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Archive for September, 2009

No other blog post title would do justice in explaining my day today. Cows with Flowered Hats.

I’ll get to that in a minute, but let me start with Friday evening.

My hosts, Martin and Anne, have been absolutely wonderful. Very gracious and welcoming, and we get on really well together. Pretty sweet gig, here. They can be strange at times – I can’t always understand Martin (even though we are speaking the same language), and Anne has a German sense of humour. ’nuff said.

So on Friday night, Martin’s mum and step-dad flew to Basle for the weekend, from jolly old England. They rock.

Him mum, Wendy, is a sweet English woman – polite and proper, feigning shock and offense at the (frequent) … gaseous expulsions of Alan, Martin’s step-dad.

Alan is a big monster of a man. He’s into beer, good food, fast cars, the sea, and welding. A man’s man. Oh, and he hates the French with a fire that is shocking. Reminds me of my grandfather 😛

We decided to have a Swiss cultural experience on Saturday, so we hopped a train to a tiny town in central Switzerland called Schüpfheim. Every autumn, the Swiss villages near the Alps hold a festival where they bring the cows down from the high-altitude summer pastures. They clean them up, put big fancy bells on them, drape them with flowered hats and then parade them down through the villages. Unreal.

During the parade, we made our way along the packed sidewalks and alleys, through countless beer gardens (you can walk and drink beers anywhere in Switzerland) and sausage stands. So yummy!

We stopped in Lucerne for a few hours on the way home… such an awesome city!

Alphorn players would "summon" the cows

Alphorn players would "summon" the cows

Sausage + Beer = Awesome

Sausage + Beer = Awesome

Cows with Flower Hats

Cows with Flower Hats

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Home Sweet Home

There is one less item on my To-Do list.

That’s right, I’ve secured a new home.

Ground floor flat.

Ground floor flat.

Master bedroom, doors to balcony and bathroom

Master bedroom, doors to balcony and bathroom

Twins' room - big enough for a bunk bed

Twins' room - big enough for a bunk bed

Awesome bathroom, separate "water closet"

Awesome bathroom, separate "water closet"

New kitchen, marble tops, great appliances

New kitchen, marble tops, great appliances

Living room (and dining?)

Living room (and dining?)

Studio and playroom, door to balcony

Studio and playroom, door to balcony

Looking from studio to living room

Looking from studio to living room

The owner, Henri, was decidedly “un-Swiss”. He doesn’t speak English, so we communicate in French. He’s away on holidays next week, so he’s going to meet me on Friday to just “give me the keys, and we’ll sort out the deposit and paperwork later”.

Things are really coming together for us!

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It’s toes #11-20 here.

As the day to leave North America approaches, I can’t help but think of all the things I will sincerely miss, and not miss, here in Canada.

To avoid any sharp flying objects from the direction of my mother (…let’s not talk about that…), I’ll start off by stating the obvious: my family and friends top the list of things I’ll miss here. But in addition, there are other things I’ll miss and of course, things I will NOT miss. Let’s review.

¨

I Will Miss: Coming over the crest at Royal Oak on the Pat Bay Highway to revel in the Olympic Mountains. It often looks like they are just hanging in the sky. Beautiful.

olympic mountains

I Won’t Miss: The Pat Bay Highway and it’s five streetlight intersections.

Stop. Go. Stop. Stop. Stop. Go.

Okay, while we’re on the topic…ferry traffic. And idiots in the “fast lane” doing 65 km/h.

¨

I Will Miss: Canadian Music.

You don’t realize how much of it we listen to until you go without a good Go For Soda fix.

I Won’t Miss: Kim Mitchell.

¨

I Will Miss: Being (somewhat) fashionable.

I have a feeling that my North American wardrobe is going to label me a complete schlub over there. I’m anticipating a flashback to 14-year-old Natasha just arriving in Victoria from small-town Okanagan and showing up for her first day of highschool in a plaid shirt, baggy ripped jeans and skater shoes (sans skateboard) only to find all the girls in butt-hugging flared jeans, platforms and midriff-baring tops.

Tim and I have agreed that we will do our best to keep each other from becoming Euro-trash fashionistas. No promises.

I Won’t Miss: Cougars and their lack of fashion tact.

Please dear God, tell me it’s a North American phenomenon.

babygirl

First of all, you’re not a baby girl anymore. Second of all, splattering fake rhinestones all over your chest ain’t gonna convince any of us that you are.

¨

I Will Miss: Costco

That was extremely hard to type…I know I shouldn’t love that stupid place but I do.  Cheap magazines, larger-than-life bags of tortilla chips, toilet paper that lasts all year…you can’t go wrong, really.  Somehow I know I will miss this convenience when I struggle to find a Swiss grocery store bigger than the size of a North American 7-11.

I Won’t Miss: Dropping $400 in one trip to Costco and still feeling like I didn’t really buy anything.

Oh, and my butt probably won’t miss the grease bath pizza I down to deal with the buyers remorse afterward.

¨

But topping the list of things I won’t miss once the boys and I move to Switzerland:

Timothy.

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Martin and I have been taking turns cooking lately. Anne works late quite often, so she’s not really part of the mix. The other night, he made up a Balti chicken curry that was so hot, my eyeballs were sweating. It was awesome!

Yesterday, he asked me to pick up a couple of steaks so that we could do up a bbq. I hopped on my bicycle and headed down to the “Co-op” (the ubiquitous small grocery shoppe) and dutifully found the rather small “meat” section. I had to check the prices on the steak packages several times, because I thought that I was briefly overcome with mad-cow disease.

Om nom nom

Om nom nom

I mean… for real? 14,15 CHF (that’s Swiss Francs, btw, which is about 1:1 with the Canadian dollar) for a striploin steak? The price is 62,- per kilogram!

What are they feeding these cows?

Are the Swiss cows grazed on some sort of rarified pasture in the alps?

Shocking.

But I bought three of them anyways… and this had better be the best damned steak that has ever crossed the threshold of my discerning lips!

In other foody adventures, we stopped at a Subway in Germany last week while picking up groceries (the food is much more affordable over there… maybe the cows are only fed “common” grains?).

I noticed that the rack of “crisps” (that is, “chips” to North Americans) included one bright pink bag called “Prawn Cocktail”.

After my initial horror passed, I knew that I must have them.

Prawny

Prawny

Stinky?

Stinky?

Adventures in Nerdiness

OK, so most of you know that I love playing Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve done so since I was a teenager. Many of my best friends are guys I met through regular gaming sessions. So when I heard about a group of new ex-pats in Basel starting up a gaming night, I jumped at the opportunity.

If you have no idea what a gaming session of Dungeons & Dragons looks like, check out this “example play” video:

First session was last night, and I gotta admit, there are few things more awkward than a random group of strangers playing D&D. Oh yeah… it could be more awkward! Imagine if one is a young(ish) Canadian guy, and the rest of them include a big, boisterous woman from Peru, her docile Dutch husband, an American woman (“stay away from me!”), and a Briton.

Neither of the women had played before. Ever. And I snort-laughed every time that thick Spanish accent said, “Aye caste, Mageeke Meesel”. <snort!>

Hilarity!

I couldn’t down my Heinekens fast enough to dull the pain. Eventually it became kinda fun, though. We’ll see what happens.

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Correction

Let me start off by saying that Anne, my German hostess, corrected my use of “sprechen Sie Deutsch” from the first post. So much for the Apple Translator Widget… piece of crap.

It was a rainy day in Basel. Kinda reminds me of home.

Runners

I went for a run this morning with a group whom I found online. They are mostly English, with a couple of Aussies and an Italiano. Two of these guys are elite-level Triathletes – they looked like simliar build to AK, only taller! One of them had just returned from an Ironman race in Monaco on the weekend, where he was stung in the face by a jellyfish while swimming! Holy crap!

I might sign up for a half-marathon in Luzerne at the end of October. The run this morning felt really strong – 10km along the Rhine. I wore my new running shoes that I picked up in Victoria before leaving. They have some shiny red stripes. Jack says that red is the fastest colour.

Velo

Cyclists here have right-of-way over cars. In fact, autos are the low-man on the totem pole.

It goes: trams > pedestriants > velos > autos

There are almost no pickup trucks and SUVs on the roads, and all of the drivers are very, very courteous towards cyclists. I absolutely love it! On many of the (ridiculously narrow) streets, there is still a dedicated bicycle lane, and velos are often allowed to go the opposite way on a one-way street!

But my poor bicycle is now being transformed back to its original pupose as a commuter. My lights are back on, and so is my rack on the back. I’ll be installing new fenders, and changing the tires to be more cobblestone-friendly. This means that if I want to get into triathlons again in the spring, I may need a new bike… ahem…

Basel

Check it out! Some great photos, and even some promotional videos!
http://www.basel.ch/en/

Got Football?

Martin is a ‘uge footy fan. Buh eez English, see, so itz een eez blud.

So naturally, I’m getting sucked into it too. He’s a Manchester United fan, so that means that I am too.

He’s also going to start “training” me to play Fifa 2008 on the XBox.

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On the weekend, we (Martin, Anne, Michael the Irishman, and myself) went to Freiburg to visit Joel and his girlfriend Sina.

Joel is an old friend of mine from Victoria. He moved to Basel more than five years ago. He’s partly to blame for me being here now. When he heard I was moving to Basel, he promptly decided to leave the country. He now commutes in from Freiburg (Germany) every day. Not too shabby, considering that the cost of living in Deutchland is much more affordable than in Schweiz.

Anyways, so we went over on the weekend to go “scootering”. That’s all they told me. I had NO idea what it was (nor did Martin!), but I was up for an adventure.

Riding up the mountainside with Joel and Sina

Riding up the mountainside with Joel and Sina

Eh? Never know what you're going to see on a sign here...

Eh? Never know what you're going to see on a sign here...

Every good adventure begins with pints of beer and shots of honey liquor

Every good adventure begins with pints of beer and shots of honey liquor

View of Freiburg

View of Freiburg

Instructions in German? Pffft. How hard can it be?

Instructions in German? Pffft. How hard can it be?

Downhill scootering!

Downhill scootering!

Well, that was a treat! An 8km downhill trail on push-scooters with mountain-bike-sized wheels! Fricken awesome.

Foreign music?

In other news, I was grocery shopping the other night in Switzerland and I heard a song of questionable content playing on the speakers while I sifted through aisles of cheese. I think that I snort-laughed.

With English lyrics, I bet that most people in the store figure that it’s just a nice foreign dance song with a cool beat. The next time you are shopping and you hear foreign lyrics – beware!

Home?

So I viewed my first “flat” tonight. I think it’s a keeper! But I won’t make any decisions until I view at least a few more. This ground-floor flat (they start counting the first floor on what North Americans call the second floor!) is super sweet. I would show you pics… but the listing doesn’t have any, and I forgot my camera. FAIL!

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Been here almost one week. The flight was good, as was the train ride from Frankfurt to Basel, despite having a giant bicycle box and plenty of luggage.

Bye-bye shitty Canadian Coffee!

Bye-bye shitty Canadian Coffee!

Got luggage?

Got luggage?
Martin & Anne. Always nutty.

Martin & Anne. Always nutty. By the way, this is a bicycle parkade where we left our bikes when we took the train to Germany for a night!

In case you didn’t know, I’m in Basel, which is in the north-west of the small country, right at the border of France and Germany. I’m staying with some friends – an Englishman named Martin K, and his German girlfriend, Anne. They rock.

I’ve got a sweet room, a comfy bed, a dresser, entertainment, a kitchen, friends who speak English and German, and plenty of help.

Been flipping through listings for “flats” here, and been using my bicycle to check out the city neighbourhoods and scratch some of them off of my list.

I have viewings lined up this week! Thankfully, my French is coming back quickly, because many people don’t speak English, but French is one of the four national languages of Switzerland (the others are German, Italian, and Rommansh).

Had my first day at the new job today, too. Fantastic! Very great group of people, and a very culturally diverse group. One thing that doesn’t change is developers… nerds are pretty much the same all over the world. 😛 I have a crazy big office on the top floor of an old building downtown. I share a massive space (4m x 8m) with one other developer, a German guy named Martin G. Martin has a pony-tail, which instantly gives him street cred in the developer world.

Cycling around town, looking at flats. Stopped for a snack on the banks of the Rhine.

Cycling around town, looking at flats. Stopped for a snack on the banks of the Rhine.

On my bike ride home today, I decided that this place will feel like home. And I’m sure that Natasha will really enjoy it here.

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