The Tour de France in Bern

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Yesterday afternoon the Tour de France blazed through Bern, finishing the sixteenth stage just one kilometer from our house. Some friends from Zurich and Geneva came for the day to cheer on the cyclists from a perch on the hill just in front of the Rosengarten. It was a fast and furious ride for the leaders and the peloton, which followed closely behind and eventually overtook the leading three. You can see the video here. What excitement! I think we were all amazed by how quickly they rode up the massive hill—the Aargauerstalden—after having already cycled 198 kilometers that day.

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Today is a rest day for the cyclists but they will pick up the race again tomorrow for stage 17, beginning here in Bern and finishing in Finhaut-Emosson. It’s expected to be an exciting finish so tune in if you’re able and interested.

In case you missed the footage yesterday, here’s a 9-minute clip of highlights and the finish, as well as some beautiful sexy shots of Bern. You can see the hill where we sat beginning at around 3:40 in the clip. It was the perfect spot to catch the action.

I’m so impressed at the skill and athleticism demonstrated by these athletes. Go sports!

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Committing to Life Abroad

IMG_4824 (1)I was asked about a million times while we were in the US how long Adam and I plan to stay in Switzerland. It’s a tough question to answer, and even tougher to deflect politely, but the short response is we don’t know. Initially, our plan was to stay here three to five years and that still sounds reasonable, but neither of us is interested in setting an end date at the moment. We’re really happy living here and that feels sustainable for where we are right now.

That said, committing to life abroad is a mental game and it takes work to maintain a positive attitude. I recently read this blog post about making friends and finding a community in London and the writer’s final notes really struck me:

“Maybe all of this advice is obvious. I’m not sure it was to me when we first arrived. A couple of years after we got here, an older/wiser expat said something that changed the way I was looking at life… He told me to fully live here, I had to give up the 3 C’s: Comparing (“Well, back in Texas…”), Converting (Stop thinking in dollars. It’s a loosing game and I’m living in the land of GBP now. Embrace it.) Complaining (Stop complaining. Deal with the hassles or go home.)”

The 3 C’s! They are deadly, man. For a while Adam and I compared the food scene here to the dynamic explosion of restaurants in Charleston and it was constantly depressing. There were so many (affordable) choices in Charleston! And they were all within walking distance! In Bern you can find good Italian and decent Thai and Indian, but otherwise our culinary exploits have been rather tame. But, we’ve learned to counter that by cooking delicious and inspiring meals at home (and saving loads of money, to boot.)

I am always converting Swiss francs to dollars and not even thinking about it: “Lunch was twenty bucks”; “I got this such-and-such for only one hundred dollars–what a steal!”; etc., etc. It’s very easy to think in dollars and cents, but Adam is paid in Swiss francs and that’s how we should be thinking of our expenses.

Lastly, complaining: we can’t do laundry on Sunday; the Swiss aren’t very friendly, therefore we don’t have any real Swiss friends; everything is expensive; everything is gray; my family is so far away; etc., etc. It is ridiculously easy to fall into a Swiss-shaming spiral with friends or even at the dinner table. But it is catastrophic for my relationship with Switzerland.

I really liked thinking about these three deterrents for a happy life abroad and how I can shift my own thinking. I’ve given up on a lot of complaining because it is so worthless and energy-sapping. Instead, I’ve tried to find the positives within those perceived restrictions. For example, it no longer bothers me that we can’t do laundry, cleaning, or shopping on Sunday because that day has become a dedicated time to relax. We feel completely guilt-free for lounging in our pajamas all afternoon or escaping to the mountains for a hike because there is nothing we could really be doing around the house. It feels wonderful to have that time. The inflated prices of nearly everything has made me a more savvy shopper and shown me that there is so much I can live without.

We can’t fail to mention how much stress this can inevitably put on your health and relationships with others. Giving up comparing, converting, and complaining is not only good for a life abroad but it’s also good for life.

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One final thought: I went to a coffee morning last week with some women in my American women’s club and one of them asked how long I had lived here. When I told her I had been here two and a half years she laughed a little and said, “Oh, well, that is nothing.”

I understand what she meant by this–two and half years is just a blip in a lifetime. But to me it has not been nothing. A lot has happened in that time and I’ve done a lot of growing and changing over the past couple of years. I didn’t want her idea of commitment and time in a country to stifle my own experiences and sense of accomplishment, and I would encourage you, if you are an expat, not to allow others to let you feel that way either. If you’ve moved somewhere new, whether you’ve been there one year or ten, you are doing a good job and you are putting in a lot of hard work. It’s a challenge, but you’ve got this.

I’ve talked about this idea before, but it’s something I think about regularly. I think Adam and I are doing a good job of being present in our life here. It’s good to have goals and I would say one of mine is to try to keep avoiding those 3 C’s. If you’re living abroad (or even in a new place), what has helped you transition and fully commit to your life there? How do you make a new place home?

One Snowy Day

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IMG_4980We’ve had a few flurries here, mostly overnight, but yesterday was the first really pretty snow day of the season. Huge, fat flakes fell for most of the morning and early afternoon. I stepped outside to get some fresh air and snap a few pictures from the Rosengarten, at which time the snow turned to rain and the sidewalks became a slushy mess. I briefly thought about running an errand or two, thought about my pajamas, favored the latter and returned home. Just say no to slush.

The snow melted from all that rain and it’s back to drizzling today, but it was lovely to see the city blanketed in white. The old town, as seen above, looks especially charming with its snow-covered peaked roofs and chimneys. Foggy Bern town, you’re all right.

What are you up to this weekend? We have a few things on the to-do list, but it will probably be pretty quiet around here (thanks rain!) I suspect we won’t do quite as much gluttonous eating as last weekend, but I do have a few recipes I’d like to try. Wishing you a warm and cozy weekend! For now, a very condensed version of the internet:

A song for your weekend

Recipes include: chicken chili and the best baked ziti (without ricotta!)

Counteract those with this workout

I live in this chunky wool cardigan during winter

This face mask helps soothe dry, chapped skin, which is in abundance this time of year

A fun brain teaser for the mid-day slump

Made me laugh

I made this cocktail last night and it was real, real good

Currently reading

“My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow”. So beautiful and moving. Prepare to cry.

Two Weeks in (Fuzzy) Images

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IMG_4840A lot of highs and lows within the last two weeks. One of my best friends and her boyfriend came to visit and I had an impossibly good time with them. I hope they move into our guest room, but know that they have to share it with all the other friends and loved ones that I’d like to live in there. We went to Mürren, one of the best places in Switzerland according to yours truly. Adam and I celebrated our birthdays with them and a couple other people here in Bern. We hosted Thanksgiving over here with some of our favorite people in Switzerland and it was a huge success. We are so, so thankful for the amazing friends we have here.

There was also a lot of homesickness—there always is this time of year—and actual pain. I was dealing with some intense shoulder and neck pain from a pinched nerve (we presume) that kept me in bed for several days. It was ugly, and I’m thankful to be past it 🙏

And I’m thankful that it’s Friday! TGIF and all that, big time. I’m meeting up with a friend this afternoon to troll the Christmas markets here in Bern and tonight Adam and I will have a quiet date night at home. Tomorrow we are going to a friend’s house for lasagna night (yum!) and then I’m looking forward to a quiet Sunday. What are you up to this weekend?

Until we meet again on Monday, here are some thoughts and things from the Internet lately:

A groovy tune for your weekend–when you’re not listening to Christmas music, that is.

I have no ear for Oasis anymore (too many buskers out there destroying “Wonderwall”), but this long interview with lead singer Noel Gallagher made me laugh out loud. What a rockstar! This guy definitely gives zero, well, you-know-whats…

The new rules of wine.

And, what your drink order says about you. The wine one made me laugh because it’s true.

The 58 most commonly misused words and phrases. I am bookmarking this, for I have found that with my master’s in literature, I am still semiliterate.

ZOMG! Death by internet hyperbole. I’m so guilty I’m basically dead.

Quick, go take a look at all your shelves. Are you styling with too many small objects? For shame.

This harissa and lentils dish was so delicious I’m already looking forward to making it again. Pro tip: serve with tangy goat cheese to offset the spice.

Currently reading this Nick Hornby book and loving it. Let’s all aspire to be funny and quick like him, yeah?

My new favorite dress.

Lastly, a seriously comprehensive gift guide. Happy shopping, everyone!

Now Trending: Fall Snapshots

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IMG_0631The other day I walked down Aargauerstalden, the big hill that leads from our apartment down into town. I was meeting a friend for lunch at Le Carrousel and decided to take the long way there, passing some beautiful foliage on the way. Tis the season for beautiful snaps on our phones and cameras, right?

In fact, I couldn’t help but laugh after seeing this Instagram considering I had taken a similar image of myself. I immediately deleted the image, inwardly cringing at my predictability. But then I thought, who cares?! The ability to laugh at ourselves and our mimicry is part of our humanity, and I feel lucky to have a sense of humor about social media and its ubiquity. I won’t stop Instagram, and I certainly won’t stop taking pictures of brilliant leaves simply because everyone else is doing it. I will, however, strive for a unique voice and perspective, if only for my benefit.

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IMG_0676Foogy Bern town, we love you! Thank you for your photo ops and endless charm. I say it again and again, but I’m not sure I’ll ever live somewhere as beautiful as this.

Wishing You a Beary Nice Weekend

bearsI’m sorry about that title. I couldn’t stop myself.

There’s a legend surrounding the naming of Bern: Apparently, hundreds and hundreds of years ago the Duke of Zähringen, the founder of Bern, decided to name the city after the first animal he encountered on a hunt. He and his men came upon bears, or bären, and thus the city was named. Bears have been kept in a bear pit (Bärengraben) since at least the 1440s and they are loved by locals and tourists alike. The pit has been under renovation since the spring but the bears returned recently, just in time to hibernate! The bear pit is just down the hill from our apartment so I’m hoping to run down and see them before the tuck in for a long winter’s nap.

What are you up to this weekend? I’ve had a very low-key week after a busy September, and I’m looking forward to taking it easy this weekend. Adam and I are trying a new cool spot this evening (a rarity in Bern, unfortunately) and going over to our friends’ place tomorrow for margaritas and homemade Mexican. What a treat!

I hope you have a lovely fall weekend with family or friends, or a cozy blanket and a good book. Until Monday (and more pictures from Italy!), here are a few links from around the web.

A jam for the weekend

The BEST dry shampoo. I’ve tried a million brands and I’m sticking with this one (and stocking up when I go to the US)

The WORST traffic jam I’ve ever seen. Yikes!

So happy to see Everlane’s cashmere line for this season. This turtleneck has been wishlisted for those parties who are interested ; )

This book on interior design looks beautiful and insightful

I got misty eyed watching this interview.

Do you cheers when you’re out with friends? Swiss tradition is to cheers before every drink, clinking glasses and making eye contact (not doing so results in bad sex for seven years…) Adam’s family always says, “Cheers, big ears!” which I think is fun. Here’s a little primer on how to give a toast

If only I could dance like these cuties! (Thanks, Phil!)

Fall Is in the Air

Thinking about trying this pumpkin hummus.

Made me laugh.

(image via)

On Friendship

IMG_7189About a week after we arrived in Switzerland Adam’s boss asked if I could babysit his youngest daughter while he and his wife accompanied their twins to their first day of kindergarten. I heartily agreed, babysat little Louisa for about an hour, and finally sat down with her mom Nancy for a cup of coffee. Up until this past April we had been more or less inseparable since then.

She and her husband had lived in Switzerland for nearly ten years and knew most all the ins and outs of expat living. I went to her with questions about immigration registration, the local language, finding a doctor, and more. She had great ideas about travel, reading, and most importantly told me that J.Crew ships to Switzerland for a measly 10 Francs. She was a lifesaver.

They family was well on their way to gaining citizenship, which is a difficult task. It requires living here for over 12 years, a command of your canton’s local language, endorsements from members of the community and your gemeinde, not to mention a significant financial contribution. That red passport is highly coveted.

But, Nancy’s husband, Adam’s boss (the guy we met the day after we got engaged in Zurich, who then and there told him about the job at eBay that Adam has now) got an amazing opportunity in the US. It was for a high-level job in the city where they’d always wanted to end up: Portland, OR. The timing wasn’t ideal–they wanted to stay in Switzerland for at least 3 more years–but it was too good an offer to pass up and they moved stateside in April.

We had them all over for dinner the night before they left and I definitely cried a little bit harder than I needed to, but the feeling of loss was so visceral. Here was this person, Nancy, whom I had looked to as a major source of my security in living here, leaving me! It felt hugely dramatic at the time and I fell into a pretty deep funk after they left because they had all become like family to us. We celebrated Thanksgiving with them and went over for impromptu pizza dinners; Nancy and I had late nights drinking wine and talking til our teeth turned purple; their girls felt like my nieces. It was so hard to see them leave, even though we knew two things: 1. they were embarking on an incredible journey and moving to a fantastic city and 2. we would be fine!

I’ve had this conversation with many people who are or have lived abroad. This exact thing happens all the time to everyone who is an expat. It’s just part of the transient lifestyle and it unfortunately cannot be avoided if you have any desire to form a social circle or support network. It’s also one of the reasons that local Swiss are hesitant to make friends with internationals. Friendships are sacred and once you make a friend they are deeply loyal and a friend for life. They are less likely to invest time and emotional energy on you when they know there’s a good chance you will leave within 3-5 years.

But that’s not a practice I’m looking to implement during my own stay in this country. As tough as it is to make friends it’s been a hot pursuit of mine since day one. Sometimes I’ve been overeager and perhaps a wee bit aggressive, but that’s usually when I’m at my lowest and beggin’ for help. The friends I have made here–those who are as close to me as Nancy and others who are more casual acquaintances–are so important. They ground me in a way that feels essential to the expat experience.

I miss Nancy. I miss the regularity of our visits and the way we could talk for three hours straight and text each other five minutes after we leave, telling the other to “remind me to tell you something I forgot to mention today!” Isn’t that wild? To have a friend that close and wonderful? She was and is a treasure.

And I get to see her in two weeks!!!! YES! Ha. It really is the best news ever. I’m going to the US next week for a couple of girls’ trips and thinking about it makes my heart flutter in anticipation.

What about you? If you’ve made a major move, what was it like to make friends? Or, what are your thoughts on making friends as an adult? Isn’t it so much harder than making friends as a teen or a college student? This article is so spot on.