Expat Tales: Forest on the doorstep

KARIN WALDHAUSER
Last updated 05:05 23/03/2014
Karin Waldhauser

BEAUTIFUL ALL SEASONS: Karin Waldhauser is enjoying bringing up her children in Switzerland.

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In her husband's homeland of Switzerland, Karin Waldhauser is kept busy caring for her 3-year-old twins and learning German. 

Why did you move to the city?

Liestal is near my husband's family and an easy commute to his office. It also has great public transport connections to Basel, the nearest big city, as well as the rest of Switzerland.

What do you do there?

At the moment I'm mostly spending time with our 3-year-old twins and learning German.

What do you like/dislike about it?

I love that we have a forest on our doorstep, but are just a 10-minute train ride from Basel, a beautiful, vibrant city. From Liestal we can take a train to Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin and even Moscow. Switzerland is so small and the public transport system is so good that we can get anywhere in the country in a few hours. One of things I've found hard to get used to is the high cost of health insurance. Switzerland has compulsory health insurance, so the standard of care is high but very expensive.

How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand?

We've actually found this a bit hard to judge as the tax structure is so different here and interest rates are really low. The price of land and housing is really high - you're lucky to get change from a million Swiss Franks for a standard 3-4 bedroom house in our area. Sushi is also unbelievably expensive, about $20 for 6 pieces. Although overall we pay about as much at the supermarket as we did in New Zealand. One nice surprise was finding that nappies are about half the price here.

What do you do on weekends?

On Saturday mornings we often have coffee and croissants with Stefan's family in the village, looking out on the 15th century town gate (Torli). At the moment the town is preparing for two of the biggest events of the year, the Liestal Chienbase and the carnival. The Chienbase takes place on the Sunday night before the Basel Carnival begins, which is always at 4am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday. The Chienbase is basically people running with burning wood through the wooden town gate, or flaming wagons being pulled through the gate.

What do you think of the food/what's your favourite thing to eat there?

Cheese and chocolate. What more could you possibly want?

What's the best way to get around the city?

Public transport or cycling within the city and outlying villages. Village streets are often narrow and full of complicated Swiss traffic signs.

What's the shopping like?

In Basel the shopping is pretty good with all the usual European high street shops. We're lucky to have a few good shopping cities close to us. Zurich is bigger and only 50 minutes away on the train and Colmar, a gorgeous French city, is also only about an hour away.

What's the nightlife like?

Not much to speak of in Liestal, but Basel has everything from Michelin starred restaurants to Irish pubs. We have young kids, so our nightlife happens mostly at home!

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What is your favourite part of the city?

Basel is split in two by the Rhine River. The current is strong and in summer you see people floating down the river, clutching these bright orange waterproof bags that contain their clothes etc. Basel sometimes holds concerts on platforms floating out in the river.

What time of year is best to visit and why?

Any time, really! In summer you can swim in the lakes and rivers, walk in the forests, go to a huge fair such as Art Basel. Spring and autumn can be a bit cheaper as most of Switzerland has peak times in summer and winter. In winter you've got the Christmas markets and carnival, as well as being just a couple of hours from the mountains. I'd probably avoid late July/August as it can be hot (we had 38 degrees last summer) and it's the school holidays.

What's your must-do thing for visitors?

Near us are the remains of a large Roman city called Augusta Raurica. It's the best preserved Roman town on the northern side of the Alps. Or go and enjoy the view of the alps from the Wasserfallen, which you can reach by gondola.

What are your top tips for tourists?

Buy one of the Swiss rail passes. There are lots of options and it covers most rail, bus and boat trips as well as giving discounts for cable cars etc. As in all countries, a little of the local language goes a long way. This is easier said than done in Switzerland, with its four languages, but in the Swiss German speaking part saying "gruezi" for hello and "danke" for thank you works wonders.

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?

Logistically it's easy, Zurich has a large international airport, but it's pretty expensive for the four of us.

If you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

- Sunday Star Times

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