Bern, Switzerland Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Bern, Switzerland

Bern, Switzerland 01/04/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

NO (LONDON, WARSAW)

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

PERTH AMBOY, NJ - 8 HRS NY OR WASHDC TO ZURICH, THEN 1.5 HRS DRIVE TO BERN

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 YEARS (2008-)

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

GOVERNMENT

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

MOSTLY RENTAL--EXTRAORDINARILY EXPENSIVE, AND LANDLORDS TEND TO THINK THEY ARE DOING YOU A SERVICE DEIGNING TO RENT THEIR PROPERTIES.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

GROCERIES ON THE SWISS ECONOMY ARE HIDEOUSLY EXPENSIVE.US GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES CAN USE ARMY BASES IN HEIDELBERG (FOUR HOURS NORTH) TO SAVE ON FOOD COSTS.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

ALL TYPES.NO LUNCH CAN EVEN BE CONSIDERED IN BERN FOR LESS THAN $17; NO DINNER WOULD BE CONSIDERED FOR LESS THAN $20-25.EVEN MCDONALD'S WILL COST ABOUT $11 FOR A BIGMAC.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

ALL AVAILABLE, BUT EXPENSIVE

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

NONE. ACTUALLY, THE MOST COMMON SURPRISE ARE SPIDER WEBS.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

SWISS POST. $1.90 BASIC RATE FOR A LETTER TO THE STATES, BUT SUPER EFFICIENT.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

DON"T EVEN ASK.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

YES

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

SURPRISINGLY, ATMS ARE NOT AS FREQUENTLY FOUND AS ONE WOULD THINK: GO OUTSIDE OF DOWNTOWN BERN, AND THEY BECOME THIN.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

YES. CATHOLIC SERVICES AVAILABLE EVERY SUNDAY AT 9:30 AM (BRUDER KLAUS CHURCH)

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

BBC ON CABLE. IF YOU ARE US GOVERNMENT, INVEST IN A SATELLITE AND WATCH AMERICAN FORCES NETWORK.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

ENGLISH IS SPOKEN VIRTUALLY EVERYWHERE.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

NO--THE SWISS ARE GENERALLY ACCOMODATING, AND PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS GEARED TO HANDICAP NEEDS

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

TRAINS, BUSES, ETC. ARE SAFE.AFFORDABLE?IF YOU BUY A "HALB-TAX" CARD ($165/YEAR) YOU GET 50% OFF THE PRICE.TAXIS--NEVER USED ONE HERE.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

ANY CAR. BUT IF YOU ARE NOT DIPLOMATIC, REMEMBER THAT THE SWISS WILL DO AN INSPECTION ON THE CAR THAT MAKES YOUR ARMY PHYSICAL LOOK CURSORY.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

YES, ABOUT $50/MO (CABLECOM AND SWISSCOM ARE THE PROVIDERS)

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

YALLO WITH PRE-PAID CARDS.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

NO

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

IF YOU KNOW FRENCH AND GERMAN

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

WORK--APPROPRIATEPUBLIC--GENERALLY RELAXED

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

NO

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

EXTRAORDINARILY GOOD.INSELSPITAL HAS WONDERFUL CARDIAC CARE.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

PRISTINE

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

4 SEASONS, EVEN SUMMERS TEND TO BE ON THE COOLER SIDE (REAL HEAT IS RARE AND NOT LONG)--TRY NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND AS A COMPARISON

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

INTL SCHOOL OF BERN -- DISAPPOINTING - PHYSICAL PLANT IS SMALL AND INADEQUATE; INTELLECTUAL CHALLENGE DUBIOUS, NO CONTINUITY IN SUBJECT STUDY (PERENNIAL "UNITS OF INQUIRY" THAT MAY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PREVIOUS ONE).ONE FEELS THAT THE EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY IS IN A TIME WARP STUCK IN THE 1960s. I REGRET MY CHILDREN WASTED THREE YEARS THERE.THE ALTERNATIVE, HOWEVER, IS THE BRITISH SCHOOL, WHICH DOES NOT REALLY GO BEYOND GRADE 6.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

NO EXPERIENCE -- I WOULD HAVE TO TAKE A MORTGAGE ON MY HOUSE TO AFFORD IT.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

ISB PROGRAM LIMITED BELOW HIGH SCHOOL; LOCAL PROGRAMS DEPEND ON GERMAN KNOWLEDGE

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

100-200

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

AMONG EXPATS, MODERATE.AMONG SWISS, DEPENDING ON HOW QUICKLY ONE GETS TO KNOW THEM.

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3. Morale among expats:

GOOD

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

VERY GOOD FOR FAMILIES.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY AND EASY TO VISIT MORE INTERESTING ONES (e.g., FRANCE, ITALY, GERMANY)

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

NICE MOUNTAIN OVER THE CITY

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

ANYTHING YOU WANT

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

BEAUTIFUL CITY, QUIET, VERY SMALL AND WALKABLE, MAJOR OUTDOOR FOCUS

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11. Can you save money?

NO

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

YES

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

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3. But don't forget your:

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Bern, Switzerland 02/27/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Italy.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Have lived here almost a year.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

7 to 8 hours to the East coast.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

People seem happy. Smaller apartments downtown with single family homes further out.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can get most things here but they will be EXPENSIVE. It was hard to get used to the prices.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

More cold weather clothes.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's, VERY expensive. A meal deal will cost you US$14.We have found the restaurants here to be wonderful, whether Swiss food or ethnic. We haven't had a bad meal here. They are very expensive though, roughly double what you'd pay in the States.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None noted.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Embassy mail, VERY slow (3 weeks) otherwise, Swiss mail, VERY expensive.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

US$35 per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We use an ATM from our local bank, works great. Credit Cards OK at the bigger stores/restarants only.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, at least Catholic.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

We have cable, not too expensive

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Not much, most Swiss speak some English. You can also find French and Italian speakers too.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

I don't think it would be that difficult.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes & yes, and boy do they run on time.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Pretty much anything is fine, it just has to be in prime condition. We take our car out maybe once a week. If you plan to travel through the alps in the winter, chains/snow tires would be a good idea.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, not too expensive.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Readily available thru many sources.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Very good but expensive. The Swiss LOVE dogs.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

I would say No. Language requirements preclude most of us. Jobs are very limited at the Embassy as well.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Suits at work, casual in public.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Good.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There has been more serious crime than I would have expected here. That being said, we do feel safe but exercise caution.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Our experience has been favorable.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Cold, snowy and grey in the winter, sunny and pleasant in the summer, never to hot.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

International School of Bern, I don't know of anyone who is completely happy with ISB.They do have some wonderful programs, ski days, sport week, a spring trip. Educationally, not so strong. Our experience with a 9th grader has been they are working at about one year behind U.S. standards. Our child will be returning to the States to finish high school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

VERY expensive.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Through the community, ISB has only one or two sport options.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Seems moderate.

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2. Morale among expats:

Seems fine, most people do their own thing. There's not much to dislike around here, it's beautiful.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Dining out is expensive, we don't eat out nearly as often as we would at home. Going out for one beer will set you back US$9. It's over US$20 to see a movie.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes for families & couples. I think it would be a little dull for singles.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

The Swiss are very accepting.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not that I have seen.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Ski, hike, bike, walk, travel to other countries. It is a beautiful country but other than the annual festivals, it is very quiet.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Chocolate. Oh, and wine, which is pretty cheap!

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9. Can you save money?

Only if you don't do anything.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Probably. Bern is a beautiful but very small and quiet town. We have enjoyed being able to travel to other European cities.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

You won't need a lot of warm weather clothes or cute shoes. People walk everywhere, with ski poles!

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3. But don't forget your:

Comfortable shoes, cold weather clothes, snow gear.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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