Beer Bottle Vase DIY – Take 2!

bearvaseAfter yesterday’s post regarding toilet matters, I figured I should balance it out with something pretty and girly and unfortunately far less humorous for today. So this post will include lots of photos of gorgeous Spring flowers (and will contain nothing about p**p).

I didn’t write about this in my entry yesterday, but when Martin and I visited the DIY/garden/craft store for our unclogging supplies, I was totally distracted by all the other cool things. After getting over the shock that there had been a DIY/garden/craft store right under my nose for the past three months, I quickly got to work making a mental list of all the things we NEEDED: a new shower curtain! A new shower head! A new doormat! A new toilet brush! A new rubbish bin! A mini barbeque! Craft paper! SPARKLE PAINT!

Martin quickly dashed my dreams by reminding me about the ridiculous plumbing bill that would probably be coming our way, so we left the store with only our toilet unblocking supplies. But, like the sneaky Hausfrau I am, I went back to the store the next day while Martin was at work and purchased some gold paint and a sponge paint brush. It wasn’t really my fault. I walked past a guy selling purple lilacs in the flower market and the bright purple flowers screamed at me to paint some beer bottles gold.

I’m kind of weird and obsessive when it comes to certain things and painting beer bottles will probably be my go-to craft thing for the next 2o years.  I recycled two of my previously spray painted bottles as well as a new one supplied by Martin. Painting the bottles was a more enjoyable experience than spray painting. I was able to paint them inside the apartment, which meant I could watch my Real Housewives of New Jersey at the same time. It was a good day. It took three coats of paint to create the final effect below. Like with spray painting, you need to wait for each layer to dry before starting a new one.

I didn’t want to buy the lilacs until the bottles were ready, but when I went back to the market a couple days later, the lilacs were looking a little bit droopy and paying 12 CHF for droopy lilacs just didn’t fly with me, so I bought some red ranunculus instead. For the record, our apartment building is surrounded by no less than five lilac trees, but I didn’t have it in me to knick some branches. How annoying would that be if you had a lilac tree and someone kept stealing your flowers?! I did find some perky lilacs at the market a week later (I paid 7 CHF for three branches). I’ve included some photos of those as well since they were the inspiration for painting the bottles gold in the first place.

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xx BHF

A Cautionary Tale.

ToiletproblemsYup. That’s our toilet. To the right is a plunger. Those green things are rubber gloves. And that long metal thingy with a spring on the end? Well, the only way I can describe it is that it’s kind of like a large, bendy pickle picker. You probably didn’t even think a pickle picker was a real thing. But it is. Some people need pickles and they need them FAST. They ain’t got no time to fish around for one with a fork. No, they have a pickle picker, for when they need that pickle, like, yesterday. Pickles are serious business (for some).

Anyway, pickles were not what I was trying to pick from that toilet. Nope. In case you are feeling horrified right now that I’m going to start talking about brown pickles  poop, I’m not. I don’t have a problem with talking about poop, but this story doesn’t start with poop or even end with poop (there may be some poop in the middle though – I’m not gonna lie). No, this story starts with me trying to keep my toilet clean and smelling FRESH. Because I’m a Hausfrau now and keeping my toilet clean and smelling FRESH is my job (not my only job, but about 5% of my job).

My husband wanted to help out with this so he picked up one of these. Except it wasn’t a Lysol brand one. I can’t find a photo of the one we used, but the Lysol one is basically the same thing and just as dangerous as far as I can tell. Sorry Lysol.

My spidey senses tingled when I hooked this FRESH device to the rim of the toilet. Part of me was like, this doesn’t seem quite safe? It’s not that secure and probably wouldn’t take much toilet seat dancing (what?! You don’t toilet seat dance? Weirdo.) to dislodge it and then *gasp* accidentally flush it. But the other part of me was like: FRESH. So I clipped it on and forgot about it. Except two weeks later I looked down and…

IT. WAS. NOT. THERE.

I was pretty calm, thinking maybe Martin moved it. Maybe it wasn’t lodged in the U-bend waiting for me to poop (sorry),  causing a massive clog and  forcing the water to backflow and spill over the rim. Oh, the horror! But I was calm and waited for Martin to come home from work. When he did, he informed me that he hadn’t moved it, which confirmed my fear that it had indeed dropped into the toilet bowl where it was unknowingly flushed out of sight. But, who was the flusher? For the next few hours we looked at each other suspiciously, each secretively blaming the other for this unforgivable and careless act. I blamed him for buying it. He blamed me for using it. Except, it didn’t really matter whose fault it was. What mattered now was that we potentially had a massive blocked toilet issue. Martin contacted the landlord, who contacted the building manager and, long story short, we were informed that an emergency visit from a plumber would cost upwards of 400 CHF. For my international readers, that’s 500 CAD, 455 USD,  328 EUR and 270 GBP. So yeah, 400 CHF. Scheiße!

Luckily, it wasn’t really an “emergency”. The toilet was still technically flushing without overflowing so I implemented a “no flushing solids” rule, that’s no TP and no…um, you know, poop. Martin used the facilities at work and I used the facilities at our local Migros. We took a trip to our local DIY shop where we picked up the plunger, rubber gloves and the big, bendy pickle picker. While we were there I realised that we had very different experiences with blocked toilets. Whereas I had a long history with plungers and Ack!TheToiletIsOverflowing!Quick!GetATowel!, Martin had none. Yeah, NONE! I Skyped with my parents later that evening and my mom was like, yeah, the difference is Martin’s family didn’t have YOUR DAD. Well, we can’t blame dad for all of the blockages as I distinctly remember shoving an action figure down the toilet because he was banished to the waterfall of DOOM! “Nooooo! Not the waterfall of DOOOOOM! Aaaaaah….gurgle, gurgle, glug, glug,…purp!…fsssssss..Ack!TheToiletIsOverflowing!Quick!GetATowel!”

Moving on.

The plunger was absolutely useless as it turned out to be a sink plunger and not a toilet one. There is apparently a big difference (thanks, Internet!). The pickle picker helped a little, but it was obvious that the FRESH maker was still not dislodged. So six days after I implemented the  “no flushing solids” rule, we bit the bullet and asked our landlord to arrange a visit from the plumber, but stressed that is was definitely NOT an emergency.

Yesterday afternoon the plumber arrived. He didn’t speak any English, but seemed to be briefed well on the situation by our landlord and got straight to work. After 30 minutes he came out of the bathroom with (tadaaaah!) the empty FRESH maker dangling from his finger. Shocked,  I blabbed on in English about how I thought I’d never see that stupid thing again and he blabbed on in German about something I did not understand (I’m guessing it was along the lines of: “you silly Hausfrau! You’re NEVER supposed to put anything near or in the toilet like this. Dies ist verboten! So many Hausfrau’s make this very silly mistake, which is okay because I charge a super ridiculous call-out fee”…or something along those lines. If you did not already, you must read it again but with a German accent, ja?!). And after a week of inconvenienced toilet usage, his invoice of 227.05 CHF didn’t seem that bad. Except, 227.05 CHF! Scheiße!

That first flush after the plumber left was glorious (no, really! I could hear angels singing “Gloria” as the water effortlessly emptied from the tank and was quickly sucked out of the bowl by the siphon and refilled without an odd little burping/sucking sound). It was also very FRESH.

From now on, I will not be a lazy Hausfrau and will listen to my spidey senses. I went to Migros this afternoon to do my grocery shopping (not to use the toilet, canIgetahighfive!) and when I saw a pack of these exact FRESH makers on offer I was like, NEIN!

xx BHF

 

 

 

 

Ski Switzerland 2014

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This past Friday, one of Martin’s co-workers kindly drove us to the  Stöckli Outdoor Sports store near Thun. After a great ski season, where we visited four different resorts, my husband decided it would be a good idea to invest in our own set of skis for next season instead of renting. Stöckli is a Swiss made brand and its stores offer new, last season and previously used skis. A new set of skis and bindings will set you back at least 1400 CHF, so we decided that it would be wiser to look at last season’s and used skis, which have at least 50% knocked off the new asking price.  After almost an hour of looking at what they had on offer, trying to decide between slalom, giant slalom and cross skis, we both found a set that were perfect for each of us. My husband’s co-worker was also able to negotiate a pretty fair price. Super!

I’m now excited for next season, so I thought I’d write up a quick summary of the Swiss resorts we tried out this season.

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1. CRANS MONTANA: 17/1/2014 – 21/1/2014

The first resort we tried was Crans-Montana. Located in Southwestern Switzerland, it took us 2 hours, 2 trains and 1 funicular ride to reach the resort. We stayed at Hotel Le Green which is located in the centre of the resort and has good lift connections.

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The Cry d’er gondola in Crans was located just a 10 minute walk from our hotel (très convenient). Our first day there it was unfortunately closed so we caught a very crammed bus headed to Les Barzettes and skiied Les Violettes instead. In Europe, the basic grading for ski runs goes from blue (easy) through red to black (difficult). The majority of the runs in Crans-Montana are rated red (intermediate) so it’s definitely not an ideal resort for beginners.

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Throughout our time there, the conditions varied quite a lot. On our 2nd day we were joined by a friend from London and had a lot of snow coverage and sun. The last couple of days the snow coverage wasn’t great, closing some of the runs, and fog rolled in and out throughout both days, making visibility extremely difficult at times.

All in all, it was a decent first holiday. It’s definitely not one of my favourite resorts. The après-skiing was almost non-existent and at times the resort appeared deserted at night (this could be down to the time of year we were there). It didn’t have the same charm as other resorts I’ve visited, but the ski runs were actually pretty good when the weather co-operated. If I were to give this resort an overall star rating, I would give it 2 stars out of 5.

2. ZWEISIMMEN: 1/2/2014

We definitely caught the “ski bug” after our first trip to Crans-Montana, so eleven days later we decided to head to Zweisimmen for a quick day trip of skiing. We were advised that Saturday would be better than Sunday, as Saturday is typically a transition day when people are leaving and new guests are arriving, so it’s considerably less crowded than Sunday.

After getting up early to catch the train and pick up our rental skis we were quickly on the slopes.  The conditions were great.

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The majority of runs at Zweisimmen are blue rated, so it’s a great place to go as a novice skier. It’s also very easy to make your way across the mountain to ski all of the runs. It’s a small resort, but perfect for a day trip. I would rate it 3 stars out of 5!

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3. GRINDELWALD: 7/2/2014 – 9/2/2014

This was our 4th trip to Grindelwald. It’s by far one of my favourite ski resorts and is only one hour and 40 minutes from Bern via rail. Our first three holidays there we stayed at Jasmine Apartments, but for this one, we chose a small B&B as we were only going for two nights and Jasmine is generally booked in week long slots.

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Grindelwald is split into 3 ski areas: First, Kleine Scheidegg and the Schilthorn. We’ve only ever skied First and Kleine Scheidegg as the Schilthorn is a bit further away and costs more to include in your ski pass. Grindelwald has many runs to keep you busy if you go for a full week. It also has many sledge runs, which I highly recommend trying as well.

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As we’ve been there before, there are a few things we definitely recommend trying if you’re ever in the area. Food wise, you need to try Onkel Tom’s Hutte. It serves great pizza in the cutest traditional Swiss lodge. It does get very busy, but you can put your name down and usually get a table within an hour, depending on your party size. If you’re looking for more traditional food, the Bistro Memory in the Eiger Hotel has a good variety of roesti, cheese fondue, and raclette  as well as burgers and burritos for less adventurous eaters.

An activity that we’ve tried and absolutely loved, was night sledging at Bussalp. After a thirty minute bus ride up the mountain, we enjoyed a fondue dinner followed by a white knuckled, 8km sledge run which took us back into town. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in my life. There’s even a small drink hut in the middle so you can refill on liquid courage. Perhaps not the smartest combination, but lots of fun!

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If you’re a good skier and like a challenge, Martin recommends skiing the Lauberhorn, the location of an annual downhill ski race since 1930. I met up with him half way down the run. I was way too scared of the Hundschopf to start from the beginning.

Grindelwald may not have the liveliest après-skiing, but the village charm, variety of ski runs and exciting activities on offer make it a 4.5 stars out of 5 experience for me!

4. SAAS FEE: 6/3/2014 – 9/3/2014

Our final ski holiday of 2014 was at the Free Republic of Holidays Saas Fee. There was a massive dump of snow the weekend before we arrived so the snow conditions were perfect. The sun also shined the whole time we were there, which was an amazing way to end our season. We stayed at the Hotel Derby which allowed us to ski in and out from the hotel. I quickly became accustomed to this kind of luxury.

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By this time, I had made some strides in my skiing abilities and had enough confidence to tackle all of the black runs that the resort had to offer. I won’t say I made it down  gracefully, but…I MADE IT DOWN.

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The highest point you can ski from is the summit of Mittelallalin. It is reached via cable car from Saas Fee to the Felskinn intermediate station and finally to the top with the Metro Alpin, the highest funicular in the world. At 3456 m, the thin air is noticeable as soon as you exit the funicular, giving a very literal meaning to “breathtaking” views.

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Skiing in Saas Fee was very enjoyable. It’s not a very large resort, so if you’re there for more than 3 days you’ll find yourself repeating runs over and over again. For this, I will rate it 4 stars out of 5.

I really can’t wait for next season to start, but for now, I’m planning on visiting some of the same resorts to see the landscapes in the summer months. And perhaps enjoy some more cheese fondue.

xx BHF

Bern’s Bears

BearsThe legend goes that that the duke who founded the city of Bern (Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen) proclaimed that he would name the city after the first animal he came across on his hunt. This turned out to be a bear, therefore he christened the city “Bern” (derived from Bär the German word for bear).   Apparently, though, this story is nothing more than folk etymology and the name is actually connected to the Italian city of Verona which was translated into Bern in German.

Regardless, this folk tale resonates throughout the Swiss capital. Its canton’s crest features a black bear with sharp red claws and a long red tongue sticking out of its open mouth. Bern is also home to 3 captive bears (Björk, Finn and Ursina). They live in the BärenPark, a large enclosure next to the River Aare. It was opened in 2009 due to pressure from the public to keep them in a larger enclosure. They had previously been kept in a small pit, which still exists next to their new enclosure.

I know keeping animals in captivity is a controversial and heated subject, especially considering recent tragic events with a group of bears at Bern’s Dahlholzi Zoo (these are not the same group of bears that I’m writing about), but I do love these bears. It’s just a short 10 minute walk for me to reach their enclosure from our apartment. I can watch them for hours and usually visit them a couple times each week. When I first arrived in Bern in January, they were out of sight, hibernating in their dens. It wasn’t until my birthday in March that I got my first glimpse of them. They may have been out of their dens, but they appeared to still be in hibernation mode:

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xx BHF

 

A day in Switzerland: Basel

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When I first moved to Switzerland over three months ago, my husband was very concerned about how the change would affect me. I went from working full-time in a busy consulting firm in the heart of London’s Mayfair, to being unemployed and living in what is arguably the quietest, slow paced city in all of Switzerland: the capital city of Bern.

I wasn’t as worried. The past year at work had been unbelievably stressful, my commute had become unbearable and I was ready for a break.  In addition, I’m about 95% introverted and spending time with myself is something I actually enjoy. Despite my reassurances, my husband wanted to give me something that would allow me to explore my new country, while at the same time indulge my passion for photography. For this, he bought me a GA travel card for a year. This card allows me to travel anywhere and anytime in Switzerland, by rail, tram, bus or boat.

So far, I’ve used the card for 14 intercity rail journeys, a few funicular rides, and countless tram journeys. The first city I visited was Basel. I caught the 12:04 train from Bern station, which arrived in Basel SBB at 12:59. I’m a very haphazard traveller. I like to arrive and just see where the destination takes me. I do a little bit of prior research online and have a quick look at a map so I get an idea of the lay of the land, but that’s the extent of my preparations. I am a wanderer at heart. When I exit a station for the first time, I choose a direction and just walk. That’s what I love about travelling alone. Every turn I take is my choice. Sometimes I take a wrong turn and have to double back, but to me, that’s the whole point. That’s what makes these day trips fun!

Even though it was January, the sun was shining. It was a great day for exploring and my first destination was the Rhine river. One of the highlights of my day was witnessing and then boarding the Münsterfähri, a little ferry which uses the power of the current to take passengers back and forth from the Northern Quarter to Munster hill for 1.60 CHF one way.

After my ferry ride I explored the Münster (cathedral) which is open to the public and the Marktplatz (market square). I only spent three hours wandering the streets, bridges and river paths of Basel, but it was enough time to see many of its beautiful sites and fall in love with its old world mixed with modern charm.

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xx BHF