I get let down by both the sun and a Swiss boatman

Despite the cold and rain, a small group of us would-be swimmers gathered at the lakeside yesterday afternoon, determined to take the plunge.

Unfortunately for us, the boatman who had been contracted to accompany us didn’t think we’d show, and rather than contacting us to find out, he just closed up shop early for the day and went home.

Unable to find another boat on such short notice, we considered the option of swimming even without a boat. It’s probably a good idea that this idea was shot down in the end, given that (1) not everyone considered themselves to be expert swimmers, (2) the wind and rain were making the water choppy and leaving boaters with low visibility and (3) as the proud holder of lifeguard certification that expired over 10 years ago, I was the one who was most qualified to come to the aid of anyone in distress.

On one hand I was relieved not to have to face the possibility of hauling a six-foot-tall unconscious man 500 meters back to shore, but on the other hand I was quite disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to swim across the lake after all, especially since I had spent the entire day talking myself into believe that it was going to be an amazingly fabulous experience.

So over dinner at the grounds of the Züricher Theater Spektakel, I convinced my fellow would-be swimmers that we should give it another go. We are scheduled to try again tomorrow. Did you hear that, Sun? I’m giving you a second chance to prove your usefulness…

Hello, Sun? I’m ready to make friends…

After spending most of the summer cursing the sun, today I find myself rooting the temperature up for once. With a predicted high of 12˚ c (54˚ f), it’s not looking so good.

This afternoon we are scheduled to swim across the lake. In 19˚ c water. I’m not exactly sure how cold 19-degree water will feel, but it seems to be too cold for most mortals to handle, given that events such as the Limmat River Swim are being cancelled left and right these days.

Today’s Seeüberquerung, however, is still on. Meaning if I want to get out of it, I have to actually choose to chicken out myself. But when will I get another chance to do this? It’s not like you can just swim across the lake whenever the mood strikes you – there are giant ferry boats and such to dodge. Much safer to go with an organized group, especially one with little boats full of life preservers that accompany you across in case your muscles stop working due to their being frozen. Right?

I’ll let you know what happens. That is, if my fingers don’t freeze off and I’m still able to type upon my return. So no promises.

Anyone want to lend me a wetsuit?

A little Tuesday afternoon entertainment

Now that I’ve finally figured out how to post videos, I feel obliged to keep my promise and share a clip of the greatest entertainer of all time (or at least the greatest entertainer in all of Zermatt on a particular Saturday night in May).

Marco sings Crocodile Rock, or something like it on Vimeo

Can you believe I actually had to DRAG my friend Alison into the bar to see this guy perform? (By the way, she’s the one singing ‘la la la’ the loudest on the tape.)

Just another market day in Zurich

Friday morning I took a stroll down to the vegetable and flower market at Bürkliplatz, in the middle of downtown Zurich. It was gorgeous weather (for once), and with the summer holidays drawing to an end and the city filling back up, the market was bustling with shoppers. The crowd was about evenly split between little old ladies and young mothers pushing strollers, with the occasional lone male or tourist thrown in.

Berry season is in full swing in Switzerland, so most of the stands display the deep red, purple, and blue fruit prominently alongside the more perennial staples such as greens, carrots, and turnips. Juicy tomatoes, plums, and nectarines also tempted me to stop at a couple vendors and stock up for the weekend.

One stand caught my attention with its decorations of blooming artichokes, something that I rarely see. The purple petals are an exquisite color, but I’d much rather eat an artichoke than admire its bloom (and once it has bloomed, it’s no longer edible).

For the most part the vendors come from the smaller towns and countryside surrounding Zurich. Much, but not all, of the produce is Swiss-grown. Just as in supermarkets here, the country of origin of each product is usually displayed, with sellers drawing particular attention to Swiss and organic products.

The Swiss have a historical preference for Swiss goods, as they are believed to offer the best quality. This preference has allowed many a Swiss farmer to stay in business despite astronomical production costs. Today this situation seems to be eroding ever so slightly, as foreign discounters start opening up local stores, and even Swiss chains say ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to choosing Swiss products over their much cheaper foreign equivalents.

The Bürkliplatz market is basically just your average, ordinary, everyday food market in Zurich. Here and there you can find a cheese stand, a bakery cart, or an elderly woman selling her homemade preserves amongst the myriad fresh produce and flower stalls.

The market is on every Tuesday and Friday morning, from 8:00 until 11:00am, and Bürkliplatz is easily reachable by tram. There are several similar markets all over the city each week.

To see more pictures, click here.

I was inspired to write about the Bürkliplatz market for Food Destinations #2, which I read about on this blog.

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Grindelwald, day two

Recap: we spent the weekend in and around Grindelwald, a small town in the area of the Swiss Alps know as the Bernese Oberland. Saturday we hiked, watched the Eiger crumble, and got attacked by goats.

Sunday we woke up to drizzle and some slowly-moving clouds. Determined to enjoy ourselves anyway, we hopped on the Firstbahn, a glorified ski lift which took us up past Bort and Schreckfeld to First (at 2,168 m). About halfway through the half-hour ride we went straight into a cloud, never to emerge again.

Once at the top, we admired what should have been the view and then set up camp in the restaurant. We bought a 9-franc deck of cards in the gift shop that helped us pass the time until the clouds finally dispersed. After oooohing and aaaaahing over the view, we made friends with some cows and hiked down to Bort and then took the lift back to Grindelwald.

With weekends like this, I’m beginning to think I will never get tired of Switzerland. More pictures here.

Warning: Crumbling Alp Ahead

Alternate title suggested by GenevaGal: Alple Crumble

Inspired by this Reuters article, we jetted (ok, trained) off to Grindelwald this weekend to see what all the fuss was about. It doesn’t take much of an excuse to get us into the Alps, especially when the weather is nice (for me, nice = anything but hot or torrential downpour). Plus, who can resist the draw of thawing permafrost?

After the 3-hour train ride from Zurich to Grindelwald, we had a quick lunch at Restaurant Rendez-vous (passable food with a great view) and then headed up to find the hostel referred to in the article. A short ski gondola ride and about 45 minutes of uphill hiking later, we started hearing the sounds of, well, crumbling.

The first couple times we scoured the rock face with our eyes, trying to figure out where the noise was coming from, to no avail. Finally we rounded a bend and reached a spot where you can actually see the rock slides. Although they looked like little more than pebbles off in the distance, the accompanying sounds made it clear that these were very, very big rocks tumbling down into the valley.

After resting and watching a couple of these rock slides, we pushed ahead another 20 minutes or so to reach the Berghaus Bäregg, which proved a lovely place to sit and have a snack while watching the Eiger crumbling away. The rock slides came intermittently; we saw maybe five or six of them within a half-hour period.

We headed back just in time to catch the last gondola ride back down to Grindelwald, and even survived a mountain goat attack along the way. We cleaned up at the hotel and then headed to Onkel Toms Hütte for some good pizza and great wine (the wine list was quite impressive).

Since the article didn’t give many specifics on how to find this Alple Crumble, here are the details for getting there for anyone who’d like to make the trip. But hurry – the crumbling is expected to stop as temperatures drop and the permafrost firms up again later this year. The easiest way to reach the Berghaus Bäregg is to first take the short aerial cableway (Luftseilbahn in German) from Grindelwald to Pfingstegg. From there, follow the hiking trail signs to Stieregg. The uphill hike takes around an hour and 20 minutes, and is pretty steep in parts, especially towards the end.

Information about the cableway and hiking trails can be obtained at the tourist information office near the Grindelwald train station, or at pretty much any hotel in town. We also found the Grindelwald Tourism Website to be helpful in booking a hotel for the trip.

See more pictures from this day here.

German word of the day: Reformhaus

I know what you’re thinking… it’s where naughty, naughty little girls are sent. At least that’s what I thought the first time I walked past a Reformhaus sign when I lived in Germany.

It was only after I had been living there for a year that I finally figured out what they really are: shops that carry health foods of various sorts, as well as herbal remedies and wacky things of that nature. For a vegetarian living in former East Germany (where bananas were still a novelty), discovering the true nature of Reformhäuser was a dream come true. Tofu! Cranberry juice! Vegetarian Wurst! None of these things were sold in grocery stores in Halle.

Now that we live in Zurich, I am once again in the land of Reformhäuser. I haven’t been shopping at them very often, since normal supermarkets here offer a wider range of foods than those in Germany did. I often just forget they exist.

But the other day I was in the mood to try something new, so I headed towards the Reformhaus in our neighborhood, only to find it had closed down. Feeling guilty for not having given it more of my patronage, I changed course towards the only other Reformhaus I was aware of, the one in the underground mall at the main train station.

There I browsed for half an hour while picking out a couple goodies from the vast array of foods (many of which I have never seen before). I steered clear of the dinkel burger, but I left with my seitan, organic tofu-and-grunkern ravioli, and mung beans chips vowing to return again soon, or at least to find a new Reformhaus in my neighborhood.


As much as I love doing something good for the environment, I hate cardboard recycling day in Zurich. Every four weeks my husband and I play what amounts to a game of ‘Not It’ when it comes to whose turn it is to prepare the cardboard for pick up. This morning it was me.

After cutting two pieces of string and making a cross with it on the floor, I precariously piled the various cardboard pieces in my best attempt to get them into a configuration which would actually stay together with mere string. This is not easy when the pieces vary greatly in size, shape, and smushability (that’s my made-up word for the day). Toilet paper tubes are the worst.

Then, careful not to knock anything out of the pile, I stuck one knee and then the other down on top of my creation and tied up the strings. The knee method is the only way I have come up with to get the string tight enough so that the little pieces of cardboard stay wedged in. Then I stepped back and admired my work before handing it off to my husband on his way out the door. Hopefully it made it to the curb without falling apart. Behold my masterpiece:

I am convinced the Swiss must take courses in the fine art of cardboard bundling all through school, and thus have a much easier time at it than we do. Otherwise, why would these normally logical and efficient people not come up with a better way to do cardboard pick up…. Say, letting us just toss it all into a bin? Ah, the mysteries of Switzerland.

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