had wide eyes when we arrived with our bags, but we had come early to allow for time. My United Gold status also came in handy a few times this day since I got a little quicker service. The flight went well, with no major delays though we narrowly met our connection in Newark. We made it to San Francisco and while the airline managed to get all of our bags to SFO, we ourselves, in our tired state, managed to leave one of them behind at the airport on the baggage claim belt. We had to go back the next day to claim it. Sigh. After a looong day of traveling we made it back home to our city. San Francisco.
I can’t help but reflect ….
As we have returned to the U.S. I have realized I need to work on my answer to the question that comes once someone finds out we just returned from our time abroad:  “How did you like Switzerland?”
The answer is becoming more refined over time, but I can tell you, my dear reader, a little longer of an answer. While I am so excited to be moving back to San Francisco, where I am familiar with the culture, I can speak the language, and we’re infinitely closer to family and friends; Switzerland was incredible. The country managed to stun me consistently with it’s beauty. I loved having the Alps as our backyard playground. Within a short 45 minute drive we could be hiking, skiing, or on a via ferrata! I’ll never forget how easy it was for us to wake up at a reasonable time on a Sunday morning and hike up in the pristine Alps to 3,000+ meters in a day and return to our apartment that evening in time to cook dinner. Let alone that view of Lake Geneva from our apartment balcony! The country is centrally located, allowing easy travel within Europe – especially by train. We saw and experienced SO MUCH during the past two years. It is mind boggling even to me when I look back at my blog posts and go through photos. I am thankful to having been exposed to the Swiss French culture of the Suisse Romande. We learned to love espresso, attempted the French language, savored the fresh bread, the chocolate … the CHOCOLATE, and always had access to so many amazing wines from our European neighboring countries. Goodness these are things I will miss!
But … Switzerland is far from our families and friends. It was tough to work with the 6-9 hour time difference and to schedule FaceTime dates since only weekends seemed to work with anyone, which is when we’re always on the move. We had trouble finding community. I recognize that we were partially responsible for our limited number of friends because we could have tried harder, but it was difficult. Not speaking French fluently was hard. We both managed to pick up enough to get by in restaurants reading menus and ordering, reading signs, communicating with cashiers in shops, etc but it wasn’t sufficient. It would have required signing up for classes and devoting a lot of time to learning – which we simply were not sure we wanted to commit the time to do. There are reasons why we didn’t decide to stay in Switzerland longer and these things add up enough to make it feel right to not stay.
Regardless of the above, I promise you that as we boarded that plane, I left with a feeling that all was right. We were
so fortunate to have had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go live and work abroad in Switzerland. We experienced so much and this blog is a testament to that fact.
Blogging status …
SO. Clearly the blog posts are on a delay. We’ve been busy having fun and bouncing all over, and we’re still on the move! I took a little break from blogging over the past couple weeks but I promise I am working to get caught up. I’ll continue to blog over the next month or so as we continue to travel and settle back in to SF. I am not yet sure of the future of the blog and whether I’ll stop, but for now I’m going to keep it going. I’ll keep you posted soon 🙂

 

SF: We’re baaaaack ….. for a week.

As you can imagine, Andrew and I spent a lot of time figuring out the logistics to our summer. We had planned over two months off from work and wanted to travel in Europe and the U.S. but also needed to fit in some real-life, administrative stuff in San Francisco to facilitate moving back. So, while the beginning of the summer required the logistics to move out of our Swiss apartment and deconstruct our lives in Switzerland (i.e. banks, utility accounts, lease, job, etc), the next piece of fun was to set all that back up in the U.S.. Since we needed to get our belongings to San Francisco eventually, we decided to make SF our first stop in the U.S. after leaving Switzerland. Also important, this was our first planned time to try to find an apartment. If it didn’t work, we also built in a free weekend before Andrew’s start date on 4 September.

Now, it will appear confusing at first but once I explain it makes sense. We stayed at the Green Tortoise Hostel in San Francisco this whole time. I know, I know. A hostel! First of all, we got a private room and it was in their secondary building that is a block away from the main hostel building and on a quieter part of Broadway. We were a bit nervous to stay in a hostel in the U.S. since these are not a common accommodation, but we were pleasantly surprised. The Green Tortoise was one of the best hostels we have ever stayed in! Our building only had 5 units and it had a back deck with a view of the bay and the city skyline. It was well located, within walking distance of the downtown business district and also North Beach. They had tons of amenities, included breakfast and a few dinners and we met many nice people from all over the world.

Now for the explanation for why a hostel, because some planning ahead was obviously  involved. Andrew receives re-patriation benefits through his global mobility program and they include a housing allowance when we move back. Since we were unsure of whether we would find an apartment immediately, we set up this week in July and also another week in August to apartment search. That meant we had two periods of hotel stays, while only one would be eligible for firm coverage. Therefore, there was a high probability that we would be paying for the time in July if we didn’t find an apartment at first. So, the plan was to bill KPMG for the second stay at the beginning of September when we move back for good. And since staying in SF is super expensive, we got the hostel for our time in July when we would likely be footing the bill. We were being a bit conservative and it all worked out as you will see…

So, here we were with six nights in San Francisco. And boy, the time was unexpectedly successful! Andrew ended up buying a car! The dealer is holding on to it for him until we return at the end of August.

Andrew with his new car – BMW 428i xDrive Gran Coupe

For those of you who are not familiar, SF is a very competitive rental market. We were prepared to see a lot of apartments and to have to work hard to get what we wanted. After viewing nine apartments, none of them met our exact criteria and we were worried we would have to compromise on a less than ideal spot. However on our final viewing, WE FOUND OUR APARTMENT! We signed a lease to start on the 1st of September at Larkin and Union street on Russian Hill. It’s a one bedroom apartment with a parking space, a storage unit, a dishwasher, in-building laundry, and to top it off a killer view from the living room and kitchen of the Golden Gate bridge and the bay. In SF terms, we did pretty well and even found a place with a rent that is at the lower end of the current market rate for that neighborhood. We are super excited about the place! Additional pros are that we now can use our time in the beginning of September to move in and furnish the place, which is great since we have no furniture or house-hold goods. Even better, we don’t have to pay rent in August AND the owner is renovating the apartment, including replacement of carpets, appliances, cabinets and light fixtures. Couldn’t be better!

It was foggy that day, but here is our apartment building. Our apartment is on the third floor on the other side of the building. There is a bus stop on this corner that has two lines that head directly downtown. Perfect for commuting to our office when we aren’t at the client site!
img_0017
Part of the view from our new apartment. We’ll be able to watch the sun set over the bridge 🙂

Other than the car and apartment our time was spent eating at restaurants we had missed (including as much Mexican food as possible), going for runs along the Embarcadero, taking care of banking matters, I had some CPA license renewal continuing education to complete, and we were able to catch up with Andrew’s sister and her fiancé, John, and our friend Lauren who recently moved back to SF after her time working abroad in London. Overall, a far more fruitful time spent in SF than we anticipated. Now we are able to relax and enjoy the next four weeks of travel in August!

On that note, we left SF on Thursday 3 August to begin our four weeks of U.S. travel with a nine night vacation in Oregon. Stay posted!

Our last days living in Switzerland

This is it! Our last days living and working in the beautiful country of Switzerland!

Andrew and I have been on a roller coaster over these last weeks. Long days at work, trying to sell furniture, packing, trips to the déchetterie (recycling center + dump), planning logistics to move internationally again aaaaaand wrap up planning 2 months of travelling in Europe and the U.S.. Also sneaking in some Sunday hikes to train for our Dolomites trek. Sit down and let’s have a recap about what’s been going on for us… warning – this will be a long one

Moving out – how is it going? 

We put up all of our furniture for sale on a Swiss website similar to Craigslist called Anibis. The process went well for some things, but some big ticket items proved very difficult to get rid of. Primarily our bed, couch, wardrobe and dresser. In the end, we put up several items for free and STILL had trouble getting rid of the bed and couch. We think most people didn’t want them because no one has a car to transport such big items. Otherwise, we find that the Swiss like NEW things, not used. In the end, we couldn’t sell with a focus to get money back – we just wanted someone to come and move all this stuff out of our apartment for us so that we wouldn’t have to do it ourselves. We finally found a home for everything and it all worked out just fine. But we narrowly made it work before our move-out day of 30 June.

We were pleasantly surprised with how organized the déchetterie was. They had staff to help you sort your items to the appropriate locations for recycling/trash.

It is amazing how much stuff you can acquire in just two years! Here is a pile of stuff we took to the déchetterie on just one of three of our trips. I wish we could keep more, but it simply is not worth the cost or effort to transport back to the U.S.
Massive cardboard recycling pile at the center
Different areas for different products. Far right is couches to dump, far left is a place for household objects containing metal, center is for chairs.

We rented a storage unit in Lausanne, which we are using to keep our belongings while we are traveling in July before we fly back to SF on 27 July. We will fly back to the U.S. with all of our belongings: 13 pieces of luggage (including a ski bag!).

In the midst of packing – we used the guest room as our staging area. That scale was KEY for distributing the weight among all our bags to ensure that we won’t get over-charged by the airlines for overweight bags. Instead of shipping we are flying with all of our stuff. We did the same on our way over to Switzerland and it worked very well. 

As we no longer had a dining room table, coffee table or balcony furniture any longer, we found ourselves sitting on the floor to eat our dinner in the living room.

We had our last day of work on Friday 30 June, where we said goodbye to all our co-workers and our job here in Lausanne. Afterwards we got drinks at a rooftop bar to celebrate the beginning of our summer adventure.

leaving work
All smiles moments after we walked out the door from our last day of work. Not necessarily a reflection of the job but definitely of the feeling of freedom for the next 2 months!
drinks at savoy
The view from the rooftop Sky Lounge bar of the Hotel Savoy in Lausanne

At 4 on Friday we met with an agent from our property management company to do our final apartment inspection and hand in the keys. We had been super nervous about this inspection as the Swiss have a reputation for being very strict with the apartment inspection. We spent HOURS cleaning and trying to get the apartment ready. Some people even pay a cleaning service, but we elected to do it ourselves. Amazingly, the time and effort paid off as our agent had no issue and gave us a clean bill to move out. We will get all of our deposit back and won’t get charged anything for moving out! We couldn’t be happier!

How was our apéro de départ? 

We shared our going away happy hour with three other seniors and assistants. It was a great time to get to have an official goodbye with KPMG and to see some people before we depart. KPMG was very kind and gave us a going away gift of a massage at the spa of the Beau Rivage Palace. Andrew and I have scheduled to use the gift when we are back in Switzerland later this month.

KPMG Lausanne was generous to let us have our party in the office. There’s a nice courtyard in the center of our office building and the night was warm – perfect for the party.

What else have you been doing? 

Training for our Dolomites trek! Every Sunday we have managed to take a hike to train, with enough time to return in the evenings to pack/clean/prepare for moving. Here are some snapshots from our last weekends getting to drive up into the Alps for a day trip (which we will sorely miss!):

20170611-Lac Louvie-009
Here we are at Lac Louvie, above Val de Bagnes
20170611-Lac Louvie-010
We happened upon this herd of ibex during our hike to Lac Louvie. It was a hot day so they were relaxing in the shade. We were in a protected area, so they were clearly used to having humans around. Check out those horns!! If you look closely there are at least 8 of them. 
20170618-Croix de Fer-009
We took a hike up to Croix de Fer, above Trient. This is a view of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe. It’s a beautiful mountain! This hike was special for us as we had originally done this hike during our first few months living in Switzerland. It only felt appropriate to return to hike it once more

Our second to last weekend, we took off work on Monday and spent Sunday night in the village of Zinal at the wonderful Hôtel Le Besso. We got an awesome room with a huge terrace overlooking a view of the mountains. It was such a treat! The village of Zinal is down in the valley of Val d’Anniviers, which you may recall from our trip to St. Luc this winter for skiing (see post) or from Grimentz when my Mom visited in December 2016 (see post). This is one of our favorite valleys in the Swiss Alps and one we will likely stay in when we come back to Switzerland in the future.

20170625-Zinal and Cabane Tracuit-003
View from our hotel terrace. 

This weekend was special because Monday 26 June was the 2nd anniversary of my father’s death. I wanted to do something on that day that he would have liked, which is why we did this trip in the first place. We rented a convertible for the drive through our Mobility car sharing service, and took the scenic route to drive along the lake while blasting rock’n’roll. It was a really fun time.

Andrew in our convertible. It’s considered a more “top tier” rental, but so awesome to have this available through our mobility membership!

We hiked up to the Cabane Tracuit, with an early start at 7am, and returned to the car at 3:30pm, it was a long and pretty tough hike of 10 miles roundtrip and over 5,000 ft elevation. We reached the highest elevation of any of our Swiss trips as the cabane sits at 3,256 meters elevation (10,682 ft). We had our last rösti of our time in Switzerland and enjoyed watching helicopters arrive to drop off the week’s groceries for the cabane and also transport some equipment for some high alpine construction workers.

20170626-Zinal and Cabane Tracuit-004
Our arrival at the cabane timed with the helicopter delivery of the day. It was super cool to watch the helicopter teams receiving the goods of the delivery. It’s thanks to these guys that the cabane is able to operate with so many amenities.
20170626-Zinal and Cabane Tracuit-008
The view from the cabane dining room. Andrew and I ordered our last rosti with egg – so delicious
20170626-Zinal and Cabane Tracuit-009
The Cabane Tracuit. Looks pretty spacey but it is surprisingly snug and nice inside!
20170626-Zinal and Cabane Tracuit-011
View of the glaciers and the mountain peaks from the cabane
20170626-Zinal and Cabane Tracuit-014
The wildflowers in the Alps are incredible this time of year. These are some special blooms that are teeny but vibrant!

20170626-Zinal and Cabane Tracuit-015

This is the beginning of the end… 

 

This past weekend, our last weekend in Switzerland, we moved into a guesthouse in the village of Morges, where we have rented a room and we’re 10 km from Lausanne. We had some last minute errands, including putting our last belongings in storage and to set up a new phone plan since our phones had been with KPMG this whole time and now we needed a new service.

Starting on Monday morning we begin our big trip! So, here’s the plan in short (well, as short as I could make it):

  • Monday 3 July we take the train down to Venice, Italy. We meet up with our friends Dani and Maddy (who just flew in from Vermont and NYC respectively) and take a bus to Cortina d’Ampezzo. We are embarking on a 5 night/6 day trek through the Dolomites and staying in high alpine refugios every night.
  • After the Dolomites trek, Andrew and I are taking the bus to Bologna, Italy, where we stay for one night and the following morning catch a flight to Bucharest, Romania. Dani will see Bucharest with us before she moves on in her own travels while Maddy goes back to the States.
  • From Bucharest, we will spent the next 2.5 weeks hopping from Bucharest, over the border into Bulgaria and staying in historic Veliko Tarnovo, Sozopol on the Black Sea, Bansko on the edge of the Pirin Mountains national park, then finally the capital city of Sofia.
  • On 25 July we fly back to Switzerland to collect our belongings at the storage facility and do some last minute things in town (such as that massage…) before we fly back to San Francisco on 27 July.
  • The goal is to return to SF for a week to take time to look for an apartment, get a U.S. phone, Andrew to buy a car, and say hello to our friends and family that have stuck around since we left.
  • After SF, we have some U.S. travel on the agenda.
  • From August 3 – 11 we are doing a road trip in Oregon. We’ll spend time in Portland, the Willamette valley for wine tasting, Sisters to see the Cascade mountains and finally Hood River to see the historic Colombia River Gorge.
  • After Oregon we are hopping on a flight to Spokane, Washington, where we meet up with our friends Cody and Kim from the Bay Area. We’re going to spend some time with them at Cody’s family’s house on the lake in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
  • From Idaho, I am flying to Virginia on 16 August to see my family and go to a friend’s wedding in Richmond. Andrew is going back to San Diego to see his family.
  • Last but not least, Andrew and I will meet again after we fly to Kaua’i where we will spend from the 21-30 hanging out on the island, with our time split staying at two different sides of the island.
  • Andrew starts work with KPMG SF on 5 September and I start on 11 September. Hopefully by then we have found an apartment but we’ll see how it goes.

So, that’s it! That’s our crazy plan! This summer has taken countless hours of planning and preparation, and I am so excited for it to get started tomorrow. Switzerland has been a wonderful home for the past two years, but I won’t lie to say that I am very happy to be returning to live in SF again. But before then, it’s time to travel and live up the next 2+ months of summer!