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!