Four months gone by ...


It's been awhile ... I've been buried. 

Buried mostly in emotions, and change, and frustration. Typical for a first time expat I guess. But wow, four months have already gone by and all of a sudden we are like, HERE. Living here and doing this. 

We finally moved into our permanent home on July 1, a turning point in our transition. On top of missing our dear friends, family, Oxford ... the hardest part of moving here was living for 3 months in a temporary home filled with used, ugly IKEA furniture and 700 SF of space to co-exist. The new place is much bigger than our home in San Francisco, has beautiful fixtures and floors and a large master bathroom that I could hide in for days. And all of our personal belongings found us here, including my own BED. And pillow. 

Now that the dust has settled on the move, the drab mood of the temporary place has been removed from my subconscious ... I have this sense of calm and comfort with Basel. Really, it's not fair to dislike a place like this, with all it's European beauty and history, safety and cleanliness. If comparing notes with most US cities, this town is should be renamed Pleasantville. It just took me a minute to catch my breath and realize how incredibly good all of this is for us, and to slow down, take it all in and enjoy. 

Moving to Europe, alone, is a big change, but so is moving, period. Anywhere. Todd and I lived in San Francisco for a good amount of time together (10+ years, and for me almost 14). Letting go of that, all of the familiar people and restaurants, back roads and playgrounds, wasn't easy ... we made memories there that remain with us. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bern


After spending nearly three weeks cooped up inside our shoe-box (temporary) apartment, we decided it was time to use our car, and take Nels someplace new. Living in Basel means we are close to many different cultures, languages, currencies and highways. The difficult part is deciding on where to go ... and so, we took our virgin adventure to the beautiful capital of Switzerland, Bern. And, it's only just one hour south ...

First of all, the highways here are pristine. Once you cruise up into it all, it's so spacious and careful and speedy. Everyone "generally" drives the limit, and we discovered that speeding is monitored by cameras, so no CHP chasing after you. I enjoyed driving, and quickly forgot my fears of being in a foreign land. 

Cruising into Bern was a breathtaking experience, which might sound silly to us years from now, but the beauty and age of this place really is most classically Swiss. Before visiting Basel, I had visions of mountaintops, glorious stone bridges, dancing nuns and children ... Basel is nice, but it doesn't let you know you're in Switzerland. Bern helped remind us right away. 

We stayed right in the heart of the city, in a decent hotel called Goldener Schlüssel. This seemed like the logical choice, given we were up for walking everywhere, however, it backfired on us. During the later hours, the music and bar scene got loud and rowdy just outside our window, and this didn't comply with an early bedtime for the kid. Our room was also quite small, so not much privacy. 

That first night we were excited to dig into some fondue, or rather, I WAS excited to dig into some fondue. This classic swiss culinary treat actually happens to be a Campo family Christmas Eve tradition, something the four of us would enjoy right before dreaming of sugarplums ... it has history with me, and so I was anxious to really taste it from the motherland. We wondered down the main streets of Bern, not far from our hotel, and found the NYT recommended "cozy-wooded" hole in the wall Le Mazot, the perfect place to hide with a toddler in front of a hot pot of melted cheese. This place did not disappoint, price was right, and the beer was simple and crisp. My itch was scratched. Check. 

The next morning we had plans to take Nels to the Paul Klee art museum, selfishly what Todd and I had originally planned for the day ... but, we knew it probably wasn't fair to keep Nels strapped to a stroller, so we opted to try an outdoor activity, preferably involving a train.

After a quick stroll through the city markets, we happened upon a brochure in our hotel about the beautiful Gurtenparklocated on the nearby Bernese Mountain. You hop on a little red tram (train) into a magnificent panoramic view over the city of Bern, the Bernese Alps and the Jura mountains. Here you can mountain bike, disc golf, sled and (weather dependent) ski. AND, as a huge added bonus to us, the world's greatest kid-park-fantasyland. Mini steam trains, that you can RIDE, working mini bumper cars, and a huge treehouse with nets and slides and ramps galore. Nels was immediately sucked into this legendary hands-on art scupture called the Chugelibahn, a kind of oversized science-fair-like-pinball-machine. Here you can pry, turn, stimulate and shake a rubber ball through these various roller coaster paths. It was mesmerizing.

Later, after a hour of trying to nap and getting nowhere, we took to the streets of Bern, to people watch and window shop, underneath the long covered-shopping promenades, known to be some of the best in Europe. Aside from a few boring household purchases, we did find an old family chocolatier, Confiserie Tschirren, and were able to sneak in a few truffles before they closed. Before dinner, we needed to fit in just one more thing, a peek at Bären Park, a "bear park" along the River Aare, that houses the city’s mascots (and namesake) ... a couple of big, brown bears named Björk and Finn, who were both sound asleep. Catching even a slight glimpse at either of them took some time too, as this was quite touristy. 

Saturday night dinner was easier on Nels, considering he wasn't too keen on steamy hot cheese, or the greasy chicken fingers from Le Mazot (obviously NOT their specialty). We had to keep it close and simple, due to the sudden downpour, and his napless mood. We luckily discovered Kornhaus Cafe, a beautiful, classic space, located just down the street. The food was yummy, great salads and cream-free soups. Todd enjoyed a beautiful plate of lamb, while Nels and I shared a bowl of buttered spaghetti (his favorite). 

If we had it to do over, I'd say we might have only stayed one night ... even though we were itching for an adventure. We would have tried for a bigger hotel, maybe even an Airbnb, to keep things more private and easier on Nels (hard to do in Europe, where most spaces are tight and efficient). The best part was our proximity to home, and later that day, a nap, for all of us this time. 

 

 

Geradeaus


I took five years of German in high school. Although, that "fifth year" I was a distracted senior, and because I wanted to fit it in, I had to take the class on my own. I usually sat out in the hall, across from Frau Kornreich's other Deutsch class, and slowly made my way through a YA book. She would occasionally check in on me, help me read and understand certain pharagraphs, and, let's be honest, make sure I wasn't skipping. 

So, one of the silver linings of moving here was my base knowledge of this chunky language. I have a decent understanding of German pronunciation (it's danke shhh-URN, not shane), and some of the locals have noticed, and this makes them smile, or laugh, or maybe both I guess. I'm still a bit timid to cough up complete sentences ... In my mind, I tend to get halfway through, then forget how to conjugate. Or, I just simply can't remember the WORD for that WORD. I know it will begin to make more sense, and I'm happy to revisit my speaking skills even if they are shit. 

Few times I've caught myself giggling at certain phrases or words that I DO actually remember. The German language has many complex spellings and characters and titles. Frau Kornreich was always clever in her teachings, and through her large frame and lavish, blonde "Troy Polamalu" hairstyle came a clear understanding of how to pronounce and learn a term, acting out various situations. 

"GERADEAUS!" she would yell, and point and purse her lips. This obviously means, "Straight ahead!" I can picture her now, teaching us this as she set the scene for someone giving directions. This particular word comes to mind for me daily, as I navigate the streets of this new maze I am living within. It all makes no sense, not only on a map, but there are simply few places where I could make my way "geradeaus" ... everything here is curvy and pretzeled about into itself. 

Not to mention, there aren't many streets here that are easy to spell, let alone pronounce. Let me just give you an example of yesterday's directions from Google:

Head southeast on Mittlerestrasse toward Friedensgasse

Turn left onto Klingelbergstrasse

Sharp right toward Bernoullistrasse

Slight left onto Bernoullistrasse

Continue onto Petersplatz

Turn left onto Petersgraben

Turn right onto Peterskirchplatz

Continue onto Kellergässlein

It's a miracle I can get Nels to the park, and then back home again. But the more I navigate by foot, I see familiar landmarks and this always helps. I even tried driving last week, not a complete failure, but definitely a bit more stressful as I ease into an intersection to then quickly decipher a street name ... 

 

 

  

Trivia


In getting to know my new surroundings, it helps to google, along with getting lost and falling into various pubs and cafes ... 

Todd recently found a great article detailing all that's cool about Basel, and it excited me to share. Now I'll have more to look out for myself, plus, this makes me more knowledgable for when you come to visit:

  1. The great tennis star, Roger Federer, was born and raised here. Which explains why his picture is in every retail window and bus advertisement, like, everywhere. 
  2. Compared to (the now over-populated) San Francisco, Basel's population is only 170,000 people ! This must be why it's so damn clean. 
  3. One of the great charms of the city is its numerous public fountains, more than 170 of them.
  4. The Mittlere Rheinbrücke (Middle Rhine Bridge) was the city’s first one across the Rhine. (There are now six.) The original was built in 1225. The current one dates from 1905. It’s one of the few bridges in the world with a chapel at its center.
  5. Switzerland’s oldest university was founded in Basel in 1460. Luminaries like the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the Basel-born Swiss theologian Karl Barth taught there. Nietzsche lived in Basel from 1869 to 1879.
  6. Basel boasts Switzerland’s oldest and largest zoo, founded in 1874. Nels, Todd and I became members last week ... 
  7. With more than two dozen museums, Basel is a cultural hot spot (hello, Art Basel). One of the best private collections of contemporary art in the world is on display in the Beyeler Foundation.
  8. When Andy Warhol attended the city’s famous Art Basel exhibition, his favorite hangout was Chez Donati, one of the city’s best-known restaurants.
  9. Three countries meet at Basel: Switzerland, Germany and France. Switzerland marks the exact meeting point with a missile-like object called “Dreilanderpfahl” (literally “three country post”). Walk around it and you set foot in three countries in 6 seconds.
  10. Beethoven’s flute is in Basel, one of 650 musical instruments spanning five centuries displayed in the Music Museum, part of the Basel History Museum.
  11. Three notable collections of timepieces, more than 600 sundials, mechanical clocks and watches are on display in the city’s Kirschgarten Museum. (Todd's favorite fact)

A week's worth of change


Well, we made it to Saturday, our first full week as expats. This time last week, we were walking into our temporary home, all of 700 square feet, with three Swiss women all telling us what to do, and what NOT to do. My exhaustion was rather overwhelming, in such that I forgot most of what these ladies told us ... But they left detailed notes and off they went to leave us to our own confusion. 

Switzerland is no joke when it comes to rules. And during our first week here, I had moments where I was convinced we would either be fined, or kicked out after breaking almost all of them:

The garbage has to be perfectly thrown away, in the correct receptacles and blue bags, and dragged out to the curb at the correct time of day, on a specific day ... or ... they fine you. They'll even go through your trash too, if they suspect you're hiding a plastic bottle in there. Recycling must be taken to specific places, some on specific days, and must be organized and neatly bundled, or else they'll beat you down with another fine. Even when I go to toss something in a public trash bin, I do a quick glance around, to make sure I'm not going to be scolded. 

No noise between the hours of 10pm - 7am. You shouldn't really watch TV, cook anything, run the dishwasher, use the washing machine, nothing. This is almost unfair to people with jet-lagged children, who wake up at 3 AM screaming, "PAPAAAAA !!!!" as loud as can be, then allow him to watch cartoons on the iPad. Oh, and no laundry is to be done on Sundays. Nothing's open either. On Sunday, you must rest, something I'm sure I will get use to.

The public transit ticketing system has semi-confusing rules around a single fare, depending on how many times a day you'll ride, whether you pay taxes or not, and what zone you're traveling in and out of ... makes sense. Except, they NEVER look at your ticket. Or make you scan it, or wave it around. They trust you. However, if you ever DO get checked, and you DO happen to have the wrong ticket ... it's bad trouble. That, and no eating or drinking ever on the train. They'll get you.

After breaking these rules, and learning to relax a bit, it appears that Switzerland has amazing discoveries too, of course: 

The train system here is incredibly convenient. It's clean and fast and always on time. It runs all over, in and out of the city, and it's also quite simple to navigate. There's even a dedicated place for easy on-and-off strollering, so you aren't hassling with all that crap. 

The CHEESE. It's just decadent. So rich, and beautifully packaged. 

Todd, my saltine cracker connoisseur, has decided the German WASA brand saltines here are the best he's ever tasted, so I'm happy for him there. And Dijon mustard is also off the hook, another huge bonus for our simple culinary family.

Easter is a VERY big deal. Everywhere you go there are mountains of Easter candy, chocolate, decorations ... You get a sugar rush just looking at it all. The grocery stores are overwhelmed with it, and in some cases, if you weren't sure you were actually IN a grocery store, you'd think you were in a lavish candy shop. I can't imagine what Christmas will look like. 

This one will shock you ... the bank application process, at UBS, was outstanding. Like, so lovely that you'd think we were celebrities being bribed to join a club. We had an appointment, and were quickly escorted to a nice, spacious room, and brought fancy bottled waters and cappuccinos. And fancy swiss chocolates, individually wrapped. They also gave Nels a special gift, and beautiful colored pencils and paper to occupy him while we waited. 

There is really no crime here. It's very safe everywhere, even in the dark, lonely alleys at 8:00 at night, when it's cold and rainy. And you're lost. No homeless either. 

As for the differences? Well, there are many, but a few I realized right away, that will later seem silly I'm sure:

San Francisco's "10¢ bags" make nothing compared to Basel. Bags here are the equivalent to 50¢, plus they move you through the checkout line in a mad rush. No one helps you bag, and if you don't get out of the way quickly, you'll be trampled on by the next three customers, who've already whisked their tiny bounties into their totes. I would say this will just take time to learn, and as someone who already religiously brings bags with her everywhere, my first time to the Coop (the grocery store) I had nothing. So now I have 4 expensive paper bags. 

I can't find plain old simple Cheerios. They have some American cereal here, even Cheerios, but they are Multi-grain Cheerios, and these taste like cookies. 

The washing machines suck. They are more energy efficient (good, yes) but they are very tiny. Teeny. And they wash the clothes for days, it seems. And dryers aren't really useful, nor do they dry the clothes quickly. It might be even faster to hang dry. At the same time, dry cleaning is REALLY pricey. One shirt costs roughly $4.50 ! So that's a troubled area for my dapper guy. 

With all the change we have endured over the past two weeks, I can say that I really am done ripping off the "band-aids". All that emotional stinging hurts. And with Oxford absent, I haven't had anyone to lick my face, nor protect me from the (inevitable) trash police. 

Full circle


It's hard to believe that nearly 14 years ago, I moved myself to California ... far far away from the safety of my friends and family in Ohio. Having lived my entire life in the Midwest, I knew I was ready for a change. And the moment I landed in the Bay Area, I felt an overwhelming connection with my surroundings. 

Starting my first job out of college, and having no known friends nearby, it was quite a change for me, and there were lots of tears, lots of nerves and moments of regret. "Did I really just MOVE here?" I wasn't sure I would stay. 

And then there was the challenge of finding a place to live. Even back then, rents were just as high, and being 22, I didn't exactly have the means. Thanks to craigslist, I moved into my first apartment on Clay Street, a tight-squeeze, quaint studio perched on top of Nob Hill, "hill" being the key word. It took me almost 6 months to remember this, as there were numerous times I'd leave and come back with too much to carry, with that "hill" in front of me. It forced me to stay in shape, and keep my errands light. A first of many city smarts I learned after spending a year in this neighborhood. 

Fast forward many years later, married, a mother, and now embarking on yet another scary move, this time in the opposite direction. The movers came and quickly cleared out our flat three days prior to our flight, so Todd booked us a room at The Fairmont Hotel, a luxury send-off, how perfect ! But it wasn't until we got settled here, that I began to reflect upon where I was ... staring out the window from our room, onto that exact "hill" I first called home. There I was again, back on top of Nob Hill, my last stay (for now) as a resident of the city of San Francisco.