Leaving St.Gallen

I’m sorry to say that after many years in this beautiful little town I am moving on. It has been a pleasure to be able to provide this blog and I hope that people to continue to benefit from it for years to come :-). I won’t delete any content, but I’m afraid that eventually most of the information will become out of date.

But who knows. One day I might move back and I will for sure start to blog again. And thanks to everyone who followed the blog and all of the e-mails of support I received.

And if you ever decide to move to Frankfurt next, why not take a look at my new blog: www.frankfurtexpat.wordpress.com

As if I would actually stop blogging entirely 🙂

Enjoy St.Gallen!!

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Café Doessegger

Are you looking for somewhere for a quick coffee and cake in the town centre? There are a few nice little places, including this one right near Marktplatz.

Doessegger has been around for years and is always popular and busy. Now that the sun is out, they have just started putting chairs outside. So if you have a spare 20 minutes and fancy a rest from shopping this is a good choice. Service is really quick and friendly, and the cakes are great. Order your cake at the counter on the way in and then find a seat.

My minor disappointment is that the selection is always limited compared to other places, but the quality is really good and always very fresh.

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Don’t forget to buy a ticket!

For the first few years after I arrived in St. Gallen, ticket inspections on buses were a rarity. It happened less than once a year, but even then, only on the most popular bus routes. Someone at the bus company must have woken up though, as they now check frequently on most routes. I am getting checked once in every two or three journeys now.

The penalty for no ticket is CHF 100, and if you have forgotten you ticket, it is CHF 5 plus the annoyance of lots of forms and a trip to the main station.

Postbuses it seems are still exempt though. I have still never been checked on a postbus!

Swiss vote on immigration quotas

I normally don’t comment on politics since it isn’t relevant to practical advice on living in St.Gallen, but this is an interesting topic and does have direct relevance to many people in the city or considering moving here.

I was really surprised when the Swiss voted to bring back immigration quotas for European citizens and also, as a consequence, most likely withdraw from the Schengen agreement that allows visa-free travel around Europe. It was already hard for non-EU citizens to get jobs and permits here, but now it is going to be hard for Europeans as well.

What was interesting was that St.Gallen was one of the cantons that voted most strongly in favour of limiting migration (see graphic below). I was really surprised about this as the canton and city derive lots of benefits from the many international companies in the Rhein valley and from a well known international university that relies partly on income from international students.

In particular, I know lots of people who came to Switzerland to study, in spite of the high costs, partly with the aim of securing employment here after graduation. This was already tough, but now it is going to be very unlikely for many foreign graduates, especially those from outside of the EU.

Screenshot from Swissinfo.ch

Screenshot from Swissinfo.ch

Skiing in Damüls, Austria

Damuels

I just noticed these billboards popping up around town and thought it useful to give a little info. I hadn’t even heard of Damüls until this year, which shows I still have a lot of local knowledge to gain! I was also surprised that the advertisers didn’t try to sell the location a bit more. They seem to assume that everyone knows the ski resort and just need reminding to visit.

I went recently as I was on the look out for somewhere different. What surprised me was the small piece of info that Damüls is officially the snowiest village in the world due to unique local weather trends and averages 9.7m a year. This sounded perfect to me as this year has been a terrible year for snow across the whole region. Hardly anything on the ground in St.Gallen and most places within easy reach have been slushy, icy and unreliable regarding new snow fall. As I speak, it is 15 degrees and sunny outside…

Damüls was good though. I’m sure it has had better years, but there was still plenty of snow. The runs themselves were not so difficult, no really tough routes, but enough variation to keep beginners and intermediates busy for days. A few too many long flat sections though, so kids get tired. Best part was that there were loads of safe off-piste areas to spice things up.

One warning though. On the way there you have three route options. Beware though, the shortest route through Laterns is only open in the Summer. It is closed when there is snow. Take a main road though either Dornbirn (1hr 20) or through Nenzing (1hr 10):

Tip of the day: free wine-tasting at Coop

Are you interested in wine? Do you need to do your grocery shopping this evening? Well head over to the large Coop Gallusmarkt near Neudorf and combine the two :-). There is also a 20% discount of all wine until Saturday and today the Coop is open until 8:30pm as usual for late Thursday shopping.

Best bet is to head there are 7pm as the Coop is normally fairly empty after this and you can avoid any queues. And the great thing is that the man who is in charge of the wine tasting stand speaks perfectly good English and is always up for a nice chat! Definitely a man who enjoys his job!

Slightly blurred photo for you, but then I was driving a trolley at the time…:

wine tasting

Rock Story

Are you wondering where you can find a little life in St.Gallen? If you are interested in football, the Europa League to be specific, then why not head into town this Thursday (29th August) at around 6pm for kick off. St.Gallen are playing Spartak Moscow and numerous bars are going to be showing the game. This would either be an excellent evening for a night out, or if you don’t like football, an excellent evening to avoid the city centre!

Now for a recommendation on where to watch it. A great place to go is Rock Story in Augustinergasse. This is a cosy backstreet near the Marktplatz and aside from being a great place to go anyway for a drink, the atmosphere is great if you want to watch some sports. In addition, the staff speak excellent English and are always welcoming. In addition they have a table with a private beer tap in case you want to reserve space for a group! On warm evenings, people spill out into the little car-free square in front which Rock Story shares with a few other bars.

All in all, a great place for a night out!

RockStory

St.Gallen weather

You can feel it in the air, there has been a distinct change in atmosphere today, Autumn is coming. We are still going to get plenty of warm sunny days, but the early mornings are now chilly and damp, and sunlight is now gone by 9pm.

So what can you expect from the weather in St.Gallen? Last Winter was fairly unique. we had snow for roughly 6 months from October 31 until well into April. St.Gallen also has the reputation among the Swiss for being a very wet city allegedly seeing rain or snow for 2 out of every 3 days. This seems a little extreme to me, but it is definitely a little wetter than other places. The meteorologists out there may be able to explain the connection with lake Konstanz for me…

From my point of view, coming from a wet and windy island in the North, St.Gallen has amazing weather. There are normally 2 months of solid sunshine in the Summer and regular temperatures of 25-30 degrees. In the Winter, you are guaranteed real snow for at least 2 months from Jan-Feb. Snow that you can actually ski or sledge on without getting a brown bum.

The coldest I have seen it is -20 degrees, but this was unusual and normally only happens once or twice in the middle of the night. For the most part the winter goes no lower than about -5.

Spring and Autumn has its fair share of rain and 10 degree days, but compared to the UK, these seasons are considerably shorter and drier.

The biggest advantage I see in St.Gallen is the lack of wind. We are protected by a narrow valley and wind chill factor is almost non-existent. Having lived in the north of England I know how much of a difference this makes. Autumn days are still extremely pleasant!

Long summer evenings

Wondering what to do in the evenings? Tonight of course you have the excitement of St.Gallen Fest in town, where yet again the city centre fills up with places to eat and drink, this time with a music theme. The highlight is about 10 mini stages hidden down various side streets with performers playing all sorts of music.

Tomorrow though you are going to be at a loose end. So why not pack yourself a picnic, a crate of cold beer, and head up the hill to the Drei Weihern (three lakes) on the no. 5 bus line. Spend the afternoon in and out of the water or just simply sitting on the grass enjoying the music that is often provided.

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Admittedly, it may feel like the whole town is there sometimes but the atmosphere is good and the evenings are long and warm.

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And not sure who organises the music tent, but it can sometimes be a good selection :-). The locals seem to enjoy it though!

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Not buying a car

When I came to St.Gallen years ago, I sold my car in the UK but only because it had right-hand side steering. I fully intended to buy a new one in Switzerland once I got settled. Living within the city limits meant that I didn’t need a car urgently as the bus and train network is excellent. But for certain things like day trips to the mountains or shopping for bulky items mean that you need to have a car.

The answer is Mobility for most of these occasions.  Mobility is a car share system that works remarkably well. I have been using it for 6 years now and have never once had a problem with the cars or the hire system. Cars are scattered around the city with a large selection at the train station. Once you have signed up (at the main post office) the whole system is remarkably easy to use, particularly as the whole booking system works smoothly off their smart phone app. I calculated that for the number of times I actually need a car, it is cheaper just to hire than to buy in Switzerland. The cost of upkeep, parking, taxes, winter/summer tyre changes is just so much higher.

In addition, they have the website all in English and their help desk have always been able to help in English as well. In addition, they will let you sign up for the first year with a foreign driving licence but after that you need to switch to a Swiss licence.

There is one downside though. The Mobility system works by charging per hour and per kilometer. This is perfect for day trips but once you go much beyond 24 hrs, it is no longer cost effective and you need to look at regular car hire. For example, I needed a car recently for 9 days and 1000 km which would have cost just over 1000 CHF with Mobility. Europcar charge around 900 CHF for the same period and vehicle but the service is shoddy and it takes ages to get the paperwork done and get hold of the vehicle. Hertz is all the way over by Bruggen which is fine if you live there, but also doesn’t give a great choice of vehicles or service.

The trick is with Mobility again though. On the Mobility site there is ‘Hire Car’ option. If choose this you will see that there is a discount booking rate for both Hertz and Avis (Avis being marginally more expensive. Now, Avis doesn’t exist in St.Gallen – they use a local garage (Zil Garage) as a partner. Amazingly Zil don’t even advertise that they work with Avis. So I followed the links and booked a car for 9 days at only CHF 580, turned up and got a really quick friendly service, and all done in English. In addition, the car they gave was a brand new Peugeot 308, far better than I would have got at Hertz or Europcar for a fraction of the price!