Chronicles of a writer abroad

No back pain, no furniture gain


I’ve already blogged about some of the things that are to be appreciated in Switzerland — the cheese, the peaceful Sundays, the beautiful scenery. But it’s time to talk about some of the things that you can’t find here. Let’s start with hot water. It’s abundant during the day, but a friend who has been living here since September warned us not to count on having enough for a hot shower at night. We scoffed at him as we enjoyed steamy water temperatures throughout the evening in our temporary apartment. But, as it turns out, that hot water may have been the sort of tourist amenity that hotels and other lodgings offer in an attempt at “luxury,” or to prevent frustrating clashes between tourist customs and local ones. Because last night — our first living in our new apartment — I went to wash some pots after dinner and found that the water was, indeed, devoid of any warmth. I am not sure what time of day the cut-off is — somewhere between 6 and 8 pm is my guess. Well, at least this makes me feel better about not having a bathtub…I’d pretty much only use it at night anyway.

Two other things that are scarce here: elevators and closets. When “lifts” do appear, they typically look as though they were designed to hold just a few average-size adults, as opposed to North American ones that typically can accept eight or ten passengers. And many buildings, like ours, simply don’t have one at all. Which is “quaint,” of course — “romantic,” even. I have no problem climbing the three flights of stairs to my apartment on a daily basis; I even enjoy this bit of enforced exercise. And no closets? Well, perhaps that’s nice too, as it lets you decide what you need for storage, and where to put it.

But picture this: you’re at IKEA, thinking about how to solve the problem of your new apartment containing no closets whatsoever. It appears that wardrobes are the solution. So you wander over to the applicable section, and soon become dazzled by the possibilities on offer. These babies are fully customizable: you choose the materials, the size, the number of shelves/rails/drawers/shoe-racks/what-have-you on the interior. Do you want your wardrobe’s walls to be a different colour from its doors? No problem, IKEA will make it happen for you. You spend some fun minutes on their computerized wardrobe-design-thingy and then you just print out the results, and the IKEA staff tell you where to find all the pieces you’ll need to assemble your masterpiece.

Ha — that problem wasn’t so hard to solve! You went from having no closets to having two personalized closets in a matter of minutes. Success! Victory! Except — um, you just bought over 450 pounds of closet. How are you going to get it to your 3rd-floor, liftless abode? This gives you momentary pause. It’s okay, your non-wardrobe-buying, has-a-lift-in-his-building friend says, they have this thing called a “furniture taxi” here. The guy will drive your goods to your building in a truck, and then if you pay extra, he will help you to carry it up the stairs to your apartment.

Great! It seems as though IKEA really has thought of everything. You go to the Customer Service desk, as directed, and arrange for a furniture taxi. When it shows up, you see it’s not at all what was advertised — perhaps because it’s a Saturday and all the trucks are already in service. What you get is, essentially, just a taxi, albeit a larger, van-sized one. The driver is neither young nor fit and you cringe to see him try to cram all of your purchases (in addition to the wardrobes, you thought it would be a good idea to buy a dining room table and some chairs) into his vehicle. He ends up exhausted, and driving with several boxes precariously close to his head. So when he drops you off, you mention nothing about getting up the stairs. Instead, you tip him generously for his valiant attempt to do what is clearly not his job, and watch him drive away as you stand, marooned in a sea of IKEA boxes, looking wistfully at your apartment’s balcony, high above the street.

So, yeah, that was our Saturday. Stelian and I eventually got everything upstairs: each of the wardrobe body and door pieces was a two-person job (and could have easily been a three-person job) due to their weight and their size, and the fact that they had to be lifted over stair railings. I am still feeling slightly sore from this effort, and it engendered in me the greatest sympathy for the moving crew who had to bring our bed, sofa, desks, and many boxes of books, kitchen ware, and so on up here yesterday. In the land of inadequate lifts and unforgiving stairwells, let me tell you, the moving guys have gotta be tough.

Back to my unpacking. Happy February!


8 thoughts on “No back pain, no furniture gain

  1. Huff! Puff! Along about now, wouldn’t it be great to relax those aching back muscles with a nice long hot soak… wait a minute. Forget I mentioned that. How ’bout a glass or two of wine!

  2. Sounds like quite the Herculean effort you and stelian put forth in the acquisition of your furniture! But I’m glad you got your apartment all furnished. 🙂

    Last semester it wasn’t until three months later I was approaching a furnished classification in my homely abode. In fact, just this morning I removed a convenient and cost-efficient “free” label from a couch which had found its way to curb outside my apartment. I proceeded to wrangle it up my stairs relying on prosimian technology and at times the advantageous ability to defy gravity in order to drag the couch upstairs to my bedroom.

    Hurrah for overcoming furniture struggles 🙂 I can now recoup in recline, as I rejoice in furnished comforts 😀

  3. Living in a foreign country has its challenges. How much space do the wardrobes take up in the rooms? I hope you have a kettle handy to heat the dishwater when required…. or maybe not. The pots will always be there in the morning.

    Better you than me walking up three flights of stairs every day. I gave that job up when we moved into the condo – with its nice reliable elevator but I do like the view from your balcony.

    Zorro was a blast. Sorry you and Stelian had to miss this year but the life you are living more than makes up for one performance at St. Martin’s…. and there will be others when/if you move back to Lotusland.

    • We’re just building the wardrobes now, Nana — I think they’re going to be attractive, and not that imposing, when they’re finished. I’ll share some pictures for sure.

      Glad to hear Zorro was another success — I had no doubt it would be!

  4. Ahhhh! I feel your pain! I thought lugging my severely overweight suitcases up three flights of stairs in my building was bad…yeowsa! Sometimes in mainland Europe though they have these crane-like things attached to the top floor of a building and then you harness your stuff with ropes that go through the pulley/crane at the top and lift them up to your floor and through a window.

    Also – the no hot water thing! BAH! we don’t have hot water in the evenings (or very early mornings when I get up and try to wash my face in an iceberg before work..) such North American luxuries I’ve always taken for granted.

    Good job moving in! I’m glad you finally have some wardrobe space happening!

    • Suitcases are definitely not trivial things to get up the stairs! We treated those as a two-man job, too…

      Interesting to hear that you also don’t have hot water at night. It was something I never expected…I had always previously stayed in hotels/guesthouses in Europe, where you’re protected from the truth! But it’s kind of a major adjustment. Luckily, by the time I get up in the morning, it’s usually back on…the Swiss get up and start working really early…there is an office across from our flat, and I can see people sitting in their desks, typing away, at 7 am. Crazy Swiss.

      • I think our lack of hot water could just be that we live in an older apartment building (probably built in the 1960s?) and on the top floor so perhaps it just takes a long time (/doesn’t) to come up? boo.

        sadly, I have to say I was working by 7am this morning. double boo.

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