Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sometimes it's the little things

So for the past two weeks, B and I have been in a bit of a bind about what to do with my belongings. The ones that threaten to overflow the studio space, yes, but also the twelve boxes of items (aka, crap) that my parents and I shipped over via USPS before I got on the plane. 

First evening in Zurich - snow from the apartment window. It felt very cozy and welcoming. Then my camera battery died and I had to wait 2 weeks until we picked up the box with it.

Twelve boxes! Sometimes I don't know what I was thinking.

As a person moving to Switzerland, I shouldn't have to pay customs on any household items that are at least six months old (aka, everything, coz I didn't exactly go on a shopping spree prior to moving) and that I plan to continue to use (also everything). Now, I had vaguely read about that prior to moving, but what B and I failed to realize is that we were supposed to fill out a customs form prior to my shipping the boxes, so that at customs, they would be able to say "Oh, this is from that person moving into the country, let it pass." Or however you would say that in Schweize Deutsch.

In retrospect, this seems really, really obvious, but when I have given myself 6 days to pack for an international move, things slip between the cracks.

Anyway - we didn't fill out that form, and the boxes have come through in a rather pell-mell assortment (and in varying condition, see below). To be fair, they also all came through very quickly - the shipping was supposed to take 6-10 business days, and they started to arrive on business day #4.

The side of one of the four boxes we've received. The bottom corner and top  gashes were added by us, in order to access the box. But the side one was already there. Die Post worker couldn't carry it because it would've fallen apart, so she just slid it along the floor to us. Nothing fragile in it - small favors.
After much wrangling and tape removal, it's ready for recycling pick up! Which is a whole other post - one that I'll do once I understand the system myself.
So far we've received four of the boxes - one we paid for before we realized what was going on, and the other three had no charges associated. We're not sure why - I thought perhaps the three without charges would be the three with the lowest estimated goods value on them, but that hasn't been the case (the charges, btw, range from 40 to 125 CHF/box; 1 CHF = 1.1 USD). Most likely they were processed by different people at customs, and some of them were obviously used household goods, while others (eg, the one with the Xbox in it) may not be so obvious. The remaining eight boxes are being held hostage by Die Post, and B has been calling all over to figure out if there is a way to get the charges re-examined. No resolution yet.

Meanwhile, I've opened two of the boxes (the other two are boxes and DVDs only, items that can wait until we've moved out of the studio, and also boxes that will survive another - handheld - move). 

There is nothing like opening boxes that you've paid to move to make you rethink your priorities in life. As B pointed out - I had survived for 1-2 weeks without any of these items, so how many did I really need? (I pointed out that my many pairs of boots were largely at his urging)

He had a point, though. Going through the boxes has been a strange oscillation between "why did I ever think I would need this?" and squeals of glee when I find items that I have been desperate without. And the items that are causing those reactions are far from what I would have laid money on when I was back in Boston.

Here's a sampling of some of the items I was most thrilled to run across:
Perhaps self-explanatory - I was lucky that one of the boxes without charges had all my camera accessories, including the extra battery, battery charger, and the cords to download my pictures. Never pack these separately from your camera, people! Lesson learned.

Also self-explanatory, probably. B has one of these adaptors, but I probably need 3-4, so I was thrilled to find one. Now we can stop trading the Mac power cord back and forth between laptops.

The other thrilling surprises were a bit more random:

Loose leaf tea accessories! B and I are both big tea drinkers, but we'd been resigned to tea bags the past 2 weeks . The horror!

And then this one made me absurdly happy:

Anybody know what it is? Bueller? 

It's a scraper that I picked up at Marshall's for about $3 - I forget its official name, if it even has one. It was useful in Boston to clean off my table after kneading and other baking activities, although I could do the same with some hard scrubbing and a wet rag. However, the wood table here that I use for kneading has no finish on it, and thus little dried pieces of bread/cookie/any other dough have proved quite challenging to remove. But no longer! Yay!

This one was well-timed - I just found it this morning, and yesterday I made lime cookies (I'll post the recipe later). I wanted the zest of two limes for them, and I had one of those little graters that are supposedly up for the task. Mine was not (see below). Lesson learned - Ikea is useful for many things, but perhaps not kitchen utensils.

Lime on the left was done first. Looks totally fine! Lime on the right was second - it was like the grater just putzed out in the middle. 
I can think of few specific things that are in the remaining eight boxes, which makes me a bit uneasy about the ratio of crap:useful items that I sent, but I'm sure that each one will contain a few much appreciated surprises. I just won't try to guess what they will be.

Have you ever regretted packing (or NOT packing) something when you moved?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Welcome to Zurich

I'm on day 12 of my new unemployed, Zurich existence, and it's already been quite the adventure. In the future, now that I have a functioning camera again, I'll be posting photo-filled recipes (in both standard and metric) that I've experimented with (even if I've made them previously, the Swiss ingredients appear to have subtle and not-so-subtle differences) and pictures of my wanderings around the city. I also should have much more time to devote to crafts and meanderings and the like. The blog title comes from my eventual ambition to create macarons - the chewy, delicious, ubiquitous cookie-like desserts found all over Switzerland and other parts of Europe.

Camera phone picture of the first raclette, a traditional Swiss meal, for  B and me. Better pictures in the future - we just picked up my camera accessories, including battery charger, from the Post yesterday. The cheese goes under the "grill" (a stone top in this case) to melt, and the stone cooks the meat, and both are eaten over boiled potatoes.
The main focus right now for both B (my husband) and myself is to upgrade our living situation. He has been living in a one-room studio, awaiting my long-delayed arrival from Boston. Unfortunately, now I have arrived, and we are still in the one-room studio. In Switzerland, almost 70% of the residents rent rather than own, and in Zurich particularly, the housing market is expensive, crowded, and rather insane. It's not about getting in your deposit first, as may be the case in NYC or Boston. Instead, you apply online or through the mail for an apartment, and the rental agency may, if you're lucky, select your application from one of the dozens and offer you the apartment. If you want it, fantastic - now you just have to figure out what to do with your old apartment. If you don't want it (or if by some mad chance, you are selected for TWO apartments), you have to pay between 100-200 Swiss francs (CHF; exchange rate approx 1:1 with USD) to get out of it.

Apartment viewings are usually only for 30-60 minutes and can be at any time of day (except Sundays - NEVER on Sundays. More on that in another post). During that time, easily one hundred people will wander in, most during the first ten to fifteen minutes. The Swiss are nothing if not punctual.

 For one viewing scheduled at 2 pm, B and I showed up at 1:52, and there was no one around. "Wow," I thought, "maybe we'll be lucky and nobody wants this apartment." What a silly, naive thought. By 1:56, there were at least 8 other people waiting, but it wasn't until 1:59 that someone ventured to ring the doorbell and we all filed in. In the five minutes it took to look around the apartment (how long does it take to see 4 rooms?), at least 20 people showed up, and more were filing up the stairs as we left. Don't be early, don't be late, seems to be the Swiss motto. This is actually easier than one may expect, in a country where the buses and trams are always on time (drivers of public transportation have the power to control lights at intersections, making promptness a much more achievable goal).

With the exception of one, every other apartment viewing we've been to, all over the city, has been equally crowded - and we've easily been to ten of them in the past two weeks. We're not sure if/when we'll be able to get out of the studio rental contract, but it seems that the norm here is to find a place, then sublet your current living place by holding your own viewing and selection process.

More later, but I'd gotten a lot of inquiries as to how things are going thus far, and I just wanted to get this up and running!