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 I won’t delete any content, but I’m afraid that eventually most of the information will become out of date.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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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!

Shopping in Austria: Dornbirn Messepark

It’s no secret that shopping in Switzerland is expensive. It can also be difficult to get bargains. Normally I would shop online, but there is no amazon.ch and many items on amazon won’t ship to Switzerland.

The most useful and one of the closest shopping centres for St.Gallen is in Dornbirn, Austria.

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Before I talk about the benefits, there are a couple of problems with this though.

1) The connections to Dornbirn by train are ok, but you will need to get yourself on to a bus the other end. This means that aside from the cost of transport, the journey will be the best part of an hour on public transport. if you go by car, it is a 25 minute drive. Not bad, but if don’t already have a car, it will be cheaper just to do all your shopping in St.Gallen.

2) The Swiss border guards know what you are up to. They are probably doing it themselves! Often the, border crossing you use is going to be empty, and if it isn’t they will probably stop anything from about 1/5 to 1/10 cars. You can either take a risk or download a list of what your limits are and don’t go over. Meat in particular is great to buy in Austria, because it is so much cheaper. Unfortunately you can only carry 500g back without paying import tax. If they do stop you and charge you, it will definitely cost more than just shopping in St.Gallen.

Dornbirn Messpark
This is a regular shopping centre a few minutes from the Swiss border. Compared to e UK or US, it is nothing special in terms of size or selection. But it has everything you need for a low cost shopping trip:
– Interspar (groceries). Go once, compare the prices and consider that you could easily save CHF 20-30 on your regular weekly shop. Not everything will be cheaper though.

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– Mediamarkt (electronics). Mediamarkt have a big shop in St.Gallen as well and if you compare prices online, there is very little difference. However in Dornbirn, the store seems to always have more discounts and specials.

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– Hervis Sports. The place to go if you want any sportswear or equipment. You’ll get most things for less than half the price you’ll find in St.Gallen. Just this weekend, they had bikes on special for as little as €199.

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Surviving in St.Gallen without speaking German

I have been in St.Gallen for quite a few years now and have heard the following comments regularly:

“Its not possible to live in St.Gallen without German”
“Its not possible to find a job in Switzerland without German”
“Most Swiss people don’t speak English”
“Its really hard to fit in without speaking Swiss-German”

All of which are complete rubbish. The one thing all of these statements have in common are that I heard them exclusively from fluent or native German speakers who have never tried to get by without German and assume it can’t be done!

Firstly, I know many people who have found gainful employment with no more than basic German. There are a lot more opportunities like this down the hill in Zurich, but if you find something in St.Gallen, don’t worry about being isolated. I find that many people, especially those with higher education, will speak perfectly functional English. They normally voluntarily switch language when they hear how bad your German is!

Here are the key times when language has been an issue for me:

1. Secretaries and receptionists. Going to the doctors, dentists, schools etc. is normally fine for the actual appointment as the professionals always seem to speak excellent english. The trouble tends to be booking the appointment as the receptionists struggle with  high German, let alone English. Best technique is to book appointments in person with a pen and paper ready. Or get some one to phone for you!

2. Tax Office. The officials in the tax office speak English fine, but they are not (or they said they weren’t) allowed to give out official advice in English. They were however totally happy for me to write to them in English and they answered in German. Happily I solved this with a very useful tax advisor who does everything for me now.

3. Work HR. Why is it that so many companies fail to employ an English speaker in their HR teams and yet want to employ international staff?! Your co-workers will get you round this minor issue.

4. The Hauswart. This is the person who sorts out all of your problems in the flat on behalf of the Landlord. This can be an issue, many don’t seem to speak English. Find a friendly neighbour who does and ask them to help. Or only rent an apartment if the Hauswart speaks English. Mine does 😉

Lastly, don’t ever worry about phoning emergency services. Speak slowly and clearly and they will understand and help. They speak English!  As do many banks, the telecoms, the insurance companies etc. Basic rule though is, before you sign up, check that their helpline works in English. If it doesn’t, don’t sign!

Even the local kids speak English to me…!

St.Gallen Architecture

There are a lot of positive things to be said about St.Gallen’s beautiful old city centre, the impressive shop fronts, the stately churches and cathedral, the distinctive old manors, farm houses and residences.

However, for some reason the City authorities, the architects and the locals themselves seem to be intent on ruining all of this with concrete monstrosities completely out of character with the surroundings.

This is the latest, almost completed, St.Gallen Blood Bank. Although it is just about to be put into use, it already looks as if it was built sometime in the 1980s…

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