Archive | May, 2011

It Tastes Spanish to Me

When Summer approaches, the only thing I can possibly think of is spanish food. Could there be anything that screams beach and sunshine more than a paella with meat and sea food?

I’m grateful for having found a bunch of people that feel the same way I do about food (and drinks) in Switzerland. People that, just as me, enjoy preparing copious meals just for the sake of it. People that prepare a paella with meat and sea food on a sunday, to share with a group of friends.

Spending a sunday afternoon getting tipsy on spanish wine and Orujo, talking about ingredients, cooking techniques and taste or texture preferences just felt great. Yes, I have been savoring some haute cuisine. Yes, I’ve also found spanish tapas near my work place.

What I didn’t find, until today, was the spanish attitude towards food, in general.

Switzerland enjoys a good meal, there’s no doubt about that – but once its finished, you’ll move on to the next activity. Spain, on the other hand, can spend 5 hours having lunch. Better – it can combine a lunch and a dinner, without ever leaving the table.

Finding an Upside to Switzerland’s Housing Shortage

Before I start rambling, I want to thank you all for your warm words, support and encouragement on my upcoming move to London – you made my day! :)

Even though I’m generalizing for Switzerland in the title of this post, the housing shortage is really a problem for cantons Geneva, Zurich and Vaud – where I’m currently living.

Apartment searching in Switzerland is a full time job.

When I first got here, I spent 9 months in a 20m2 furnished studio provided by my company. Once it was decided that I was going to stay in Switzerland after my one-year training, I started my apartment search. I had been warned about Switzerland’s high prices, but what nobody had told be is about the scarcity of available apartments (at least for those under 4,000 CHF a month – that is, 3,200 euro)! Available apartments are usually gone after 4-5 days of announcing online.

No wonder! After all, for every 1,000 apartments in Canton Geneva, only 2 are available on the market (seriously, 0.2%! crazy, right?). Canton Vaud (where I live) is the second most demanded one, because it’s next to Geneva and, oh well, because its simply beautiful.

The agency or current tenants will offer you to visit it in a 2 hour time frame (often at not-quite-suitable hours for full-time office workers), together with 70-80 other applicants. If you like it, you’ll leave your brochure with 3 bank extracts that state your monthly salary, a recommendation letter from your employer, the attestation de non-poursuite (a paper verifying that you do not have any outstanding debt in the country) and a copy of your work permit and passport.

The agency then will examine the hundreds of applicants and will usually first choose those who have been recommended internally, are swiss and have a salary that is more than 3 times the price of the apartment. That is – If you’re a foreigner on an entry-level position and no link to the swiss real estate sector, you’re screwed.

It took me 4 months, more than 30 visits and around 20 full applications to get the apartment I’m now living in. Sure, I’m probably paying more than any swiss would do for a studio – but I’m quite picky, too, and had fallen in love with it the moment I stepped in (and now never want to leave!)

Sunny Terrace, Switzerland

A highly regulated market

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take my apartment with me to London – so, hoping to inform the agency soon enough of my departure, I sent in my letter to request the contract termination for the end of august. To my surprise, I got back an e-mail stating that they can not accept my request, since I should have made it 3 months before the end of the one-year revolving contract – in March! Basically, I would have had to send a contract termination in March 2011 even if I was leaving in February 2012 – which I find ridiculous. Which expat knows where he or she is going to be in one year time?

After doing some research, I found that swiss law dictates that, if a tenant wants to leave his or her apartment in the middle of a contractual year (in my case – September), he has to provide the agency with one suitable candidate to take over his or her place in order to be free to leave. Sounds good, but, how do you define a suitable candidate? what’s suitable for me may not be suitable enough for the agency!

What if I find 1-3 people and they decline them all?

Well, turns out that, as long as the candidate has a salary that is 3 times the price of the apartment and is trustworthy, its an acceptable candidate. That is, if I send them the application of one candidate that meets this criteria, I should be freed from my contract. If you’re in a similar situation, and want to make sure that the agency doesn’t fool around with you, I’d recommend to register at ASLOCA – a renter protection agency that fights against real estate agencies that try to squeeze the last cent out of your pocket.

I’m currently on the search of this special candidate and, so far, things are going quite well – I published the apartment on Homegate less than 24 hours ago and already have 3 people asking for it, of which one already came for a view and fell in love almost the same way I did. Now I only hope that the agency finds him suitable.

There had to be an advantage for the scarce living space in this canton!

How does the Real Estate market work in your country? Is it also regulated and rigid? Do you have to prepare a dossier?

There’s Something I Am Dying to Tell You

I’ve been keeping a secret from you, but can’t hold it back anymore.

I’m moving to London in September!

I got the offer to move within the company and the current department I work for to London. Although the tasks and projects will still remain the same, this is a big jump in my career. In the new office, I will no longer have someone sitting next to me whom I could ask anything in case of doubt. From September onwards, I’m going to be the one who will stand up to talk, who will decide what’s acceptable and what’s not (ok, up to certain point…) and who will search for possible projects.

Thoughts and emotions have been roller-coasting in my head.

Can I hold up to my company’s expectations?
Do I want to move into the exact opposite of Switzerland?
Do I want to go through all the phases of culture shock, again?
What am I going to eat there? (not kidding – this has been one of the many thoughts…)
Will I be able to deal with all the fog and rain?

Frankly, I’m not sure – But I’m willing to find out. Some of Switzerland’s characteristics I’ve loved before even arriving in the country, and others I’ve learned to appreciate with time. But, as any other place in the World, there are cultural aspects that, although I have partly learned how to live with, I do not share. I still don’t understand why shops open at exactly the same time when people are in the office, for example – Although it definitely has helped me to cut back on spendings!

There will be countless peculiarities I’ll miss from Switzerland – more than I had ever thought I would – but there are also some luxuries I’ve missed from living in big cities. Not to mention about living in a country where I can make myself understandable without pointing on things and making ridiculous descriptions!

You may wonder… what will happen with this blog? Well, 100 Miles Highway is a travel – expat – photography – foodie blog – and I will still be doing all of that in London! But instead of talking a lot about cheese, I may switch into something more british – maybe puddings?

Nah, I’ll probably just still stick to cheese.

Photo Essay: Gorge du Verdon, Provence

After finishing my one month summer french course in Nice, I went on a road trip through the South of France. This was already 5 years ago. Time flies, and my french isn’t getting any better!

We spent some days along the coast side before breaking into the french countryside. It was going to be my first time in the deep Provence. Fields of lavender and villages made of stones – that’s all I could think of.

Yes, I was uneducated and naïve.

The Gorge du Verdon is known as the Grand Canyon of Europe. It runs for around 25 km, between Castellane and Moustiers-Ste-Marie and goes down to over 700 meters depth. There are plenty of viewpoints along the road but the best views can be found when standing on one edge of the gorge. One of the main ones is Les Balcons de la Mescla, on the southern wall. This natural balcony overlooks the point in which the Verdon and Artuby rivers meet.

I never expected such a landscape in Provence.

When staring down hundreds of meters, I was fascinated by the color of the water carried by the Verdon river. From the top, it shines in an inviting deep turquoise-green!

At the western edge Gorge du Verdon, the river flows into lake of Sainte-Croix. From there, we rented a canoe to paddle into the gorge. Once you get to see the river closer, you’ll realize that the water has a somewhat milky appearance. This immediately made me alert: I couldn’t really see what was swimming next to me!

I sat there, in the canoe with the sun shining in my face, watching other people jump into the water and weighting the pros and cons of taking the risk. After a couple of minutes, I putt aside my fears of being trapped by seaweed or bitten by one of those deep sea creatures (river version), and took a plunge into the milky turquoise river!

The fresh water was perfect to cool down from the hot temperature. And once inside, I completely forgot about deep river creatures and seaweed, and enjoyed the afternoon.

Finding Home in Switzerland

Croquetas de Jamón

When traveling or living abroad, you will sooner or later encounter something familiar, something that will transport us back to where we come from.

It might be a smell of something familiar. An old song that brings back good memories. Listening to someone grumbling in your native language on the public transport. Watching your team win a football match and discover someone cheering for victory at the end of the bar. A street sign. A name.

But above all, there is spotting a new restaurant specialized in your native food.

Mejillones Tigre

Tortilla de Patatas

What has taken you home while traveling abroad?

Small is Beautiful (Confession of a Food Enthusiast)

I have a confession to make.

Ok, it might not be exactly a confession since you will probably have noticed and deduced it from my blog – Switzerland has turned me into a bon vivant.

I’ve always enjoyed the taste of food. It was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to resist in Switzerland – host of the two best hotel schools in the World according to the annual TNS Global Survey: Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne and Les Roches (in Crans-Montana). I would have never thought that Switzerland had such a broad variety when it comes to restaurants. There’s a plate for each palate – from the classic fondue to molecular cuisine. Your pocket (and maybe transport) is the only limit.

I had heard that the best restaurants are often hidden gems in tiny villages that are rather difficult to spot. When my mom came to visit, we rented a car and took this chance to explore Vaud’s less obvious gastronomic treasures. This is how we found Le Guillaume Tell, in Aran-Villette, a cozy fairy-tale village with a population of less than 600 people.

We entered into a living room with not more than 8-10 tables and were kindly seated on the only remaining table (we were lucky – we should have reserved!). The decoration was warm and one immediately felt at home. No opulent adornments, lushness or luxury. I like that – it proves that the food is the star and there’s nothing that will distract you from savoring it.

To start with an amuse bouche (appetizer), we were surprised with a wasabi snowball and the below gazpacho, which was followed by our entrées: duck liver terrine and a deer and veal carpaccio.

Followed by a pigeon and its own foie and a tender beef filet with two sauces.

To finish, we had home made sorbets and a crème brûlée with orange confit.

I left the restaurant happier than ever. Not only did I had an unique dinner but I also realized that, when it comes to food – small is beautiful. Why eat 500g beef steak if you can eat less and therefore have a first course and desert (and maybe even a cheese plate) as well? The joy is in the variety of flavors and one of the main elements of haute cuisine, I guess, is finding the right combination.

What about you? Would you rather have one plate that will satisfy your hunger or have smaller portions but therefore mixing flavors?

Check out my Flickr Gallery for the full pictures of the dinner at Le Guillaume Tell!

Picture This: Something Blue

As far as my childhood memory reaches back in time, blue has always been my favorite color. I’m not talking about cyan or light blue – but an intensive deep midnight blue. That midnight blue is the color of the Atlantic Ocean. I thought I’d never find it anywhere else – specially not in Switzerland, a country surrounded by land. But I was wrong.

Lac Léman keeps surprising me – How can a lake mimic the color of the deep ocean?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Photo Essay: The Swiss Riviera (Vevey)

You might have heard about the French Riviera – the French coastline that extends from around St. Tropez to the italian border and has been long known to be a playground for the rich and the famous. Ports are flooded with the World’s most expensive yachts – some of them include a heliport on the top, some simply have a huge pool on the top. During my summer in Nice – that first attempt on learning a french a couple of years back – I enjoyed my afternoons sitting at a nearby cafe and guessing which yacht belonged to Elton John or how many wives that Sheikh had on board.

But the french are not the only sophisticated ones with exclusive clientele – Switzerland also has its own Riviera. The Swiss Riviera.

Vevey, Switzerland

Switzerland’s Riviera stretches along the northern shore of Lac Léman – being Vevey and Montreux (home of the infamous jazz festival) its two largest villages. My favorite place to go wine tasting in Europe, Lavaux, also belongs to this area.

The Swiss Riviera does not have the Europe’s biggest yachts nor P. Diddy strolling along its beaches. Its exclusivity, though always latent, is rather subtle.

Old Village, Vevey, Switzerland
Lac Léman and Alps, Switzerland

Its clean cozy streets and breathtaking lake and mountain scenery convinced many celebrities to spend a great part of their life in the region. Hemingway, Charles Chaplin and Freddie Mercury and only some of the personalities that have walked its paths and gazed at its unique sunsets.

Sure, Vevey is not among Europe’s top party places, which I prefer so – I don’t want to come across Paris Hilton and a bunch of paparazzi following her from one boutique to another. Life in the Swiss Riviera is relaxed – no rush and no hurry. No paparazzi.

It’s a simple life made luxurious – its vineyards overlooking the lake and the Alps, unnoticed boutiques with offering both quality and fashion as well as the finest collection of top quality restaurants hidden in tiny neighbor villages.

Vevey, Switzerland

There’s no need to say more – this is where I want to live (when I’m rich and famous), too.

Where would you live if you were one of the rich and famous?

A Taste of Lac Léman

Filets de Perche

Filets de Perche: A speciality in the area of Lac Léman

On my first trip to Geneva, back in 2006, a friend’s family took us unexperienced spaniards to a small restaurant near the lake. Its speciality was local fish. We ordered filet the perche – an indigenous specie in Lac Léman served in small fillets that traditionally is served with sauce tartare and french fries. Going out for filets de perche is a good excuse to sit on a terrace next to the lake on a sunny afternoon and its a must try when in any of the villages surrounding Lac Léman.

During the last year and a half, filet de perche have been many of my lunches and dinners in Switzerland. However, they were not always as good as I expected.

I soon found out that Lac Léman does (by far) not have enough perches to satisfy its demand – the local catch only covers 6% of swiss consumption and so the remaining 94% are frozen filets coming all the way from Estonia.

How can one escape from the frozen filets offered in many restaurants?

The high season for filets is between July and October, that is, its likely that a restaurant announcing filets de perche in January will be importing them from Eastern Europe. Obviously, there are some exceptions – restaurants specialized in these filets will have a deal with local fishermen who will exclusively deliver to them all-year-round. My personal favorite is Café de la Poste, in a fairy tale lake village called Lutry (where I took the picture above).

My recommendation is to always search for filets de perches frais du Lac Léman to get the real taste. Due to the low local supply, restaurants that actually do serve the fresh catch will make sure that’s clear for their customers

It’s not all about filets de perche

There are more than 50 fish species in Lac Léman – why obsess with one kind when you can eat your way through the lake? I’m putting this concept into practice since saturday – having started with these filets de féra with pommes frites and Lavaux wine at Chateau d’Ouchy.

filets de féra
Pommes frites
Glass of White Wine (Lavaux)

Cheers to new gourmet discoveries!

Another 5 Latin-American Expressions I’ve Mastered at Work

For those of you who are new to my blog, let me shortly explain why I’m writing about Latin-American expressions when I’m actually living in Switzerland. It’s quite simple: I live in the french side of Switzerland but don’t make any use of french at work. I work in an international company (that is, most of the communication is held in english) within a small spanish speaking team. And by spanish-speaking I mean latin-american, except for me.

And this is the reason for me loosing my Canarian accent and constantly being asked if I am Argentinian.

  • Andar al pedo. To not do anything important, hanging around. Occasionally used on a friday afternoon, when no e-mails or phone calls come in and you just spend 20 minutes browsing through an online shop that sells crazy hats. Or watching a guy teaching algebra on youtube.
  • Bancar un momento. If someone tells you bancá un momento, he or she is asking you to wait. I’m quite impatient, so I actually get this a lot.
  • Ni en pedo. If you’ve been traveling around South America and/or have had the chance to speak with the locals, you will have already noticed the usefulness of the word “pedo”. Plugging it into the right sentence, it can adopt so many different meanings! When someone va en pedo, it means that he or she is drunk. Based on this, ni en pedo means not even if I were drunk or simply put: no way. As seen in a recent conversation with the team assistant while booking a business trip flight:

    Assistant: Shall I book you guys the flight on monday at 7:15am arriving 8:45am?
    Us: Ni en pedo.

  • Franelear. I had underestimated the use of this word the first time I heard it. When you’re working with many different departments and external counterparts, it usually takes a while to get your projects going (a lot of internal and external negotiations and approvals). However, I think I’ve learned by now that in some cases, the company’s bureaucracy is used as an excuse for the late replies. That is the right moment to use the expression “me están franeleando” (sorry, I don’t have a straight english translation for this word!).
  • Estar hecho/a pelota. Another favorite. Estar hecho pelota means to be tired, shattered, devastated. The perfect expression to use when you’ve arrived to the office straight from the airport having spent the night sleeping on a plane or on the floor of a terminal. It was the excuse I gave when I returned from New Zealand and thought my computer was a touch screen (true story).