First Impressions of Switzerland

Here’s an extract from an old group email I sent around:


Welcome to the second edition!  For all those original subscribers, thanks for continuing to buy this trash.  For the new subscribers, welcome aboard.  Your business is appreciated.  If any of you want a back-copy of the first edition “Amazing Thailand:, send your email to the editor.  Alternatively, if any of you want off this free rag, there’s no chance!  No escape!  Not now, not ever.

After flying out of Bangkok on 30 Nov, I arrived at Frankfurt airport at about 5.30 am.  Rather than fly straight down to Switzerland, I decided I’d use the week to see a bit of Germany.  The weather was a bit of a shock – from 30 degrees and humid in Bangkok to zero degrees and freezing in Frankfurt.

I was going to spend my four days in and around Frankfurt, but the first thing I got told by everyone at the hostel there was to get out as soon as I could, as Frankfurt sucked.  I decided I’d see for myself, so I went for a walk around town.  Two hours later I returned and I already had my train trip organised for the next morning.

I headed on down to Heidelberg (bit different to the Melbourne one though), about 1 hr south of Frankfurt.  It’s usually a bit of a touristy spot, however it wasn’t the peak season and quite empty.  I had a great couple of days there seeing the sights (with a few other Australians in tow, of course!), including this magnificent 16th (? – something like that) Century castle which dominates the town and is made of a red stone.  The Altstadt (Old Town) provided some great pubs for drinking, and the Christmas Markets provided cheap(er) food – I’ve had JUST about enough bratwurst as I can handle.  Also went for a walk up to a 1935 Nazi amphitheatre that still stands on top of a large hill overloking the town.  The architecture was very Naziesque, eerie and cold, and in all truth looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.  That nasty man Goebbels spoke there once…

On Friday the 4th I made my way back to the airport to fly to Zürich (that key is soooo easy to do with these German keyboards).  It was a new experience for me, as the plane had to wait on the tarmac for 1 1/2 hrs to be de-iced!  A quick flight took me to Switzerland, where the whole country was covered in snow for my arrival (no snow in Germany, just freezing cold).  An even quicker train (about 15 mins) got me to Baden, the town I’m working and staying in now.  I checked in to the hostel there for the weekend, and took the weekend to relax and suss everything out for work.  It snowed for three days solid and the place looked incredible.

A brief description.  Baden is a town of about 20,000 people (with surrounding towns, bumping up the local population to about 150,000) NW of Zürich, on the banks of the Limmat river.  It’s got a fair bit of history, as it’s thermal baths have been used since Roman times, the powerful Habsburg family resided here once (…wow…), and I think it even used to be the capital of Switzerland many years ago (but don’t quote me on that just yet).  As with all European towns it has a beautiful Altstadt, an english pub and churches galore.  Of course there are some ye olde castle ruins as well.  ABB Kraftwerke (ABB Power Generation, the company I’m working at) takes up a little less than half of what is called Baden, with more factories and offices than you can poke an alpine horn at.  A large percentage of the Baden population works for ABB, however there’s a shit-load of foreigners floating around.  Do you know that if Switzerland’s unemployment is looking a bit high, all they do is give some foreigners the arse.  Talk about jobs for the boys…

I’ve knocked over two weeks of work now, and I’m starting to get into the work I’m doing (planned it well – just in time for Christmas).  I’m doing Steam Turbine System Development which is actually really interesting work, however it certainly isn’t really my particluar field of engineering!  Basically I sit at a computer all day and do simulation and experiments of turbine and power plant models, but there IS more to it than that!  Promise!

I think I’d better learn German fast, not so much for getting around town but for work.  Much of the documentation is in German and they generally speak it as well unless they are directly speaking to you.  If I hear one more person talking about me in German I’ll kick their bum.  I’ve even had to be absent at some meetings and presentations because they were in German.  I just bum around the office by myself for a while (and write really long e-mails).

I moved into my place in the first week.  It’s of an average standard, but adequate for me, and only 10 mins walk from work so I can’t complain.  Especially seeing the cleaners come twice a month to clean the place up!  The flats each have four bedrooms, and all the flats are owned by ABB and rented out to (male) employees, so basically it’s a lot of fun, taking turns to cook and going out every night.  I haven’t really spent too much time there so far!

Two weekends ago we (some of the guys) did a couple of day trips, to escape Baden and see some of the sights.  First stop was Zürich, which was nice but nothing too special.  Would you believe we actually went there to shop!  The next day we caught a 1 1/2 hr train and cable car to Flumserberg, one of the ski resorts SE of Zürich.  Had my first experience of the Alps, and they were absolutely breathtaking.  The mountain ranges and sheer valleys were so immense it’s hard to describe (so I won’t try).  No skiing for me that day as I still need to buy a bit more of my own gear, but in January the lads will be back for skiing for sure – we’re planning on it almost every weekend.  It really is a tough life…

Last weekend it was a short trip to Lucerne – a lovely old town with some amazing buildings and a really famous covered bridge over the river (burnt down and re-built in ’93, it just looks a little bit too new).  There’s a couple of great mountains nearby that you can get to the top of, but the weather was so poor (snow all day and heaps of cloud higher up) that we decided to save our money for a day where we’d actually see something.

Less than a week to go before Christmas, and I have to be happy because we get off from 24  Dec to 04 Jan.  Because I’ve been told that Baden sucks at Christmas and New Years (everyone that CAN get out DOES), I’ve decided to go to the UK.  I’ll spend Christmas with my sister Sally in London and then visit some friends in and around London.  It looks at this stage like I’ll be heading up to Scotland for New Years, as I’ve been advised that it’s a guaranteed goer-offeror.  I’m sure you’ll read about it in the 3rd Edition.

Another reason I’m going to the UK is to visit my friend Sarah there, who fell extremely ill in Thailand with cerebral malaria (see First Edition).  After my last e-mail, Sarah slowly came out of her coma progressively over about 1 1/2 to 2 weeks, but is now breathing and feeding herself.  Tests show no permanent damage at this stage.  She is still extremely weak and hardly able to walk, however to the best of my knowledge (e-mails from her parents), she is regaining strength to return home to a UK hospital for a few days and then home.  By the time I hit the UK hopefully I’ll be able to see her at home.  Thanks to everyone who showed concern after my last e-mail.  For those of you who knew her from Thailand, I’ve sent your “Get Well” wishes to her.

Well that’s about it for now.  I’ll try emailing you independently if and when I get the chance.  My apologies if I don’t get back to you – but I’m trying my best!  Hope all’s well wherever you are.  Have a great Christmas and New Year.

Cool bananas, Paul.

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