Posted in Switzerland

Final Geneva Update (Hopefully!)

Lake Geneva (photo courtesy of Shutterstock).

Today is Saturday, and we are scheduled to depart on Wednesday, woo hoo!! There are still no direct flights from DC to Geneva, so we were booked on a United/Air Canada codeshare connecting through Montreal. It was a decent route with a two-hour layover and was only that much longer than our original direct flight. Plus they only charged 100 Canadian Dollars (about $75 USD) for our cat to go in the cabin.

BUT Air Canada kept cancelling the transatlantic portion of the route. And every time they did, I had to spend an hour on the phone with customer service transferring the cat from flight to flight. One day we were departing on the 5th, after it cancelled I requested we move to the 4th…then I realized that we COULDN’T do the 4th because our Swiss visas have us arriving on the 6th.  (Our Swiss visas did come through in about a month with no problems, yay!) I believe it’s okay to arrive after your visa starts, just not before. So we moved to depart on the 6th, and that one cancelled, so I figured it was best to change routes.

We are now back to departing on the 5th and scheduled to transfer through Brussels on a United/Brussels Airlines codeshare. I called Brussels Airlines to book the cat, and they told me that the first leg is being operated by United, so I had to book the cat on United FIRST. I did that for $125 USD, then I called Bruss Air back…and they said that booking a cat on the Brussels-Geneva leg wasn’t possible. And why hadn’t I called first to confirm. I politely pointed out that I had called, and they told me to book United first. He looked again and said, “Oh, okay, no problem. I can do that for you.” Then he charged my credit card an additional $70 USD.

So fingers crossed that all works out. The dog, of course, is another story. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m using a pet shipper for him since he’s so big, and I’m sooooooooooooo glad that I did. Pet travel outside the cabin is crazy right now. There are a ton of flight restrictions, and many airlines aren’t transporting pets in the hold at all.

At the moment no pets are flying out of DC airports (again, unless they’re in the cabin), so my pet shipper is actually sending my dog on a truck up to JFK in New York, flying him in cargo from JFK to Zurich, where he will be processed through customs by a Swiss expeditor, and then put on another truck and delivered to our home in Geneva. This has pretty much doubled their original estimate. Part of me feels absolutely ridiculous for spending that much money on a dog, but as a friend pointed out…what are our options? Not take my son’s dog? I think he’s been through enough loss already. So I try to tell myself that it’s only a couple of months’ rent in DC, which we will no longer be paying!!

Now all I need is for their health certificates to come back from the USDA/APHIS office in New York. Some countries only require a health certificate for your pet to enter the country. Others require that the health certificate be officially approved and stamped by the USDA. We have an office in Richmond, VA, which is about two hours away, so in the past, I’ve simply made an appointment, driven down to Richmond, had them stamped, and went on our way. But due to coronavirus, the office is not taking appointments. So you either have to express mail your application to the office in New York or find a vet that can submit them electronically through the Veterinary Export Health Certification System (VEHCS). You still have to wait for them to print, stamp, and send the physical copy back to you. And it can be fairly nerve wracking when your health certificates must be done “within 10 days of arrival.”

Other than that, everything seems to be going smoothly (knock on wood). The packers came on Monday and packed out our two-bedroom apartment in a day. Then they picked up the car yesterday. I thought about having the interior cleaned beforehand, but I’ve heard of people receiving moldy vehicles and figured it would be a good idea to keep the humidity down before it spends a month in a container. I did try to buy some winter snow tires for it since they will probably be twice as expensive in Switzerland.

I called NTB two weeks ago Monday, and they said no problem, they could order them, have them that same day, and would call me when they came in. Well, they never called, so I called on Wednesday. They said they’d check the noon shipment and call me back. They never called. I called on Thursday and said if I couldn’t get them by Saturday, then I couldn’t pack them out on Monday. I never heard from them again. SOOOOOOOOOOO I guess I’ll be buying them in Switzerland!

Anyway, enough of the boring logistical stuff. Saying good-bye to people is always hard, and coronavirus is certainly making this departure a strange one. But I have managed to have two socially distant lunches in actual restaurants this last week…one with an OMS friend on home leave from Kabul and one with a friend that I worked with in London who has been my best DC lunch buddy! We have two more visits planned with transiting friends this weekend, a couple farewell phone calls, and two playdates for my kiddo.

Speaking of farewells, my fabulous co-OMS at work set up a lovely virtual farewell happy hour and a cool virtual card on kudoboards for me, which was super sweet and made me feel all warm and fuzzy and appreciated. I have really, really enjoyed working at FSI. The people are fantastic, and it was such a unique experience. I was definitely sad to say good-bye!

But we are still looking forward to Geneva! Since the cases in the US are blowing up, Switzerland has started to impose a strict 10-day quarantine on official US arrivals (US tourists are not yet allowed to enter the country)…no dog walking, no grocery shopping. And the US mission has asked us to remain in a looser quarantine for an additional four days. I am now extra happy that we have a yard and grocery delivery is available

So that’s where we are at the moment! With any luck, my next post will be from Switzerland!! Stay safe out there!!

Posted in Switzerland

Geneva Update

The Jungfrau, photo from ryderwalker.com.

After nine long months, and about 90 emails exchanged with MED, I am super happy to report that my son has FINALLY been cleared to go back overseas. Woo hoo!!!

I have to say, I have never seen a process that was so micromanaged in my entire life and look forward to a time when I never have to deal with that particular office again. But, life being life, that probably won’t be the case. So for now I will just be thankful that we can move forward!!

We are also thrilled that A has been officially accepted into an amazing international school. I queried four of them. One of them wouldn’t be able to tell us until April if they had space for him next year, and that was just way too late in the planning process for me. Another one didn’t have the classroom support available, so that was a no-go.

But he was accepted by a fantastic school that has instruction in French, in English, and a bilingual program in French AND English. I’d also read lots of positive things about them from parents on some Foreign Service blogs, so I’m excited about that option and didn’t feel the need to pursue the fourth school. I hope he has a really positive experience there.

As of this week, I’m still waiting to be “paneled” (officially approved for my assignment). I was kind of paneled two weeks ago, but they put the wrong arrival date, so it had to go back to panel. It looks like we will be transitioning the first week of August, so A will be able to finish school here in June and get a few weeks of summer camp in with his friends before we head out.

One new requirement for folks going overseas this year is to attend a week of counter-terrorism training. When I first joined you only had to attend if you were going to a high-threat post. But the world is such a crazy place these days, it’s now mandatory for everyone heading abroad…even to Switzerland. So I’m lined up to do that in February. One more box to check in my pre-departure check list!

Which currently looks like this (in no particular order):

  • Get paneled, get travel orders, request plane tickets, get Swiss visa
  • Get rabies shots, health certificates, and make travel arrangements for pets
  • Arrange for childcare: US summer camp, interim babysitters, and au pair
  • Buy a new car, transfer vehicle registration, arrange for shipping, update car insurance, rent a car
  • Submit housing questionnaire, get housing assignment, buy more furniture, schedule packout
  • Order school supplies and uniforms
  • Give apartment 90-days’ notice of departure, extend lease for one month
  • Change addresses on everything, cancel internet, phone, TV, Naked Wines membership (sadly), etc………………………..

That said, now that I know we’re really leaving, the time is starting to fly by! I’m trying to think of any last bucket list items while we’re still here in DC, but I’ve kind of lost motivation for that. I’m looking forward to one more season of cherry blossoms. We’re planning a long weekend in Pennsylvania in May to visit cousins.

And I wouldn’t mind a couple more weekends at the beach, or a weekend trip to Florida to see the Harry Potter stuff at Universal or the new Star Wars area at Disney. I might actually try to make that happen since Florida is miserably hot in the summer, if we saved it for a future home leave.

So that’s where we stand at the moment!!!

Posted in Switzerland

Thoughts on Geneva

Geneva, photo by Samuel Borges Photography/Shutterstock.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am really excited about being posted to Geneva. I’ve been there twice as a tourist, and it’s gorgeous! Here are some of the things that have been swirling around in my head since receiving the news.

We Used to Be Neighbors

Twenty-five years ago, I lived about a two-hour drive across the border in France for a year for study abroad. I remember doing a short weekend girls’ trip to Geneva with three fellow students that I’ve since lost touch with. But I remember the lake and strolling along the boulevard at night eating roasted chestnuts in the cool weather. I also visited again for a day while on a family vacation with my mom and step-dad in France in 2002.

Housing

Like many cities with Foreign Service housing, you have two options: apartments downtown or houses in the suburbs. It would be amazing to finally have a house again with a yard for the dog. But it increases the commute, which increases the need for child care. It’s also an unfurnished post, so I can take my current furniture, but I don’t love it and was hoping to get rid of most of it when we left DC. If we get a bigger house, I’ll also have to buy more stuff to cover the essentials…like beds in the guest room for visitors!

Child Care

…is exorbitantly expensive in Geneva. From what I’ve read, the going rate for a babysitter is about 20-30 USD per hour. Not that we have one, but they also have extremely strict regulations on importing nannies, and you have to pay for local health insurance, etc. So a live-in nanny costs about $2,500 a month, and a nanny that doesn’t live with you gets paid about $3,000, and there are long waiting lists.

Another option is to hire an au pair. Au pair’s live with you and are only allowed to work a maximum of 30 hours a week (compared to 45 in the US), while they take a language course…half of which you are required to pay for. They also need insurance and a salary, all of which comes out to over $2,000 per month. Depending on how much overtime I work, hiring someone to be home when A gets there after school might be a necessity. So I’d basically be trading DC rent for child care expenses, which is kind of a bummer. But if our lives cost the same in both places, at least the quality of living will be much improved in Geneva. 🙂

Schools

Housing and childcare might also depend on what school he gets into. There are four English-speaking international schools in Geneva, and one of them is right across the street from the mission. So A could essentially walk over when he’s done, sit somewhere quietly, and do his homework. Granted, that’s not really ideal (if even possible). But since they are all private, for-profit schools, they are not required by law to make any accommodations for kids that require any kind of learning support. Some of them do have programs though, so we’ll see what we can come up with.

Vehicles

They’re quite strict on vehicle inspections…especially on cars that are over eight years old. Mine would be 11 when we arrive. I’ve recently replaced the headlights (grrr), and the windshield has a few chips in it that may or may not pass inspection. If I am ever to buy a new car, it would be smart to do it while we’re in the US and I can trade in my vehicle, but it only has 60,000 miles and is still in pretty good shape mechanically. So that’s another big decision (and expense) I get to make.

French

I get to use my bad tourist French! I have a French degree from 1994, studied it on and off for seven years between high school and college, and spent a year in the country. It’s been so long that I’m still nervous to speak in the presence of others, but I am looking forward to using it again…and not actually being graded on it! I like to think it will be in pretty good form by the time we leave post though.

And of course there is the French food, and the snow in winter, and the mountains (Matterhorn!) and lakes, and Christmas markets, and castles. I never think of Switzerland when I think of castles, but they have some great ones! I’ve also come across a few fun things that I can’t wait to check out…like the HR Giger Museum in Gruyères, the Ice Palace in Fieschertal, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, and the Glacier Express train…and all the great travel opportunities to neighboring countries.

Sometimes it is hard to live in the moment when you know what’s coming, but I will try. 🙂

Posted in Switzerland

And Our Next Post Is…

…GENEVA, SWITZERLAND!! I am extremely excited about it and can’t wait to get there. Scroll down for 40 Fun Facts about Switzerland, and you’ll understand why. 🙂

40 Fun Facts about Switzerland from SeriousFacts.com:

1. Switzerland was originally called Helvetia.
2. The official name of Switzerland is Confoederatio Helvetica in Latin [hence Swiss webpages end in .ch].
3. Switzerland produces the most chocolate in the world.
4. The Swiss eat more chocolate compared to any other country.
5. The total area of Switzerland is 41,277 sq km. [15,937 sq mi.)
6. Switzerland is the only country that has a square flag.
7. Switzerland has more than 1,500 lakes.
8. Switzerland’s highest point is the Dufour Peak at 15,199 feet height.
9. Swiss chocolate makers Henri ‘Nestle’ and ‘Daniel Peter’ invented milk chocolate.
10. Teaching in Switzerland is one of the uppermost paid professions.
11. They have four official languages: French, Italian, Romansch, and German.
12. Jean-Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman and the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross, received the very first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.
13. Switzerland is one of the world’s leading exporters of chocolate.
14. The capital of Switzerland is Bern.
15. Their largest city is Zurich.
16. Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist took the first acid trip in 1943.
17. Most of the world’s luxury watches are produced in Switzerland like Tissot, TAG Heuer, Rolex, and Patek Philippe.
18. Snowboarding, skiing, and mountaineering are popular sports in Switzerland.
19. Assisted suicide in Switzerland is legal.
20. Nescafe, the world’s first instant coffee, was invented in Switzerland.
21. Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web in Switzerland in 1989.
22. Switzerland’s Sonnenberg Tunnel is the largest nuclear shelter in the world.
23. Patek Philippe of Switzerland invented the wristwatch in 1868.
24. August 1st is Switzerland’s Independence Day.
25. 60% of the country’s electricity comes from a hydroelectric power source.
26. In Switzerland, bank tellers are secured by bulletproof glass.
27. Switzerland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
28. In case of a nuclear war, Switzerland has enough bunkers to house their entire population.
29. Switzerland’s lowest elevation is the town of Ascona at 643 feet.
30. Globi, a Swiss cartoon character, is one of the most popular characters in Switzerland.
31. Rivella is the most famous and favorite drink in Switzerland.
32. Rosti is one of Switzerland’s popular dishes.
33. The world’s smallest toolbox, the Swiss Army Knife, was invented by Karl Elsener.
34. Albert Einstein invented the famous equation E = mc2 while he was in Switzerland.
35. Most Indian films are shot in Switzerland. [I had to Google this one…but apparently it’s true!]
36. Charlie Chaplin spent the last 25 years of his life in Switzerland.
37. The first waterproof watch was invented by Rolex.
38. Switzerland is the only country to build an airplane that is powered by solar energy.
39. To apply for Swiss citizenship, you have to live in Switzerland for at least 12 years.
40. Switzerland accidentally invaded its neighbor Liechtenstein in 2007. 🙂