30 April 2009

The House Hunting

Allow us please to take a look back in time - April last year, to be more exact:

We were living in a small room on the upper floor in the house of one of the secretaries from Tue's department in the village Veyrier a few miles outside of Geneva. The secretary in Tue's group had found this room for us as a temporary solution, so we had a place to stay while looking for somewhere else to stay. It turned out the lady renting it out had already made other plans for the future, so we kind of had to find somewhere else to stay during the first month.

Before we arrived we had been warned that houses and apartments were much in demand in Geneva, but no one had explain to us the details of just how fundamentally different the renting market works in Geneva - compared to what we knew from Copenhagen and Santa Barbara. Practically all rentals are handled by a rental agency (so-called regie), where one has to apply for renting. So far so good. We quickly learned that there's at least a score of different such regies in Geneva, as well as a whole lot about in which ways they are different and in which ways they are similar.

Generally, one couldn't expect to have a single person working in their offices who spoke anything but French (good going considering that approximately 1/3 of the people in this city are foreigners). It was also quite general when applying to have to prove having indeed the right to stay in the canton of Geneva as well as having a steady income sufficiently large to pay the rent and not being wanted by the police (the latter demand usually vanished when one could prove that one had just arrived in Switzerland). It was also absolutely required to go and visit the apartment being applied for - this then had to be arranged with the person living there (if someone was still living there) or with the regie. Happily we have repressed the memory of just how many times we arrived wet from the pouring rain to visit an apartment only to learn that the viewing had been cancelled without anyone bothering to tell us... Apart from that it was actually a pretty good rule, especially as we saw a couple of places we didn't want to rent after seeing them.

At certain of the regies it was only allowed to apply for one apartment at the time - which is absurd seeing as one was usually given the rejection so late that by then it would be much to late to apply for any other apartments one had already noticed them to be offering. Some places it was best to keep an eye on their homepage - other places one had to call. Some wouldn't even consider an application without references - other seemingly couldn't care less about references. On top of that they had their own set of ideas of what size apartment with be suitable for who ("No sir, if you have 2 children we will not rent less than a four-room - no, we do not have any four-rooms for 2000 CHF/month").

All in all, we ended up visiting at least twenty apartments of which we applied for at least fifteen - we had a spreadsheet to help us keep track of the details of all the apartments. Not that this prevented us from receiving rejections for apartments we no longer knew which were. And I think there was one we visited which we completely forgot to apply for. When, late in April, we were suddenly offered an apartment (and this did not happen until we starting including with the application a letter from the professor imploring the regies to rent apartments to visiting scholars - otherwise the university couldn't survive) we couldn't very well remember how the apartment had been when we saw it - but we took it (and as you should know by know we were quite happy with it).

All this was of course very time consuming and difficult - not to mention stressing - so when we had to find an apartment in a new city again this year (and had been warned once again by university secretaries that this city could be particularly difficult for housing) we turned to modern tools and got ourselves a sublet via Facebook!

27 April 2009

Cats in Vernazza and thereabouts

On our first morning in Vernazza we went down to the harbour and found a black cat lying on the stones enjoying the sunshine. When we returned the next day it was overcast, but we soon discovered why the cat found it a nice place to be - a man was sitting there fishing and when we landed a rather small fish he threw in the direction of the cat.. action came swiftly:

Later, we saw another cat well educated as to where it's interesting to be - the way of slowly approaching the entrance seems to indicate previous experiences of not being quite so welcome here. Perhaps self-service is the name of the game...

On one of our hikes between the villages we came upon a spot where some furniture had been set out along with a sign imploring us to feed the poor, hungry, homeless cats that were to be right around this spot - it's possible that the cat in question were indeed homeless, but they didn't appear scared of humans, poor or even hungry. In fact they appeared to quite well fed and were on the whole much too lazy to be bothered to get up from their spots in the sun to go over and even look at their far from empty bowls of food.

26 April 2009

Hiking in Cinque Terre

Although Cinque Terre also seems to be popular with one-day visitors that just enjoy life in the villages, the claim to fame of the area is the hiking possibilities. There are trails between all villages (called the low trails) which are of varying difficulties - ranging from very easy (a paved path between Riomaggiore and Manarola) to moderate (Vernazza to Monterosso) - and if reasonbly fit the full length of the low trail can be hiked in one day with plenty of time to have lunch and gelato breaks in the villages. Unfortunately the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia was closed due to land slide while we visited so for this stretch we had to catch the train.

Although we enjoyed the low trails very much, it was our second hike on one of the higher trails that really showed us what Cinque Terre has to offer lovers of nature.

We had opted for another high trail but that was inaccessible due to the same land slide - but boy, were we happy with the one we ended up on?!

It was absolutely stunning to be standing high up on the cliff; in the midst of a vineyard looking down towards Corniglia with the smell from lemon groves surrounding us. It was so peaceful and invigorating that we think this was the ultimate highlight of a trip otherwise full of only great experiences!

In addition, the trail itself was varied - paved steps through olive groves, dirt tracks across vineyards, grass-covered paths through forest, and cobble stone closer to the villages - and so were of course also the surroundings. This hike certainly contained all the elements that we could wish for!

25 April 2009


Once it was settled that Tue was going to stop working in Geneva by the end of March and that we would have most of April to get the moving done, we decided to realise our discussed plans of a 'pre-Easter vacation' to the Cinque Terre national park in north-western Italy.

The first day went simply with getting there - things were as they usually were: with EasyJet we could get a cheap flight to Nice if we were just willing to get up early; by train we came from Nice to Genoa with only a minor delay; the train we took from Genoa left Genoa Piazza Principe more or less on time, went through a tunnel under the city all the way to Genoa Brignole where the train then stopped dead for the next 40-50 minutes without any sort of explanation given - at one point people started leaving the train, but before we could follow them they suddenly came aboard again and the train starting rolling.. on the other side of our coach an Italian lady raised her arms and cried something along the lines of: "Trenitalia - miracolo!"

We would like to tell you that the train ride along the coast was pretty - and it was, to the extent that we could see anything at all, but the truth of the matter is that we were in tunnels at least half of the time. In the late afternoon we thus exited yet another tunnel and were suddenly in the village of Vernazza. The train station is sort of claustrophobically placed between tunnels on either side and whenever a train that doesn't stop there comes rolling past it's a good idea to hold on to any objects easily carried away by a gust of wind...

Vernazza is situated beautifully in a small gorge running down to the Mediterranean - the harbour and the square are located right at the end of the only street wide enough for cars (and there really aren't all that many cars in the village as they have been so smart as to restrict access by vehicles) and looks quite simply stunning in the light of the setting sun.

Apart from the just mentioned main street Vernazza consists of a number of narrow alleyways, which to the disappointed of Tue turned out not hide any dimly lit bars - in Italy one prefers to live life by the town square.

When we arrived in Vernazza we were nothing less than overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and the number of small cosy restaurants. After seeing the other four villages (Monterosso al Mare, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) of the national park in the days that followed, we were still very happy with having chosen to stay in Vernazza.

If one knows where to look - or enjoy playing 'Where's Wally/Waldo' - it's possible to spot our room in the photo below. It is the only house in the village where they have a roof terrasse built IN the roof (hint: white house in the right bottom half of the photo).

19 April 2009

Shopping in Geneve

No, we haven't gone mad and have starting shopping big time while we are trying to sort out which things to keep and which not to keep before moving all of the former to Stockholm. But before it's too late we want to present to you a nice Swiss phenomenon, that is the wheeled shopping bag:

In Denmark it might only be fragile old ladies who drag these bags around, but down here ALL kinds of people have them - men, women, young, elder. Therefore, they are of course available in all sorts of colours and patterns - we have even seen one with pink flowers.

Unfortunately we never got around to buying one (having only some 100 yards to the supermarkets and being a household of only two we never really needed one) but we have observed that the trick is to place it strategically near the cash registers so it's easy to get it when all the goods have been bought. Some people apparently are not so trusting of their fellow shoppers, as we see people pushing around these wheeled bags inside common shopping carts!

The popularity is probably due to the fact that almost all apartment complexes here have elevators, making it nice and easy filling the bag up with a gallon of milk and six large bottles of water at Migros, rolling them home, taking them up the elevator, and loading them straight into the fridge door. In Copenhagen this sort of bag would always be unhandy when having the carry the loot three floors up the stairwell!

We are aware that we owe posts from our trip to Italy, but we have realised that they won't be coming until we are done with the move.

10 April 2009

Spring in Geneva

Posts on our wonderful pre-Easter vacation to Italy will appear shortly but before we finish sorting through the photos we would like to delight our readers with some photos from our long walk around Geneva today.

While in Italy, spring apparently arrived in its fullest. All the trees along the river we look on to have come into leaf and are sporting the finest pale green leaves.

To particularly Lisbeth's great joy we passed a blooming magnolia tree and that's enough proof to actually pack away the winter clothes, right?

But it is a little surreal to walk around in a park where people are dressed down to bikinis and enjoying the 23 degrees celsius while looking on snow caps on the surrounding mountains.

04 April 2009

Decadent dessert

In a fairly recent post on parallel imports we mentioned Danish chocolate turtles. Afterwards it occured to us that we hadn't had any for quite a while. So on her last trip to Copenhagen Lisbeth picked us up a pack of them.

01 April 2009

On a reussi

Since October we have been taking French classes two evenings per week. Because a new 3-month session will begin on Monday, tonight was our last time at École du Monde. This last lesson wasn't particularly stressing as we spent the time eating chocolate while going over the answers for the test the we had Monday. Moreover, as he is never there on Wednesdays the manager of the school had already given us our diplomas and our departure gift before the test...