Thanks for all the e-mails!

When I started this blog, it was intended to be for the small number of expats like myself moving here from overseas. But I have been really amazed to see how the number of visits is growing – already 3500 this year! I hadn’t realised how many people were interested in this little town…

Thanks as well to everyone who has e-mailed me and sorry if I haven’t answered all of the questions quickly. I get there eventually 🙂

Thanks for the support!

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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Taxable income levels in St.Gallen

I just found an interesting bit of information for you on income levels in St.Gallen. This information is published by the city tax office according to taxable income for individuals in St.Gallen city. Just to confirm though, when you look at these numbers, please don’t think that the majority of people are poor :-). Actual incomes are normally higher. Have a look at your annual tax summary to figure out how you are doing comparatively.

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For reference, there are around 78,000 inhabitants in St.Gallen (29% of whom are foreigners).

Icecream parlour: Eiscafe Gekko

Score: 10/10

Summer has officially arrived, although in reality, it feels more like Autumn.

When the sun does shine though, you should have a look at St.Gallen’s best kept secret: Eiscafe Gekko.

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This little treasure serves the most amazing homemade icecreams and sorbets in Eastern Switzerland. Some of the sorbets are even dairy-free for those of you with allergies, but be sure to check with them before you order. The Eiscafe is only open 6 months of the year hidden away at the top of Engelgasse opposite Samosa.

The only issue is that there is limited place and no sunshine here to sit and enjoy your icecream. So be prepared to buy and walk…

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mmmmm……!

Openair St.Gallen

This weekend sees St.Gallen host Openair, one of Switzerland’s biggest music festivals with 30,000 attendees daily. If you don’t already know about it then you are already too late. Tickets are sold out already as usual and there are no ticket sales on the day.
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The event features local, national and international bands often with some pretty big names. The whole thing is located out to the west of town with everyone camping out around the three stages. Crowds have been turning up for the last couple of days with camping gear on their backs hoping to get there early enough for one of the best spots. This year is going to be a bit of a mud-bath, so an uphill spot is advisable!

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Dedicated buses are running from the main train station regularly, so that the many visitors don’t disturb the daily life in St.Gallen. For any one who is interested though, there is one almighty party going on down by the river!

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N.b. credit for the photos goes to the Openair 2012 facebook page. I didn’t want to go up in a balloon for the overhead shot 🙂

Restaurant Review: Samosa

Score 7/10

I did a post a while ago about the Indian Palace which still deserves its place as the top Indian restaurant in town.

However….

If you are looking for somewhere quick and easy, but still with great food, look no further than Samosa in Engelgasse. They have just reopened after renovating and are as good as ever. For lunch, they have a buffet with 3 or 4 dishes normally on offer. The price is really reasonable for St.Gallen: CHF 15 for vegetarian, or CHF 18 if you also have the meat dish.

And don’t be afraid to ask for the mango lassi – tastes great!

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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…!

Cycling Route through Eggersriet

 

 

Distance: 26.7km
Duration: 2 hours (3hrs with children)

Ok, I know that if you look out of your window right now, its raining. But trust me, it was really nice out this morning! The snow only stopped falling a few short weeks away, but already we are getting some great days with around 20c. The sun is out for a good 13-14 hours a day now so time to get on a bike and explore.

This route is a nice easy option for an adult with a fun downhill for the the last quarter all the way into St.Gallen. The first stretch once you leave the town is a little hard on the legs so I wouldn’t recommend for children under 10. You will also need to make use of opportunities to stop and recover, as there will be stretches where there is just no place to stop.

When you get to Eggersriet though, the hardwork is all over and from B to C on the map you’ll be able to enjoy some really pretty scenery and great views all the way to Germany.Eggersriet route

Looking for an international network in St.Gallen?

While St.Gallen is not exactly on the same level as Zurich or Geneva for its expat community, there are still plenty of us in the area. You just need to know where to look!

Internations has started running regular meetings in the city and they seem to be gathering some steam. So, if you interested in meeting up, create an Internations account and register for the event. Next one is this Thursday.

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Restaurant Review: Al Capone’s Steakhouse

Score: 6/10

Al Capone’s is a recent addition to St.Gallen and replaced the Italian restaurant Molino’s above the main buss top on Marktplatz. They still serve the regular mix of Italian dishes but have an extra steak section on the menu.

The beef is currently only from Switzerland and the US, but with pork steaks from Argentina. They could use a little more selection on the menu considering they are a steakhouse, but the food is fairly good.

The steaks are all served rare on a hot plate, allowing you to cook the meat further to your own taste. This is great for the novelty value, but could get a little annoying if you go regularly.
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Biggest issue I had was the cost. CHF 50 for a 300g steak and one drink. The steak came with one side-dish. For a good, but not amazing meal, that’s a lot of money. With a more suitable price I would probably have given it a 7/10.

As far as steakhouse’s go, it is worth considering and it is good to have another central option, but it would come third in the list after Englers by the Olma and Lagerhaus by the police station.

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