Have you seen this nude man?

The Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung printed a new Gucci ad last week featuring an unknown male model – so unknown that not even Gucci had heard of him. Turns out the ad was a fake, and this guy just wanted to sneak a naked picture of himself into the newspaper. This isn’t even the first time the mysterious guy has tried to con his way into the limelight. Perhaps he had read the recent headlines and was simply trying to bring sexy back to Switzerland?

What I’m wondering is, how is it so hard to catch a guy in a tiny country when you know exactly what he looks like? If you’re in Switzerland, keep your eyes peeled… and if you spot him, make a citizen’s arrest. Or just ask for his autograph.

Ode to the Swiss Transportation Network

SBB*, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I love thine extensive, inter-connecting network of trams, buses, trains, boats, funiculars, and donkey carts (ok, maybe there aren’t any donkey carts) which whisk me away to any corner of Switzerland with the greatest of ease.

I love how very very clean and pleasant-smelling thine vehicles are, how free from smoke, gum, and grime.

I love how thine website will tell me exactly how to get, via public transport and foot, from any address in Switzerland to any other address in the entire country, and in the language of my choosing.
I love how thou always adequately staffs thine ticket counters, so I never have to fear missing a train while waiting in line.

I love how very very punctual thine transportation is, and how thou apologizeth for even the smallest of delays.

I love how thine workers don’t strike. Ever. And thou just keepeth getting better.

Today I ventured outside the city to go to a friend’s house out in the boonies. The trip took an hour and required me to make two different bus connections. As I sat on the first bus, I perused my itinerary (printed out from sbb.ch) and saw that I only had 2 minutes to change buses each time. While I might have worried in a place like, well, anywhere but Switzerland, I knew I could just sit back and enjoy the ride…

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I am taking a train to France later this week. Thinking back on my previous experiences with French trains, the word “retard” jumps to mind. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, French trains are everything that Swiss trains are not. From my understanding, French train workers are the only people in the world who make Italian train workers look like dedicated, reasonable, hard-working employees.

Wish me luck.

* SBB is also known as CFF or FFS, depending upon which language is dominant in the particular part of Switzerland you happen to be in. Also, SBB would like you to know that the image in this post is © SBB photo.

Colorful Fribourg

This weekend we hopped on a train for a day-trip to Fribourg, a charming town which straddles the Röstigraben. The Swiss city Fribourg (which is primarily francophone today) is known as Freiburg in German, but don’t confuse it with the German city of Freiburg (also a fun place to hang out) or the two other German cities called Freiberg.

Fribourg is one of those quaint old cobblestone-filled European cities that are beautiful to just wander around. We picked up a city map and a suggested walking tour route from the Tourist Info next to the train station, and were off.

Although I’m pretty much at my limit of number of churches one should visit per lifetime, I actually enjoyed Fribourg’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral, which contains some impressive, richly-colored stained glass windows (featuring, among other things, dead babies).

The Espace Jean Tinguely – Niki de Saint Phalle holds a small collection from the two whimsical artists. Although not as extensive a collection as the Tinguely museum in Basel, it’s still worth a visit if you are a fan of either artist.

The weather was alternately cloudy, rainy, and sunny, but we managed to come out OK, ducking into shops, museums, or bars whenever we needed to escape the rain. Our patience was rewarded towards the end of the day, with one of the most vibrant rainbows I’ve ever seen.

Seefeld doesn’t suck

I’m getting a little better about going out and enjoying this “beautiful” weather we’re having. If I just pretend it’s summer I can usually stand to leave the house without bitching and moaning to everyone I see about how much I love snow and WHERE DID WINTER GO? I have to admit it is fun to be out and about in Zurich on a sunny, clear day.

The other day I spent the afternoon wandering around Seefeld, a neighborhood along the lake which contains a mix of beautiful buildings, interesting shops, and hip bars and restaurants (well, hip for Zurich, anyway). I started with a little walk in the park by the lake, near Zürichhorn (a horn-shaped piece of land which juts out into the lake), soaking up the beautiful surroundings that I take for granted much too often.

I met a friend for lunch at Ginger, a relatively new sushi bar which is non-smoking. Most Zurich restaurants are so smoky you can’t taste your food, so the non-smoking thing is very big (although disappointingly rare). As if that weren’t enough to make me love the place, it has one of those mini conveyor belts running around the bar that the little plates of sushi travel on. Who came up with this method of sushi presentation? And why does it delight me so? Moving sushi – does life get any better?

Later in the afternoon I met a couple more friends to try out a new wine bar, D-Vino, which has popped up in Seefeld (next to Yooji’s, yet another moving-sushi restaurant – can you believe there are two?). We learned from one of the bartenders that this was a sort of trial prototype wine bar, brought to you by Denner, a low-end supermarket chain which sells lots of wine (it balances out the Swiss retail universe, since another supermarket chain, Migros, refuses to sell wine at all). At least the same people who design Denner stores didn’t design this wine bar, since the interior was actually quite nice. And more than half of the bar was non-smoking. So at least I’ve found a good place to go drown my sorrows about the lack of winter.

Weekend in Ticino Part 2: Bellinzona

Bellinzona is one of those places you go and think, why didn’t anyone ever tell me about this place before? Despite its beauty, charm, and UNESCO World Heritage Site status, Bellinzona is rarely mentioned amongst the highlights of Switzerland (perhaps this country just has too many highlights?).

This Italian-speaking town is nestled into a valley which forms an important pass through the Alps. This geographic significance caused it to be a hot commodity back in the days before airplanes and tunnels and other Alp-crossing devices. Thus it was heavily fortified, with three castles and a wall that spanned across the entire valley. It’s hard to imagine that whoever built these castles intended them as anything other than beautiful scenery, though, since they are so picturesque it hurts.

We visited two of the three castles (the third is closed during the off season), and walked along some of the remaining wall, and wandered all over the charming old town (which was full of carnival revelers). More than anything we just soaked up the beauty of this city from every possible angle. We had a decent lunch at the Grotto in Castelgrande (I would highly recommend sitting out on its terrace if you visit in the high season). Bellinzona is definitely worth a day or two.

Weekend in Ticino Part 1: Locarno

This weekend we escaped the balmy heat wave of Zurich and went somewhere cooler and less sunny. You know, somewhere with palm trees and a Mediterranean climate. Ticino.

Ticino is one of the southern cantons of Switzerland, bordering Italy. It boasts an interesting mix of characteristics from both Swiss and Italian culture, usually (but not always) coming away with the best of each. The language is Italian, the architecture is Italian, and the food is predominantly Italian (although the giant portion sizes and propensity to abuse salad dressing are definitely Swiss). It also has the cleanliness and safety of the rest of Switzerland, as well as the efficient public transportation. It’s hard not to love Ticino.

Locarno lies at the northern end of Lago Maggiore (one of the breathtaking lakes of the northern Italian lake region) and is surrounded by picturesque mountains. The old city center is quaint and full of cobblestones and beautiful buildings (which show their age via their chipped plaster and fading frescos). In this unseasonably warm February, streets were lined in some places with outdoor tables, where committed espresso-drinkers sat sipping, smoking, gesticulating, and people-watching. We enjoyed strolling through the old town and along the lakeside promenade.

One of the highlights of Locarno was the Santuario Madonna del Sasso, a large church complex perched high above the city (reachable by funicular). The church itself harbors an eerie collection of small, crude paintings offering thanks and depicting various tragedies that had been survived (car accidents, illnesses, brutal attacks by a gang of masked armed men…). The views from the complex are truly spectacular.

We attempted to get in for an early dinner at Ristorante Locanda Locarnese, a modern restaurant with a creative menu and a cozy fireplace, but alas they were completely booked, which of course made me want to eat there even more. Instead we settled on the much more casual Casa del Popolo, a red-and-white-checked-table-cloth kind of place that served giant plates of simple pastas and pizzas. At first sight it reminded me of a hole-in-the-wall we had loved in Milan, but it came up lacking. The pasta was unexciting, and the prices were pretty high for the kind of place it was (another reminder that we really were still in Switzerland). The homemade tiramisu did manage to redeem the place a little bit.

Our hotel was entirely adequate and a good deal with its off-season rates. Its location near the train station in the city center made it convenient for travel and for pretty much everything else there is to do in Locarno.

Up next: Bellinzona (the non-carnival bits)

Carnival, Italo-Swiss style

After last year’s lackluster parade in Zurich, I was beginning to think the Swiss just didn’t know how to do carnival. I mean, a correct carnival celebration does involve a certain amount of coming out of oneself, public silliness, and, (gasp!) messiness. Oh yes, I’ve heard about how in Basel there is ‘craziness’ in the form of costumed people telling jokes in local dialect in restaurants starting at 4 AM, but somehow that doesn’t exactly scream ‘good party’ to me (although if anyone wants to volunteer to interpret said Swiss German jokes for me one year, I’m there). Shouldn’t celebrations last until 4 AM, not start then?

Luckily the Swiss redeemed themselves this weekend in Bellinzona, the home of a five-day carnival celebration called Rabadan. The parade was a million times better than Zurich’s, with floats dedicated to all kinds of important themes, including (but not limited to) the Swiss Post, Pluto (the cartoon dog, not the former planet), Playboy, CSI, Scooby Doo, and EPO (a form of doping for cyclists, which I had never heard of before – see, it was educational, too!).

The celebrations include parades, confetti, marching bands, costumes, fried foods, drinking, silly-string, and more parades. Sunday’s parade went from 1:30 until around 4:30, after which the various floats and marching bands dispersed to various points around the old town, where they hosted dance parties or gave spontaneous concerts. The streets were covered in confetti, and the mood was light and fun. The woman behind the desk of one of the museums we went to lamented that carnevale made everyone crazy, but we didn’t find it to be such a bad thing. After all, it was only crazy by Swiss standards.

OK, so the costumes weren’t quite as beautiful or elegant as those at carnevale in Venice, but it also wasn’t as painfully crowded as Venice is during this time of year. Plus, Bellizona is a comfortable 2.5-hour train ride from Zurich. I highly recommend Rabadan to anyone who needs a dose of real carnival fun (and don’t worry, you can even be back in time for Zurich’s Fasnacht, which isn’t until the weekend after Fat Tuesday).

More about our weekend in Ticino coming soon…

No Jacket Required

Now I understand what made Herr Liechtenstein take off his shirt – the $#%&ing; weather. Today we have crystal clear blue skies and temperatures in the 60s. Flowers are in bloom everywhere you look. All the windows in my apartment are open, and the heat is off. This would be a perfect day… if it were the middle of the summer, rather than the middle of February. Children all over Switzerland are off of school for ski vacation, since now is supposed to be the best skiing. What will they do instead of ski? Practice their yodeling? And what about me? How am I ever supposed to advance beyond the blue slopes if all the red slopes are covered with more grass than snow? Pity me.

Mystery of the day

Who thought it would be a good idea to use this particular picture in promotional material for the country of Liechtenstein?

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