Monday, June 28, 2010

Graubunden Railriding

Put down that computer. Stop making cancellation calls. No more furniture pick up. Forget about all the junk strewn around the house and...


You hear people say it often, but once you get in that moving mode, head down - blinders on, you forget why you came here in the first place -- to see as much of Europe as possible before having to go back to real life. Luckily, my husband has no problem putting all the dirty work aside to take off and play in the mountains for a day.

This past weekend was absolutely the best...but our trip on Sunday takes the cake. Imagine cruising through the greenest valleys, with mega amounts of wildflowers,  alongside ice-blue colored rivers, with mountains lining the fields that shoot straight out and up for miles, with the bluest sky, fluffy clouds, all while you are riding in an open-air train.

There is a RailRider train that heads out of Chur every Sunday from now until the end of August. It takes you through the Graubunden area in East Switzerland. Basically there are three extra compartments attached to the regular train without tops. It kicks the Glacier Express to the curb. Who wants to sit behind windows, that just gives you glare when trying to take pictures, when you could have this? And, crazy enough there was barely anyone doing this.

Things to note. The website talks about needing reservations ahead of time, but we are idiots and couldn't figure out how to do this. Maybe we lucked out that no one was there, but all we had to do was buy a regular ticket from Chur to Preda and then you pay the extra CHF 10 when you get on the train. You may want to bring a hoodie because it gets a little chilly when going through the tunnels. And, if anyone is scared of the aware that you will go through some tunnels where you can't see anything. It is so pitched black you can't see the person sitting in front of you.

Now, the main reasons we went were to see these crazy huge aquifers and the fact that Josh still hadn't been out to this intensely beautiful area of Switzerland. It did not disappoint. Once we got to Preda we double-back on foot to the town of Bergün. You walk in and out of forests, over and around waterfalls, and along the foot of these aquifers. We definitely went the right way on this hike. It was pretty much all downhill from Preda to Bergün. It probably would have been a much different experience if we had gone the other way. I was wondering why the guy was huffing and puffing coming the opposite direction when we first started on the trail. We figured it out quickly.

After a couple of hours walking and a couple thousands pictures, we grabbed a needed bite to eat at the first place we saw. Took in the views and then headed to the Bahnhof to make our way back to the city.

"Stella"r day trip!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Swiss-Red Tape: Deregistration, Pet Relocation, and Furniture Donation

Photo by hans s'.
Ever seen a chicken running around with its' head chop off. Well, that's me at this point! Maybe it's worse because my husband is the calmest person alive, while I am always the stressed out one with every little detail continuously circling inside my head. Just maybe that's why I get so nuts every time we move. But, with that said, things are progressing along.

Let me start by saying some very good things have happened since the last post. We have approved renters for our apartment! Woo-hoo! And, that means tickets for Barcelona have been purchased. Double woo-hoo! We have also picked our shipping company and we learned they basically do anything and everything you need when moving out of the country. Interdean not only packs and ships all your valuables, but they will also clean the apartment with a handover guarantee and take care of any waste disposal needed. All at a price of course, but at least that's less work for me having to find another company.

And, don't get me started on what's expected in terms of cleaning the apartment. It is beyond what you can imagine. Let's just say that one of the first words I learned over here was "sauber" (clean). Hiring a cleaning company costs around CHF 1,000. Now you can do this on your own and I have helped a friend do this, but I am just not strong enough for what this undertaking involves and I would rather spend our time seeing as much of Europe as possible before we go.

So...on that note...

I have been dreading this step for some reason. Maybe it's because of the horror stories I have read on other blogs or maybe it's because of my utter hatred for the Kreisburo here. Either way, this step was surprisingly pretty painless. Our one mistake was going to the Kreisburo to get this paperwork taken care of. We were instructed to go to the Stadthaus, right next to Fraumunster. Ok. No problem. We go there, find the room for international people, and of course the first guy we talk to doesn't speak English. I love that. He works where people from other countries come to ask questions and he doesn't speak English. I ask politely in German if anyone else speaks English there and he points to another guy and tells us to wait. Ok.

We tell the man we are moving back to the States and need to deregister. Simple as that. We fill out some paperwork and then are told to go to the tax office just around the corner. Ok. Trade some paperwork there and then are told to go to another office just down the hall. Ok. Still waiting for the hiccup in this process. Again, we swap paperwork, but this time we are asked for contact information for someone living in Switzerland that can be our Power of Attorney. Crappers. I wasn't expecting this. We put a friend's info down, but I felt a little bad not being able to ask their permission before doing this. So, be aware this is coming. Next, we go back to the first office, pay our CHF 30 a piece for a copy of our deregistration and then we go on our merry way. Bing, bang, boom. Love that.

Step 6 (optional): PET RELOCATION

Wait. That's not Stella...just looks very similar.

You should just know our pup is spoiled, plus I don't want to deal with her on a long flight over the Atlantic. When we moved to Switzerland she got the VIP treatment when we hired a pet relocation company to see her through each step of the journey. They pick her up, check her in, sit with her while she waits, make sure she gets boarded on the plane, deal with her during her layover in Newark, transfer her to the next plane, wait with her, pick her up, take her through customs, etc., and then drop her off at our door. Maybe we are really the ones that are spoiled.

I read somewhere on English Forum that the Salvation Army here will turn down donated items from IKEA since they aren't antiques and since IKEA is cheap enough for people to buy here. How nuts is that? How can a place turn away donations? I would have boughten used IKEA furniture. Needless to say, this made me a little stressed (of course...because I am a stress ball). I started freaking out wondering who is going to take all our stuff if we can't sell it and am I really going to sell our laundry basket for CHF 2 or worse just throw it away just to avoid this headache.

I ended up contacting the Brockenhaus (similar to the Salvation Army) and they were overly helpful. We scheduled a time for them to come out and see exactly what we have for them to take, so they can gage how long it will take to pick up everything and we also scheduled a pick up time a few days later. I did ask them if they would take everything because it was in good condition and she just told me that they would take a look at it all on the first date and give me an estimate for anything they wouldn't sell and would need to be disposed of. My hopes are high. Either way, things are sure to be out of the apartment before the shippers come to pack us up.

And, if you are looking for any furniture or household items for cheap or possibly free, please let us know. I think we could hook you up.

Check. Check. Check. Always more to come!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Permit Update

As you are already familiar with my love for the Migrationsamt, I wanted to give you an update on my permit card or the lack there of. Who doesn't like a little extra bureaucracy in the morning?

Photo by Kecko.
You already know the background story. So, I leave for Savannah last week (with my expensive travel visa) and of course my new permit card attempts to be delivered like the day after I leave. Josh isn't home to sign for it and so it goes to the Post. Where it just sits waiting to be picked up, but I am out of town. And, regardless if my lovely husband had bothered to check the mail (which he didn't), he wouldn't have been able to pick it up anyway because they don't allow spouses to pick up your mail. If it doesn't have their name on the letter, it ain't happenin'.

So, now I get back...see the notice...but, of course it is too late to pick it up at the Post and it has now been sent back to the Migrationsamt. No big deal, right? I should just be able to pick it up there in person or maybe they could try to send it out to me again. Ooooohhhh nnnnnooooo! That would be way too easy. Now it gets sent to our Kriesburo, where they then contact me and then I can pick it up in person. I feel like this is about 12 steps too many. This is for sure going to take weeks and the only thing I need this new permit for is to de-register. How ironic is that?

How funny would that be to pick it up and at the same time ask them to punch it and process my de-registration?! My hope is that they don't need the new permit to process the paperwork, but I am probably wrong as my track record has shown. May the force be with me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Swiss-Red Tape: Shipping Estimates and Apartment Leasing

The moving process is slowly moving along, but at least it is moving in the right direction. After taking a short hiatus to Savannah last week, I am back in moving mode.

Photo by Mpopp.
It's amazing how much shipping can cost even just for a few things. I am in the process of talking to both Interdean (who we used for our move over) and Crown Relocations (recommended by a fellow Swiss expat blogger). I started by filling out their online forms about 2 weeks ago and I just got a quote from Interdean today and one should be coming from Crown Relocations tomorrow. Be aware that this step takes time and that everything needs to be set up at least two weeks prior to the move date. Both companies will have you fill out paperwork with the specifics of your move (when, what, etc., etc.) and then both companies require an onsite evaluation of the goods to be shipped...which seems a little tedious, but I am glad they are so detail-oriented. I am sure I forgot things. Thank goodness they don't just take my word.

So far, I am happy with both companies. Both have taken initiative and have been extremely customer-service oriented. I will keep you posted on who we end up going with and how much everything costs. Prepare yourself for a big number. We aren't even shipping very much back and it is looking like it will be between $5,000 - $10,000. Love that this expense is being taken care of by Josh's new company! A huge plus in my book.

Step 4: Finding a New Tenant
This step is where all my stress lies right now. Our reward for getting this taken care of is a trip to Barcelona. A big payoff for a big must-do. With the trip to Savannah, we have had to be a bit relaxed with this effort though. It's kind of difficult to advertise when you have limited viewing times. Lucky for us though we have an amazing friend here that just happens to be a relocation expert. So she has been helping us, as well as, Josh's Google connections...and just through those two avenues, it looks like we might have a winner. We are just waiting to hear back from the apartment management company to see if the couple has been approved. Keep your fingers crossed. We should know in a couple days.

My advice for anyone dealing with this step is to pull out the favor card. Start with informing all your friends and co-workers that you are moving. Send out details about the apartment and ask them to pass it along to anyone they can think of. Start as early as you can. Advertise on Homegate. Our property management company actually offered us a reduced price to advertise there, as well as, on their company website. It might be worth asking if they offer this service.

Next on the list is de-registration (yippee) and pet relocation estimates. More money we get to spend! Hopefully you can sense my sarcasm.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Immigration BS

Photo by hjl.
Josh said it best. "The immigration office is the bastard child of the Swiss government."

It blows me away how things run like clockwork around here until it comes to something vital for us Auslanders. Each year we are required to apply for a new work permit. This is sort of like your get out of jail free card when you are traveling out of the country (among other things). And, lucky for me, we are going through the renewal process as we speak and we also have a trip to the States coming up in a few days. Drama just seeks me out.

A little background. Our current permits are set to expire on June 1. We got our renewal paperwork at the beginning of May. They were signed, sealed, and delivered to the Gemeinde. Then yesterday Josh's new permit shows up in the Post...but, ONLY Josh's.

So, here we are today. I am all ready for the buzzer to ring this morning when the postman shows up apologizing for misplacing an important piece of mail for us yesterday. I had actually changed out of my pajama pants...but for no reason it turns out. There was no surprise piece of mail. Which means I got to have an exciting trip to the Migrationsamt today.

I had been told at the Gemeinde that it can take up to 6 weeks for the new permit to arrive. I have also heard horror stories of it taking up to 4 months by other expats. Who are you going to believe? The expats always. Any who, the Gemeinde told me not to worry. If my new permit hadn't arrive before our trip, then we would just need to get another stamp on our visa to show it was in the works.

As you probably know by now, nothing is that straight-forward here. I was already preparing myself for that condescending look given by the person who is supposedly helping me as they tell me that this isn't possible and that I am stuck in Switzerland. Thank goodness I had the worse case scenario figured out, so when they told me that I would just have to pay CHF 90 for a travel visa, I didn't want to break the glass separating me from the little man and beat him senseless. We have already paid CHF 200 for these permits and now I have to pay more because they are slow and incompetent.

This is just another one of those expenses you can't plan for, but you should know are out there. The good thing was that at least it could be taken care of right away. Maybe it was the steam coming out of my ears or the devil-shade of red my face was turning that scared him into submission. We will never know. But, I left that Migrationsamt with my travel visa in hand and CHF 90 poorer.

For another story on the fine establishment of the immigration office, check out One Big Yodel to find out what is keeping these employees so occupied that it can take months to get a new permit. Unreal.