Switzerland - wibbler.com

Look at me! I can train!

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There is a little visited place just outside Leeds that goes by the name of Beeston. Sadly, Beeston is not somewhere you’d find on the front of any Leeds Tourist Board leaflet, covered as it is with empty and broken buildings, large concrete slabs of car parks and a remarkably large travellers site. However, there is a shining beacon of light just near the centre – my company’s northern office – and this was the venue for me to give my first solo training course to unsuspecting trainees on the merits of our software system. They were travelling from Ireland and London, eager to listen to my pearls of wisdom. God help them.
I made it up to Leeds in a mere four hours, taking in the sights and sounds of the M1 along the way. It seems that regular drivers on the M1 have developed their own way of coping with the mangled wrecks and twisted metal of more unfortunate drivers as they pass by – and their coping mechanism involves ignoring other drivers for a good part of their journey. Every time I’ve driven up the blessed road, it becomes the survival of the fittest, each twist and turn of the motorway presenting intriguing uses of the brake and accelerator from each driver, all eager to get into first place in an imaginary race. Most cruise on in the outside lane, daring others behind to undertake illegally – a challenge which I take on with enthusiastic aplomb. Many others, when seeing that most are cruising in the outside lane, take the inside, steaming past all the other cars with a big grin on their faces.
I made it in one piece, and that night began to look through the training notes for the two day course. I ought to know a little about what I’m talking about, I thought…
As it turned out, the trainees were very low maintenence. One, an Irish man from Belfast with a barely intelligible accent, knew very little about the system while the other, a large African woman, knew even less. The best possible training situation had presented itself – and I got stuck in, flirting with the woman and cracking jokes with the man, making sure I’d win round the audience even if the content was a little below par.
In the end, I even surprised myself with the knowledge I was able to give, and we all met in the bar that night to celebrate, accompanied by Dean, a colleague who I’d only recently visited Switzerland with. We talked for hours, over beer and over dinner, about seemingly nothing. The Belfast man turned out to be an ex-employee of the Guinness factory and was able to confirm my recent revelation about the hangover-inducing chemicals in English beer. On top of that, he was able to divulge several other drinking facts. For example, Guinness doesn’t contain any iron despite claiming to do so; the best way to drink without hangovers is to have vodka and lemonade; and that one sixth of Ireland are allegic to rice, meaning that they can’t drink Guinness.
Sozzled, I wandered upstars to my room an hour later, and couldn’t tell whether I was so drunk I was hallucinating – or whether I did actually see my old college friend Rob Simpson (under the amusing moniker Rufus Hound) presenting a late night BBC show called Destination Three.
I was unsure I’d manage to fill the second day’s training, but I’d remembered an old trainer’s trick I’d learnt the night before – “if you’re struggling to fill the last day, bore them a little and then tell them all they’re going home at 1.30pm. They’ll be pleased as punch.” Which turned out to be entirely true, and I managed to be 200 miles away, in the loving arms of my sofa and my girlfriend, before sundown.

Switzerland – Minus seven, and I was still laughing…

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Last time I visited Switzerland, you may remember, I was waxing lyrical about the sheer amount of brothels. Not the wonderful cheese, the spectacular mountains, the glorious Swiss chocolate – but brothels.
And now, at the risk of being utterly stereotypical, I shall discuss at length the quality of Swiss beer. No, actually, first I shall let you in on my trip. And then discuss at length the beer.
It was a trip that had been put off since early January, and my experience of Switzerland before had made me eager to sample more. This time, three of my colleagues were on the plane with me for the three-day jaunt – Ian, John and Dean, who hails from Ireland and had come via a Westlife concert – don’t ask. Ian, John and I managed to meet – almost by accident – at Heathrow Terminal 4 on Sunday afternoon, and after checking in with the first check-in assistant I’ve ever witnessed with a personality, we headed for the bar.
Finding the bar was tricky though, and we split up to search. An excited call from John later, and we were in the Duty Free shop, trying 3 different types of vodka cocktails for free. “You’re meant to buy the bottles afterwards” came the distant call from the waitress as we hurried into the distance, our stomachs warmed considerably courtesy of Smirnoff.
Boarding the plane, Ian remarked that my lack of furry coat may be a problem in Switzerland. “No,” I retorted, “they’re closer to the equator than we are. If anything it’ll be warmer.” My ill-thought logic was woefully off-piste, as confirmed by the helpful captain as we looked over the frozen landscape a couple of hours later. “Best get your woolies on,” he cheerily advised, “it’s minus 7 degree centigrade down there.” Christ, I muttered.
We landed remarkably smoothly despite the Siberian conditions outside, and sidled off the plane in awe at the landscape. Switzerland is reknowned for its beautiful scenery and towering mountain landscapes, but I was blown away. Time was not on our side though – it was getting dark and there was a 1 hour train journey ahead of us. Switzerland’s transport system is legendary (at least in my eyes), and after momentary directional confusion, we found the train and reclined in leather-clad luxury for the smoothest ride I’ve ever experienced.
The hotel, just 100 metres from the station, was a pleasant surprise too. Decked out in classy glass and red leather sofas, mirrored ceilings and a glorious bar, it was manna from heaven at 10.30pm on a cold night. We dumped our bags, met Dean, tested the bar, and then slept. Slept well.
The following three days were a mix of training, evening drinking, laughing, resplendent restaurants and a battle for sleep. My colleagues, I discovered, were genuinely amusing, and I laughed until I cried at least three times a day. There were many hundreds of comical moments – from Dean’s initial greeting as he met us in the bar (as he passed the bar with his travel bags, we misheard “two secs” as “group sex”, a greeting that will forever be repeated on future meetings) to Ian’s “petit peu/petit pois” confusion and Dean’s description of the Irish traffic light system (“orange means put your foot down, red means you’re good for two more cars). I was struggling to stop giggling for most of the trip. The main company bod over in Germany, a large Bavarian man called Herbert, was a drinker beyond compare, and we managed to stay up until 2am every day, sampling the Swiss beer like there was no tomorrow.
Ah yes, the Swiss beer. Now, Dean had informed me of a little known fact at our first meeting about the difference between beer in the UK and Ireland and beer in the rest of Europe. According the gospel of Dean, there is a chemical in the UK beer that is banned in European beer. This chemical, I was informed, causes hangovers, in some complicated way I was unable to fully grasp. “Surely not,” I replied, “I’ve never heard that before”. So, in true British style, we decided to test it out. Nine pints of lager and a good sleep later and Dean’s theory was proved correct – we woke a little sleepy but otherwise completely fine.
And there, my friends, is the secret to the drinking skills of other Europeans. The drink because their beer is actually tasty and because they don’t get hangovers. There are all sorts of questions that arise from this, not least why we have that darned chemical in the first place, but we were content to test the theory every night for three days. On the last day we toured Zurich city centre, and discovered an odd mixture of lapdancing clubs and many, many clothes shops. Its architecture is very like Milan, if you’ve ever been, and I’m eager to visit again, despite their extortionate taxis.
So, another trip to Switzerland finished. Safe to say I was in need of a rest, and slept for most of the next two days. Now I’m back in the land of the living, and eagerly awaiting the next excuse to visit…

A nightclub invite

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Tony Ho comes and goes like a thief in the night. One minute he’s hosting the mother of all parties (you may remember my multiple visits to Cafe de Paris with Tony at the tail end of last year), the next he’s disappeared, his mobile phone goes dead and we all hope he’s still alive.
He chose the middle of my course in Switzerland to reappear again, inviting me to an opening party in the centre of Mayfair, at a nightclub he was promoting. So, not at all fresh from the flight from Switzerland, I jumped straight into my car at the airport and sped off to London, shaver in one hand, steering wheel (luckily) in the other. 11pm on a Wednesday, I thought, the roads should be fine. I hadn’t banked on the M4 being closed though and 45 minutes later than I should have been, I arrived at the “Capiche” nightclub. Slap bang opposite The Ritz, it was a location to die for, and Tony doled out free drinks for a couple of hours until my senses told me I may have overdone it. I bade Tony (and a slightly drunken Simon B) goodbye, and drove home. Thanks for the drinks Tony – if only I hadn’t had to have been at work 8am the next morning…!

Switzerland – Cheese, Chocolate and “Services”

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What’s Switzerland famous for? Cheese, you might say. Chocolate, certainly. Milk churns, cow bells and milk maids, most certainly. But as I found out this week, one thing you’ll see more than anything else, more than all the cheese, chocolate and milk maids you can think of, is brothels.
It was with a heavy heart that I glanced over the itinerary for my latest two day trip overseas. Zurich was the destination, and I fancied a quick pootle round the area, taking in a few of the delights of the Swiss capital. But the plane flights betrayed my plans. I was to fly out at 6.30am on Tuesday, and fly back in at 10pm the following night. I was going to be knackered.
But at least I had a colleague with me to pass the time. Jonathan has been with the company two years, and was used to the constant to-ing and fro-ing. He’d even had the forethought to bring a portable DVD player, and as the time ticked away from our early arrival at the gate, we sat down to watch a few minutes of Anger Management.
I’ve flown many times in my short life, but as we were bussed to the plane a few minutes later, I was taken aback. The world’s smallest passenger plane had plainly been scheduled to take us, somehow, 300 miles across Europe. Clambering up the rickety stairs into the cabin, I struggled to see how the thing would stay airborne. Swissair did their best to keep everyone calm as the abnormal creakings from the fuselage put all of us on edge. The engines roared, the cabin shook and we pelted down the runway, cowering in the “brace” position that the crew had urgently warned us about minutes earlier.
As it turned out, the plane held together. In our shock, and due to poor language skills, we managed to order first class tickets on the train from the airport. This was an excellent move, as it turned out. We sunk pleasingly into luxury seats and waited to leave for Basel, a town about an hour away.
It’s a common theme in all the countries I’ve visited so far on business. – that without exception, public transport is many times better than our own. The Swiss train glided silently out of the platform, clad not in sticky, spilt coffee and chewing gum, but in freshly-cleaned carpet and leather-clad seats. Hills, mountains and businessmen passed the window as we slipped by, and the scenery was every bit as stunning as all those Dairylea adverts promised. Eight thirty in the morning, however, is not the time to be all romantic about trees and hills, and we slumped drearily back, catching forty five winks.
We arrived as about 11am, not very bright and definitely not bushy tailed. An account of our visit to offices would bore you senseless, and frankly the rest of the trip was a drudge of meetings, courses and frantic scooting back to the airport, just in time to catch our flight. However, before I go, I should mention, again, the brothels. On our trip to a restaurant on the first night, we discovered neon signs offering “massages” and “services”. These weren’t discreet – there were bold as brass, and the 20 mile trip uncovered at least 15 of these places. Turns out they are completely legal, and accepted as a way of life. And, for better or for worse (I’m sure the Swiss Tourist Board will be up in arms) that is what I shall remember Switzerland for.