The day I found out we were possibly moving to Switzerland it was a particularly cold day in the French mountain town of Ax-Les-Thermes. It was late February and Nico and I were on a short trip to his childhood vacation home in the mountains, a beloved place of low-ceilinged bedrooms and walks to the chairlift. I was on a mission to learn how to ski and had signed up for a few days of skiing lessons with a chain-smoking tan ski instructor named Matthieu who taught me how turn my skis without killing myself and made me feel almost as if I could tackle a blue slope on my own. After one particular difficult day on the slopes, Nico stared at his phone intently on the faded couch seat by the fireplace and said those fateful words “they accepted my offer.”
Right then, time seemed to stop immediately.
The coronavirus was known at the time but in Italy it was thought to be concentrated mostly in the north and essentially under control. Everything happened so fast, from the first moment we even heard of a possible “Patient one” in Codogno to the feeling that things were getting darker, much quicker, than anyone had anticipated. If you read my posts from that time, you can see how quickly we went from “I think we’re fine…” to no, it’s really not.
At this time in late February I wasn’t yet convinced that the world would change or maybe it was just a bit of old-fashioned denial. When it came to discussing the possibility of moving it wasn’t completely out of the blue but it was a conversation we had started last year. We had talked about different opportunities that could be on offer for Nico in regards to work and came to the realization that we had to be open to leaving Italy as hard as that would be.
Truth be told, I didn’t think it would ever happen or more likely that we would spend some time in France if anything was to actually transpire. However, as 2020 has proved to us all, life can be utterly and completely unpredictable and sometimes the best way to prepare for that eventuality is to simply adapt, react and embrace.
This has been my survival motto for life but I have to say that we had grown quite comfortable in our existence in Florence. I had carved out a career created from a pathway of blood, sweat (from walking up three flights of stairs daily) and permesso-di-soggiorno tears and I certainly did not feel ready to give that up in any capacity.
Switzerland, however, was on the horizon. Oh, and not any of the areas where we could actually speak the language (Italian French etc.) this was going to be in the Swiss German area where we both of us were starting from zero. Damn. you. Nico.
Before we came to Zug — land of Bitcoin, lazy afternoons at the lake and an extraordinary number of Porsche automobiles. I hadn’t even set foot in the country save for a trip to Zurich airport. I do remember telling Nico that if I had to live in any airport this would be the one. Oh baby, if there was a f***, marry and kill version of airports. Zurich’s would definitely be the spouse. So organized with workspaces and comfy chairs, shower facilities, coffee stands, they have it all. You can take a selfie with Roger Federer or hire equipment to go on a hike between layovers. It is as lovely an airport as one could expect.
Of course, I had the same presumptions many people seem to have about Switzerland. That it is expensive, maybe a little cold, rules rules rules (especially about trash) and did I mention… expensive? I knew it was beautiful (who wasn’t obsessed with Johanna Spyri’s Heidi) and the standard of living was high for those who worked there but I was terrified of making a series of faux pas, one after the other, in this pristine new place. I felt comfortable to be my flawed self in Italy.
From March to May however, we were in hunkered in our house, part of Italy’s lockdown to get a handle on the rising coronavirus numbers. When I say lockdown, I don’t mean stores were closed and all we could do was take walks and eat take out. We weren’t able to go further than 200 meters from our home and it seemed like it would never end. The days were long and the thought of Switzerland slowly faded from my brain. It seemed as if the world, at least our world, was thrown into such a tilt that considering the future and a future move seemed impossible and almost selfish.
Survival in the present was the only thing that mattered. Or rather accessing printer ink to print out the many auto certificazione we needed to have on daily errands seemed much more important. Italy isn’t/has never claimed to be perfect but it did what it had to do and it did it with pride and humility during this pandemic and I am proud of the country I have called home for 13 years.
Eventually as things started to get better in May and early June things were thrown into overdrive. Nico’s start date was July 1st and we needed an apartment, residency permits and all of that jazz. Thanks to the help of a relocation agency, we managed to check out via WhatsApp a few places in Zug and around Zurich, all sight unseen of course as travel was still forbidden between countries. Apparently, apartment competition is a thing here in Switzerland so we had to make fast decisions and trust that the relocation agency had our best interests in heart and wasn’t going to bankrupt us in a 4th floor walk-up.
Come July, everything moved so quickly. Nico finished his last day working for the same company for 12+ years, drove five and a half hours to Switzerland and started the following week at his new job on his own while I settled things back home in Florence. Literally that man is a machine. Saying goodbye was extremely difficult to say to his colleagues especially during these dark pandemic days, as they are nothing short of family to us and I hope it always remains that way. Luckily, I believe that it will. You know the decision you made is probably a good one when most people give you that playful nudge of “I’m surprised you stayed here so long.”
For me, it was always going to be harder and it is still quite difficult. I have always been stubborn for my unwavering support and love for Florence and Italy as a while. There was no ill will to leave Italy, poignant “screw you” moment or feeling like I had to leave for any reason. This was simply an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. It sounds cliche but the truth is that are at a point in our lives where we need to think about the next thirty years. Being here, now, I feel partly as if I’m on “vacation” and playing house in a new place while working remotely It’s been a joy taking daily swims in the lake a few minutes from our house when the weather permits but I do miss my friends, my community, the ability to understand the grocery store sales flyer. This likely won’t change anytime soon.
One strong advantage for us coming here and not going elsewhere is that Switzerland is next to Italy and where we live provides each access to go back and forth for work. In fact, one big milestone for us recently besides this move was buying a house in Florence before we left. A small apartment with only one bedroom near Piazza Tasso mind you, I’m not Diane Lane from Under the Tuscan Sun with funds to renovate a crumbling villa, but it is 100% ours.
This is a huge deal because I’ve never owned a home before and we have been looking for years.
Speaking of, a house we had our eye on a few years ago fell through last minute and it led to some pretty down days for us both. I just couldn’t understand why at the time. Property prices aren’t cheap in Florence and especially so when you have to come up with 20% down payment yourself on a modest salary. I love our new place though, it is small and modern. Our living room might not have any lighting installed yet and our living room is empty save a second-hand couch gifted to us by a friend, but this is all a work in progress. We are fumbling our way through this all but luckily we have friends willing to help when we’re not physically there. What is does mean is that we will always have a place to call home in Italy a place to cherish for years to come.
I arrived in Zug on my birthday, ringing in 36 years with a visit of our new apartment (what a dishwasher? Che lusso!) and an afternoon inaugural lake swim. This town is small, sure, but is relaxing in a way I didn’t even know I needed.
I appreciate that it is well connected to Zurich and Ginger the beagle loves the access to well-maintained green spaces and additional places to walk . Swiss German is hard to understand but we are able to communicate in a variety of languages in a really surprising way as Zug is very international. I think I read somewhere that 128 nationalities are present here. We speak English, French and Italian and pathetic German. It’s funny, here people living in close proximity may speak markedly distinct, sometimes nearly mutually unintelligible dialects of Swiss German and I feel extra tired at night constantly trying comprehend menus/signs and well anything. It brings me back to those first few years in Italy. Back to square one and saying penis instead of pasta.
Fast forward to today, Switzerland’s birthday. Fun fact, it was formed in 1291 by an alliance of cantons against the Habsburg dynasty—the Confoederatio Helvetica (or Swiss Confederation), from which the abbreviation CH for Switzerland derives—though only in 1848, when a new constitution was adopted, was the present nation formed. Coronavirus has stopped many celebrations this year but there is still the iconic square flag omnipresent on local buildings with fireworks being sold in small stands.
Thanks to the local tourism account and sites like Zug4You, we are slowly discovering our canton through walks, boar rides and trips to various locales. The plan is to create a special section for the blog to cover life and travel in Switzerland and of course talking about adjusting to this new language and culture. I’ll still cherish and write about my beloved Florence, supporting local businesses any way I can (especially right now!) as we will be back frequently, but I’m going to give this new adventure a proper chance and I hope you guys will enjoy it as well.
Thinking about it all, In 2005, I could have never imagined that I would eventually call Florence home for most of my twenties and a fair chunk of my thirties. This leads me to 2020. I couldn’t imagine a global virus pandemic and trying to and eventually moving to Switzerland the same year. This all serves as reminder that I’ve always been shit at predicting my future but now I’ve finally learned to stop trying….