April 2009 Archives

I finally gave in a few days ago and concluded that a GA was in my future. A GA, for those who don't know, is the General Abonnement of the Swiss public transportation companies. In other words, it's an annual pass for pretty much all of Switzerland's public transport operators - the ultimate transport nerd's fantasy. As a transport nerd, I therefore had no alternative but to get one.
The GA is a fairly large amount of money to drop in one lump. Looking at the figures, though, it's incredibly good value even if you aren't a daily traveller as even with a halbtax it's easy to spend the weekly cost equivalent of a GA in single tickets. Compared to the UK's insane fares it's a no-brainer - by my calculations, at today's exchange rate even a first class GA costs only two thirds of the price of a second class annual season ticket from Oxford to London - point to point, not even including the Tube.
And, of course, there's the transport nerd thing. Simply being able to hop on and off trains and buses (oh, and boats and various funiculars/cable cars/etc) makes that a lot more fun and allows the sort of "Let's go and see where I end up" day out that you just can't do if you're having to buy your tickets in advance. Being able to go anywhere without actually thinking about a per-journey cost is transport nirvana as far as I'm concerned.

The result of all this is that a couple of days ago I dropped into the travel centre at Z├╝rich Hauptbahnhof and bought me a GA. And yes, I have plans. Expect to see some "Day trips with a GA" posts here as I explore the depths of the Swiss transportation network in my spare time. I'll also write a bit more about the Swiss transport and ticketing systems in general.. someone has to, right?
The majority of the stuff from our house in the UK finally arrived yesterday. We'd been holding off on the actual move until we knew what was coming and what was staying, which meant that I started out here with a futon and a couple of chairs, adding a few more bits of furniture but not really having what could be described as a full set of stuff. Worse than that, most of my DVD collection was still in Britain.

There had been a bit of a delay in getting the container here from the UK, so it was a week later planned. When I got the word that delivery was due from 0800 on Monday 20th I figured that well, I'd have to get up early, and decided that 0715 was a good safe time for which to set the alarm. That way I could get up, have a cup of tea, and get my brain in gear before the movers descended on the place.

The alarm went off at 0715, and I woke up feeling bleary due to having had a poor night's sleep (no idea why). I got up, put the kettle on, threw on some clothes, and explained to the cat that no, he couldn't go out as I was going to shut him in the bathroom while the movers were here (with food and water and comfy things to sleep on. I'm not a savage). Having poured boiling water on the teabag I ambled across the apartment to open the front shutters and let the light in. Imagine, if you can, my surprise to see a large truck parked right outside and five movers marching up the path to our front door at 0725...

Fortunately, people in Switzerland are used to work starting early (it's generally acceptable for construction work and similiar things to start from about 7 in the morning) so I knew the neighbours wouldn't be too furious. The supervising mover introduced himself to me, the movers marched in with many a Guete Morge and a handshake, and I just decided to stay the hell out of the way and only answer questions if I was needed to.

Having laid down floor protection stuff the movers went to work in a crazy world of furious activity. Boxes were carried in, furniture was brought in and reassembled, and one guy was out on the front porch assembling the two bikes we'd had moved. Kitchen stuff was being unpacked and stacked in cupboards. Other than one fairly brief smoke break after two hours, during which I took the opportunity to fortify myself with coffee as I could get to the kitchen, they worked flat-out for four hours. 

At the end of the four hours I had a huge pile of stuff on the bed and a huge pile of stuff on my desk (nowhere to put them - we still need more bedroom furniture and an industrial quantity of bookshelves), the boxes and packing materials had gone, and the movers were done. More handshakes and they were gone. It was like something out of a Dr Seuss book - the Cat in the Hat showed up, caused chaos, and then put everything back where it belonged.

Now I have my own bed to sleep in. That's a good thing to have. 

On the other hand, I have a lot of plugs to swap for Swiss ones - even if you can get around a lot of that problem by rewiring British power strips with Swiss plugs. Swiss plugs are mildly terrifying - three-pin affairs which look like something from the 1950s with unsleeved pins and which are, naturally, incompatible with anyone else's (even if 2-pin Europlugs will fit Swiss sockets). You can even get the kind of multiblock mains splitter plugs which feature heavily in British fire safety films and which are now all but banned in the UK - you know the sort, where the kettle / toaster / electric fire / etc etc are all plugged into the one socket through a wobbly multiplug, with a frayed cable leading to conflagration and a stern lecture from Shaw Taylor. That said, the electrics in this apartment are well protected by both overcurrent and earth leakage breakers.. and anyway, I'd rather use power strips than multiblocks.
It seems that life has been keeping me rather busy since January. My memory of the last few months is a blur of moving into apartments, going to work, trips back to Oxford to visit Tara, going to work, IKEA, move logistics, cat transportation, going to work some more, zipping off to New York (okay, I only zipped once), both Swiss and British bureaucracy, etc, etc. I'll try and cover at least a few highlights which probably deserve their own posts.

Having stayed for most of January with some extremely hospitable and generous friends who I now feel bound to cat-sit for as required for about the next decade I finally got the keys to our apartment at the end of January. The relocation company had told me that the handover would be at 5:30pm. This is Swiss 5:30, of course, which means that you'll arrive punctually at 5:30 and everyone else will be there waiting. In fact, it turned out that the relo company person had done most of the checklist already.

The place, I noticed, was clean. Not just any old clean, but that special Swiss sort of clean. This is actually pretty nice - having on one occasion moved into a place in London which still had all kinds of grime in it including a thick coat of dried talcum-powder-and-damp emulsion on the back of the bathroom door I can relate to the Swiss obsession with making sure the place is clean when you move out. It seems only fair to me that you should leave the place in a fit state for the next occupants to be able to move in and not have to immediately spend a week cleaning. Indeed, as I walked through the door and didn't take my shoes off (the floors are wood laminate) I was politely reminded by the relocation agent that any dirt I happened to bring in with me was now my responsibility. Everyone else, I then noticed, was in their socks. I guess that maybe next time I should wear one of those white paper oversuits and boot-covers.

I still like the apartment. It's on the ground floor and has whitewashed walls that are about a foot thick. The amount of space is ridiculous - the usable floor area inside is getting on for twice that of our house in Oxford which is mostly halls and landings, and we have not one but two outdoorsy bits. First there's an enclosed yard  out the back, which is fairly useful but a little close to the motorway that runs near the back of the place and therefore quite noisy. (Not a problem the inside suffers from, due to the aforementioned foot-thick walls and ferocious Swiss double glazing.) Secondly, out the front there's a good-sized patio with a lawn that's seperated by a metre-high hedge from the rest of the world. What's even better is that although it's our private space, we don't have to maintain it - someone comes and mows it and takes care of the hedges.

Now, all we need is the rest of our furniture. I've been sleeping on a futon since the beginning of February.


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