Category Archives: Expat Life

In this section I publish posts about what it’s like being an expatriate and the cultures and traditions of the countries I’ve lived in: Italy, Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands.
I also add some observations about places I’ve often travelled to, like for example France and the UK.

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Swiss Alps: from Disentis/Mustér to St. Moritz

Like many international families we tend to spend our summer holidays in a country where our children can meet family and discover something of one (or all) of their parents’ cultures. Since several years we spend a few weeks of the summer holidays in Switzerland for exactly this reason. We want our children to bond with family and to get a feeling of how life could be in Switzerland.

Personally, I find it important to discover Switzerland by using public transportation. If you don’t live in Switzerland or have an address there, it can be quite expensive. But there are ways to keep it low-cost (find more information on the SBB site).

The other day we chose to take a daytrip which involved a train ride from Disentis to St. Moritz (and back), travelling along the Rhaetian Railway.

(RhB Linienplan)

Coming from TIcino (near Biasca), we started our journey in Disentis/Mustér until Reichenau/Tamins and got on the Bernina Express to St. Moritz.

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The Albula /Bernina lines run along 122 km of track and passes 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges and viaducts and are a masterpiece of engineering. Its combination with the surrounding landscape made it to its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Rheinschlucht or Ruinaulta is also called the Swiss Grand Canyon, where the railway runs alongside the Rhine (Rhein) and the Ruinaulta amazes you with its bizarre geological formations.

Rheinschlucht

and

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Ruinaulta

The amazing Albulaviaduct is between Bergün/Bravuogn and Preda – here below rendered by an interesting scupture that you can find at St. Moritz station.

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In Bergün you can get off the train and visit the Railway Museum or decide to first admire the Albula Viaduct and descend right before the  Albula Tunnel in Preda.  The actual tunnel is going to be replaced by a new one in 2021, but will still be functioning as escape tunnel for the new one. – You want to find out more about the construction of the tunnel at the Albula Tunnel Infoarena in Preda: “packed with all manner of exhibits and facts in German and English worth knowing about geology, tunnel technology, logistics and other exciting subjects involving the region and its very own railway. Fun items such as a virtual footplate ride and children’s slides and climbing frames complete the list of attractions on offer.” – You can take a 90 minutes tour to discover all about the tunnel and the railway (I advise to book beforehand, especially in the weekends as the number of participants is limited!). Younger visitors will be delighted by the presence of Kobali the Mole, with an adventurous expedition through the construction site, „virtual blasting” and a surprise included!

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We ended our journey in St. Moritz, the cradle of winter sports and where will take place the 2017 World Ski Championships.

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The Bernina Express continues to Tirano through the amazing landscape up to Pontresina and Bernina – with the highest point at 2253m Ospizio Bernina) – before descending towards Poschiavo and Tirano. – We didn’t have that much time the other day, so we’ll have to return next year to complete our tour.

If you want to find out more about this route, visit the Rhaetian Railway site.

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Which tradition do you maintain around Christmas?

This time of the year many multicultural families struggle with finding a compromise: which tradition to maintain around Christmas, especially when you partner is used to other customs and you are living in a place where “things are done differently” from what you were used to when you were a child.

I must confess that it would never have crossed my mind to actually start doing anything related to Christmas already mid November before moving to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the most important celebration during this part of the year is Sinterklaas, not Christmas. And it starts with his arrival mid November, and goes on with his visits all over the country during the following weeks, until Pakjesavond on December the 5th.

In our family we decided to adopt this tradition as our aim is to integrate and embrace the culture of our host country. But we also wanted to maintain some of the traditions we liked from our childhood. So we ended up practically celebrating this season from mid November until the 6th of January. – It’s a long time…

So, every year we are excited upon Sinterklaas’ arrival, and our children put their shoes near the chimney, hoping that some of the (Zwarte) Pieten will fill them over night with pepernoten or other delicacies, sometimes small cadautjes. – Even though they know about this tradition, our children love to keep up the magic and celebrate it with the same enthusiasm.

English: boterletter sinterklaas dutch traditi...

As we also want to keep some of the traditions my husband and I know and cherish from our childhood, we like to put up the Adventskalender. Each child usually gets one and opens a door every day starting from December 1rst.

40px|border|Flag Deutsch: Adventszeit in Luzer...

40px|border|Flag Deutsch: Adventszeit in Luzern: Adventskalender bei der Reussbrücke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These two traditions are quite similar, both, the shoes and the advent calendar will give our children a surprise in the morning. – Will the shoe be filled? What am I going to receive or read (if it’s not a calendar filled with toys, sweets etc.) in my calendar? – If you combine them both, your children will get two “surprises” per day until Pakjesavond, and then carry on with the Advents calendar until Christmas.

We will also celebrate Christmas on the 24th (and 25th-26th December), and, of course, La Befana or Heilige Dreikönige on the 6th of January.

The historical center of Schöckingen in Baden-...

The historical center of Schöckingen in Baden-Württemberg in Germany, with christmas illuminations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Usually our children receive the bigger presents at Sinterklaas and this for very obvious reasons: we usually meet with our families at Christmas, which involves a lot of travelling, so we soon decided not to overload our car for those days and decided to offer our children the bigger presents at Sinterklaas. This give them the opportunity to already play with them before Christmas. At Christmas then, they receive books, clothes or items they “need” – which makes much more sense to me and my husband, and is more the way I celebrated Christmas as a child.

As for the celebration of Sinterklaas, whose German/Swiss/Austrian equivalent Sankt Nikolaus is celebrated on the 6th, we decided to shift the celebration to the 5th December, because this is the Pakjesavond celebrated here in the Netherlands.

Then we celebrate Christmas on the 24th and 25th with family, with a great combination of different traditional meals, depending on where and with whom we’re celebrating.

In January another celebration will close this festive season on the 6th of January. In Italy we would celebrate La Befana. When I was a child, this was the day when my fellow Italian friends would receive presents; Christmas was the day family would gather together and share festuous meals. The 6th of January was the day children would simmer with excitement – and a bit of fear as la Befana would bring choal to those children who were not so kind… This makes this celebration very similar to Sankt Nikolaus/Sinterklaas in Germany, whose partner, the Knecht Ruprecht or Schmutzli in Switzerland, would give them a rod (and sometimes “hit” them… ) if they weren’t behaving well the weeks before…

On the 6th of January we now celebrate the Heilige Drei Könige, the Three Wise Men. We share a cake, the typical Dreikönigskuchen or Gallette des Rois – like our Belgian and French neighbours, but I still have my little Befana that hovers over the table that day…

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What are the traditions you’re maintaining or adopting in your family?

If you want to make sure that you have a say and that your needs are met this year, take 20 minutes to watch my video on this topic (click on the picture):

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@Ute’s International Lounge 2016

Acquacalda, Switzerland, 2-Day Hike to the Mountain Hotel

On our way to the west mountains surrounding Olivone, (one of the smaller towns in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland), my dad and I trudged up through the hills close to the place my mum dropped us off.

Karte Gemeinde Olivone

Karte Gemeinde Olivone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since tackling the whole 15km way to Acquacalda would be very tiring, my mum offered to drive us to a village which was ideally scattered on the side of a mountain surrounding Olivone.

The hills we walked up through reminded me strongly of the cosy Hobbit holes dug in the side of a grassy green hill. As we finally emerged from the hillside of the small village, we were, or I was, not pleased to see a winding path leading steeply up through dense woods.

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Although the ascent was tiring, we made it and made ourselves comfortable in the mini restaurant of the next village named .

I drank a quick bottle of Rivella (a very famous Swiss beverage) and went off again, the map indicating that there were some steep paths ahead. The worst was not over yet.

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When we finally emerged from the woods surrounding Acquacalda, we were both sweating, our clothes sticky and wet. The last slope up the hill of the Mountain Hotel was tiring and the first thing we did was to sit by a nearby stream and ate lunch.

The hotel rooms were surprisingly cosy and well furnished as we went to sleep, our bellies full with homemade pasta.

The next day was less tiring and we made a short ascent up a small mountain, the remaining hike being just a flat landscape with a steep descent at the end. However, it wasn’t the steepness that irritated me that much. It was the flies… Only in the fields, I could already count nineteen hitch-hiking flies clinging onto our T-shirts…

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The last route down was also tiring because it was riddled with serpentine bends, making your feet numb and sore. We eventually arrived in Olivone before lunch and surprised everyone by turning up so early.

 by Francesco Limacher

Hiking in Ticino (Southern Switzerland)

Map of Ticino districts.

Map of Ticino districts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The southernmost canton of Switzerland is Ticino. It has 8 districts and borders the Canton of Uri (to the north), Valais (to the west), Graubünden (to the northeast) and Italy’s regions of Piedmont and Lombardy to the south (and it has a small Italian exclave, Campione d’Italia).

In Ticino, named after the Ticino river, which flows through it from the Nufenen Pass to Lago Maggiore. Italian is the official language (like in southern sections of Graubünden).

Tisino is split geographically in two parts by the Monte Ceneri pass. The Sopraceneri – in the north – is formed by two major Swiss valleys around Lago aggiore: Valle del Ticino and Valle Maggia. The region around the Lago di Lugano is the southern part, also called Sottoceneri.

Its nickname “Sonnenstube der Schweizcomes from the 2,300 sunshine hours the canton receives every year, compared to 1,700 for Zurich. But Ticino is also “prone to fierce storms and has the highest level of lightning discharge in the whole of Europe”.

If you are interested in hiking in Ticino, Ti-Sentieri is a very good site to plan your journey.

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You can choose to start by one of the valleys, choose an intinerary and check the huts (capanne). On the site Capanneti.ch you can have a look at the different huts available.

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Make sure that before your first hike you gather all the information you need, by visiting Ticino-Sentieri , where you can find emergency numbers, the kind of roadsigns you’ll find on your path (segnaletica), the rules of conduct (regole comportamentali), and what to do before you start your hike.

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