Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Finally, a chance to see “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: how have I missed this before? I’m not sure I enjoyed it quite as much as the man beside me who knocked his umbrella over three times from laughter or the woman who whooped every time the cat did something funny but…fantastic, from start to end.

It was also a chance to try out another of Zurich’s cinemas, the filmpodium. It’s not as nice as Xenix and does have the bizarre layout I’ve seen elsewhere here in which a line of pillars running down one side of the cinema serves only reduce the potential width of the screen by several feet – but is located just off the main shopping street and has a “25 Greatest Hits” season with several films I’d like to see in the cinema. However, several of these aren’t in English and this only serves as reminder that I may not be seeing much “foreign” cinema here.

Afterwards, a brief stop in Starbucks because it was the only place open and a bratwurst mit brod to remind me I’m still in Zurich (though the hailstones in October did that, too).

A Free Saturday

First totally free day in Zurich for almost two weeks – since the few days I had free between arrival and starting work.

Almost totally free, apart from the continuing effort to find a place in which to live: the viewing ran from 12-2pm which, after a late night’s coding, I struggled a little to make. It was worth the “effort”: a glance at the map didn’t reveal what a great location this was, just a few dozen meters up a street feeding directly into the old town of the Niederdorf. Though the apartment isn’t the largest and its layout leaves a little to be desired, it’s got a nice feature in having shelving already built in under the windows and being situated on the third floor; to complement this, the building has an elevator along with the usual Swiss amenities of laundry room and plentiful storage space in the cellar. Yes, this would be a nice place to live.

After this, I check out a market I spied crossing the lake at BürkliplatzAddress:. This isn’t something I expected to find in central Zurich: an assortment of market stalls located apparently randomly around the square and spilling off into the streets around, right up the Louis Vuittons and Pradas of Bahnhofstrasse. Many stalls offer cutlery, trimmings from collections of china and glassware; others have clothes, others still sport goods peculiar to markets the world over such as postcards (this one sorts its cards by the regions of Switzerland) and mobile phones. Lots of stalls have DVDs – some of which you might want to own – and many have LPs – few of which anybody would want to own -; a few stragglers have VHS cassettes. No stall has any CDs whatsoever for sale.

Out of the ordinary offerings include stalls with hi-fi components, TV and audio equipment (with every AV lead imaginable) and a surprising number of antique stands. Or, this being Zurich, perhaps not so surprising: delving deeper reveals some hair raising prices on these same antique stalls and, presumably, on the fur coat stands (again, not a staple of street markets the world over). The postcard stall deserves a mention for offering an original Segeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (“UK, 1967”) and, of course, the hi-fi stand didn’t just have any old components: this was an old Denon home theatre system. A fine place, then, to spend a Saturday morning browsing and I hope it’s on every week; my only disappointment is that there isn’t a food market.

After this, I go in search of food and coffee: I spy people heading into something called “Picnic”, which serves a variety of choices from spuds, veg and meat through stir fries up to sushi served on a rotating conveyor belt. I bump into some Irish acquaintances from work and take this as an endorsement. After this, it’s back up to the Neiderdorf and something called Teecafé Schwarzenbach. First impressions are good – there is a delicious scent of coffee emanating from the attached tea and coffee shop; the café itself is packed, with many obviously camped there for the afternoon – and the rumours are true: this is by far the best espresso I’ve yet had in Zurich. Wishful thinking but…this and the aforementioned apartment would make a fine successor to KC Peaches.

There’s just time for a little shopping and I discover a couple surely destined to become favourites in the months ahead; unadorned names seem to be the order of the day here:

  1. “The Travel Bookshop” (and the map shop, next door) aren’t exclusively English bookstores but have many titles in English, such as Rough Guides and the harder-to-find-at-home Fodors and Brandt.
  2. “The Whisky Shop” is well off the main shopping street and was still open long after its advertised closing time of 4pm. A huge number of Scotch whiskies here, a few Irish (nearly all, I’m pleased to see, from Cooley) and a Yamazaki from Japan. I’ve noticed that although food is often impressively expensive here, wine to accompany it can be much cheaper than at home – sure enough, prices aren’t outrageous here at all, especially considering they mostly stock twenty year old bottles and some non-chillfiltered bottles (I’ll have to go back to discover what that means). Certainly no more expensive than the Celtic Whiskey Shop and they offer four tastings for 5 CHF.

Today’s last event was a trip to go see “Magnolia” in the Cino Xenix as part of their Philip Seymour Hoffman season. Xenix doesn’t look like much outside but into what looks for all the world like a prefab classroom (it’s located on Helvetiaplatz, beside a school and just down the road from the amusingly titled “red light district of Zurich”), they’ve managed to cram in a box office, a sizeable (if narrow) bar and a 110 seater cinema. The cinema is great: half its seats are of traditional type, the other a whole pile of couches and it’s got digital projection on a good sized screen with great sound. The film, of course, is a classic: a sprawling epic in the best sense of the word, with wonderful performances in a frenzied, exciting, meditation on how at various times we decide our own fate, how others decide it for us and how maybe there is no such thing as pure coincidence (“this is the part of the movie…”). Not forgetting the soundtrack, to which the film is really an accompaniment rather than the other way round.

Afterwards, at 12.40am, I can still get home by public transport in ten minutes flat. A good day.

Diary

Two viewings tonight. The first was pretty dismal: a boring two bed apartment with a boring view in a boring part of town. The second was much better, sited closer to the city center and fronting onto a busy street with a very quiet balcony at the back. Around, there a few signs of personality with a few good looking restaurants and a totally bizarre shop called something like “Hi-Fi Nostalgia” with nothing but piles and piles of high-end, expensive but old hi-fi components stacked up in the front windows and, peering inside, well into the back of the shop. Nothing but Sony, Denon, Technics, etc., tape decks, turntables and tuners – completely and utterly useless and probably highly inefficient…I loved it.

Inbetween viewings I finally sort out of annual travel card: I plonk 693 CHF on a “personal ZVV 9 o’clock pass for Zurich municipal and neighbouring zones”. Basically what this means is I can now use buses, trams and boats all over Zurich city center and in each neighbouring region (not the entire canton of Zurich but right out to the airport) for the next year after 9 o’clock on week days and all weekend.

There is a vast, bewildering, array of travel passes available; in fact, it seems to me like lots of things here offer a huge choice of options (medical insurance being another): my only guess is this all part of the culture of efficiency, allowing the individual spend only what they want/need/can afford and allowing companies fleece the rich but still extract some money from the not-so rich. At least, that’s what the first 50 pages of “The Undercover Economist” taught me. Anyway, I particularly love the idea of the 9 o’clock pass – it’s almost tailored for lazy late-rising people like me with no fixed working hours and it encourages people off the trams at rush hour. That sort of efficiency I could learn to like.

I did ask the lady at SBB about a 9 o’clock general abonnemente – I love the idea of being able to travel anywhere on the Swiss network but can’t see myself justifying a 3100 CHF travel pass; maybe they have a 9 o’clock version of that, too?  – but was told that, apart from some rumours in the media about it possibly happening which were basically made up (she didn’t seem to hold a very high opinion of the newspapers coverage of SBB), there is no such thing. Oh well.

Diary Entry

Two viewings tonight.

The first is fine but nothing special and is located out in the sticks – 20 minutes on the tram to the hauptbahnof, imagine! – but it’s memorable for the outgoing tenants, one of whom is a massive Liverpool fan and is the first native English speaker I’ve met in my house-hunting campaign. We have a good chat about the flat, receiving Sky TV in Zurich (all the channels are on cable, in every building) and the Irish pubs around town – apparently Paddy Reilly’s is the one to go for and not, as you might guess, the confused identities of “The Oliver Twist” or “Big Ben”.

Afterwards, I briefly think how I would have a great chance of getting that apartment if I wanted…then correct myself by reflecting on how the current tenant has almost no influence whatsoever on choosing the next: I’ve dutifully but pointlessly brought my references to every viewing – invariably, applicants are expected to send in their application after the fact. Standing out from the crowd is tough when you’ve only your references and cover letter at your disposal and if you don’t speak any German then you’re at a disadvantage on the telephone to many other applicants. Perhaps it takes some of the chance out of house hunting: if you can figure out the rules then all you need to do is quickly supply the right papers and wait for the offers…so far, though, I haven’t worked out the rules.

The second is a vast, palatial, high ceilinged two room apartment in a lovely old building in a lively district in the city center with a great layout in which a large kitchen and bathroom adjoin the living room. The ultimate bachelor pad and, sure enough, there’s an enormous pair of hi-fi speakers in the corner. It’s huge but still has a cellar, laundry and drying room and costs well under 2000 CHF/month. Needless to say, there’s a small army of house hunters filling out the forms there and then and I curse myself for forgetting to bring my references with me: the first time the owner has been collecting application forms on the spot and I forget the damn papers!

Of course, maybe it won’t really matter: my fax will reach the estate agent’s office long before any of those filled in in person and he or she wasn’t there anyway to meet any of us. I race back to the office to fax off my application and cross my fingers.

TGV: Paris-Geneva

I may have mentioned in previous posts that I’m quite a big fan of trains. Whatever the reason for this (blame Dublin Bus), I’ve been looking for an excuse to take the TGV for a while. Paris to Geneva is a decent stretch of the legs, so why not.

The name must surely be a joke: “Big Fast Train”. But accurate! It’s double decker, goes at 300km/h and is about six miles long. The specs are impressive…train nerd heaven!

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We pull out of the Gare du Lyon (served by the very swanky, driverless, suicide-proof No. 14 metro line – deserving of a blog entry by itself) at 10.30.

By 11 we’re more or less fully accelerated and it stays that way for another hour when we make our first stop.

Still in France, we take off again but never regain top speed; soon we’re winding through mountain country and it’s not long until we’re into Switzerland. The Paris-Geneva line is scheduled for an upgrade to TGV standard but not for some years to come.

Full speed was fun (for one thing, I’ve never heard an electric engine make so much noise) and now it seems unbearably slow even though we’re surely still doing at least 70 miles an hour. Irish speeds!

Or not…for some unknown reason we arrive in Geneva about 20 minutes late. Swiss Rail or French Rail…? Not impressed!

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Off to Paris

I’m off to Europe tomorrow evening for a week; the main reason for travelling is to visit family in Geneva but I’ve had a hankering now for a while to take the TGV from Paris to Geneva and that’s what I’m going to do…three days in Paris and then three days in Geneva with a spin on the TGV on Wednesday.

Can’t wait. How’s my French…

Lausanne

Saturday was a rest from Geneva, as I headed up to Lausanne to visit a friend currently studying there.

This also afforded me a chance to experience the Swiss trains as Lausanne is only 40 minutes from Geneva by rail. First impressions were fantastic. On a minor note, as with the buses, they don’t bother with checking everybody’s tickets as you board (so there’s no bottlenecks at the gate/doors). And the differences from home continue:

  • double decker carraiges (a first for me)
  • all-electric
  • virtually silent – you’re so far from the ground and there’s no engines
  • punctual, obviously

Now that’s infrastructure!

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Lausanne is hilly. San Francisco-like. Incredibly hilly. Especially when you’re walking up and down it in the baking heat.

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It seems that the International Olympic Committee have their headquarters in Lausanne; was Geneva full? I think Swiss neutrality and a central-European location are only excuses for these international organisations: the real reason they’re here is for the views of Lake Geneva.

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We couldn’t resist Lake Geneva and ended up on a paddle boat out in the middle of it. Not a very good position for somebody who can’t swim, but there you go.

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With Lausanne exhausted (and us), we headed for Montreaux. By an amazing coincidence the 40th Montreaux Jazz Festival was in full swing. Well, they have even better views of Lake Geneva than the IOC, but in the 3 or 4 hours we wandered about we didn’t see any jazz. Great festival, shame about the jazz!

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International Relations

Today was ear-marked for some of the international bodies to which Geneva is home. One side of Geneva houses the UN, the International Red Cross, UNICEF and the WTO. These are all within about 10 minutes walk of each other. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world where you find such a grouping of international organisations.

First up was the UN; naturally, we arrived without any form of identification whatsoever, so the Red Cross (opposite) was bumped up the list until we could return home for our passports. The building sports a museum which guides you through the history of the Red Cross (and, seemingly by extension, the history of warfare for the previous two centuries). By happy coincidence a saxophone quartet were giving a free concert afterwards. A common thing in the Red Cross it seems, but today it was indoors owing to the inclement weather.

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A brief stop home (very brief – more on Geneva’s transport in an upcoming installment!) and we were back at the UN. No such thing as a free tour here, but it’s well worth the 10 francs. They have the right idea here; start in the newer 1960s section (grey, minimalist, soul-destroying) of the “palace” and then progress to the older 1930s rooms (art deco, high ceilings, artwork, like a New York skyscraper of old, inspiring).

Guess which one is which.

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Our guide was very chatty and walked extremely fast (we did get lost once). She gave a good history and introduction to the organisation and answered all our questions with only a little evasion (“and five countries are permanently on the security council….next question!”). The Geneva site is the second most significant UN site and is the world’s largest conference centre, with 34 conference rooms – 1 of them capable of taking 1200 delegates. Not today, though.

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The 1930s section was funded by Rockefeller and it really is remarkably like being in some of the great New York skyscrapers. Not so much from the outside, however, although it reminds me of some of the buildings from New York and Washington. Not a coincidence I’m sure!

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In fact, the Rockefeller “wing” was originally built to house the League of Nations. Here’s where they used to meet. De Valera sat in the centre I think.

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After this we were a bit tired (well, I was) so it was off for dinner. We did rather take the scenic route, however, dropping into the Botanic Gardens and walking alongside Lake Geneva on the way to the unknown restaurant. This was all very nice, I have to say. Every city should have a lake. No wonder it’s so popular with the UN and company.

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Geneva!

It’s about time I sneaked away from work for a while. The easiest place to organise was Geneva, since I have relations there. It took only 30 minutes to book a flight with Aer Lingus. In fact, it was a little too easy, as I discovered when I tried to cancel the flight – owing to a small oversight with dates the flight home clashed with a fairly important engagement back home.

It was well worth missing that, however.

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The flight over was uneventful if a little turbulent. While approaching the airport the plane was surrounded by a thunder and lightning storm. I’m sure this happens all the time and that the planes are built to cope with it (although I can’t imagine how). Very interesting observing lightning from above.

Of course, the world cup is in the knock-out stage by now and the relation was invited out by a gang of Portuguese for dinner/beer/football.
It turns out the Portuguese are the biggest immigrant group in Switzerland; bizarre, but fairly evident by the number of flags draped from apartment blocks.

It was a pity they didn’t win against France since – again bizarrely – there’s less French in Geneva than Portguese, apparently. But the celebrations on the way home were still impressive. What struck me was how there is absolutely no atmosphere or excitement around the World Cup at home, it really makes a difference when the streets spring into life after a victory. I guess that’s just another great thing about living in central Europe.

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