Austria: spa-ing it up in Sölden

view from bergland skyspa

Our first stop in the Ötztal was the recently-rebuilt Hotel Bergland in the mountain town of Sölden. Situated as it is in the Alps, it’s the kind of place that is full of skiers in the winter and hikers and bikers in the summer. After being welcomed with lunch in their dining room, we went on a tour of the hotel and then ended up at the top-floor spa for an afternoon of deep relaxation. Continue reading

Cheap summer fun in Zurich

This weekend we grabbed our perpetually-packed suitcases and headed to Zurich to visit friends. The weather was what most people call “gorgeous”, and we made the most of it by spending time in and around the lake (and on the roof deck).

Lake Zurich is the part of Zurich I miss most, especially during the summer. The view is unbeatable (Zurich’s charming skyline in one direction, snow-capped Alps in the other), and the water is so clean and clear it begs you to get in and swim around. The lake is surrounded by badis, areas where one can swim, sun, drink crappy beer, etc. for around a CHF 6 entrance fee. But if that’s too steep for you (and you can live without a changing room), you can also just jump into the lake for free in many areas.

And if you’re looking for more free fun in this ridiculously expensive city, this summer you can wander around admiring its latest city art display: painted plant pots. In the same spirit that brought cows to Chicago* and Mr. Potato Heads to Providence, Zurich has decided that this year, giant pots were the way to go. At first I didn’t like them very much, but they grew on me over the course of the weekend. I think the penguin one was my favorite.**

And now, after five back-to-back trips, I think I’ll stay home for awhile. I’ve been missing Munich.

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* Actually Zurich did the cows before Chicago did. Zurich also did teddy bears a few years back.
** Notice how all the penguins are wearing suits, except for one with a mohawk and a t-shirt that says “Lech mich”.

Bernese Oberland, oh how I will miss you

And now for a more beautiful side of Switzerland this weekend found us back in one of our favorite destinations, Murren, where we stayed at the Hotel Eiger. We paid a bit extra for a ‘superior’ room, which was superior, I imagine, only in the fact that it came attached to a balcony with a spectacular view of said Eiger (the room itself was fine, but unremarkable). The hotel’s staff was exceedingly friendly and helpful, and we much enjoyed our stay.

Murren is so idyllic it almost makes me weep. There are no cars in this little 400-person village nestled cozily into the side of an Alp, and the only way to arrive is via one of two big ski gondolas. We spent Saturday afternoon wandering around the village and taking pictures, with a brief stop at Coop (yes, even in this remotest of outposts there is a Coop) to stock up on happy hour essentials (i.e., beer and snacks). Then it was back to the hotel to sit on our balcony, consume our consumables, and soak in the view. Next we visited the hotel pool, which was full of various jets and bubbly things to massage and stimulate various parts of your body, and also had a panoramic mountain view. We also popped into the sauna, but given my aversion to heat, my stay didn’t last long.

We watched sunset from the balcony, then headed down to the hotel restaurant for dinner (which wasn’t bad, but I would not recommend the vegetarian cutlet thingies). The next morning we went out for a hike (after a lovely hotel breakfast and another dip in the pool).

We decided that although it’s not quite as perfect as it is during the winter, Murren in the summer is pretty gosh darn lovely, too. More summer Murren pictures here.

Floating through the city

After two years of cancellation, Zurich’s annual Limmat River Swim was finally able to take place yesterday. The weather was gloriously sunny, making us oh-so-excited to jump in the cool water for a leisurely float through the city.

The event was extremely well organized (as we should have expected). We purchased our 27-franc tickets near the start and then went to the Frauenbad to get ready to go. We placed all of our clothes and other belongings into numbered plastic bags; these bags went onto a boat that beat us to the finish line, meaning our things were conveniently waiting for us on arrival. We were also given numbered wristbands (so we could retrieve the correct bags) and round floaty things to take with us on our swim.

There was an MC broadcasting over a loud speaker system, narrating exciting stuff such as ‘the next group is getting ready to go’ and interviewing participants about whether it was their first time ‘dabii’. When it was time for our group to start, we took our floaty things and jumped in. The river gently carried us in the right direction, and we were left to enjoy the effort-free ride.

Several spectators looked on from the river banks and bridges in places, but mostly it was a quiet, tranquil journey through the heart of the city. We floated peacefully past the Grossmunster, the Hauptbahnhof, and all of Zurich’s other landmarks. It was a lot of fun to see the city from a new angle (unfortunately we don’t own a waterproof camera, so no swimmer’s-eye-view pics).

At the end (which came all too soon), we collected our things and changed out of our bathing suits in the makeshift changing rooms (public buses with the windows covered over). Then we went to find out what free stuff was waiting for us – a souvenir glass, a bottle of Rivella, and a veggie burger (or sausage). And as if that wasn’t enough, we got to keep our floaty things, too.

All in all it was a really nice way to spend a sunny afternoon (and I’m not just saying that because there was free stuff). It’s definitely something I’d do again.

Zurich: upcoming events

Just in case you find yourself in Zurich in the month of August, I figured I’d share some upcoming events we’re looking forward to…

Street Parade – Time to break out the peacock-feather pasties, boys and girls! This coming Saturday, downtown Zurich will turn into one great big techno dance party, with floats, costumes, and music thumping louder than your heartbeat. The people-watching is divine. Some more photos from last year’s event to whet your appetite…

Limmat River Swim – this elusive event has been canceled due to inclement weather for the last two years. Given the way this summer has been going, it’s hard to count on it happening this year, either, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. From what I hear it’s really more floating than swimming, and a whole lot of easy-going summer fun.

Lucerne Festival Street Music
– not quite Zurich (but not very far away, either), Lucerne will be filled with free music every evening from Aug 21-26 as the “crème de la crème of the world’s buskers” perform. I wonder if there will be any mariachis?

Zurich plagued by underwear-clad teens

The headline on the front page of 20 Minuten this morning announced Zurich’s latest crisis – Public baths: trouble due to underwear trend. Naturally I snatched up a paper and began reading furiously, hoping to learn more about this disturbing story. Here is a summary of what I learned.

Apparently, it has become fashionable among teenage boys to wear boxer shorts underneath their shorts-style bathing suits while swimming at the city’s numerous badi (public beaches and pools). “Why is this a problem?” you ask? Simply put, “Das ist unhygenisch,” at least according to several of the city’s bademeister (pool attendants). One bademeister went on to explain, “You never know when those underwear were last in the washing machine.” The same boys’ ability to keep their bathing suits (or their bodies) clean, however, was not called into question.

Basel is far ahead of Zurich in fighting this hazard, having already instigated a poster campaign against swimming in the boxers + bathing suit combo. The Zurich officials are just not cooperating, laments one local bademeister, who has decided to take the law into his own hands and eject offenders from his pool on the spot (he also makes use of his “good eye” to distinguish today’s modern bathing suit styles from actual shorts – not an easy task for the untrained, apparently). Until he has succeeded in eradicating all the offenders, though, I can only beg you, dear readers, to inform yourself of the risks before swimming in the badi of Zurich. Or better yet, head to Basel. It’s safer there.

I conquer the Zürichsee and ridicule Swiss ‘Mexican’ food (again)

On Friday afternoon I finally got to swim across the lake (that’s me in the picture, which was taken from the boat by my shark-attack-fearing husband). Unlike the day of our first attempt, the weather was gorgeous and there was not a cloud in the sky. We could see all the way to the snow-covered Alps. At 18˚ c, the water was a little, um, chilly, but the experience was still enjoyable.

After the swim, we went back to the Züricher Theater Spektakel for dinner. Although it was a fun place to sit, drink, and enjoy the evening, I was less than thrilled to be faced with the same food choices. But swimming across a lake can leave a gal so hungry that she’ll eat almost anything, so it worked out just fine.

Still, there’s something disturbing about a burrito topped with about a half a bottle of ranch dressing (which the Swiss seemed to have confused with sour cream). Our Swiss friends didn’t understand my objections to the dressing-drenched spice-free creation until I found an analogy for them: this was like them visiting us in the US and us bringing them to a restaurant which made fondue using bright orange American cheese. That seemed to drive the point home.

Needless to say, eating Mexican food still tops my list of things I’m looking forward to doing on my next trip back to the US.

More pictures from the day here.

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?

Shall we talk about the weather?

After living through the hottest July EVER in Zurich (since they started keeping records 140 years ago), I have been rewarded with chilly, rainy fall weather since the start of August.

Unlike many people here (those who actually like summer), I’m not complaining. It’s so nice to be able to leave the house between 11 and 5 without being attacked by oppressive sun and heat. It’s wonderful to be able to do light housework without sweating. And it’s downright fabulous to be able to walk through the grocery store without smelling the horrendous b.o. of your fellow shoppers (that used to linger in the aisles long after the offending shopper was gone).

My what-to-make-for-dinner choices just expanded greatly, now that it’s cool enough to use not only the stove, but even *gasp* the oven. I was even considering making fondue, but I should probably hold out for another month or two on that.

I took my first hot shower in months the other day, and it felt great. It reminded me how much I am looking forward to winter. But wait, isn’t it just the beginning of August? Shouldn’t the worst of summer still be in front of us? The forecast is calling for rainy and cool for the next couple weeks, at least. Sounds good to me!

We do, however, have a couple events planned for the end of August that actually require warm (if not hot) weather, as they involve swimming outside. I think I’m going to hold off on buying tickets for the Zürcher Limmatschwimmen (Limmat River Swim), just in case it ends up being too cold to enjoy. It was cancelled last year, due to high water, so we were really looking forward to getting to do it this year. For those who are interested, it will take place on August 26th, costs CHF 22 (CHF 27 the day of), and tickets can be purchased in advance here. [UPDATE 23-8-06: the Limmat River Swim has been cancelled due to the low water temperatures. Guess we'll have to wait another year...]

So do I just be happy the heat wave is over, or do I hope for it to get warm again so we can do more swimming? This is a very important dilemma, as we all know I control the weather with my thoughts. What to do, what to do…

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