Saturday, October 19, 2013


Compared to our last move (three blocks down the hill), this move was a monster. It took months to prepare for, weeks to pack and technically we're not even finished since our stuff is still in transit! Right now my favorite pots, pans, and other belongings are on a cargo ship somewhere in the Atlantic - and hopefully not at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Before even taping together the first cardboard moving box, we needed to figure out how much of our stuff we wanted to take. This would determine what kind of moving services we needed. Some expats get rid of just about everything they own (or put it in a storage unit in the US) and bring only what they can fit into a few suitcases on the airplane. Others whose move is generally paid for by their employer will pack their entire home along with a car in a full metal shipping container. Since we are picking up the bill, we settled for something in the middle. We decided to leave behind the majority of our furniture, some of our decor, and any thing we hadn't used recently.
Cargo ship bound for the Port of Oakland... and just might head back out to sea with our stuff.

We chose to move through Moving Star, who does domestic and international moving. For customers with smaller sized moves, they offer shared metal shipping containers. Our belongs are stored in a separate wood crate and/or palette within the metal container. We decided to save some money and pack everything ourselves. We were requested by the moving company to leave all of our boxes open until our moving date, where someone will be inventorying what's in each box.
Let's see how well they do.

Packing our apartment was time consuming and mentally exhausting. We questioned each item: would it survive the voyage, would it be cheaper to replace or ship, would we easily be able to convert the power, would we need it in the next two or three months. Overall we spent three weeks packing, starting with just the evening and eventually turning into all day extravaganzas of bubble wrap.
Inventorying every item that's moving with us to Europe.
It's feeling less and less like home.
Almost done!

We were able to find a new home for many of the items that stayed behind. Furniture went to friends and family, housewares went to families transitioning out of homeless shelters, craft supplies items went to a donation based crafting store, office supplies went to local schools and some items went to Goodwill. It took a bit of extra time and effort to sort out where our used items could go but it was worth the effort to help out our community and loved ones. In the end, mainly pillows and a couple other items went in the trash. This website really helped keep lots out of the landfill.
Donated books to an organization that resells them as a fundraiser for the San Francisco public library.
On moving day, three men showed up right on time with a moving truck and our empty 200 cubic foot wood crate inside. One person took a rough inventory of what's inside each box and immediately after the two other men taped up each box and loaded them into the wood crate. A few boxes didn't fit within the crate and were wrapped on a separate palette.
Q considering taking the long way to Europe.
Looks like there wasn't room for Q and some of our belongings in the crate.
Now that the movers took the boxes out, it really doesn't feel like home.
Thank goodness we still had our sleeping bags and a bottle of champagne.

In the end, we pared  our belongs down to a 320 cubic foot shipment, three suitcases (technically one was a cardboard box), two carry-on bags and a bike.

Our belongings will be taking the long way to their new home. Departing the Port of Oakland California, down to Central America, through the Panama Canal, up to England where it will go through customs and then onward to Zurich, Switzerland. The whole trip should take roughly eight weeks. I'm nervous to see how our stuff weathers the journey. We'll have to wait until mid October to find out how well we packed.
Eight weeks at sea.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Our Last Activities in San Francisco

Before moving from San Francisco, Laure and I did a list of things that we knew that we would not be able to accomplish after moving to Switzerland.

Here are some highlights.

Seward Street Slides

Here is a truly San Francisco off-the-beaten-path corky activity that you won't find in your guidebook. Seward Mini Park created some fun slides made out of concrete open for the public. It surprisingly gets pretty steep at some parts. We highly recommend it if you're in the Castro district.
Laure down the Seward Street Slides

Bicycling Across Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito

This is one is cheesy but totally worth it. Actually, it is one of our top recommendations to anyone visiting San Francisco. We just had to do it one last time before we left.

Eat Food

Before leaving the San Francisco bay area, we had to visit a lot of restaurants we wouldn't have in Switzerland. Some of them were ethnic restaurants, others were places we had been wanting to try for a while, and some of them were places that we had always loved going and had known the staff for a few years.

Our buddy Lawrence in front of our go-to coffee shop Capriccio.
Petite Deli has North Beach's best sandwiches and also the sweetest owner, Young.
We finally tried the famous Brown Sugar's Chicken and Waffle. So delicious.
One last visit the the Ferry Building's Farmer's Market.
It may be pricey but it has some of San Francisco's best produce.
Okay, this one is not strictly food related, but Laure LOVES bulk grocery shopping at Rainbow Groceries Coop.
Zachary's Spinach and Mushroom pizza is what converted me into a Chicago Pizza eater.
The carcass of Sotto Mare's "Best Damn Cioppino".
One last dinner at our favorite Italian spot Sodini's.
When they learned we were leaving, the staff completely took care of us and kept our wine glasses full all night.

Swing Dance With Friends

Over the years we became engulfed in the Bay Area's friendly swing dancing community. Before leaving, we went to swing workshops and danced with as many of our friends as possible.

The Stomptroopers before our 920 Special performance.

StoryCorps Interview

For years, Laure and I have listened to the amazing stories of ordinary people broadcasted on the radio by StoryCorps on NPR. These stories are recorded in professional audio booths. After, the contributors get a copy of their interview on a CD and another copy is stored at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Future generations are able to listen to the stories of their great-great-great-grandparents that lived in a completely different time.

I interviewed my mother in San Francisco and asked her many questions regarding her multi-cultural life, personal values, and even some funny stories. In the process of preparing for the interview, she researched about her past, which brought back fond memories of her childhood.

The 16th Avenue Steps

Also when my mother was visiting, we checked out The 16th Avenue Steps decorated with a beautiful mosaic all the way up the 163 steps. I can't believe I had lived in San Francisco for so long without checking this out.
My mother and I at the 16th Avenue Steps.

Climbing and Snowboarding Mount Shasta

One of my ultimate goals in snowboarding was to climb and ride down Mount Shasta, which some consider to be the best place for backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the continental United States.

Well, the snow was unfortunately pretty low this season, but the views were incredible.

Going down Trinity Chutes in Mount Shasta.

Camping at Point Reyes

Point Reyes is a popular spot one hour north of San Francisco for camping and hiking. Elaine, Llew, and Gabbie joined us in a two-night trip that turned out to be a great way for me and Laure to escape the mental stress of preparing to move.

Beach Bonfire With Friends

Beach bonfires are typical in Northern California because of the cold nights and because Northern Californians like to do hippy stuff. Besides, since Switzerland is a landlocked country, we knew we wouldn't get another opportunity any time soon.

This turned out to be a great way to see a lot of our friends, especially since people could come and go as they wanted. We were also able to cook some delicious sausages and drink some *ahem* completely alcohol-free refreshments.

We'll miss San Francisco and all you guys!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Saying Goodbye to our little San Francisco nest

We have been at our current apartment together for almost the entirety of our relationship. Many of the big changes in our life together happened while we've lived here. This apartment was the longest either us had lived at one place since we moved away for college and this place really feels like home. We know every spot where the floors creak, the best places to find car parking nearby, some of the neighbors and local business owners and employees. Our place was just what we needed, a cozy retreat tucked away on a small tree lined street in a quaint neighborhood. A friend referred to our place as our "nest" - I couldn't agree more.  Hidden from tourist groups, quiet, warm and cozy.

Making our place feel like home had been an ongoing project. Our place is small and could easily have felt crammed. Applying techniques to maximize spaces made our 450 square foot place feel like comfortable 600 square foot apartment that was a joy to live in. Believe it our not, we like living in efficient small spaces. It's fast to clean, utilities are cheaper, and they encourage us to keep only the items that we really need or value. And not owning a lot will really help when we start packing and adjusting to Europe's compact lifestyle.
Itty bitty bedroom
Living room
Eat-in kitchen
Kitchen to roof deck

Before we started packing, I took a few pictures to remember our San Francisco little nest. I think I'll miss listening to the seals from Pier 39 bark while laying in bed at night, the parrots from Telegraph Hill and seagulls squawking in the morning, walking to Little Italy for coffee or dinner, and enjoying the sunshine and view from the roof deck.
San Francisco Bay view with the Golden Gate and Alcatraz to enjoy from the roof deck

Monday, July 15, 2013

We’re Moving!

Q and I have decided to make the first major change to our lives as a married couple and move. We will be packing up our cozy San Francisco apartment and heading for a new adventure in Zurich, Switzerland! By the end of August we will be starting the next chapter of our lives in our new home town.

There were several small reasons that led us to this major decision. The main reason is that we were ready for a change and a new adventure. Every time we go to Europe we daydream about living there; taking the train to the ski slopes, hopping over to Italy for the weekend, riding our bikes all over town, learning a new language and culture. At this point in our lives there is nothing holding us back from giving it a shot.

It was hard finding a city that could follow up the beautiful city of San Francisco. We love our quiet and quaint neighborhood, our cozy apartment (minus our irritable downstairs neighbor), walking to restaurants and cafes and the views - oh the views. We had a discussion about what we wanted in our next city and decided that Zurich could be a nice fit for us. We chose it because it had a lot of what we love - moderately densely populated city, centrally located in Western Europe for easy weekend travel, efficient public transportation, walkability, bike friendliness, close proximity to the mountains, and safety. What pushed us to our final decision was the advantage that Quarup found a good project within Google that fits his interests and qualifications over there. Zurich is home to Google's largest engineering office in Europe. They already started Quarup's transfer process and are setting up our visas.

I do not have a job lined up. One of the main hurdles in securing a job will be language. Large international companies like Google use English - but smaller offices may require a proficiency in the regional language. The common local dialect is Swiss German and the locally used written language is High German. This means I'll be taking my language courses more seriously than I had with Spanish, French or Portuguese. We have started taking elementary High German class here in San Francisco in order to get a little leg up.

We don’t know how long we’ll stay in Zurich but we’re going to give it our best try. A year would be the minimum - more likely two years. Depending on how we integrate with the community and feel about the city, we might stay longer but at that point in time we would also be willing to try another city in Europe or in the USA.

We plan on keeping everyone up to date through our blog on the process of moving overseas and getting settled into our new home town. And of course, if you’re in the Zurich area or just miss us - come visit! We would love to share our daily adventures.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Munich, Germany 2/18 - 2/19

The last stop of our vacation was in Munich, Germany. There wasn't much that attracted us to the city from a tourist prospective (such as major landmark or skiing), so we let our stopover in the city be less then 24 hours.
On route by train from Austria to our last stop.
Direct train straight into Downtown Munich.

In order to make things easy, we booked a reasonably priced hotel walking distance from the Munich central train station. To our surprise, the room was quite nice. It was spacious (compared to our apartment in San Francisco) and decently decorated.
Larger than we expected

Once settled in, we popped out of the hotel for a traditional German experience: dinner at a beer hall. The hotel recommended a beer hall named Löwenbräukeller a short walk down the road and the place met our expectations - this voluminous and loud restaurant served local beer and good food.
I have no idea what this menu says.

Our flight departed in the late afternoon, leaving us time to explore the city in the morning. We tried to squeeze in one attraction that was recommended to us by a friend - the BMW Welch Factory Tour. We booked our tour for the earliest time in the morning in order to make our flight but our schedule was going to be tight. We dragged all of our luggage with us to the factory so we could head straight to the airport after the tour. Once at the front desk to check in for the tour, we learned that the tour was longer than we expected and since it was through the actual factory, we could not separate from the group to leave the tour early due to safety regulations. After heavy contemplation, we gave up our spots in the tour group. Time constraints would have been too tight and we were not willing to miss our flight home.
BMW Munich
Free storage lockers large enough to hold our luggage.
Contemplating what to do about the factory tour over a pretzel doughnut breakfast.

I guess not being able to take the BMW factory tour gives us an excuse to come back to Munich.

Instead of taking the factory tour, we spent a couple of hours at the BMW headquarters checking out their concept and high end cars. We also got an opportunity to see the BMW Museum. It was just enough to keep us entertained until we needed to head to the airport. Thankfully we didn't need to find a willing cab driver to take us and all of our stuff from the BMW building to the airport. A train station was a stone's throw from the headquarters' entrance and with only one transfer, we would be at the Munich International Airport. You have to love how well European cities link together destinations by train.
Electric Concept Car
Stylish transportation for India
1955 BMW

Once at the airport, we got into a heated discussion with a Lufthansa Baggage Check-In clerk. This woman wanted to charge us double price for checking in two snowboards even though they were in one case. No one else who worked at Lufthansa heard of this policy so we got off only paying for one snowboard case. Thank goodness! Note to self, don't fly Lufthansa with sport equipment. Once we got on board, it was a smooth trip directly to San Francisco.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Kitzbühel, Austria 2/15 - 2/18

Our next stop was Kitzbühel, which we reached with a direct 1.5 hour train ride from Innsbruck.
Short train ride from Innsbruck to Kitzbühel.

We had been curious to check out Kitzbühel for a few years after we had first read about its beautiful alpine village. We were especially drawn to the colorful medieval downtown area, which does not allow vehicles. This makes the area much more walkable and family friendly. We noticed the trend of disallowing cars in some of the other higher end European ski towns and we really enjoy it. That being said, roads surrounding Kitzbühel's small downtown area do allow cars. We found that some people like to show off their fancy cars by driving aggressively there, which became a little annoying.
Kitzbühel from our balcony.
Notice these Austrian roofs are flatter compared to their Swiss counterparts.
Kitzbühel's car-free downtown area is known for its immaculately colored buildings.
Eating snow in Kitzbühel.
We were happy with our hotel named Jägerwirt ("hunter host").

Before visiting Kitzbühel, we had read about its glamorous atmosphere. But we were still flabbergasted when we saw women walking around in fur coats and families fully dressed in gaudy expensive snow gear. A day earlier, we had just visited Nordkette in Innsbruck, which was a mountain catering to locals who consider skiing a part of their regular lives. Kitzbühel, on the other hand, was at the opposite end of the spectrum. By and large, they catered to wealthy foreigners (many of them Russian, interestingly) that visit maybe once a year to glamorously enjoy a week of skiing without being too far from high end shops. This was very bizzarre but interesting to us.
These high end fashion boutiques were prevalent throughout Kitzbühel.
Bogner was especially popular amongst those with generous amounts of disposable income.

We found a couple of good places to eat in Kitzbühel. At one such place, I ordered a Tiroler Gröstl, which became one of my favorite Austrian dishes. Gröstl is traditionally made with leftover ingredients including well-seasoned potatoes and pork topped by a fried egg. It is a must-try in anyone's visit to Austria.
Tiroler Gröstl
Che bella pizza!

True to the luxurious style of Kitzbühel, the ski area was no less impressive. The enormous ski area was connected by express ski lifts and gondolas with heated seats and protection from the wind. That's right, ski lifts with heated seats! It would have been nearly impossible to cover the whole resort in one day, especially once you consider the long traditional European lunch. Each day we explored a different area and rarely had to retrace any route.
Kitzbühel's gigantic ski trail map.
Wind-protected lifts with heated seats.
Who would not want to ski with such comfort?
Gondola with great views.

Kitzbühel's ski resort had very good food even by European standards, which is by the way much higher than American standards at ski resorts. The mountains contained several wooden lodges that served proper meals including Glühwein to warm us up.
A typical lodge on the mountains.
The lodges typically had very homely interiors.

We were very happy with the snow quality at Kitzbühel during our visit. Although the area is at a very low elevation (2.6k ft. at the base and 6.5k ft. at summits), it received a lot of snow this season including about half a foot over the first night we were there. As a result, we got some of the best powder of our trip and we were once again happy that Europeans typically do not venture off-piste. That being said, we saw several people with absolutely no avalanche safety gear going into dangerous areas. When we talked to a local guide, he clearly showed his frustration over this type of behavior, which seemed to be somewhat common among inexperienced tourists that come for a week of skiing and obliviously wander off in search for powder. But the lack of awareness seemed to be present even amongst locals because a local kid was buried and killed in a nearby avalanche a week before. The danger level was high and the kid had no avalanche gear or training.

On a less serious note, we covered all the major ski lifts and trails in the three days of snowboarding. We had a lot of fun, although sometimes we struggled to keep moving on flat areas. What can I say? It is no secret that European resorts were made for skiers, not snowboarders.
Here are the GPS tracks of our quest to cover all ski lifts and trails.
Like most of Europe, Kitzbühel is not very snowboard friendly.
This was the first time we found an actual tow rope in a ski resort.
It helped us poor snowboarders.

Kitzbühel is known for its après-ski scene for socializing after a day of skiing. We hung out at a popular outdoor bar at Chizzo restaurant, where we met some people from Greece and also saw the guide we had met earlier.
Chizzo has the town's arguably best Glühwein for après-ski.

Alas, our visit eventually came to an end. We enjoyed the ritzy experience of Kitzbühel and met several nice people there. On our way out, I started thinking about balancing our next visit by spending more time in smaller and more modest villages like some that we had passed while riding the Mont Blanc Express train from Chamonix to Mürren. In other words, I was already daydreaming about our next trip before the current one was over.
Auf Wiedersehen, Kitzbühel!