Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Season

This holiday season, for some interesting life turn, doesn't seem quite real to me. At the end of the day, it's almost Friday, December 24 (in three minutes to be exact) and it really feels just like a regular week. Everybody told me that I would feel the Christmas atmosphere much more once back in Europe, but to be honest, between the very busy season at work, health issues, high stress, visitors, wedding news, and running around all the time, my mind has just been too engaged elsewhere to really think about it.

When I was in the Bay Area, after the big rush of the summer and early fall, December used to be quite calm at work and in my surroundings, so I would just take my time to decorate my apartment, plan holiday parties, fundraisers, take a whole day for myself and do my Christmas shopping for everyone, send out cards, drink pumpkin spice lattes...This time around, I have visited the Christmas markets, celebrated with friends, and I am here with my family, which I am extremely grateful for, but this incredible sequence of events happened so fast that I didn't really have time to realize that, indeed, it's my most favorite time of the year!

If I look back at the past few months, my life has undergone dramatic changes: six months ago, I was living in the USA, single, with a good grasp of life in that country, lots of friends, lots of activities, making rational, brain-driven decisions. Six months later, I am living in Switzerland, just learning how things work in this country, no knowledge of the local language, meeting old and new friends, trying to figure out my place and recreate a community life here, and making instinctive, heart-driven decisions. Most importantly, for the first time in many years, I am listening to my heart in a way I thought I had forgotten, and it feels wonderful.

Next year many challenges lie ahead, but I am really excited about all the things that await me: after a much-needed vacation, I have a new life to build up. My word for 2011 is going to be "German". Until then, I leave everyone with my best wishes for a warm, love-filled holiday season, and a picture of good things. Perhaps they don't have pumpkin spice latte over here, but definitely gluehwein is quite up there on top of my wishlist!

With love.

Swarovski Tree and Gluehwein

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Things That Make Me Happy

It is a wonderful Sunday afternoon, and for once, I am actually not writing from Zurich. After some very intense weeks, I am taking a break at my parents' house this weekend, just relaxing and enjoying people and things that are good for the soul. No work, no schedules, no running around as usual.

I would like to share some of the things that are making me happy now.

Rose bushes surviving in the snow.

New boots.

Assembling ingredients for newly-created recipes.

A stack of cards ready to be sent to friends.

Praying by candlelight.


Love poems (and hopefully their traslation!)

Sunday, November 14, 2010


After a quite relaxing day, last night I met up with my friend to go attend the parade in Richterswil for Räbeliechtli (sorry, link in German or French only). My friend was telling me it's quite a traditional event in the German-speaking part of Switzerland: basically, people carve out and decorate turnips, and then add little lights in them - sort of like what people in the US do for Halloween with pumpkins, although the underlying reason to celebrate is much different than that. In Richterswil the whole city participates to the event by turning off all the lights and putting out decorated and lit turnips, so it is actually quite nice to see.

We saw the parade, then walked around and ate many traditional goodies, such as sausages, schoggi praetzeli, raebe suppe, and lots and lots of gluehwine. We laughed, enjoyed the festivities, and bought some decorations, and we could just feel in the air that the country is already getting ready to wink at Christmas. I had a wonderful and relaxing time, not to mention the fact that I thought it was really interesting to get to know yet another side of Switzerland.

Afterwards, we ended the evening with a couple of glasses of good Spanish wine at D-Vino (very cool choice of name I think: "di vino" in Italian means "of wine", but "divino", one word, means "divine") where we met and conversed with some interesting personalities...

But that is another story...

Friday, November 12, 2010


I finally made it back to Zurich for a few days, and I must say that it feels good to be home. I am quite excited at the thought of staying up to write until the early hours of the morning, sitting on my couch under a blanket, then sleeping in and just spending a couple of days without schedule. To be honest, I do have a few things planned, but they are very relaxing and loose evening plans, and I left both weekend days purposefully empty to just do what I feel.

I was invited to spend a pleasant evening in the company of good friends, sharing wine, lots of laughs, and fondue. I had had fondue before - not in Switzerland though - but I must say that this time was quite different: various cheeses mixed with wine and seasonings, coupled with kirsch liquor and crunchy bread made for an excellent meal, but it was the special, relaxed atmosphere that really melted away the stress of a few very full weeks. The wine, meats, and sweets blended together with amazing conversation, touching all corners of the world and bringing our minds to unexplored places.

I experienced the essence of Swiss hospitality: a combination of tradition, relationships, and warmth, the perfect balance between old and modern, and a breath-taking view of the lake and the lights of Zurich. With my eyes glancing at the past and my feet walking decisively on the path to the future, tonight I happily welcome the pleasant feelings and the challenges of my new life in Switzerland.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happiness is...

...coming back to my home in Zurich for the weekend.

...walking around town with my friends visiting from the States.

...seeing my teammates for dinner and drinks, laughing together, and just enjoying each other's company.

...having a great time with Pablo Picasso and Mark Chagall at the Kunsthaus.

...receiving poems.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Struggle of Being a Believer

Before starting to discuss this matter, I would like to make a premise. I am usually very reserved concerning religion. Those who know me well enough, know that I am a believer, but I rarely enter into a detailed discussion on the topic, because I don’t like to advertise my faith and I feel strongly against proselytizing, which I find extremely irritating. While I will give an answer when I am questioned about it, I firmly believe that religion and faith are private matters. I have friends and family members from the most diverse background, people who are believers of many different things, including the belief that God is only a man-made invention, and I am happy and grateful to have each and every one of them in my life.
The reason I decided to start this discussion here and now is because of the many questions I have received from various people on the matter of my faith; specifically, on what it means for me to be a believer and a catholic, and how I can continue to be so in these times. Please know that the opinions I am sharing here are strictly and simply my own: I do not make any representation that they are the absolute truth or are representative of those of other believers, other catholics, or someone else. Also, I hope that sharing my opinions won’t offend anyone, but if it does, please know that I am simply trying to answer the questions I have been asked throughout the last few months, and I chose this public space so I could answer once and for all. I am just making a good and honest effort, with no other intentions.
So what does faith mean to me? Saying that I believe in God would be an understatement. I feel God, everywhere. I see him everywhere. I talk to him, at different times and in different places. And he answers me, showing me the way, guiding my path. I am an intelligent human being who has been given the gift of free will and free choice, and because of this, I freely choose to put my life in the hands of God. I am not saying it’s always easy, because I struggle a lot with letting go, but I trust him. I pray - for myself, for my dear ones, for humanity. The things I pray the most for are health and wisdom, and that is all I need. I love to pray with people of different faiths, because I believe that the power of prayer is universal and transcends human labels.
I believe in Jesus and deeply respect him. He is an example for me, the type of person I aspire to be: he was someone who made everyone feel special and chosen, a very uncomfortable person who constantly put his life at the service of others, someone who set the powerful straight, and who raised the weak, the poor, the neglected, above all. Someone who never had a bad word for anyone, even those who spit on him, and never excluded anyone. He incarnated and represented the true spirit of a servant heart.  I don’t recall reading or hearing anywhere that he ever rejected anyone because of different color, belief, sexual orientation, origin, or ethnicity. I behave accordingly, and I believe that any other behavior that deviates from this standard is a man-made construction to control people.
I believe that the Bible is a great book full of common sense, and I believe it was written by people inspired by God. I believe it is comparable to a wonderful poem exalting the glory of God, and full of good advice on top of that – the same no-nonsense advice that my grandma would give me (everything in moderation, don’t harm other people, be kind, etc.). I enjoy reading it and meditating upon it, because it inspires me to be a better person. However, I don’t believe it is the absolute truth as it is written, and I don’t believe it necessarily needs to be taken literally. I believe the only absolute truth is what I will hear from God directly if I am ever lucky enough to see him face to face. Until then, I will try to be a good person and aspire to be Christ-like, in the specific ways that I elaborated earlier.
I am happy to be a catholic: it is who I am, links me to my ancestors, my family, and I enjoy being a part of this community of faith. I am also a very critical and angry catholic – I question my religion all the time, and I get really mad when I read things like the church having multi-million businesses, covering up abuses, dictating measures that go against public health and the well-being (physical and emotional) of people. I won’t even go into events of hundreds of years ago, like the crusades, Galileo, the inquisition, just to name a few (which also make me mad) – it is sufficient to open any daily newspaper to get mad. I also believe there are many examples of wonderful people who are/ were catholics and did great things for the advancement of their communities and the betterment of the world. My personal favorites? Mother Teresa, whom you all know, and my late uncle Peter, a hippy priest who used to drive a motorcycle in the jungle to go teach people to read and write.
I believe strongly in the rule of law, and believe that it is an absolute necessity that law and religion be separated at all times. The law of the land must never be influenced by religious feelings, but must objectively guarantee, protect, and preserve the rights of all those who are subject to it. I believe the church is made of men and women, not gods, but just like everyone else, they must be subject to the rule of law, and pay if they commit a crime. Always and unconditionally, just like everyone else. After that, I personally believe we should at least try and find compassion in our hearts to forgive, but let it be clear that forgiveness never, ever, means impunity.
I believe that religious people have a right, like everyone else, to voice their opinion. They do not, however, have the right to give the rest of the people the “holier than thou” attitude – we can discuss all we want and I will enjoy it, I will say my opinion and you will say yours, but please be respectful and don’t try to “convert” me. I will show you the same respect and won’t try to do it either. I believe this applies to anyone: a believer (of any kind) is never by default better than an unbeliever, and vice versa.
Finally, I personally believe in the “getting your hands-dirty” type of religion – cooking for the homeless, caring for the elders, comforting the sick. Not only I feel God’s presence in all those endeavors, but, by exposing my many faults and wants, they allow me to show the world what it means to live the faith and struggle to be a believer, a catholic, and strive to become a better person.
Showing by example, that is. I won’t say a single word about it, ever againJ.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Zurich at Four

Throughout the day, Zurich is a bustling city: at 6 in the morning, the colors and the flavors of the open market in Helvetiaplatz fill the air, along with the voices of vendors and passers-by who stop at every stall to pick up an apple, a freshly-baked croissant, or flowers. There are several Italian vendors, and among them my favorite cheese shop selling buffalo mozzarella and burrata.

At 8am, everyone is running to catch a tram or a train to get to work in suit and tie or fancy heels, or running in jeans to the gym to get a little exercise before starting a long work day. Bankers, consultants, construction workers, store owners, a diverse sample of humanity crosses each other's path in the city's paved streets.

At 11am, moms with their strollers and little old ladies walk about and head to the park or the grocery store, and the occasional student sprints with his bike and his iPod while challenging the traffic. People from office buildings pour outside with a coffee and a cigarette for a break.

Any given evening of the week, from about 5pm until later, people fill bars and cafes for a little apero before dinner, laughing and meeting new people, and just enjoying themselves. If the weather is pleasant, as this September has been, people will even sit outside and enjoy the last bits of summer that they can get, while the leaves on the trees start to turn yellow and fall down. Then, the dinner and post-dinner-drinks crowd replaces them and continues the party. One thing that amazed me ever since my first day in Zurich was that people go out every single night of the week, work or not. It seems to me that Zurchers enjoy life.

However, recently and unexpectedly, I discovered my favorite time of the day in Zurich. At 4 in the morning, when the air is crisp and the sky starts getting pink, in anticipation of the sunrise. When the streets are quiet, except for the occasional person cuddled up in her coat, eyes fixed on the ground, either coming home after a wild night, or leaving to start the day, and the smell of freshly baked bread coming from the bakeries, still closed but already alive, captures your senses every few steps.

The moment when you know you really should go home, because in a couple of hours you have to wake up, but instead you keep walking and enjoying the magic atmosphere, trying to ignore the passing of time, and artificially prolonging the night.

The moment when, between light and dark, you create everlasting memories.

The moment when, as I was told, you expect the unpredictable and allow your heart to listen to life's whispers.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Foodie Adventures

This past week I've had a spur of creative energy that was reflected and had a positive impact in all areas of my life, from work, to exercise, to going out and meeting new people, to blogging, and finally to cooking.

I still carry on with my cookbook project - at least the culinary portion of it, for the discussions I will have to wait - but to be honest I didn't do much cooking here in Zurich. I mean, I cooked everyday, but just the basic and simple recipes that would allow me to eat a fast and nutritious meal, but I didn't let my creative side express and didn't invent or tweak new recipes. To be fair, I really am not in Zurich that much either, because between traveling for work and for fun and visiting family, my weekends here have been limited - something I want to fix though, because I am really starting to (finally) be comfortable in the city.

Anyway, I had the chance to discover new food places and do some fun grocery shopping in preparation for a cooking weekend. First, last Thursday I visited the Viadukt, a new market and series of stores built in what was a tunnel and an old train station. I had a drink and a bite with my friends from the English Forum, and made the delightful acquaintance with The British Cheese Centre, which I hope will turn into a long-lasting friendship. I love cheese but had no clue about British cheeses, until now. Tasting and buying bio cheddar and goat cheese from Somerset prompted me to write my own recipe for plum chutney, which will be tried at the earliest convenience. I even have all the canning equipment that I brought with me from California, I just have to buy a couple of empty glass jars and then get to work.

Squeezed in between outings with friends, gym, and other pleasant activities, yesterday I went and explored new grocery stores so I could find ingredients to make all my recipes, and also to find inspiration for new ones. Finding ingredients is always an adventure, and my philosophy is that I never completely follow the original recipe, but adapt it based on the availability of ingredients, personal taste, and inspiration. I like to experiment a lot. I was hoping to find clams to make pasta alle vongole, which I like to enrich with cherry tomatoes, but no luck, so I bought mussels instead and we'll see how I can use them. On the other hand, I bought two wonderful, already cleaned octopuses, which are always tricky to find and that I will make  tapas-style, with potatoes and garlic, and serve cold. Finally, I was able to find three different types of mushrooms at a great sales price, so I will turn them into a creamy sauce and eat them with my chicken.

As I was heading home, I finally went to a store right next to me, where I always wanted to go but I never did, Aggarwal. I found rose water, poppy seeds, coconut oil, and other fun stuff. And, best of all, I treated myself to some good, fresh naan...Life is quite good. Now, back to the kitchen!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tourist in Zurich

A few weeks ago, I took a couple of days off work and spent some good time with my brother and his girlfriend, who came to visit me and see Zurich for the first time. It was a very delightful couple of days, followed by two days at our parents' home, and we had the chance to talk a lot and catch up with each others' lives. It might sound like an obvious thing to say, but I dearly love them both. They are intelligent, down-to-earth individuals, people with whom you can actually have a conversation ranging from soccer to philosophy, movies, art, etc. Did I say that I love them???

Anyway, I picked them up at the train station, and we went home briefly, then off to discover the city. We were extremely lucky because it was a gorgeous day, and we went on a tour of the downtown area, including Banhofstrasse, Paradeplatz, the Zurichsee, the Limmatquai, the Fraumunster with those gorgeous, gorgeous Chagall windows - I am very partial to Chagall, everywhere I go I look for his works, as it warms my heart like few others. Then, at a leisurely pace, we headed outside of Zurich to catch a cable-car that took us all the way up to Felsenegg, a cool place in the mountains where you can enjoy a superb view of the city. We walked around, took pictures, enjoyed the sun, and then we had some amazing desserts at the restaurant. We went back by boat across the lake, and then had a short ride through the Gold Coast to get to downtown Zurich again.

In the evening, we went and had a majestic and humongous dinner at Zeughauskeller, a place recommended by a coworker for some typical Swiss food. I honestly thought it would be more of a touristy place, given the location, but I was pleasantly surprised because there were all kinds of people, local and non local alike. Also, they had a very large selection of foods and drinks to accommodate any dietary restrictions, individual taste, etc. and their special beer was to die for! We were pleased. Afterwards, we headed for a stroll in Niederdorf, one of the oldest parts of town, full of cool little stores, art galleries, and plenty of bars and cafes - a true favorite of mine. When I want to think and sort of wander around on my own, I go there and take random turns on the narrow streets and hills, and I always find some very cool places I've never seen before.

The following day, we were not so lucky, because it was raining and cold. After I paid a visit to the gym (yes, I felt bad for the amazing St. Galler Bratwurst I'd eaten the night before, hehehe), we took it easy for a bit, then headed to eat lunch at Lily's - Stomach Supply, an outstanding Asian restaurant with foods from different countries that I had discovered while in Basel - this is the "sister" restaurant. Since the weather was nasty, even though it kept changing and giving us the illusion that it would warm up and improve for good - which it didn't - we decided to stay indoors and went to check out the India!India! festival at the Hauptbanhof. We then strolled more through Niederdorf on our way to the movie theater in Bellevue, where, after a nice tea, we watched "Inception" - I will just say that while my heart hated it (no passion, no feelings, no emotions), my brain was highly intrigued and captivated, over and over again.

Here our "tourists in Zurich" adventure ended, and we headed back to the train station to catch a train that would take us south, to our parents' home, for a weekend of fun. And off we went to another adventure...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Swiss Traveling - Basel

Over the past month or so, I have taken the chance to travel around Switzerland a little bit, both to discover new places and to spend time with family and dear friends.

Two weekends ago I went to Basel to visit two special girlfriends of mine whom I have known for quite a few years. We met in Italy several years ago, as they were classmates of my ex boyfriend and pursuing their masters degree in the university where I studied in Milan. As it often happens, the boyfriend was gone, but the friends stayed! We kept in touch over the years and saw each other in different corners of the world, and now that we all live in Switzerland, I thought it would be nice to catch up, all the while visiting Basel where I had never been.

I took off on Saturday late morning, and after a very short 40-minute train ride, I got to Basel. The weather was wonderful, so I joyfully walked out of the train station and made my way towards the center of the city. I had my Lonely Planet Switzerland guide with me, to be sure not to miss any important spots. I am fascinated with traveling solo and discovering new places, and I am insanely fascinated by travel guides, because I always find out about so many interesting and random facts!

I walked around the older part of the city, which has a very distinct medieval flavor, visited several churches, walked along the Rhine river, and explored some interesting corners. 
A fun fact that happened to me while I was walking around, and which is not captured by the photos. After stopping for a coffee at Fumare Non Fumare (literally "To Smoke or Not To Smoke", my eternal life dilemma) and getting a wonderful planner as a gift at Bookbinders Design - which, by the way, will easily become one of my favorite stores because they have a few in Zurich as well - I was thinking that I probably should buy something for my friend, who was hosting a great party that evening and was nice enough to invite me to stay at her place. As I was walking, I saw a bright yellow stand on the street selling cheeses, salamis, sausages, olives, etc. and I thought I'd seen that before, so it dawned on me that they were the same people that I find every Tuesday and Friday morning at the open market in Helvetiaplatz in Zurich, two blocks from where I live. Sure enough, I asked them and it was them!!! They are from Calabria, in Southern Italy, and their stuff is sinfully tasty, so I bought two types of sausages, testun al barolo*, and giant olives. Never mind finding out later that my host doesn't eat pork, but that's another story...she was happy with the cheese and olives though, and I think the rest of the guests, sauf the vegetarians, enjoyed. They even gave me a good deal, and I told them I'll sure be back to their stand once in Zurich. Delicious.

Anyway, after the shopping, I met with my friend, and we had a wonderful time catching up with each other's lives, then headed home in anticipation of a great party. I met lots of interesting people that night, and I am so happy I got to also catch up with my other girlfriend! The following day, we slept in, had a very fun and weird breakfast with coffee, coke, hummus, crackers, and biscotti, lots of talking, and then in the afternoon we met with the people from the party the night before for a swim in the Rhine. I should say it wasn't technically a swim, because the current was so strong that all you had to do was float, and make sure to swim your way far from the bridges and towards the shore whenever you wanted to get out. Following was a very relaxing time eating, drinking, getting in the water again, and, in my case, napping and meeting new people by the shore in a beautiful, sunny weather.

I finally made my way back to Zurich later that night. I had a lovely, lovely time, and I was completely relaxed. I can't wait to see my girlfriends again here in Zurich - they owe me a visit now, and we tentatively made plans for October!

*Testun al Barolo is a semi-firm mixed milk cheese from the Piedmont region of Italy. It ages for a minimum period of four months in small oak barrel under the residues of the Nebbiolo grapes, the grape to make Barolo wine.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Highs and Lows

In the past couple of weeks, I've had moments of genuine happiness, followed by moments of sadness, and then back again to happiness, in an emotional roller coaster. Now I am slowly starting to see the light, but below are my top five highs and top five lows about being in Zurich.

The Highs:
  1. I signed up for a wonderful gym with a rooftop terrace, and when I go practice in the evening, I can see the sunset sliding over the old downtown buildings and the lake.
  2. I met a few people who love to cook, so we talk about food daily, and we exchange recipes and tips about where to buy good produce and groceries all the time.
  3. I am positively challenged at work, everyday.
  4. Many friends I haven't talked to or seen in a long time are reconnecting with me, and we make time for each other.
  5. If my family needs me, I am here, a short train ride or flight away.
The Lows:
  1. I wish I spoke German, so I could listen to the random conversations of people on the bus.
  2. Even though I am surrounded by people and go all over the place, I feel lonely at times.
  3. I really miss my life in California.
  4. I constantly worry about not doing enough and potentially disappointing people, although I try hard to be the best I can everyday. Maybe I am too harsh on myself.
  5. Sometimes I strongly feel pressured to do what I "must", and not really what I "want".
I am a big girl with thick skin and an optimistic temperament, so I will be fine. Just wanted to write down on my keyboard what's been laying in some corner of my mind.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hair Adventures

We started off the weekend by going to a photograph exhibit with my teammates at 11/11, a very cool place in Zurich:

When we got there, we realized that the location was really peculiar: we were expecting some sort of art gallery with a traditional exhibition, but we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the pictures were being shown in a sort of fashion atelier were there was also a collection of trendy clothes, furniture, and hairdressers! It was so funny to look at great pictures while browsing through racks of clothes and people getting their hair and makeup done. It was then that I had an epiphany: since these people clearly know what they are doing, I am going to ask them if they can cut my hair on the spot! So I asked - to say that my coworkers were shocked it would be an euphemism! They told me that they were booked solid until closing time, but that they would be more than happy to cut my hair the following day, so I made an appointment.

On Saturday, after sleeping in and having a lavish brunch in bed while watching episodes of Jane Austen series from BBC (note: since I unpacked my serving trays, I thought I'd treat myself for once, instead of the usual running-around!), I walked out to a wonderful, sunny day, ran some errands and then headed towards the hairdresser, which is located in front of the lake in Bellevue. As soon as I walked in, they greeted me nicely (in Italian), gave me a seat, and talked to me for about 20 minutes to find out what was my relationship with my hair (really? I never got asked that before! I didn't even know I had a relationship with my hair...) and my feeling about a haircut. I plain and simple told them that I trusted them and to do whatever they wanted with it: my only requirement was to cut it short. They took their time, which I really appreciated, inquired about my life, likes and dislikes, opinions, habits, you name it. After two and a half hours, they let me go with one of the best haircuts I have ever had in my life.

Quite pleased, I headed to the lake where I spent some relaxing time reading "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" and listening to live music.

A very good hair adventure indeed...

Monday, July 19, 2010

One Month

Last Saturday was exactly a month since I came to Switzerland, and I am shocked about how fast time slipped away. A month ago, the city was exploding with excitement over Zuri Fascht and the World Cup, I was jet lagged and anxious about finding a new apartment, hearing German all the time was a bit weird, and I generally felt "temporary". Now, a month later, many things have happened, and I definitely feel a bit more established.

I would say that the two main factors in determining this newly found feeling have been starting work and finding a permanent home. From the beginning, I immediately liked my new team and the new job. As I mentioned in a prior post, I like to be pushed to reach my limits, and then go beyond, and I can say with certainty that in my current situation I am being challenged every minute of every day. I am trying hard to be the best I can and to exceed expectations: there are great days and difficult days, but my action plan is to be content when things are well, and to never give up when they are rough.

As far as my apartment, well, I just love it. It's my home, and very comfortable, and it just called out my name when I saw it. In a couple of weeks, I will have a housewarming party and will invite my team to come over and have a bite and a glass. I am really looking forward to it, because these are the people I spend most of my days with, and to me it is really important to establish a relationship of confidence and trust which can have a positive impact on our work performance and economic result.

My living room: we took out the ugly painting (soon to be replaced) and I added my silk cushion covers to the pillows on the couch. I have a big glass dining table that sits six people on the other side of the living room. My apartment is loft-like, lots of open spaces, and I love it.

Marilyn - before hanging. I've got a few of those...

Come visit soon!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Perfect Apartment

I am really, really happy today, because I close on the perfect apartment. My dream apartment, and I am moving in a couple of weeks. For the record, I did decide on the one located 6-7 blocks from the Red Light District, because I saw that the actual location is nice, safe, and there are no comings and goings on the street. There are two schools, a church, and a park in the immediate vicinity, grocery stores, the tram, and I will also be a short 10-minute walk from work. Perfect.

The owner is taking out the carpet and replacing it with hardwood floor, plus buying some additional pieces of furniture for me, hence the move postponed to a couple of weeks instead of next weekend. To be sure about the location - safety is very important to me - I even walked there by myself at 11 o'clock at night - of course with the number of the Polizei saved on my cell phone, just in case - but there was no need for any of that.

I am ecstatic, because I think it was very important to find an apartment that I liked, that I could call home. This one gave me great vibes and a good gut feeling, so I decided to go for it. I should mention that I quickly polled friends and coworkers, and even someone from the relocation agency who is helping me settle in Zurich came along to see the place, and they all said that, while the choice was ultimately mine, they all gave the green light and, in their opinion, it was a place that I should not let go.

Also, tomorrow I start work, although I have already met my coworkers and I found them all to be really nice and welcoming. I can't wait to start.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Zuri Fascht

This weekend was Zuri Fascht, and I was there all weekend: with my coworkers Friday and Saturday night, and also by myself today (Sunday) for a day stroll. It was an amazing time, I just can't find words to describe how special it was, and I am so glad I was a part of it.

From Wikipedia: "Zürifäscht, a triennial public festival featuring music, fireworks set to music, and other attractions throughout the old town. It is the largest public festival in Switzerland, attended by up to 2 million visitors. The next Zürifäscht is scheduled for 2 July to 4, 2010"

Basically, the whole city turns into a giant club 24/7 from Friday night to the wee hours of Monday morning: there are food stands with special dishes from all over the world, arts & crafts, concert stages with various music being performed as well as street musicians, air shows, fireworks, games, etc. You name it. Oh, also, all the World Cup soccer games shown on giant screens throughout the city. People are so happy and cheerful during the Fascht, they dance in the streets, laugh, have drinks, spend time with friends. I just loved it.

Perhaps, Zurich could not speak to me in German, but it definitely talked directly to my heart. And as I was walking down the street just before taking the tram that would take me home, I stopped and listened to a guy playing "Wish You Were Here" (Pink Floyd) on his guitar, and I smiled, because it seemed like he was reading exactly what was on my mind.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Joys of Apartment Hunting

This week was spent on intense apartment hunting, which was draining on one hand, but at the same time it gave me the chance to go and explore the city. My general impression was that it is a very, very difficult housing market: places are hard to find, there are a lot of qualified applicants for all the good apartments, and finally it is quite expensive.

While I rely on the help of a relocation agency, I also decided to explore opportunities on my own to find more places and maximize success. I visited several apartments, and among many disappointments, so far I really liked two: one is in a nice area of Zurich, very good size, all serviced, and relatively convenient for me to get to work. There was another person visiting the place, but I gave my details and hopefully they will send me the application so I can give it a shot.

The second apartment was my dream place, and as soon as I walked in, I knew I could potentially call this "home". It is a large, loft-type place, with a bedroom, large kitchen space, living room, a big glass table with eight seats, paintings, curtains, wood, marble, and a lot of light coming from giant windows. High ceilings, open spaces, and awesome furniture. The owner, a young and nice guy, owns the building and also lives in it - basically, there are four floors, and each floor has only one apartment occupying the entire space. He also said that, since the place is his, he has all the interest in keeping the place nicely and can work with me to find out what kind of finishing touches I would like in the apartment, such as more closets, curtains (I have always loved thick red curtains), and so forth. A dream come true, it was love at first sight and by far the best apartment I have visited during this whole week. The other thing is, it is just a 10-minute walk from work, and the price is very good, considering that all expenses (utilities, Internet, etc.) are included.

What's wrong with it then? Why am I here talking about it instead of going over the lease documents?

Well...while it is not located in the quarter per se, it is right at the border of the Red Light District of Zurich! Now, the owner said he never had any problems, and neither did his tenants, and keep in mind that, since prostitution is legal in Switzerland, even the Red Light District is all orderly and organized, but I will admit that I have some reservation about being an across-the-street, or next-door neighbour with ladies "in the business". I am not being judgmental, in this country where it is legal and taxes are paid from earnings of "the business", people do whatever they want and I am OK with that, as long as there is no exploitation and it's a free choice. However, I am thinking about coming home alone after a night of clubbing (although Zurich is safe practically everywhere), potential fights between the ladies and their "clients", and watching backs-and-forths of said ladies up and down the street since the apartment is on the ground floor.

What's a girl to do??? The more I think about the apartment and the niceness of the owner, the more I like it. But the neighbourhood and being on the ground floor make it a potential issue, and part of me thinks that I should rather be safe than sorry later. I should mention that I ended up telling the nice owner that I'll call him on Monday with a definite answer, since that day I have a series of appointments set up by the relocation agency and will have more apartment choices. But in all honesty, I am seriously torn - what would you all do?

To be continued...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tourist and Soccer Weekend

This weekend I decided to take it easy, after I took care of all the urgent stuff last Friday, and I spent some time touring around the city and watching the soccer games. Italy, Switzerland, and the U.S. are all out - doom and gloom - but at least Germany is doing great and Chile and Brazil are in, so we'll see. Sorry also to see Mexico go out, oh well.

I was able to walk around Zurich a bit, and take some good shots of the city. At the same time, at this point I just got here and I feel a bit lonely at times, but I am sure that after the adjustment period and when I find a permanent place and I start work it will be fine.

I need to concentrate on learning German, and also as soon as I am settled I should find a ballroom dance and/or a martial arts studio. I do intent to create a fulfilling community life around me. Tomorrow mom and dad come to visit: I can't wait to see them, and also to eat dad's goodies:)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 1: Making Friends With Zurich

I landed in Zurich on Thursday at 5pm, super jet lagged and tired after a long trip from San Francisco. I hopped on a cab to learn from an amused taxi driver that Italy got kicked out of the World Cup (whatever) while, half asleep, we headed over to my temporary accommodation to get my keys. Check-in went quite smoothly, and then, thinking that if I laid down for a nap I would wake up the next day, I went out to discover my new hometown - or at least my new neighbourhood, Kreis 4. I had plenty of maps, but still I found myself walking randomly and staring at the names of the various "platz" and "strasse" that I couldn't even pronounce (I wish I could, but right now that's what it is - just a wish).

The sun was still up in the sky at 8pm, and as I was walking, all sorts of weird thoughts started popping in my head, mainly regarding the re-adjustment to Europe. Some of my random thoughts were as follows: I won't be driving regularly, nobody will put my groceries in the bag, I won't have my country music radio station on at all times, and no more trips to Safeway at 3am coming back from the club in San Francisco because I was craving orange juice (yes, I did that once and it was awesome!). At the same time, these random thoughts made room for more pleasant ones: good coffee Italian style, church bells ringing, people getting excited about soccer, family very close by and in the same time zone. The best thought was that finally people I don't know are going to talk to me just for the pleasure of striking a conversation. In the SF Bay Area, I found that people don't talk to strangers, they just don't. If they do, something is wrong with them, or so I was told. Normal people use chat rooms, Google each other, sign up for online dating services. While I have nothing against people who do, I personally could never digest this concept and I certainly never tried any of the above. If there is anything wrong with the Bay Area, which I otherwise adore completely and consider my beloved adoptive home, it would be the lack of spontaneity in meeting people.

So I was happily walking towards nowhere, when I suddenly felt really hungry and entered into the first place that looked good, sat down, and ate a great salad with a beer. The owner was Italian, and so we started talking, and then the conversation continued with the people at the table next to mine. Surprisingly, I found out that one of the people works for my company, and knew all about me and the fact that I was coming! Small world, huh? I love this place already.

After sleeping for 10 hours, today I woke up energized and walked some more, passing by the office - which is really close to my temporary place. Then I went grocery shopping (and for the records, I stared at my unpacked groceries for 30 seconds before remembering that yes, "thou shalt bag your own groceries") and headed towards my local Kreisburo (some sort of city hall, but for the specific area of the city where you live) to register with the authorities. I should mention that I got lost a couple of times and ended up walking way more kilometers (bye bye miles!) than necessary, but with the help of my 10,000 maps and mostly of a friendly cyclist who walked me there, I got to the office. There I found an awesome and enthusiastic fellow worker who was really excited that I chose to move to Zurich, knew my hometown in Italy and liked it, and most of all explained to me all I needed to know about registrations and work permit, immigration matters, etc. He even gave me the train schedule for the whole country should I wish to visit other places - and for when I take the train down to Lugano at the border so my parents can pick me up.

I love people here: everyone goes out of their way to be helpful, and they smile a lot. I also managed to get a Swiss cell phone number with a seller who did not speak much English (nor Italian, nor French, nor Spanish), so the whole scene was pretty comical - I talked with my hands a lot, but somehow we managed to survive until her coworker, whose grandparents are from Minnesota, came to the rescue.

I would say the first day went well and was really productive. If anything, I am worried about finding a permanent place soon, and maybe I am a little disoriented with hearing German 24/7. I wish I knew the language so I could talk to people more - considering that I talk a lot, perhaps not knowing the language is a good thing!

As a final thought, in case you are wondering - yes, I am up at these ungodly hours blogging because I am jet lagged. Big time.