The Bernese Oberland – the reason why I fell in love with Switzerland in the first place


Switzerland won my heart over in January 2005, on a trip we planned at the last minute for the long weekend of Three Kings Day (I was working in Italy, where we actually got the day off of work for it). My husband and I were both tired and stressed, but we managed to find a good hotel deal in Interlaken, so with little additional research we hopped on a train.

We spent the next four days in a snowy, Alpy wonderland that filled us with absolute joy just to be there. We bought regional transportation passes and spent the entire time exploring the cluster of tiny Alpine villages known as the Bernese Oberland. We traveled on cog-wheel trains, gondolas, and funiculars to the little towns, admiring the views and rejoicing in the snow. We ate fondue in adorable, rustic taverns, and drank beer in flimsy, busy tepee ski bars. We trudged around in our winter clothing that hadn’t been used in a long, long time. The trip was dubbed “best vacation ever” about 30 minutes after arriving, and held true to that title the entire time we were there.

Since moving to Switzerland, we have been back to the Bernese Oberland several times, but really not enough given how much we love it. I suppose everything loses a little bit of appeal when it becomes more accessible. Nonetheless, I couldn’t be more thrilled that we are spending the next week there, in an apartment we rented with some friends and my brother. Given how much snow Switzerland has gotten in the past couple days, I’m downright giddy for this trip to begin. It’s all I can do to not shriek with joy and dance around like a maniac. See you in a week!

Obligatory snow pictures

In case you haven’t already read about it here, here, here, or here, the non-Alpy regions of Switzerland finally received some serious snow in the night from yesterday to today. Actually it’s still coming down. Woo hoo!

Looking for Valentine’s Day fun in Zurich?

[NOTE: This post refers to an event that occurred in 2007. It was a big success!]

Dazzle your Valentine by taking him/her to the Valentine’s Day Give Your Heart Out Gala which will be held at Stall 6 in central downtown Zurich. There will be live music, dancing, drinking, eating, mingling – basically everything you could ever want from a cocktail party. And, as if that weren’t enough, there will also be a silent auction to benefit Girl Power, a local organization that does good things for girls.

The Gala is being thrown by Hands On Switzerland, a local non-profit organization (which I just happen to be a part of). The organization seeks to bring together volunteers and the worthy causes that they are interested in serving. It is just getting started but already looking for volunteers and new members, so if you’re interested in getting involved, please contact them.

Advance tickets for the Valentine’s Day Gala cost a mere CHF 20 and include a delicious array of hors d’orves huers d’urves finger foods plus a welcome glass of prosecco. This is a fantastic deal for an evening out in Zurich (I bet you can’t find live music, a drink, and food for less than CHF 20 anywhere else in the city), plus the event will raise money for some excellent organizations. And you get to mingle with fascinating people like me. See the website for instructions on how to buy advance tickets (or if you happen to know me in real life, you can buy them directly from me). You can also get tickets at the door for CHF 25, if there are any left by then (so just play it safe and buy them now).

Crap skiing at Flims Laax

[For those of you who haven’t been following along, we are in the midsts of the warmest and unsnowiest winter in the history of Switzerland (please note that this is just my own estimate, and that I am not a weatherman).]

Not being able to hold out any longer, we finally went skiing today for the first time this season. We knew conditions weren’t going to be great, but we were confident we could handle it. After all, we’ve skied in New England before. How much worse could a Swiss ski resort be?

My wonderful husband did some research on the Swiss ski resorts with the best snow, and based on how long it would take to get to each of them, we decided on Flims Laax, home of the famous Craplift. (Just in case you’re wondering, ‘crap’ is actually the word for ‘peak’ in the local dialect. The locals are well aware of its meaning in English and have learned how to make a buck off of giving us a sophomoric laugh. Also, please note that the title of this post is much cleverer than you originally gave it credit for.)

It was far from a day of perfect skiing. The prevailing snow conditions on the slopes could best be described as ‘solid sheet of the hardest ice you’ve ever attempted to dig your skis into’ alternating with ‘slush up to your ankles’. A couple hours into our ski day it started snowing a little (good) combined with driving wind that closed several of the lifts (much less good). Still, we pressed on, determined to get our money’s worth out of the price we paid for our train-bus-lift tickets. Luckily the crazy winds managed to blow a little powder onto the runs in spots, giving us little teeny tiny reminders of how good skiing can be.

We skied a full day and then retired to the Crap Bar (seriously, it was called that) for a beer before catching the bus/train connection back to Zurich (which takes a little under two hours for the whole trip). Despite the less-than-perfect conditions, skiing reminded me again why, deep down, I really do love Switzerland.

Europe has hurricanes?

How is it I’ve lived on this continent for over six years and never realized this? But apparently, that’s just what this lovely little storm has been, hitting Germany and other countries much worse than Switzerland.

Here we had a night of howling winds and sideways rain. I kept a suspicious eye on the large trees outside our windows, but so far everyone seems to be still vertical.

The sun just came out, and the winds have died down some. I’m not sure if this is the end or the eye, but I’m going out to get groceries now (not because I think they’re going to run out of wonderbread or anything, but because I have to walk to the grocery store (how non-American is that?), and carrying heavy groceries up the steep hill home would be significantly less enjoyable during sideways rain).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCNF3wl-UNc]

Do I look like a weatherman?

I have been getting more and more emails these days from readers of this blog. For the most part, I welcome these messages (which is why I choose to have my email address posted at all). I have met some interesting people and even made a good friend or two because someone reading this blog decided to contact me.

Usually I get contacted by other expats, or people who are thinking of moving to Zurich and want to know more about my experiences here. Most have turned out to be perfectly nice people, although a couple have turned out to be a little rude, treating me like I’m some sort of government employee obligated to sit here and answer their questions.

Side note: if a stranger goes out of her way to answer some questions for you via email, you owe that stranger at least a simple thank you in a return message. I don’t care if your original message said “thanks in advance”- that doesn’t count. Acknowledge that you received the email, and thank the person for her time. You don’t have to get all gushy or weird about it, but there’s no reason to be rude to someone who just did something nice for you.

Yesterday I received an email from a reader that completely cracked me up. This reader was wondering if I could tell him what the weather is like here. OK, not here, but in Davos. And not now, but during the World Economic Forum. Here’s the thing: if you are contacting me via email, I am going to assume you know how to use the internet, and therefore you are fair game for ridicule if you contact me to ask me to look up something on the internet for you. Google is your friend. I may or may not be.

By the way, in Zurich it is currently overcast and unseasonably warm, with winds coming from every conceivable direction (including, but not limited to, the north, the south, the east, the west, straight up, and straight down). Dangerous storm warnings have been issued for the vast majority of Switzerland for later this afternoon, so get your ass inside. I’m pretty sure a small tree just flew by my window. Or was it a cow? (Did I sound like an authentic weatherman just then? Huh? Huh? My point exactly.)

On Ampelmänner

I meant to write about this in connection with our trip to Germany in December, but I guess it got lost in the holiday shuffle. At any rate, Ampelmänner are back on my mind, so today you’re going to learn about them (or stop reading this post – unfortunately I haven’t found a way to force you to pay attention to me yet).

The Ampelmann, simply put, was the man on the pedestrian traffic lights in East Germany. He came into existence in the 1960s in East Berlin, and lights with his likeness were soon installed all over the country. He stands out amongst other pedestrian crossing signs because of his big hat, dramatic gesturings, and all-around adorableness. The Ampelmann was so popular that he made the jump from traffic symbol to film star in the 80s, coming to animated life in road safety movies that were compulsory viewing for school children. Thus the Ampelmann became even more loved by the East German people. Continue reading

Roving band of expat bloggers takes over Basel


The first big Swiss expat blogger meet-up took place in Basel today. About 25 bloggers and significant others were there to mix, mingle, and learn each other’s real names.
After several hours of eating, drinking, and musical chairs, we were led on a little walking tour of downtown Basel by The Big Finn, who made up some city history to share with the group.


So much fun was had by all that we decided we must do another such meet-up. It was decided the next one will be in Zurich, possibly the weekend of March 24th to correspond with this.

It was great to meet you all! The experience was kind of like going to Disney World for the first time and seeing all your favorite characters come to life. Except at this thing, they were all wearing pants.

Expat Hausfraus Gone Wild

So what do we former career women/trailing spouses do all day long while the bread-winning husbands are off working hard?

Yesterday was margarita afternoon at Jill‘s house. There was homemade guacamole, chips and salsa, and a heavy-handed bartender (that would be Ali).

We all ooohed and aaahed over the view from Jill’s apartment. We briefly considered mooning the tourists in the park across the river, but apparently we didn’t have quite enough tequila in us to follow-though on that one.

Ashley and newcomer Global Librarian were also in attendance. The revelry went on until Jill’s husband came home from work and crashed the party. At least we left him a little bit of tequila…

Punishment, cruel and unusual

Often, it’s a good idea to watch some local television in your host country. It can help you pick up the language and its idioms. It can teach you something about the culture in which you are living, and even help you assimilate.

But sometimes, you turn on the TV and are greeted with things like this:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x20v9F-sWHQ]

(You must watch to almost the end to see the best part, a spastic arm-grinding move that is, um…. just watch.)

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