Gerry’s Diary 164: A trip to Switzerland (25th September, 2015)

Hi, this is Gerry and this is my Diary for Friday 25th September, 2015. Before I start today I’d like to tell you about something new on the PodClub app. If you want to practise and learn the new words in this podcast there’s a new program on the PodClub app to help you do that. You can now import the new words that are in the footnotes [1] of the text of my Diary. You can then test yourself to find out if you can remember the meanings. It’s another service from PodClub. Check it out [2] and then write to me to tell me what you think about this program.

If you follow me on Twitter you will know that I was in Zurich to record this episode of my Diary. I was there at the beginning of September. We left Wales on a cool, grey day and took the car on the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge and then drove through Belgium - it was grey and wet there. We stayed in the same hotel that we always stay in in Lorraine, not far from Strasbourg, and the weather was warmer with some sun. And then we drove through Alsace and then through a bit of the Black Forest in Germany. The weather got better and better. So when we arrived in Zurich, it was warm and sunny - perfect late summer, early autumn weather.

So on today’s show I’m going to tell you about some things that we saw on the way to Switzerland - caravans and motorhomes, lots of tractors in Brussels, and then babies at our hotel. And after that, two things that I did in Switzerland.

But before we start, thanks to Madeleine who tweeted me, and to Ruedi and Ella who sent me messages on the website. You all correctly answered my pub quiz question last time. My question was about the International Association of Athletics Federations - this is the IAAF, the body that controls athletics internationally. So as FIFA controls world football competitions, the IAAF is responsible for runners, jumpers, and people who throw things. The runners do what we call track athletics [3] and the jumpers and throwers are called field [4] athletes. Perhaps you watched the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. I asked for the name of the new President of the IAAF, and it’s Lord Coe, who used to be Sebastian Coe the great 800 and 1500 metre runner. He is now a British politician – he’s a member of the Conservative Party. The IAAF has its headquarters [5] in Monaco - so not in Switzerland like FIFA and the Olympics.


What do you think of caravans? Have you got one? A lot of car drivers hate caravans because they block the roads. They go too slowly and you can’t get past [6] them. On the ferry from England to Belgium there were quite a lot of caravans - some of them belonged to British people who were going on holiday and some of them belonged to other Europeans who were going home after a holiday in Britain. I noticed that all the caravanners were older people. I didn’t see any young couples with a caravan. In Wales I have some friends who have caravans. They are now retired people [7], but they started caravanning when they were young. They say that caravanning is more comfortable than camping. It’s cheaper than a hotel. It’s more flexible than a holiday home. They tell me, however, that young people today are not buying caravans. Young people prefer motorhomes [8]. A caravan is towed [9] by a car or another vehicle. A motorhome is like a car and a caravan combined. It’s both a vehicle and a place to sleep. So why do people today prefer motorhomes? Are they easier to drive? They are perhaps easier and more stable [10] when you are driving fast. It’s easier to reverse [11] a motorhome than to reverse a caravan. But my friends tell me that motorhomes are also very expensive. They are much more expensive than caravans. I don’t know if a motorhome is more comfortable than a caravan. I don’t think so. And there’s one more thing about motorhomes that I don’t understand. If you have a caravan, you can leave it on a campsite and then you can go out for the day in your car. You can take your car into town with no problems. You can park it. But if you have a motorhome you have to drive this great big thing into a town and try to find somewhere to park it. So a caravan seems to me to be more convenient [12] than a motorhome. But perhaps some of you have different ideas. Remember you can write to the website with your ideas and comments:

As I said before, car drivers don’t like to be behind a slow caravan on a country road, but caravans aren’t as bad as tractors. When we came round Brussels in Belgium this time, the motorway was suddenly full of tractors. Luckily, the tractors were not on our side of the road so we didn’t have to stop. It was a big protest by Belgian farmers. All over Europe, farmers are having problems at the moment. The biggest problem is the price of milk, I think. In Britain dairy farmers [13] are getting about half the price today compared with 12 months ago. They are selling their milk for less money than it costs them to produce it. So we’ve had farmers’ protests in Britain as well.


From Brussels we drove to Luxembourg and then south into France, near Metz. This part of France is called Lorraine in English (Lorraine in French, Lothringen in German). Today it’s in France, 100 years ago it was in Germany, and some people still speak German in this area. Years ago, maybe 20 years ago, I was looking for a hotel one night. I was driving on my way, alone, to Britain from Switzerland. I left Zurich late in the afternoon. It was winter and at about 7 o’clock I came off the motorway into a little town called Phalsbourg. There was a nice hotel there but it was full, Phalsbourgso I drove on in the dark looking for another hotel. I was on a little road - no hotels to be seen. But then I spotted [14] a sign that said Hotel, and an arrow [15] to the left. So I followed the sign down an even smaller road, into the forest. It was dark and I didn’t know where I was going, but then suddenly there was the hotel in the middle of the forest. I went in, I got a room and then had a wonderful dinner. And while I was eating, I looked out of the window into the forest. It was beginning to snow. Magical! This hotel is a real old-fashioned French family hotel. Traditional food, but really good. And a nice atmosphere. Now every time we drive to Switzerland we like to spend a night at this hotel. The hotel family consists of the grandparents who don’t do much work these days but they greet the guests, in French, German or English. Then there are two sisters. One of them does the cooking - and a very good cook [16] she is, too! And she has a husband who comes from Britanny (a long way from Lorraine). He and the other sister manage the hotel. Both the sisters have just had babies, so there are now two little babies, both 10 months old. The family have a big room behind the reception where they eat together. It’s also the office, and it’s now a crèche. The grandmother has to look after these babies while the sisters run the hotel. And the food is still excellent.


So what did we do in Switzerland? Well, we spent time with our son and his partner, who live in the middle of Zurich. We saw lots of friends, as usual. Talked a lot. Did some shopping. And I learnt about the new Euro discount that some shops in Zurich offer. Switzerland is certainly very expensive for us, but it must be even worse for people with Euros.

There were two new things that I did. Firstly I went to a clearance sale in a big Zurich villa. In German they call this a “Liquidation”, but this is not the word we use in English. We talk about the liquidation of a company – that’s when a company sells everything if it has to close: perhaps because it’s bankrupt [17] or perhaps because the owner wants to close the business. But in this case, the owner of a house dies and they have a big sale to sell everything in the house. We call this a house clearance [18]. In Britain, special companies usually come into the house. They calculate a price for all the contents. Then they take everything away. It’s only when it’s a big castle or something that they sell things in the house. And then it’s an auction [19]. So the person who is ready to pay the highest price for something, gets it. But in this case we could go into the house, and everything in it had a price label. And I mean everything: tables, chairs, carpets, glasses, china [20], cutlery [21], pictures, cars and even the dead man’s clothes. It was very strange, I thought, to walk into a private house full of things that belonged to somebody, and everything for sale. It was a good illustration of the saying that “you can’t take anything with you”.

20150925 E boat tripThe other thing I did was to go for a trip on the river Reuss. My friend has a rubber, inflatable [22] canoe – a boat that you have to pump full of air. His boat had some holes in it, so he spent a few days repairing the holes and then he wanted to try the boat out on the river to see if the repairs were good. The weather was nice. For a Welshman, the river was still quite warm – warmer than the sea when I went swimming this year in Wales. But there was nobody on the river, just us – we had beautiful two-hour paddle from Bremgarten down the river. And the boat was good. No holes!


Just before I go, here’s your pub quiz question. What is special about this number: 63 years and 217 days? You can send your answer to the website: or via Twitter: @gerrypod. In two weeks you can hear more about Owen’s life in China. I’ll be back on October 23rd. Don’t forget to try the new vocabulary trainer on the Podclub app. But for now, thanks for listening and take care!

[1] footnote: a note at the bottom of a page with some information about something from the text on the page (In my podcasts, the footnotes give the meaning of a word, like here!)
[2] to check out: (informal) to try (something), to test
[3] track (athletics): sports where people run (sprinting, middle distance, etc.) or run and jump (hurdles, etc.)
[4] field (athletics): sports where people jump (high, jump, long jump, pole vault, etc.) or throw things (javelin, discus, hammer)
[5] headquarters: the main, central office of a company or other organisation
[6] get past: overtake
[7] retired people: pensioners, people who are too old to work
[8] motorhome: a large motor vehicle that people can live and sleep in (also known as a camper van)
[9] to tow: to pull (NB This word is only used for ships and motor vehicles, for example: a car can tow a caravan)
[10] stable: not moving around too much (If a structure is stable it is firmly fixed.)
[11] to reverse: to drive backwards
[12] convenient: useful, not causing problems
[13] dairy farmers: farmers who produce milk from cows
[14] to spot: to see or notice suddenly
[15] arrow: here: a sign that shows you a direction (to the left or right, for example)
[16] cook: a chef, a person who cooks
[17] bankrupt: when a person or a company cannot pay their debts (the money that they owe to other people or companies)
[18] house clearance: a special sale when they sell everything in a house
[19] auction: a sale when something is for sale and the person who offers the most money gets it
[20] china: cups, plates, etc.
[21] cutlery: knives, forks, spoons
[22] inflatable: If something (a football, a rubber boat, a tyre, etc.) is inflatable you can fill it with air, with a pump for example


michele 26-09-2015 07:49
Hi Gerry !
Pleased to hear you again .I'm still interested in your podcasts . One of the problems with motorhomes is the parking in winter . Then it is very expensive because it is a second vehicle with all the expenses it causes . But on the other hand it is quite difficult to pull a caravan . I haven't got either of them because these days it is also very difficult to find parking places for camper vans . You are not really free
As for the pub quizz question ,I think the figure you have quoted represents the length of Queen Elizabeth's reign . She acceded to the throne on February 6th 1952 and she has maybe broken a record in GB . Let's hope she'll break LouisXIV 's record .
Till next time bye and take care !