Travel and Leisure Planning

Although it is so much easier to get to places in Europe once you are here, the problem arises of what to see next. It’s difficult to prioritize, and when some of your destinations require good weather (at least no rain) and the forecast can and will change daily, it makes for many hours on the internet checking out options.

Enter the SBB – the Swiss Bundesbahn – the Swiss Railroad System. We have discovered their website link which shows special deals which seem to be good for a few months. A week ago we were trying to figure out what to do in November (I know I want to go to some Christmas markets, but they don’t start until Advent.), and we decided to see what the SBB had to offer. On the Excursion Ideas under Leisure and Holidays, we noticed the very first offer to the Gornergrat. It had the magic Up to 50% Discount sign on it, and underneath it, for those of us who were not chomping at the bit to see the Gornergrat (whatever that was) it said, “Magnificent Views of the Matterhorn.”

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Here is a map to show you the relative locations of Zürich and Zermatt (the town just below the Matterhorn). The white arrows point to the north where we live, and the south, near the Italian border.


Also, the weather map kept saying, for at least 3-4 days in a row that Zermatt would be completely sunny on Saturday and around 40 degrees. We waited until Thursday to buy our tickets, but seemed clear that the weather would cooperate.

The train ride takes 3.5 hours, and we decided to start extra early to make it a day trip. The days are getting shorter, and the sun sets before 17:30 which would leave plenty of time to get home.

Here is why we knew the ticket price was such a great deal. The RailAway-Combi Ticket from Zürich ran $108 per person and included train ride to and from Zermatt, the ride on the cogwheel train up and down to the Gornergrat (a lovely place at 10,000 feet where you get striking views of not only the Matterhorn, but also the amazing glaciers and other snow-capped mountains), but also a Tagesteller (plate of the day) and a softgetränke (3 dl). (One disclaimer, this price is good for those with a Half-Tax Card which costs about $200 a year, and which we bought on our second day here.)

If we had bought everything separately, the train ride would have been $123, the cogwheel train was $44, and the meal was $27. Total: $194. Per person. So, glampers, there are even deals to be had in Switzerland.

Tomorrow, after I sift and sort through all of my photos, I’ll write about the actual adventure.


My Violin is Here!


This sweet violin that I have adopted from China arrived in my hands this morning! Before we left California, the questions I asked myself every day for half a year was, “Do I take my violin or viola with me? Or do I rent one?” Then my friends asked me the same questions. I went back and forth about what to do. I did not really want to use my carryon on the airplane for an instrument, but I knew that renting might be costly. I did find out that I could rent a student violin for almost $50 / month, and I was considering doing that until I read a post on the English Forum about an eBay shop in China which ships student violins for not too much money. I read the many reviews of this shop on eBay and decided that I could give it a try.

I bid on several instruments before I won one for $160. The shop gives you choices to upgrade, so I went with a fitted bridge and the kind of strings I like. Those upgrades plus shipping pushed me up to $291. The violin came with a bow and rosin and a case, so this total cost, musicians know, is peanuts. Really cheap. 

My hopes: the violin would arrive near the beginning of the shipping estimate and that it would be playable and an acceptable instrument for the year.

My fears: The seller said that if the packaging looked too damaged to not sign for it and have it returned. I was afraid that might be the case. I was also afraid that the sound post might have come dislodged which would take me some extra time to take it to a luthier to have it reset.

My hopes seem to be realized, and my fears were for naught! It seems good enough for a year’s worth of tunes.

Now about Customs. Two days ago I got a letter in the mail that said I needed to let Customs know the value of the shipment. I emailed them the invoice, but then I also sent them a printed copy and filled out the form which I had to sign. I thought it might be a few days before it would appear, but then, the violin came to my flat while I was out yesterday.  I had to go pick it up at the post office this morning. (I like the post office here – a blog post of its own coming.)

I knew I would have to pay at least the VAT (Value Added Tax which is only 8% in Switzerland. Germany’s is 19%, for example. Austria is 20%.) The bill came to Fr. 61.65 (about $68). I counted out my Francs and Rappen and after I got home, I deciphered the charges on the Customs form.

First, they counted the shipping cost in the total. Of course.

Payment of Duty for Zone 2: Fr. 24.10

Viewing/Storage/Value Clarification: Fr. 13.00

Import Tax (VAT) Fr. 24.55

Total Spent (approximately): $359

If I can sell it for Fr. 400 at the end of the year, then I will be happy. If not, I can donate it somewhere. I could not rent one for a year for that price.

I have set it up and tuned it, and the strings are stretching. I rosined the bow (this takes a little while the first time). And now I have an hour or so before I must not play my musical instrument during the lunch hour. Whee!

Packing and Traveling

All the luggage you  need for a year....

All the luggage you need for a year….

After two years of planning, dreaming, and asking many questions, the day had come to actually start our adventure. We originally thought we might need two checked bags per person (along with a carry-on and a personal item), but it turns out we each had only one checked bag, and we stayed well within our 50-lb (23 kg) limit.

We chose a non-stop flight on Swiss Air from LAX to Zürich wanting to get the miles done as quickly as possible. We also thought we’d have more chance of our luggage getting there when we did. The flight was on time with only a few bumpy sections. The flight attendants were helpful. We got two meals. However, back in steerage the seats are so jammed together and tight, that the 11 hours was quite uncomfortable. We think we managed 5 hours of interrupted sleep, so at least the eleven hours went by a little faster than it could have.

We were surprised that we were not handed a customs form to fill out on the plane. Once we disembarked, we walked through to customs, waited in line (a real line in Switzerland where there aren’t supposed to be such things) for 3 minutes, and after the Cantonal Police checked our visas, we were on our way to luggage. It was there (Thanks, Pat for the loaner of the colorful bag!) and then, as we had nothing to declare, we walked right out to the taxi stand.

Hal called our ETH contact and we jumped into a Prius taxi with a young women driver. She remarked that we had a lot of luggage. I said that it was for 11 months, and she said, “not a lot of luggage.” By the end of our 13-minute ride, we had managed to mangle the name of our street so we had to spell it for her, switch from English to German and have a short conversation in German.

It was raining by the time we got to our apartment, but not too much. We managed to get all the bags up three flights of stairs. There is no lift. Being told we were on the second floor, H knew that it would be the penthouse. The bottom floor, which we thought from the photos was an apartment, is really the laundry. Then the next floor up is the ground floor, then the first floor, then ours. Swiss efficiency in action – our name was already on the mailbox, the front door to the building, and at our apartment.

After we unpack today, I will take photos and write a post about this cute little flat we’ll be glamping in for nearly a year.


With 4 days to go, our house is mostly clean and ready for our tenants. We want to leave it in the kind of condition we would like to see upon our return. Of course, with moving furniture and vacuuming behind everything and putting items away, we see all the flaws in the walls, but at least everything is clean. I would be very happy to come back to our house in this condition.

I imagine, though, that what I consider clean here would be woefully insufficient in Switzerland. I have been reading about cleaning apartments upon moving out, and many people hire cleaners who guarantee that you will get your deposit back. Many suggest that you should not clean it yourself as you could get dinged for even some hard water spots on the sink. Cost for cleaning a 2-room flat? Could be 800 CHF (about $880). Our apartment is not supposed to have carpeting, so that should be easier to maintain.

I am hoping that if I keep on it, and we live there just under a year, (and spend a good amount of time traveling) it won’t be so bad, but we shall see. I also am not sure if University Housing is a little different than the rest of the city. 

What to Expect

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 2.18.00 PMWith the help of the internet, I have been able to find out so much information about what to expect about life in Switzerland. I have read the book Swiss Life: Thirty Things I Wish I’d Known by Chantal Panozzo. After I gulped that book down in two days, I started perusing her extensive blog called One Big Yodel. Chantal is from Chicago and has now been in Switzerland for eight years and has great insight and information about many things Swiss.

I have also discovered the which has all other kinds of information. I have posted a few questions and gotten a great response. I have also read many other posts.

So, what am I expecting? I do not expect for people to be friendly. I know that some will be, and that will be a bonus. I expect lots of gray skies. Zürich gets more rain than London. I expect to make mistakes and break some strange rule and have strangers feel free to tell me how I am wrong. I expect to be very confused about the trash and recycling rules. You can read an amazing post about trash here. I expect to be completely flummoxed by Swiss German and somewhat flummoxed by High German. But I will work on German every day and hopefully get somewhat fluent by the end of the year. I expect spectacular scenery. I expect exorbitant prices, and well, I’ll just live with it. I expect that my habit of being on time (thanks, Mom!) will come in very handy.

Knowing that this is only for a year, I feel as though I can handle anything. Then there will be the things that I know I will miss when I return home.

Saying Auf Wiedersehen

There’s nothing like going away for a year to make you want to connect with all your friends and family you will not see for awhile. This summer my parents visited us, we saw H’s family in Iowa, our daughter and son-in-law came for a visit, and now we are having last dinners, coffees, breakfasts, book club, etc. with friends. It makes me feel very rich, indeed to know such a diverse, caring, fun-loving, smart and funny group of people.

Auf Wiedersehen – Until we see you again!

We look forward to European visits and Skyping, as well…

It Starts with the Details

Paring down a first-world life to live more simply can be complicated. Here are some of the things we’ve done in order to make sabbatical happen. Beyond making plans in Zürich for working in the lab, getting visas and choosing which apartment we want to call home, we’ve rented out our house here, bought plane tickets, sold our car (to friends who will let us keep it until the day we leave), and worked for a year on our conversational German. Now it’s down to the nitty-gritty, and we are going through drawers and closets and shelves and getting rid of things that we didn’t even remember that we had. I’ve made a few trips to Goodwill and the trash dumpster. I have chosen people to receive things I think they may want more than I do. The rest of the personal items go in boxes to store so they aren’t in the way of the lovely family who will be calling our home their home for a year.