Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dan and Sejal's Wedding

A long-standing item that was on Laure's and my bucket list was to attend one of those legendary Indian weddings that you see in the movies. I wouldn't say this was the main reason we were friends with Dan, but I must admit that we were putting all our bets on him.

Last November, our bets paid off.
Thanks, Sejal and Dan.

As soon as we got in New Jersey, Laure hit the floor running by going to Sejal's family's party where the ladies got their hennas done. As far as I know, Laure's previous experience with hennas was with the type that you can buy from Hot Topic and apply yourself at home. The henna artists at the party provided significant upgrade from anything Laure had previously had.
Laure's first legitimate henna.
Henna art is made with a dark paste of crushed leaves and twigs of a plant that goes by the same name.

Following others' advice, Laure waited until the next morning before washing her hands. This helps keeping the henna dark.
Final product after washing hands the next day.

On the second day, our friend Peter, Laure and I rented a car and checked out the surrounding area in New Jersey. The best part was seeing the the fall colors on the trees. Yes, I know it's a bit cliché, but the fall colors in the northeastern United States are really something special. And I hadn't seen them since I had moved out of Pennsylvania years ago.
The fall colors of New Jersey.

To balance out the beauty of the leaves' changing colors, some ridiculously rude guy screamed at us at a gas station because he incorrectly thought we were blocking traffic. He turned his back and walked away as we were trying to reason with him. That left a sour taste in our mouths.

But something that sweetened Peter's tastebuds was the cronut knock-off he got a Dunkin' Donuts. For those not in the know about the latest food trends, a cronut is a mutant half-croissant half-donut pastry. Dunkin' Donuts (a fast food pastry shop) caught wind of this fad and decided to sell it too. But they had to name it "Croissant Donut" in order to avoid a trademark lawsuit.
The cronut knock-off tasted about as good as anything else you'd get at Dunkin' Donuts.

We then went back to the wedding venue and joined our friends for another night of partying. Dan and Sejal had set up an amazing variety of delicious vegetarian Indian food. Coming from Switzerland where it can be tough to find authentic Indian food, Laure and I were very excited about this.
This dish named Raj Kachori Chaat was amazing.

The main part of the night was comprised of performances by Dan and Sejal's family and friends. They varied from traditional regional Indian dances to more modern Bollywood style performances.
Dance performance for the wedding couple. 
My favorite was this traditional performance by Dan's cousin.

After the performances, the dancing experts taught us the basic routine of Dandiya Raas, which is an Indian dance where each person dances with two sticks. Dancers line up in two rows facing each other and perform a routine that involves hitting the sticks together and rotating positions.
The Dandiya Raas "stick" dance sounds complicated, but it only takes about ten minutes to learn.

The dance kind of feels like a group bonding exercise because everyone needs to be well synchronized. It only takes a couple of people to stumble out of sync in order for the entire thing to fall into chaos, which happens fairly often. So it is to everyone's best interest to help out the newbies. That was us.

After the party, a few of us temporarily invaded Dan's room with a bottle of champagne. We reminisced on days past and daydreamed about the future.

The next day was the main day of ceremonies. The groom's and bride's sides celebrate separately for the first part. That's when we witnessed Dan's awesome arrival on a white horse.

I won't claim that I actually understood everything that was going on, but I enjoyed that nearly every part somehow incorporated dancing. What better way is there to celebrate long term happiness among family and friends?
Dan dancing on his white horse to the live music.
Don't know what's going on? Just dance.

Next, we followed Dan's side of the family to meet with Sejal's.
Something important happened here.

Then came the main ceremony, which was comprised of many traditional and spiritual rituals.
Both sides were presented with spiritual items.

My favorite part was when Dan had to put a flower garland around Sejal's neck while others lifted her away to complicate the task.
Sejal playing hard to get.

An important ritual was the Mangal Fera, where Dan and Sejal walked around the fire four times.
Mangal Fera symbolized the cleansing of Dan and Sejal's souls as they united into one.

Finally, the most important ritual is Saptapadi, when Dan and Sejal made seven vows to each other. That's pretty much the "I do" of Hindu weddings.

After the ceremonies, we enjoyed another night with lots of performances, food and dancing. The most notable performance was the re-enactment of Dan and Sejal's love story by Sejal's family.
Dan and Sejal's love story. Bollywood style.
More awesome food.
During the party, everyone was impressed with Dan's and Sejal's dads. Those two were dancing machines -- I picked up a couple of moves from them.

After Dan and Sejal left the throne on which they were sitting, a few of us stole it for the photo opportunity.
How much did we drink, again?
Naturally, the ladies look much sexier than the men.

We had a ton of fun at Dan and Sejal's wedding. We wish them an awesome future.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Settled into our Swiss Apartment

I never feel fully settled in a place until about a week before I decide it's time to move - it's one of the ironies of my life. But with no plans to move in the near future, I thought it would be nice to share our place at its current state even though we're not fully settled in. There are a few finishing touches I still need to add but here is our Swiss home at the moment.
We donated many of our books before leaving the States and bought some for local living and traveling.

It has been a year and a half since we moved into our current apartment. Even after the arrival of our shipping crate from San Francisco, it took a while to make our apartment feel like a home. We gave away many of our possessions before leaving the US and needed to purchase a few replacements. There were larger essential items (like a sofa, a dresser and a dining table) that would have been expensive to move overseas and other items were small basics (like flatware and dishes) that were easy to replace in Switzerland. We got as much as we could from second hand stores before heading to shops like IKEA. The main excuse for taking nearly a year to get our apartment set up was our preference to travel rather than furniture shop - which is why we came to Europe anyways.
Ninety-five days later, we were reunited with our belonging from San Francisco.
All of our worldly processions arrived, 97% of them arrived in their original condition.

We chose to settle in Zürich's 2nd quarter, Enge. It's not the most happening part of town but it is right along the lake, next to the city center and well connected by public transit. Catching a train to the mountains is now more convenient and faster than finding our car when we lived on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. What turned out the be the absolute best attribute of our apartment's location is the local grocery store. It is open late seven days a week (even on holidays) and it is a stone's throw away!
Zurich's quarters

Our current apartment is 1.5 times the size of our previous apartment. Compared to apartments in our prior neighborhood, this place is a steal. Not only is our apartment larger but the place is actually well taken care of. No more rotting floorboards, holes in the walls, mismatching baseboards, or appliances from another century. Unlike in SF, landlords in Zürich normally must make improvements on their rental property in order to raise the rent. Many of the apartments we viewed had remodeled kitchens, bathrooms, or a new balcony. It's frightening to look back and realize that our old SF apartment was going on the market for nearly a thousand dollars a month more then what we were paying; our previous landlord had no intention to renovate or repair anything.

A little part of me does miss the corky charms of living in building over 100 years old - tilted floors and all. Our current place was probably constructed around WWII. I also miss living in a small cozy apartment. Having always lived in small spaces, I find our current place a little too big for me.
Welcome to our new home.
Separate living room - a common find in older apartments we viewed.
Having a balcony was a must for us.
The sleekest bathroom I have had in a rental unit.

My favorite part about the apartment is the in-unit washer and dryer. The majority of my life I've gone without one or both. No more laundromats, crunchy air dried towels or hoarding quarters for us. I didn't think having my own stacking unit in the kitchen would be amazing but it really has been.

Actually, having one's own washer and dryer units wasn't the norm for many of the apartments we viewed. Many buildings offered a shared machine for all the tenants to either use on a first come / first serve basis or by assigned days and times.
Okay, so I don't fully know how to use it since the instructions are in German but I know the basics and love it!

Another new concept for me is having a spare bedroom. We now can offer overnight guests an actual room of their own. The room also doubles as a small office.
Basic guest accommodations - comfy bed in a private room.
Corner home office with just the basics.

A strange thing we noticed about apartment hunting in Zurich was the lack of built-in closets. It turns out that the Swiss buy wall wardrobes. Unfortunately, decent looking wall wardrobes do not come cheap and are a pain to move from apartment to apartment.

Prior to moving overseas, we had been slowly working on reducing the amount of stuff we own but this last move encouraged a huge binge. Since our purge, we have made a conscious effort to keep our place fairly minimalistic. I was thrilled that we didn't need to buy much storage furniture. We fit all of our clothes and linens into one shared dresser and in the hall closet. Worrying about less furniture will make our next move a tad bit easier.
Simple bedroom
Just acquired the basics to keep us flexible.

Another lifestyle habit we brought over with us from SF is my obsession with reducing waste - thanks to Bay Area bloggers like My Plastic Free Life and Zero Waste Home. Unlike in the US, large garbage cans in Zurich aren't picked up from driveways weekly for a flat rate. We purchase specific trash bags that are charged by the liter. Once the bag is filled, we need to drop them off around the corner at a collection bin.  I absolutely love this system since it encourages people to produce less waste and to recycle. I wish SF had a program like this.
One of these per month - not too bad but there's plenty of room for improvement.
A few of my reusable sacks that help me cut back on our trash.
I've impressed several shop clerks and framer's market venders with my eco sacks.

I once read that an expat's kitchen is the last place to adapt to a new country. This definitely holds true in our kitchen. Once you get past the restored Swiss restaurant table and Swiss sleek cabinets, the inside of the cupboards look like one from an American kitchen. Every trip to the US is a chance to restock my favorite chocolate chips, granola, and other favorite consumables. I'm also guilty of requesting visitors to bring along some American goodies. I never knew there would be a day that US consumables would be the best gift ever.
Simple and efficient Swiss kitchen.
A few of my American comforts.