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Living in Switzerland

Being Pregnant in Switzerland

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Being Pregnant in Switzerland

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It’s been on my mind to share with you all about what it’s been like being pregnant in Switzerland. I’ve waited till now - the start of my 39th week to write it so I had a good idea of the whole journey. I will write about the birth experience (including the final week/s of pregnancy and how that was managed) separately so the post isn’t too long. Due to many friends and family giving birth in Australia, i know a little bit about what is normal there and being able to compare the experience with Switzerland, although it is important to note that my experience here may not be (and most likely isn’t) typical of all pregnancies here in Switzerland either. Anyone’s care here is largely dependent on the gynaecologist you choose to see. So let me jump in to the biggest things i learned, loved and hated about being pregnant in Switzerland.

How much you pay/How much is covered

In Switzerland, it is compulsory to have basic health insurance cover and its not very cheap! I’m not going to go into all the details of how health insurance works here, but here’s a small overview: We pay roughly CHF 800 a month as a couple for basic health insurance. For that, you receive care thats a little better than Australia’s free public health service. In addition to our monthly fee, we still have to pay our franchise (like an excess) - so we pay the first CHF2500 per year of all medical bills. After that, we only pay 10%.

For the first 13 weeks of pregnancy you are considered ‘ill’ which means all the bills are treated as such and dealt with normally through the insurance. From 13 weeks to birth you are considered pregnant and pretty much everything pregnancy related is 100% covered and you don’t have to pay the excess either. We were pleasantly surprised by this and its been a huge financial relief as there are so many appointments you need to go to plus all the unexpected appointments that pop up too, and I don’t know whether you’ve heard but Switzerland is expensive! haha. Its kind of been fun seeing all the expensive medical bills come in and zeroed out - Thank goodness!!

Thankfully we didn’t have any complications or anything go wrong in the first 13 weeks, but I feel for women who miscarry and perhaps need a D&C and then also have to pay for their surgery on top of it all because as per the health system you’re ill not pregnant! I really believe if it is pregnancy related - it should be covered regardless of how many weeks you are.

Routine Scans and Appointments

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Here in Switzerland, your pregnancy is managed by your own ob/gyn of your choosing which you go back and see throughout the whole pregnancy. I could be wrong, but this seems to be opposed to being managed largely by your General Practitioner in Australia and only occasionally seeing an obstetrician at milestone dates. I chose an ob/gyn based on some recommendations on facebook, however I wish I would have settled with a gynaecologist before hand and got to know the style of my doctor as I have never really felt 100% happy with my choice (more on that later), but felt like it would be too much trouble to change part way through.

I saw my obstetrician, every 3-4 weeks and at each appointment I had blood drawn, urine sample, weight check, blood pressure check and a growth scan by ultrasound. This is in addition to a short chat with the ob/gyn about any concerns either one of us had. I loved that everything was done in one building and directly before my appointment. Unlike Australia where your blood samples and ultrasounds are usually done somewhere other than your appointment and not likely on the same day either!

I know in Australia, they only do around 3 ultrasound growth scans over the entire pregnancy and initially, i thought the Swiss way of an ultrasound every 3-4 weeks was good. Why wouldn’t i want to see my baby on the screen each month and make sure everything is on track? Well… my baby has always measured on the smaller side pretty much the whole way through the pregnancy. I know that ultrasounds can be slightly inaccurate too. However all these scans just caused a whole bunch of stress that really wasn’t necessary. My doctor became concerned at my baby’s size, and also at her head circumference so we were referred a couple of times to a specialist for more ultrasounds (on slightly more accurate equipment) which showed she was small, yes, but everything was completely fine. This period felt like a rollercoaster of worry and relief and it really made me question what the point of all these ‘extra’ ultrasounds were - does micro monitoring these babies really benefit the health of the pregnancy, or just cause undue worry? Do they pick up more abnormalities in Switzerland than Australia?

You and your baby’s stats are printed on a ‘Mutterpass’ which you continually get updated at each appointment and take home with you and take to the hospital or to any health care provider that needed to see it. I actually loved this sheet of paper. I felt like it was a great overview of how it was all tracking, the information was transparent and I could refer back to it anytime i wanted rather than it all kept for the doctors only.

Patient Treatment

Overall, the care in Switzerland is at a very high standard - Doctors are well educated and knowledgeable - all the tests were completed quickly and easily and I was updated on results very quickly too. I do believe however that bedside manner and how patients are listened to and spoken to was not so great. Now, I know this is not everyone’s experience here. My ob/gyn came highly recommended by many and I felt she was professional and met my needs medically 90% of the time. Perhaps this was a cultural thing (most likely i think) but i really clashed with my doctor. She is definitely more serious and blunt and maybe its because i’m Australian, but i prefer things a little friendlier. One thing i had to get used to was when she greeted me into the room and asked ‘How are you?’, the answer was carefully written down in my notes and not mentioned again. The stock standard answer for ‘How are you?’ is always ‘good’! I didn’t know I had to pour out my soul to her as I entered the room!

I also got very little information on my first appointment with her back when i was 7 weeks pregnant - she briefly touched on some foods to avoid - raw fish/meat, unpasteurised cheese - and gave me a booklet that was in German which was sort of like a handbook about pregnancy. Needless to say, i didn’t read the book and was left with a lot of questions, not only general questions on pregnancy, but also the process in Switzerland. What could I expect from her, how many appointments will I have, who do I call if I have problems during the pregnancy? I felt like a lot was missed out and i learnt more from support groups online, and through books than I did through my own doctor. I realised they are not in the habit of telling you anymore than you need to know. Results sent through to my doctor weren’t really elaborated on apart from a ‘yes its okay’ - instead, if a copy was sent to me, i would be googling translations to really understand what was tested and what my results meant. For anyone going through the same experience - i 100% recommend purchasing Emily Oster’s book ‘Expecting Better’. She compiles all the information women need to know about what to eat, the risks of various foods and tests, what tests are necessary and all the facts and statistics directly from the research studies with no spin! It really gave me peace of mind and confident in the decisions I was making for myself.

It’s a sad thing to say, but I often left my appointments feeling dumb, depressed or worried. My questions were often met with replies that made me feel silly for asking, I was unnecessarily worried about potential risks that hadn’t even happened or been confirmed yet, and any concerns of pain I had wasn’t really questioned and just brushed off as ‘normal’ which may have been true but i felt like they weren’t investigated adequately. Immediately after failing my gestational diabetes glucose test, I was told I would most likely have to be on insulin at some point in the pregnancy and ‘have’ to go to the main hospital for birth (which was not the hospital I preferred) - Both of these facts turned out not to be true as my blood sugar levels have been in the right ranges since and my choice in hospital is available and safe for me to be at. In hindsight, i wish I changed doctor from the beginning, however i continually doubted my own feelings and that maybe i just ‘took it the wrong way’. I had a much better experience with the specialist doctor I saw at regular intervals - i guess being a specialist and having to give a range of good and bad news, her bedside manner is a little more developed and crucial for the wellbeing of her patients.

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All in all…

I sit here now, at the tail-end of my pregnancy pretty happy with my journey and experience. Despite jumping through all the hoops they threw at me, my pregnancy had no complications, my baby is healthy according to all their measurements and tests and I feel really good heading into this birth. I have learnt so much through this journey though- most importantly to trust myself and my body. I have learnt that no one cares as much about your own body and health than you and you need to advocate for yourself, realise that while doctors are incredibly knowledgeable, you also need to understand what is happening and it needs to feel right for you. There is so much information out there and I encourage you to speak to a wide variety of people, read books, hear other peoples experience and educate yourself - knowledge really is power and it gives you the confidence to ask more questions and take ownership over your health and care.

I also learnt to relinquish a little control in some aspects (which is big for me!) and have worked hard to get my head in a good, happy place. Naturally, i haven’t felt like this all the time, and i’m sure i’ll still have doubts in the final week or so - but i feel like i’ve grown as a person. Perhaps I needed to go through this - to become a better human, woman and mother.

After the birth i’ll discuss all the ways i prepared for the delivery - antenatal classes, books i read, podcasts i listened to, my experience in hiring and doula, and hypnobirthing!

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Life in Switzerland: Two years on

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Life in Switzerland: Two years on

I’m a little late with this blog - so much so, it’s almost 2 and a half years now! This last year has really flown by since my 1 year anniversary blog post: An Australians experience living in Switzerland. I wanted to again - stop and reflect for a moment on our current circumstances - on the good we have here, and also the frustrating things I encounter here too. I won’t repeat what i wrote in my first blog post (linked above) but they still ring very true so check it out. So here’s a little summary on what’s on my mind two years in from my big move to Switzerland.

Having a baby in Switzerland

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To be honest not a whole lot has changed circumstantially for us here, apart from the fact we’ll be welcoming our first baby (a girl) here in June! It’s an exciting time for us, an adventure of a different kind. It’s brought up all different thoughts for me in terms of what it will be like for this little girl to grow up here in Switzerland. For me, I always envisioned having a family in Australia, having a similar childhood to my own. I never anticipated, even a few years back, that i would be having a baby in another country and that baby will be bilingual and whose first culture will be different to my own. I went through all the emotions when I first got pregnant (i’m mostly going to blame all the hormones here) but I was grieving, not only for the childhood i thought my daughter would have in Australia close by to my family, but also at how I envisioned my own motherhood journey to be - a place supported by my family and friends, a place where i felt comfortable, and knew what activities were available to kids. Essentially, in Australia, I know exactly what that time in my/our lives would look like. But here, it is relatively unknown. I still don’t have many close friends here, even less that are mothers, there are only a limited amount of activities for kids in English (where i’d be most comfortable without Patrick), and a medical system I am relatively unfamiliar with. I do have a fear that i will feel isolated here and to be honest, that fear could very well be realised.

But like with homesickness, I really feel like perspective and gratitude is that only thing that can get us through these moments. I need to choose to see all the positives we have by being here, because:

  1. This daughter will be bi-lingual - I don’t know how many times I wished i was exposed to another language from birth. Bi-lingual kids put in all the hard work before they even realise it, and will reap the benefits of two languages for their whole life.

  2. She’ll have two passports - some may say they are the worlds most coveted (might be biased here). She will always have the choice of these two beautiful countries. She will always feel more at home in Switzerland than I ever will - she’ll know the language and culture natively.

  3. I can stay at home with her with less financial worries than we would in Australia. A privilege that is becoming less and less common in todays society. Switzerland is giving us an amazing gift of financial freedom and one that I don’t take lightly. It will mean that one day we can return to Australia and be in a very good position, and give our child/ren a good head start.

  4. We can do all these amazing short trips together- showing her the world when she is young. I believe travel is one of our greatest teachers of compassion, open-mindedness and tolerance (amongst many other things) and above all my wishes for my her - I hope she is kind and compassionate.

Nothing is ever 100% perfect no matter where you live, and you have to choose to see the good in any situation. I do get sad, anxious and stressed about my worries of the unknown sometimes, but the most important thing is that i come back to the positives before my worries do too much damage.

The medical care here in Switzerland is amazing and a little different from Australia - I think this is something i’ll talk more about after the baby is here.

Swiss Postal Delivery

As everyone knows, living in Switzerland is expensive - everything costs more - so naturally, people go online to find products. I also go online because Switzerland doesn’t have much variety. When I was in Australia, i used to think living in Europe would be so much better in terms of shopping - more variety, less cost etc. But I was wrong. I am still frequently buying things from America, Australia or the UK. And because Switzerland needs more money (insert eye roll), they apply customs charges to everything!! I might buy something for $80, then pay $20 postage, and then when it gets to Switzerland, I have to pay an extra CHF20-40 (AU$30-60) just to receive it! There are some rules around it (and a few exceptions), but it’s pretty complex so it’s hard to know if you’ll get hit by it and by how much. We also found problems in getting things shipped to Switzerland because Switzerland is not technically part of the EU, so often times they won’t even post here! Don’t worry, we have a work around - we have a mailbox in Germany and we get things shipped there instead. I still find it weird though that we have no problems in receiving things in Germany which is less than 5 minutes away from our apartment.

Politeness to the extreme

Me having my first Rösti in Switzerland in 2012.

Me having my first Rösti in Switzerland in 2012.

Swiss politeness is a little strange. Even though the swiss don’t like queuing, they push in to get on the bus and tram before people get off, and leave passive aggressive notes to their neighbours, when it comes to saying ‘En guete’ (equivalent to ‘bon apetit’) and 'Gesundheit’ (equivalent to ‘bless you’) they are 1000% committed. I was in the supermarket and seemingly alone when I sneezed. I heard a “gesundheit” shouted at me from a few aisles down. At every meal with others, you could be at Maccas or a 5 star restaurant, the swiss will wish you ‘En guete’. Patrick told me that when he enjoyed a 4 course meal with co-workers recently, they wished each other ‘En guete’ at every course! Haha. No… too much for me. I think in Australia its just a “2, 4,6,8.. dig in, don’t wait”.



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Bread vs Toast

It’s a little thing really… but kind of strange to an aussie. They don’t really toast bread here - I’m sure people have toasters at home, but if you’re out at a cafe or the supermarket - when they sell ‘toast’ it really just means pre-packaged bread. It’s taken me some time to get used to the fact that i will probably never get a piece of toast with my scrambled eggs at a cafe (thats the one of two places they actually sell scrambled eggs!). as they just bring you regular untoasted bread, even if it says toast.

Also - how can you call it toast when its not technically toasted? Its like selling bottled water as ice…

Final Thoughts

I can already feel myself noticing less ‘weird’ things about Switzerland now. Its becoming a normal way of life - the church bells blend into the normal living sounds, catching the trams/busses is my normal life (i’m only annoyed when its cold and rainy!) and I can easily walk past the old buildings in the ‘altstadt’ without taking a picture each and every time!

I’m not sure it will ever feel like ‘home’ here - without as much independence, sunny weather and english speakers…. But i’m grateful for the experience of being here everyday. Not many people in Australia have the pleasure or opportunity to live in Europe (much less Switzerland) for an extended period of time. It has taught me much about culture, history and beauty.

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Travel in Switzerland: Mount Pilatus

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Travel in Switzerland: Mount Pilatus

We made a split decision one day to visit the beautiful Mount Pilatus in Summer last year. I only just realised i never blogged about my experience. I have many friends visiting beautiful Switzerland and I always recommend a trip to Mount Pilatus as we just had an incredible experience here. So here’s my run-down of our overnight stay.

Getting there

As with all the mountain tops in Switzerland, i recommend going on a clear day, which usually means a last minute booking. However i would much rather this, than spending a whole night looking out on to complete white nothingness of clouds! We actually booked to go up there at christmas time last year, we were packed, bought our train ticket and was just sipping on our Starbucks at the train station when we received a call from the hotel telling us they had to cancel the reservation as the winds were too stong and access to the peak had been closed. At the time I was pretty sad we had to cancel our trip, but in the long run it was better as we visited in the Summer when we had beautiful views out.

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Mount Pilatus is very close to Lucerne so we first took an hours train ride there from Basel. From Lucerne, there are two ways to access Pilatus-Kulm - Cogwheel train or Cablecar/Gondola. We decided to go up via the cogwheeel and down via the Gondola the next day. To get on the cog-wheel you have to first make your way to Alpnachstad - which you can do via train (about 20 minutes) or by boat. We went by train, but I think the boat could have been a really great experience.

Once at Alpnachstad, we purchased our tickets - the price is CHF72 for a return ticket (36 with the half fare card). You can take a cheesy tourist photo pretending to be on the little red train here too. See right for my cringeworthy moment! There is also a cafe at the base to enjoy some food and a cup of coffee too.

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I recommend trying to get in the lowest level of the cogwheel, from here you have a very nice view out of the bottom of the train as you go up. You do have to change trains half way up so it’s a good opportunity to switch position on the train if you want. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the top on a gradient of 48% which makes it the steepest cog-wheel in the world! The views are really beautiful so its a pleasurable 30 minutes.

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At the top

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When we first arrived, we actually checked in to the hotel straight away so we could put our bags down and have a look around. We chose to stay at Hotel Pilatus Kulm in their standard double room. There is a cheaper hotel on site also called Hotel Bellevue. We were really pleased with the room, it was nice and large, clean, and had beautiful views out onto the mountains. The cost of the hotel also includes dinner and breakfast in the price, which i’ll touch on more later.

We set back outside to have a look around. At this stage it was about 5 or 6pm and still bright outside. One side had clear views, while the other side was covered in white clouds making the view a complete mystery to us until morning. Apart from a large viewing platform, there are about 3 different paths/hikes you can do. It was much bigger than I anticipated. We set off on a hike on the side we had the clear views. The pathway was all level making it a pretty easy walk. Heights make me a bit nervous and there were definitely parts that made me a little anxious - mainly because all that was between you and a steep decline was a flimsy little wire fence! The hiking trail was virtually empty as most people had to catch the last gondola and train down the mountain. We maybe came across 2 other parties walking back. Aside from the breathtaking views, there were many alpine flowers in bloom and we saw a few Ibex drinking water very close to us.

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We actually didn’t reach the end of this hike as we decided to head back after about 40 minutes so we could get some dinner before watching the sunset. Our walk was definitely at a leisurely pace - we probably stopped for about 15 minutes just to watch the Ibex alone!

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Dinner at Hotel-Kulm

There is a set 4 course menu at dinner - you have a choice of two main dishes. I’m not sure how they handle allergy requests but i’m sure they would have a process if you mentioned it at the time of booking.

I could not fault the dinner. It was of really high quality, especially as this was included in the price. We ordered a glass of wine each that we had to pay on check out. Totally worth it though - it was a really relaxing dining experience in a beautiful room and it wasn’t too busy either. I just wish the windows were lower to you could take in the view from your seat. All i could see was a tip of a mountain and blue sky which i guess isn’t so bad.

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Sunset

The best thing about staying at one of the hotels is that the whole place empties out quite a bit - so you feel like you get the place to yourselves! We decided to hike up one of the lookouts to watch sunset. It is a steep short ascent but you are rewarded with absolutely beautiful 360 degree views including of Lake Lucerne.

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Sunrise

We got up very early in the morning the next day to catch the sunrise - totally did not feel like rolling out of bed before 5am, but I also didn’t want to miss an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often. I am so glad i did get up because we had such a magical morning. The clouds that were covering the other side of the mountain had cleared too. We hiked up to the other lookout this time and we were the only ones there. It was so quiet, with only the sound of these big bees and cowbells ringing in the distance.

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There is a place around the back of the hotel that you can exit on to the mountain and climb to a photo spot. It is very dangerous as the pathway is very narrow. I know i couldn’t have done it myself, however Patrick had more courage than I and did it for the picture… all while i was begging “please do not fall and die!” bUt with that beautiful morning light, it created a pretty epic picture in the end!

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Going Home

After our leisurely walk basking in the golden morning light, we packed up our things and got some breakfast. The breakfast wasn’t incredible - stock standard croissant, eggs, and meusli. We have had better at cheaper hotels to be honest and I was expecting a little more considering our wonderful dinner the night before.

We had one last leisurely stroll to take in the views before getting one of the early gondola’s down the other side of the the mountain. The gondola down is a new panoramic one that fits quite a lot of people but we were so lucky to have the gondola to ourselves. The trip down was honestly so amazing! The views were incredible - i wish it went a little slower! You can see some of these views in my video below. On the way down in our spacious huge gondola, we saw one going up the other way which was packed out with tourists. I felt so grateful to not be in there!

After the panoramic gondola, we had to take two other smaller gondola’s down toward Lucerne. We didn’t stop at the changeovers but they had playgrounds for kids to play on there.

Final thoughts

I felt like we did Pilatus right - going in the afternoon and spending the night. I really don’t like crowds and being squashed in gondolas and I feel like we escaped all of that doing it the way we did. I would recommend anyone visiting Pilatus to consider staying overnight. I’m glad we did it before kids as there really wasn’t any playgrounds or entertainment for kids that i could see. But for us, It was peaceful and relaxing. I got that feeling I always sought when travelling - that awe of how big and majestic our landscapes can be. It humbles you.

I put together a little video that strings together all my little iphone clips. It’s not artfully or professionally done but thought it gives a good idea of what its like for those thinking about going.


**Just in case you were wondering - this post isn’t sponsored, we paid full price for everything so this is my honest review.



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Travel in Switzerland: Niesen

I've been working on a couple of shoots I can't post yet, however i've also been taking advantage of this beautiful summer weather by making a few short trips here and there!  I have a friend over from Australia so we thought we'd venture to the top of a mountain.  The Niesen is a mountain which i first spotted in Spiez - Patrick an I thought "what a perfectly shaped mountain!"... It's featured in many of my Spiez photos. like this one:

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its been dubbed the Swiss Pyramid because of its beautiful shape.  We went up on a gorgeous day in June first thing in the morning.  We left Basel at 7am and were on the funicular to its peak at 9am.  I like being the early bird so its a little quieter.  The funicular is red (in true swiss-style) and takes about 30 minutes - you have to change train half way.  Tickets were quite expensive - its CHF57- return but with day ticket on the trains or a swiss pass its CHF28.50.

The views are pretty spectacular at the top - it has 360 degree views, a cafe/restaurant (apparently also a small hotel) and a pretty cool playground for kids. We stopped for a coffee and took in the views, snapped a few pictures and went back down around 11/11:30am. 

If you're thinking about going here are my tips:

  • Choose a clear day - it was just starting to cloud up when we went and it's pretty pointless going up if all you can see it white... unless you're into clouds...

  • If possible, get the lowest row in the train on the way up, you'll get beautiful views! Second best is close to a window.

  • Have a hot drink at the top and soak in those views!

  • There's a particular point on the pathway that doesn't have a fence. Sit for a picture here and it looks like you're right on the edge of a cliff (in reality, there's a steep hill but you can still put your feet on the ground.

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Travel in Switzerland: Laufenburg

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Travel in Switzerland: Laufenburg

I was on the train to a client in Schaffhausen when I noticed the most gorgeous little city with a bridge in the middle of it.  It was leafy green with terracotta roofs peeping out and the beautiful green Rhine flowing at its heart.  My eyes literally bulged out, I quickly got out my phone to open maps to find out exactly where I am, but because I was in Germany at the time, my phone didn't have any internet so I couldn't work it out.  

Fast forward some months and I took Patrick back to Schaffhausen to see the Rhinefall.  I told Patrick about this little mysterious city i saw... I didn't know when it would pop up but I told him to keep an eye out... Together with his Swiss knowledge and my investigative-reading-road-sign skills, we worked it out to be Laufenburg!  

Fast forward some more months later and we finally got our act together to make a day trip of it. We went on a Sunday so the city was quiet and quaint - we hiked up a mountain (okay, it was a hill) to reach this gorgeous lookout (okay, it was someone's driveway) overlooking these cute goats and picture perfect views of the city.  The bridge in the city acts as a border between Switzerland and Germany and a border control office sits on the Swiss side as a reminder.  

This town has to be one of my favourites I've seen so far... so picturesque - I definitely recommend a visit!

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An expats guide to Basel Fasnacht

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An expats guide to Basel Fasnacht

Even though I had been in Basel for three christmas's, I'd never once seen Fasnacht.  Patrick had, of course, known and loved this festival since he was a child. I am so proud of him as this past year he has learnt to play the trombone to take part in Fasnacht with Grachsymphoniker.   I remember even in the years we were in Australia, he would be up in the middle of the night watching the live stream on the internet.  I didn't quite get it!

Now I do.  Basler Fasnacht has made the UNESCO list for Intangible Cultural heritage and it is referred to as die drey scheenschte Dääg (the three most beautiful days). The only way for me to describe it is an explosion of colour, music and art.   There are many similar festivals nearby in Switzerland and Germany however the Basel Fasnacht is the most well-known.  It also has its own unwritten rules (i'll detail some of them below) and 'Baseleans' can always spot (and frown upon) the outsiders when they don't follow the 'rules'.

Fasnacht begins with people pouring down the streets of basel early on Monday morning making their way to the city for morgestraich.  This alone was quite a surreal experience. Getting up before 3am to cram on a tram with adults and children alike dressed up in their festive costumes and then walking over the mittlerebrücke with hundreds of others, wishing each other 'schöne morgestraich'.  You can feel the buzzing energy as people anticipate the start of the carnival. At exactly 4am, the city lights go out.  Even stores which are open have to block out their windows.  All you can see are the colourful lanterns and all you can hear the sound of piccolo's and drums as they parade in the old town of Basel.  Each of the Fasnacht groups, called cliques, choose a theme which is conveyed in their lantern artwork and costumes.  They comment on social and political issues and are usually highly satirical. I heard someone say that Fasnacht takes the dark and turns it into light!  This year we saw the 'Ballistic Games' featuring North Korea and USA in an olympic style parade and also a few featuring 'bugs' commenting on the newly opened restaurant that sells a burger made from insects!

The carnival lasts for exactly 72 hours - finishing on Thursday morning at 4am.  I spoke to a band member who said Fasnacht has so many elements of life in it - It has joy, music, love, colour, humour and celebration, but because it runs through the night, you can feel exhausted. It also highlights some pretty grim themes happening in our world (even if it is in a humourous way).  It was incredible to hear some of the members of Grachsymphoniker had injuries (or injured them self during the carnival) yet continued through pain to be part of it.  You witness great loyalty and team spirit amongst the bands. 

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A parade (Cortège) of all the groups happens Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon.  All the shops close so everyone can enjoy the festivities.  It consists of the guggemusik (brass bands), cliques (pipers and drummers) with their lantern floats, and waggis wagen.  People (mostly kids) will hold out their hands and call after the waggis to give them treats - they hand out flowers, fruit and vegetables, drinks (even beer!), lollies and loads of confetti!  Most of the kids are after the lollies - I witnessed a child get quite disappointed when he put his hand out and received a carrot!

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If you are a Fasnacht first-timer, you might want to follow these unwritten rules of Fasnacht:

  • Confetti (Räppli) is only sold, bought and thrown in individual colours. This was put in place to stop people reselling 'used' confetti. You also should not pick up confetti from the floor and throw it again - make sense... who wants confetti mixed with dirt thrown in your face?

  • Confetti should not be thrown at masked participants of the carnival - I suppose this is a sign of respect for those taking part

  • Everyone should buy a Fasnacht Blaggedde (badge) - they have 4 'levels' of badges ranging in price. The proceeds go to each of the groups to help them cover expenses of the carnival. If you're not wearing one - expect to get dumped with confetti a few times! They say if you don't buy one, you are harming Fasnacht

  • Fasnacht is renowned for its masks, not painted faces as it is in other carnivals. You'll stick out like a sore thumb (perhaps not in a good way) if you paint your face rather than wear a mask.

  • There may be times you have to cross the parade route to get to another location - its is disrespectful to cross through a band, you should wait until it has passed and cross between bands. On this same note, you should always move out the way for the bands. More than likely, they will not stop/move for you anyway, so if you don't want a drumstick in your face - make way!

  • If you speak German, you should know that everyone is on first name basis at the carnival, which means you'll be saying the informal 'du' instead of formal 'Sie'

  • Guggemusik don't perform at Morgestraich as this is reserved only for Clique groups, but in return the Tuesday night concert at Marktplatz is only for guggemusik

  • When they turn the lights off at 4am for morgestraich it should be be dark - photo flashes are frowned upon!

A couple of other things you should know is that Fasnacht is loud and crowded and takes over the entire city.  The trams don't run through the city which means you'll have to put on your walking shoes.  Due to the close proximity to the smoking-loving swiss, you'll probably inhale quite a bit of smoke too (and thats not including the smoke bombs they often let off).  But the joy, music and celebration is worth the inconveniences. I definitely think that everyone going through Basel should experience it!

Guess what!? I’m running mini sessions in the 2019 Basel Fasnacht. Check out this post for more info.

 

 

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An Australians' experience living in Switzerland

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An Australians' experience living in Switzerland

It's been a year since this Australian got on a plane to Switzerland, not knowing how long we'll be here for or what challenges, travels and momentous occasions will unfold.  I have to start this post by counting my blessings and although not every moment has been peachy, I do realise not everyone is fortunate enough to live in two beautiful countries such as Australia and Switzerland. 

I wanted to share what its been like for me, an Australian, to move to Basel - the quirks, the awesome surprises and the things that make me want to pack my bags and take the next plane back to Australia. 

The scenery

I had a funny encounter with a check-out lady who picked up on my accent. She couldn't understand why I had moved to Switzerland when I came from such a beautiful country.  She said she'd move to Australia in a heartbeat if she won lotto.  I remember saying something along the same lines to my husband - "Why would you move to Australia when you live in Switzerland!?" I'm not denying the beauty of Australia, however the Swiss landscape leaves little to be desired (okay, maybe the beach!) - majestic mountains and crystal blue lakes do something to my soul! I feel at peace around a landscape so grand.  

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They're not breakfast people

I tell you, I'm missing the cool cafes/restaurants of Perth - Harvest Espresso, Bib & Tucker, Imp, Tiisch and so many more.  I am dying for some creative breakfast food!  The truth is, they don't really do breakfast here - it's all croissants and muesli, which is okay... but it's a bit boring. Their brunch consists of meat, cheese, bread and if they're really out there - scrambled eggs and bacon.  It sounds like such a superficial thing, but visiting cool cafes was one of my most favourite things to do to relax. Cool interior design, awesome tasty food and good coffee.... c'mon Switzerland!

Post comes on Saturdays 

Poor posties - they work 6 days a week... but it means we can get packages delivered on Saturdays too!  hooray!

The seasons

In Australia  (Perth specific)- there's basically two seasons - hot/warm weather, or rainy, slightly colder weather.  In Switzerland, Every one of the seasons brings a different landscape - the many flowers of spring time, the warm summer and blue skies, the spectacular shades of orange, red and brown in Autumn (where leaves actually fall off the trees) and the snow, bare trees and blistering cold of winter. I've seen so much more beauty in the seasons!!

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Swiss checkout assistants don't work as hard as the Aussies

Okay, maybe they do work just as hard but I actually miss food shopping in Australia.  It's so easy - great variety in each spacious supermarket, pick your food take it to the checkout, then put the bagged groceries in your trolley, to the car and then your home.  In Switzerland - It's a bit more effort.  When you pick your fruit and vegies, you then have to weigh it, put in the code and put a sticker barcode on each item.  Then when you get to the checkout (its a bit like Aldi) you have to bag it all yourself. It gets a bit chaotic when you're trying to bag everything before the next customer, pray you remembered to put the barcode on everything, and pay for it.  All my items are just thrown in the bags... lucky the bread is crusty and doesn't get squashed too much!  All plastic bags cost money here (so everyone generally brings their own) and then you've got to lug it home on the tram.  Food shopping should be an olympic sport here. I should get a medal! haha. 

Its easier to buy alcohol than panadol 

In supermarkets you can easily buy alcohol, even my corner supermarket has a good selection of wine, beer and spirits.  But panadol?  You need to go to the pharmacy.  We had a funny situation when we went to Mürren for a weekend and needed some panadol, but because it was a little town (only accessed by a gondola) and the town doctor passed away recently (!!!)  you couldn't buy any! Over the counter drugs are quite easily accessed in Australia, didn't realise this until I came here.  It annoys me I have to make a special trip to the pharmacy to buy panadol (first world problem, I know - but I live in Switzerland, all my problems are first world)

Dogs come everywhere

Honestly, nothing brightens my day more than seeing the happy dog on the tram that gets to go everywhere with their owner.  People are always out with their dogs, walking them, food shopping, getting lunch. Just don't forget to buy a big dog a ticket for the tram. I've seen (a few times now) dogs being carted around in prams. They honestly live the best life here, and they're pretty well behaved too... oh to be a dog in Switzerland! 

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No beach, No worries

So, there's no beach here - but that doesn't stop the Swiss from enjoying Summer!  They're out on the Rhine and multiple rivers and lakes around Switzerland with their beach towels and big inflatable flamingos bathing in the water and sunbathing on the grass. Some of the lakes are so clean and clear you can see the ducks legs paddling beneath the surface.

In fact, all year round - everyone is out enjoying the outdoors - hiking, skiing, swimming, skydiving, base jumping... it really is an adventurers paradise.

On the topic of water though- the water is so fresh and clean you can drink it straight from the tap. No filter required.

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They don't hip hooray 

After happy birthday we always do the hip hip hooray in Australia... maybe even a 'for she's a jolly good fello'.  But after the happy birthday (which they weirdly, all sing in English) there's nothing else... feels like its missing something!

Travel is cheap and easy

Travel is so easy. In a few short hours (or less) I can be in Italy, France, or Germany.  Its a 3 hour train trip to Paris, I can be in Germany or France in 10 minutes, and a short plane trip can take you to any european city.  The train trips through Switzerland  have the most beautiful views - I cannot put away my camera! Every time I'm on a train in Switzerland.. I count my lucky stars i'm here and get to see views like this on the reg. 

We also have access to a 'half-card'. We pay an annual fee to get half price off our train tickets - it's more than paid for itself. Sometimes they also have special day tickets - CHF29 for a day ticket. Considering I can get to any place in Switzerland in less than 3 hours it's easy and affordable to do day trips.

View from the Train over Lac Léman (Lake Geneva)

View from the Train over Lac Léman (Lake Geneva)

So much more smoking

I have to say... it's my biggest gripe about living here.  There's double the amount of smokers here than in Australia. Switzerland is very behind in smoking laws.  They're allowed to smoke on train/tram/bus platforms, they smoke right at the entrance to many shops and restaurants and even in kids playgrounds.  (I should note they are just about to trial no smoking in 6 train stations across Switzerland - it's been met with much resistance).  In summer, I feel sad that I can't really dine outdoors without breathing in smoke.  It's made me so grateful for the strict laws in Australia that makes fresh air a common privilege, but ugh.... It's the bane of my existence here in Switzerland.

Tradition 

Switzerland is steeped in tradition.  Patrick always snickered at 'tradition' in Australia - as it usually means it's only been running for around 100 years (or less). In Switzerland there are many traditional events such as Fasnacht, Vogel Gryff and Desalpé (in the mountains) which have been running for more than a few centuries - sometimes it's been running for centuries beyond what's recorded so it's hard to determine when these started. It actually boggles my mind thinking of all the people that have come before us also taking part in these events.  Sometimes I'm amazed that such outdated, and down-right weird events still take place. In Zurich, they burn the 'böög' (English translation: boogie!) until its' head falls off. The longer his head stays on, the better the summer will be.  

Desalpé in Charmey. When the farmers adorn the cows/goats with bells and flowers and walk them down the mountain for winter.

Desalpé in Charmey. When the farmers adorn the cows/goats with bells and flowers and walk them down the mountain for winter.

Expensive is an understatement

When I first arrived, I mentally converted the cost of things to AU$.  Probably a bad move!  AU$40 for a small plate of sushi (from the supermarket!), AU$20 for two Starbucks coffee's, AU$120 for two indian dishes, rice and 2 non-alcoholic drinks,  AU$5 for a short one-way tram trip to the city, AU$320 for a doctor visit (until you reach your health insurance excess).  The bright side is you obviously get paid much better here too.  But I can understand why some people can't afford to visit Switzerland for very long, but it makes visiting Italy even sweeter - "wait, the best pasta ever for 12 euro??? heck-to-the-yes".

They're serious about rules

Noise and recycling have the most restrictions in Switzerland. No noise from 10pm, and between 12-2pm and Sundays. So don't even think about assembling your ikea furniture during those times.  For recycling: take your glass to a local recycling station, take your plastic to the supermarket, your cardboard needs to be put together for a separate verge-side collection and general rubbish needs to be in swiss-approved bags for collection.  And for when the noise and recycling come together: No glass recycling on the weekends because it makes too much noise when you drop it in. Yes... I'm serious. 

One of many delicious meals enjoyed in Italy!

One of many delicious meals enjoyed in Italy!

So overall - what's it like?

There are obviously things i miss about Australia - Sunshine almost all year round, fresh clean air, creative affordable food, and of course - my friends and family.  However 2017 was honestly one of the best years of my life.  I've learnt some German, been able to travel to some GORGEOUS places with amazing people and got to know so much more about how the Swiss live and enjoy life. Switzerland is a visual feast for the eyes and as a photographer I couldn't be happier.  Financially, I am so grateful to Switzerland for giving us opportunity to build our wealth for our futures.  It's taken some time to shift perspective from what I'm missing in Switzerland to what I have, but I think ending a year here and being able to reflect on all I've experienced has made me super grateful and 'hashtag-blessed' for all it's given me.  

Even though I wrote this blog post after a year, I am still continually surprised by things which are new to me - pleasant surprises and also things which are darn confusing.  I'm looking forward to another year of learning and swiss experiences.  If you haven't been, Switzerland is definitely worth a visit - let me know if you want any recommendations. 

Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Lauterbrunnen Valley.

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La Desalpe de Charmey 2017

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La Desalpe de Charmey 2017

One of the top activities I had to see in Switzerland was the annual cow descent.  There are numerous throughout Switzerland but we chose Charmey - a french speaking town in the canton of Fribourg.  The cows here make the tasty, world renowned Gruyere cheese, and is said to be one of the best festivals around.  

The descent has been taking place each year for centuries, and the festival in Charmey has been running for almost 40 years.  After 100 summer days grazing in the Alps, the farmers return the cows to their valley pastures before the winter arrives.  Apparently these cows produce over 3,000 tonnes of cheese every summer.   Alpine cheese is highly prized due to the quality of the milk - the cows graze on only grass and herbs which gives the milk and cheese a great taste and excellent quality.

We ended up getting a hotel in Fribourg as the Charmey hotels were all booked out.  A sign of how popular this festival is.  We made our way early to charmey village via train and bus.  The first group of animals came shortly afterward.  Crowds and TV Stations watched on as the cows (and some goats) were celebrated, adorned with flower headdresses and cowbells.  The farmers wear traditional dress including hand-stitched leather satchels (which the farmers apparently keep salt for cheese-making). 

These days, there aren't many days in which we show gratitude and respect to animals which serve us humans.  These cows give us milk, and a source of food.  They are a livelihood for many farmers and an important part of the swiss culture and trade.  It makes me so happy to see a community (and many visitors) get behind it.  (A side note:  even through Gruyere cheese is relatively cheap and plentiful in Switzerland, it sells for roughly AUD$90 a kilo in Australia!)

There were also many stands for wine, crafts, and of course - cheese! Alphorn players and brass bands entertained the crowds as the cows, horses and goats made their way through the village.  Traffic was backed up as the cows took precedence.  I felt like a had a true Swiss experience and I hope many others get to see it!

I made a little video from some of my photos and video clippings which hopefully give you a good glimpse of what the day is like. 

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Art Basel

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Art Basel

I was so excited to be in town for Art Basel this year.  Patrick surprised me with tickets so we made our way there this morning to make the most of the day. It was so much bigger than I expected - the equivalent to 3 floors of art exhibitions plus Art Basal Miami.  The collection of art were modern, a lot of them interactive and most with meaningful messages.  Art Basel featured works from over 4,000 artists from 291 of the worlds best galleries. 

I love that Basel comes alive this time of year - there's people out everywhere enjoying themselves, pop up restaurants in full swing and the rhine is lined with people soaking up the sunshine. My fitbit tells me i walked 14,000 steps today... and i'm not even mad - it's what happens when the sun shines 15 hours a day!  

Here are a few images from my first Art Basel experience.

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Switzerland Winterland

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Switzerland Winterland

I spent Christmas and new year in my new home in Switzerland (before a brief hiatus back in Perth). For an Australian, 15 degrees is pretty chilly and on those cold Perth mornings, 8 degrees is blistering cold! Well, my Aussie wardrobe wasn't really holding up in the Swiss winter.  In December, the temperature barely rose above 1 degree and if it did, it was for half an hour at 3pm, when it got to 3 degrees. 

As cold as it was, Switzerland has a charm about it.  I could look at that icy looking skyline forever (well, maybe if i was out of the wind and cold!). The christmas markets are spectacular. We enjoyed hot roasted salmon in bread rolls while looking at the stalls.  Enjoyed Gluhwein at crowded tables - everyone out enjoying themselves. I was sad to see it all packed down after christmas.  Nevertheless, I will be waiting for the next christmas markets to return!

Here are my favourite photos i took of our wintertime in Switzerland.

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