I’m Dreaming of a … Brown(?) … Christmas

My first Christmas in Switzerland. The last few years I have gone home for Christmas but this year I decided to stay. I’ve been busy settling into my new role back in the classroom, being in a play and starting my theatre company. Oh, and completing my Masters. This is the main reason why I stayed – my Masters. I’ve been letting it slide a little over the last couple weeks because, well, life. But with the prospect of three uninterrupted weeks off, it made more sense for me to stick around here and work. And luckily I have friends who live permanently in the city and would be around over the holidays too.

Sitting around on Christmas Eve, I was thinking that this is one of the first Christmases I won’t be home for. But actually, it turns out that’s not quite true. Upon reflection, I realized:

  • The year I spent in Japan, I didn’t go home but my mother (or brother? can’t remember who came when) came to visit
  • The year I lived in Scotland, I stayed with my friend, Nathalie, and her family
  • One of the two years I lived in Poland I was too sick to fly and therefore stayed for Christmas
  • I also spent Christmas in London while living in Switzerland

It seems I’ve spent Christmas in every place I’ve lived. So, I guess it’s about time I was here for Christmas too.

However, it’s a distinctly less-than-snowy Christmas.

Brown Christmas

Much of this is due to the Lake Effect, because 20 minutes up the mountain, where my school is, they apparently have about 2 feet of snow …



As French as Striking

Remember Joelle? She wrote that Where in the World post about living in Zurich. Well, in August, she and her boyfriend, Sebastian, moved to Portugal. So, over the October break, I went out to visit them, having never been to Portugal before.

The only flight I could get from Zurich to Lisbon was an evening flight, leaving at 7pm and arriving around 9:30. At first this was annoying, because it meant I would get in late and would basically miss the whole day. But when my actual flight day rolled around, I changed my mind. It was nice not to have to wake up super early, rush to make sure everything was in order and then run out the door. Instead, I woke up late Saturday morning, hung around all day, went for a walk, packed at my own pace and wandered out the door in the late afternoon. It was great.

Given all that free time I had during the day, I’m not sure how I ended up in Lisbon without my toothbrush, hairbrush, cold medicine and sunscreen. It was literally the worst packing job I have ever done – minus that time I forgot my passport, but that doesn’t really count (re: I was very ill). Apparently, I need to be in a huge rush in order to pack well.

Luckily, there was a grocery store near the hostel so I was able to get my stuff the next morning. I spent two full days in Lisbon and it was very nice, however it’s one of those cities (like Barcelona) that I don’t particularly need to go back to. I think the weather was the best part. It was mid-twenties with a constant breeze from the water. Nearly perfect. All it needed was a little cloud coverage (but what can you expect from the sunniest capital in Europe?).

I spent most of Sunday with Joelle and Sebastian, and their friends Rachel and Hillel, who were visiting from New York at the same time. We walked around the city a bit and along the water. It’s always nice to get a personal tour 🙂

On Monday, I wandered the city on my own for a bit before getting a bus tour around (you know, one of those hop-on, hop-off things).

My flight on Tuesday was supposed to leave at 1pm. Upon arriving at the airport, I found it had been delayed 5 hours. In fact, nearly every flight was either delayed or canceled. I texted Joelle to see if this was normal for Lisbon, but she said no. We finally got on the flight at 6pm (almost 3 hours after I should have landed back in Zurich), and we were subsequently told we would need to wait on the tarmac for what could possibly be a further 3 hours inside the plane. I experienced a few brief but intense moments of panic, thinking about the last time this happened, but it was amazing what a difference a larger plane can make (plus, I had some downloaded videos on my iPad to distract me). It actually wasn’t so bad sitting on the plane at all, just waiting. We ended up only being out there for about an hour and 45 minutes before we were able to take off. I’ll say it again – larger plane = more manageable, much less panic-inducing.

The flight itself took an extra 30 minutes because we couldn’t fly over French airspace, as we normally would. This is when I discovered the cause for all the delays. Apparently, there was a general strike in France at the time which had caused, among other things, delays to virtually every airport in Europe.

NOTE: This strike is where I got the title of the post. It’s a reference to Season 4, Episode 5 of The Great British Bake Off, when Sue Perkins, while describing a French dessert says, “…it’s as French as smoking, striking, and shrugging.”

However, I finally did get home and still had a few days of holiday before school started again. And while in Portugal, I found out Joelle and Sebastian will be moving to Seoul in January. I’ve never been to South Korea, so there’s my Easter Break sorted 🙂

Lisbon 2017

Hillel, Rachel, Joelle, Sebastian and Me

Time is Flying

Things have been busy, but I’m still here! I’ve settled into my new role teaching Grade 1 and I’m really enjoying it – though I can’t believe it’s already 2 weeks away from October break. The time is absolutely flying!!

Almost two weeks ago, the STOK performances ended. This was a set of two one-act plays held at the small STOK theatre in downtown Zurich. There are only 80 seats, so it’s teeny, tiny but it was really fun. I assistant directed one of the two plays that was shown. We worked through the summer on it, and it was a really good time. Monday and Tuesday night were pretty good, in terms of audience, but Wednesday-Saturday sold out every night. Literally sold.out. Like, I had to sit on the stairs to watch, and on Saturday we had to turn people away at the door. It was amazing.

Now, I’m in the heart of rehearsals for our much bigger November production (350 seats). For those who have been following the blog for a bit, this is the regular productions that I usually do (STOK is new). I have the smallest part and the most costume changes (5) so figure that one out. It’s like Courtney’s Costume Circus backstage because practically every time I come on stage I’m wearing something different and on one occasion there is only a page and a half of dialogue between when I leave and when I come back (which is about 60-90 seconds to change). It’s really fun, though, and I’m enjoying myself quite a bit.

As of the beginning of this week, my Masters program started too (Psychology), so I’ve been doing all the induction activities for that on the nights when I don’t have rehearsals. At least I can’t complain that I don’t have anything to do 🙂

And now for the biggest news. As some of you already know, over the summer I founded a small theatre company here in Zurich. It’s called White Rabbit Theatre Company and you can check out the website here.

We are aiming to mount our first production (The Importance of Being Earnest) in the fall of 2018. Currently, we are raising money to officially book our performance space, so please check out our funding campaign if you have a free moment and if at all possible, any donations are greatly appreciated (and please feel free to pass the links on to anyone who would be interested in helping a small, grassroots theatre company get off the ground).


Extreme Weather

The past week or so, Zurich had been needing rain – maybe even a storm. We had had several days of hot, humid weather, beating sun and not a single cloud. This carried on into night after night. I was getting pressure headaches every morning and we were all just waiting for it to break. And boy did it break.

On Thursday afternoon, we saw the first clouds in a few days – white clouds, mind you. Myself and my two Grade 1 team members, Helen and Kate, were sitting in my classroom having a meeting. About halfway through our discussions (so around 4pm), the wind started to pick up. Suddenly it got dark. And when I say suddenly, I mean within 5 minutes it went from bright summer afternoon to nighttime. It was dark. The wind got incredibly strong. We could hear things banging around outside. It was a bit scary. Dark outside, crazy wind. And then the rain. And the thunder and lightning. There actually wasn’t a huge amount of thunder and lightning, but still, it added to the effect.

The roof of the Primary Hall (a large room, like an atrium, that sits in the middle of the building and all the classrooms go around) is in the process of being renovated, and all the skylights started leaking onto the new wood floor. A bunch of us rushed in with the garbage cans from our classrooms to catch the rain.

Normally teachers leave around 4-4:30 (4:30 is the official time). I had been intending to leave at 4:20 to catch an earlier tram because I had a rehearsal, but that wasn’t going to happen in this. I waited and waited, hoping it would end, but it didn’t. Rain I would have been fine with. It was the thunder and lightning (even just a little) I did not like. And there aren’t many super tall buildings or anything up where my school is.

I needed to catch the tram at some point to get to my rehearsal (otherwise I would have just waited) but I was also afraid to leave the building. I was torn. But then my friend Trista (Kindergarten) convinced me to go with her because she also needed to catch the tram. Safety in numbers, right?

So we ran. Through gail-force winds and rain the size of baseballs we ran down the street to the tram stop. It took us 4 minutes and by the time we were there, we both looked like we had climbed out of a swimming pool. After only 4 minutes in the rain, my fingers had started to wrinkle. That’s how wet I was. But we made it (though the 20 minute tram journey, sopping wet, was less than comfortable).

By the time we got into the city, the majority of the storm had passed there (though it was still raining). I didn’t have an umbrella but I was so wet that it hardly matter. I was repelling water by that point. Honestly, I could have wrung out my whole body.

I had just enough time to shower and change before heading out again for my rehearsal. The next day, I noticed a tree at the tram stop near my school had snapped in half from the wind.

I don’t think I have ever seen a storm roll in so quickly, and I can’t ever remember it getting that dark in the middle of the day. Extreme weather, indeed.


The above is how I am led to believe one pronounces “New Orleans”. If you recall, last summer Maggie, Kali and I met up in New York City for our first Post-Poland Reunion. This year, for Post-Poland Reunion #2, we were headed to New Orleans, Louisiana. We were supposed to be there for 2 and a half days but (for me) it ended up being barely 2. I was meant to arrive at noon but ended up getting there at 1am. It was probably the worst travel experience of my life.

Before heading for Louisiana, I spent 6 days in Toronto. I planned my Toronto trip before going to New Orleans, rather than after, for strategic reasons. Knowing I would only have a limited time in the latter, I didn’t want to spend it all completely jet lagged. So I used my time in Canada to get over the time change before heading down south (note there is a one hour time difference between Toronto and New Orleans, but that proved inconsequential).

Have you ever heard of the movie From Hell? It’s a Jack the Ripper film starring Johnny Depp. The sequence of events I’m about to describe had neither Johnny Depp nor Jack the Ripper-like qualities, but could equally be titled “From Hell”. The first leg of my journey was meant to be a 1.5 hour flight from Toronto to Chicago. I tried my hardest to ignore the fact that my plane looked like a children’s toy and told myself it was fine because it was such a short flight. However, it turns out there was a massive storm in Chicago so we couldn’t land. At this point I’m wondering why they even let us head for the city with this storm looming, to which I never really got an answer.

We flew around and around and around, waiting for the storm to clear until, over an hour after we should have landed, our little toy plane began to run out of fuel. Our pilot came over the speaker and said due to low fuel we would need to make an unscheduled stop (re: emergency landing) in Fort Worth, Indiana. Yes, my plane ran out of gas while in the sky. Nightmare. But, it got worse …

Once we landed in Forth Worth, we were not allowed to get off the plane. Something about how our immigration papers had been sent to Chicago and needed to be faxed to Fort Worth before we could deplane. Now, I can only imagine that by “faxed” they meant written out in painstaking calligraphy, put in a leather pouched and ridden to Indiana on horseback because we sat in the plane, on the ground, for two hours before we were allowed to get off. And remember, this is not a big plane, with 11 seats across. That would have been fine. This was teeny, tiny plane that I could have put in my pocket and still had room. For the first time in my life I prayed the oxygen masks would drop from the ceiling just so I could breathe, and spent the entire time trying to stave off a panic attack.

But finally, we were allowed off the plane and into the Fort Worth airport (which, by the way, is basically one large room). There was another plane full of people there who had also been diverted from landing in Chicago. We had to wait a further three hours before we were cleared to take off again. In that time I had to gauge my bathroom break very carefully. There were about 150 people in the terminal and about 50 seats. I was sitting in one of them and knew that if I got up, I wasn’t sitting down again.

When we finally left, our flight from Fort Worth to Chicago was 36 minutes including take off and landing. I probably could have walked there in the time we waited. Now, everyone knows that Chicago O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world. I had always thought it was because it’s a halfway point across America. But now I think it’s just because it’s always delayed. All over the airport I saw signs that indicated places which were “hazardous weather shelters”. Who finds a place near water, that has such poor weather they need shelters and says “Yup, this is where I’m going to build a giant airport. No problems here, at all.”

Anyway, needless to say, because the airport had been essentially shut down for most of the day, the place looked like a refugee camp. It was past 4pm (recall I was supposed to be in New Orleans at noon) and had been rescheduled onto the next flight, which didn’t leave until 8pm. On top of that, my phone, computer and iPod had all lost power. I had packed the cords in my checked luggage because I figured it would be two short flights. Never again. The book I had brought, the one that was supposed to last me the whole trip, including the 8 hour flight back to Switzerland, I read it all. And still had time to get halfway through re-reading Harry Potter. Why? Because my flight kept getting pushed back as every single plane was trying to take off.

We didn’t actually leave until 10:30. By that time I had decided that if the flight was delayed passed midnight I would throw in the cards and fly back to Toronto. Thankfully, I did, eventually, get to New Orleans, and rocked up to the hotel just after 1am.

Horrible experience over, though, we had a good time. We were staying on the outskirtsNO11 of the French Quarter, which was really cool. Someone asked me later if New Orleans looked like Disneyland. I said no, except for Bourbon Street. It looked like a dirty movie set. Like if a bachelor party had gone nuts in Disneyland. That’s what it looked like. Honestly there are not enough wet-wipes in the world.

Kali (aided by some sort of wizardry on her phone) gave us a walking tour of some notable houses in the Garden District and we NO12went on a creepy Ghost Tour of the French Quarter. Unfortunately our regular daytime walking tour got rained out because of thunderstorms but we took shelter in a nearby bar, where we ate alligator and had fancy drinks.

On the second day, Maggie and I went on a full day trip to see some plantations, while NO1Kali opted to stay behind and do the previously-missed walking tour. The plantations were definitely worth it. The first one we went to, Whitney Plantation, was dedicated to the lives of Louisiana slaves and was …impactful…to say the least. The second, Oak Alley Plantation, was more about the lives of the people living in “the Big House” and I felt it was a bit more of a romanticized version of the time period. If you can NO3only go to one, I recommend Whitney, though they were both good.

Prepare yourselves, for a second, as I am about to say something extremely cliche: The sky is huge in the south. Honestly, I noticed as we got out of the city, driving an hour away to the two plantations. I have never seen clouds so big. Never.

Apart from alligator, I also had catfish while we were there. This ticked off two of three foods on my list (I couldn’t find any okra). The city was hot and muggy but actually not as unbearable as I had anticipated. In fact, I found the plantations much more humid than the city (though the city was by no means cool). Perhaps it’s because the plantations were closer to the swamplands?

I didn’t find any souvenirs that compelled me to buy them (which is too bad because I had a joke about my Louisiana Purchase all cued up) but getting there aside, it was a really good trip and I actually wish we could have stayed a day or two longer.

Where to next? Who knows. Maybe Vegas? Maybe a road trip through Canada’s East Coast? Maybe somewhere completely different. Watch this space.


Where in the World – Casablanca

This is the last instalment of Where in the World for a while. If you’ve got a city you’d like to contribute, please let me know and I’ll send you the sixteen questions. For now, here is my good friend Kali, talking about Casablanca, Morocco.

  1. Where do you like?

Casablanca, Morocco

2. How long have you lived there?

1.5 years

3. If you weren’t born there, why did you move?

A teaching job.

4. What is something your city is known for?

The movie “Casablanca”, even though none of it was actually filmed in Morocco.

5. When you travel outside your city (nationally or internationally) what form of transportation do you use most often?

Train within the country, airplane to other countries.

6. Within your city, what is the best form of transportation for getting around? Why?

Red Taxis because they’re very inexpensive.

7. Name and describe three things that, in your opinion, are “must sees” in your city.

  • Hassan II Mosque – absolutely beautiful design and colours. It’s the largest mosque in Morocco and has the tallest minaret in the world. It looks out on the Atlantic ocean.
  • The Old Medina – it’s the pre-twentieth century city, cheap Moroccan products if you’re good at bartering.
  • Rick’s Cafe – famous from the movie Casablanca.

8. Name and describe 3 things people should do in your city.

  • Take a tour of the Hassan II Mosque – it’s one of the few mosques in the world that non-Muslims can enter.
  • Eat couscous on a Friday (Holy Day)
  • Take a train from Casa Port of Casa Voyaguers to another city

9. What is one thing you haven’t seen or done in your city, but would like to?


10. Describe a special event that happens in your city every year.


11. What do you think are the three most common jobs in your city?

I honestly have no idea. Casablanca is the economic capital of Morocco, so probably a lot of bankers.

12. Where’s the best place to shop?

It depends what you’re shopping for. Morocco Mall, Anfa Place, Old Medina.

13. Where’s the best place to eat? Why?

Seoul Garden – I really like their Korean food.

14. In your opinion, where’s the best bar in town and why?

Irish Bar because of the atmosphere, Lescale for the prices.

15. If you could give a piece of advice to someone visiting your city, what would it be?

Don’t plan on spending too much time in Casa. It’s a very dirty city, and not a lot to do. I would recommend visiting one of the prettier cities in Morocco.

16. Anything else?

You should dress more conservatively than you would in a Western country.


Hassan II Mosque

Where in the World? – Tianjin, China

Remember Maggie? We used to teach together in Poland. Now she teaches in China, in a city I had never even heard heard of – Tianjin. Now I know a little more.

  1. Where do you live?

Tianjin, China

2. How long have you lived there?

Since July 2015

3. If you weren’t born there, why did you move?

I moved to Tianjin to take a job at an international school.

4. What is something your city is known for?

Remember that massive chemical explosion last August in Northern China? Yep, that was Tianjin, and that explosion was the night after my first day of school.

5. When you travel outside your city (to other cities or countries) what form of transportation do you often use?

The high-speed train is so convenient to get to and from Beijing and other nearby cities, but otherwise, you mostly fly. China is much bigger than I ever really realized!

6. Within your city, what is the best form of transportation for getting around? Why?

It depends on which district you live in. They’re currently working on improving the Metro and expanding it outward, but for the area where I live, we’re not connected yet. Personally, I take taxis most of the time, but I like to walk and ride my bike (although that’s a risk with every ride! People are crazy drivers here!)

7. Name and describe three things that in your opinion are “must sees” in your city.

  • Tianjin isn’t much of a tourist city, honestly. I do think one of the must sees, however, is Gwenhua Jie, or Ancient Culture Street, a really cool street with traditional Chinese clothing, artwork, jewelry, furniture, jade souvenirs and food.
  • It’s also really nice walking down along the river or taking a river cruise at night time.
  • I’ve also heard that the Italian Concession is really cool to check out, but sad to say, I’ve never been

8. Name and describe three things that people should do in your city.

  • If you’d like to have a real local experience, go to Da Hutong, which is this crazy indoor shopping area where all the local shops are. You can get everything there, and you need a ton of time to get through it!
  • Another recommendation is going to the Tianjin Water Park, or Shuishang Water Park, early in the morning. You’ll catch all of the locals out exercising, playing badminton or tennis, line dancing, or doing Tai Chi or other martial arts, and doing rollerblade routines. I love it!
  • Any food lovers should have a meal at YY Beer House, Pizza Bianca or the Blue Frog

9. What is one thing that you haven’t seen or done in your city, but would like to?

  • I’d like to go to the Italian Concession!
  • I’d also consider riding the Tianjin Eye ferris wheel – the only observation wheel in the world that’s on a bridge.

10. Describe a special event that happens in your city every year.

This isn’t unique to Tianjin, but I feel like everyone should go to experience Chinese New Year in China. It really is great fun (though because of it, I now find firecrackers completely intolerable! Haha!)

11. What do you think are the three most common jobs in your city?

I had to Google this because I had no idea. Major industries include petrochemical industries, textiles, car manufacturing and metal working.

12. Where’s the best place to shop?

There are lots of malls in Tianjin that are actually pretty excellent, like Joy City and Galaxy (lots of Western brands and designers, if that’s your thing!) but there always seems to be these cool pop-up stores that are around for a couple months and then close. Those are some of my favourites.

13. Where’s the best place to eat? Why?

The Chinese love to eat. In fact, “chi le ma?” is a common Mandarin greeting that means “have you eaten?” So I really can’t choose – I don’t know the names of the Chinese places I like, but the Western places I like, I mentioned above.

14. In your opinion, where’s the best bar in town and why?

Not a ton of great bars that I’ve found, but if you want a solid club night out, Sitong at the Olympic Towers is the place to go!

15. If you could give a piece of advice to someone visiting your city, what would it be?

Maybe go to Beijing instead … it’s only 30 minutes away! 😉


That’s it from Maggie in Tianjin. But why not pop over to her blog and have a look around?