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Harrie visits, Meike visits

Your sister, Harriet, comes to visit for a while and later Meike comes for new years

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Every year the Structural Engineering team goes on a group outing. Last year they constructed rafts from old plastic bottles in nets, wood and nails, and raced them down a river into Zurich lake (raft building: that sounds familiar). This year you joined them on their hike up Hoher Kasten, a mountain in the Swiss Alps with a revolving restaurant at the top. The mountain is in canton Appenzell (near Liechtenstein), a place which is so conservative they only gave the vote to women in 1990. They also make nice strong-flavoured cheese there. The hike up Hoher Kasten was easy enough - but apparently no easy enough for the buggers who took the gondola - and the views were amazing. Near the top were some friendly birds playing in the cliff's updraft, flying low enough to feed by hand. You fell asleep at lunch in the revolving restaurant - how lame - and blamed it on the party you went to a few days earlier.

Holding back the female vote may sound silly but something similarly quirky is the mixed-up Swiss-German used here. There are actually 24 different words for gingerbread man used throughout Switzerland. Even the German spoken in Zurich city is different and from the German spoken in Winterthur (same canton, 25 km away), meaning the locals can tell where you come from. At least everyone speaks English, ironically, so people can understand each other. Perhaps this oddity was due to all the mountains separating the communities, allowing for regional dialects. Still, does this justify 24 names for gingerbread men? Daft buggers...

There have been only a few new items of subtle art to see lately, assumably due to the freezing cold weather and everyone staying indoors huddling around their heaters. That party you went to a few days earlier at Lang Dick's house did have some interesting people there - one being a regular sticker-sticker. This sticker-sticking bloke was actually the one who stuck the little bird on the lamp post you found near the university - cool thing to meet the person who did it, you thought. Not much happened for a while after that. Work was all normal and your 3-month evaluation passed smoothly; the boss wanted to give you a gold star in every area but didn't want to overwhelm HR with your awesomeness.

The next interesting thing to happen was your sister coming to visit. After a few delays (timely tummy virus) she arrived at Zurich airport with too much luggage, all of which you had to carry. She had decided to spend her whole summer holiday in icy Switzerland and then brag about her adventures when she goes home - seeing the Swiss Alps vs. hanging out at the shops every day in Newcastle: bragging win. The first real snow dump happened just after she arrived; the snow and ice was beautiful. She spent most of her time playing on the internets, guitar hero and walking about the town. She seemed very happy to be here.

Your first adventure together was to Munich to see one of her MySpace friends. You thought it best to go there too and see if he was a rapist-stalker-pedo-weirdo. Luckily, he was just a lame-o nerdy guy who was wearing the same jumper as you (bastard!). She stayed on into the week and you ran home. She was relieved to get back wednesday night at which point she overflowed with f*'s and c*'s - he turned out to be a frustrating tool.

Your second adventure was to visit Meike and see Berlin. Your sister's low opinion of Germany was not helped by Berlin being dark, cold and gloomy - it just made everyone act emo-pants. The Berlin walking tour was great (as expected) and baking xmas cookies was fun and yummy (even after forgetting the vanilla sugar). We travelled to Fredrick the Great's castle which was a unanimous meh - no one really appreciated his gay-French architecture. After returning home you two went ice skating with Delphine (the other new person at work) which was kinda fun.

Next it was Meike's turn to visit Switzerland, so she came on the train with her skis to Zurich. It was just after xmas and the snow was still falling every day, all day. Wanting to stay warm, everyone did some painting for you; this adding another three to you bedroom walls. Meike and Harrie went to see the biggest waterfall in Europe, acting all touristy, came home tired and flopped on your bean bags. As furnature, the bean bags were a huge hit; they were so popular in fact that you had to reserve your spot.

New Years eve was a fondu overload followed by heading into town for the fireworks. Can anyone get away with charging 10 CHF for a single (bad) drink? Apparently here, yes. The fireworks over Zurich lake were a huge screw-up though - the first three went off creating a smoke cloud which hung in the air completely blocking the rest. Literally, all you could see were glowing clouds and the occasional cinder falling out the bottom. Luckily Meike had bought some kiddy fireworks that turned out to be far more impressive than the Lake ones. You lost a snowball fight on the way home, mostly because -3 degrees froze your hands stiff.