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.

* 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”.

Ask the Expat: Cute Switzerland

Jul – I’ve spent the last hour or so being super jealous of you, sucked into your old blog entries about Switzerland and happening across Chagall exhibits, big cows, and castles and such. Man. I’ve got to get out there. Could you please tell me a couple cities in Switzerland you think are the cutest?

Switzerland is all kinds of cute, and a great place to vacation. I’m having a hard time narrowing it down to just a couple cities, so I’ll name a couple in each region. Starting in the German-speaking part of the country, I’d recommend Lucerne (the wooden bridges are charming) and Bern (about as quaint as a capital city can get).

Moving on to Ticino, or the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, I’d suggest Lugano and Bellinzona (castles!) for their adorableness. Lugano (which I visited pre-blog) is a lovely lake town combining the best of Italy and Switzerland – great architecture, yummy food, and clean streets. In Francophone Swiss cities there’s also plenty of cuteness to be found, especially in Fribourg and Lausanne.

If you want to get out of the cities, the cutest parts of Switzerland overall are the mountain villages. My all-time favorite is Mürren, which is in the Bernese Oberland and is so cute it will make your cheeks hurt. The whole area is fabulous – don’t miss Trummelbach Falls or Grindelwald, either. Interlaken is the gateway to this area, and from there you can take cog-wheel trains and other quaint forms of transportation to get up to the various little villages.

But really, Switzerland is just so chock-full of cuteness it’d be impossible to get it all into one post. You’re likely to find it wherever your trip takes you.

Ask the Expat is a new feature I’m trying out here at the blog. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

Interesting names for convenience foods

Today’s post is a guest post from a friend and former blogger in Switzerland. Enjoy.

I was browsing in the local Coop and came across something which made me do a double take, a drink with the logo “plan b” in large letters on the label. I can see how the name came about, the new line for Coop is packaged foods, the idea being you don’t have time to cook so the backup plan is to grab something that’s pre-made and ready to go.

For those who don’t know, which seems to include the Coop marketing department, “plan b” is also the very-well-known name for emergency contraceptive pills in the US, presumably named with a similar train of thought (as in, the first plan went wrong so now you need another one…) So as far as I, any Americans, and anyone familiar with the abortion debate in the US is concerned, Coop is now selling an emergency contraceptive that comes in the form of milkshakes, juices, or for those who need a few more calories with their birth control, mac and cheese.

A note to marketing departments around the world:
Google is your friend.
Your Swiss correspondent.

Toasting Obama in Zurich

I’m a little behind on my travel blogging here… the day after the election I crawled out of bed and hopped on a train to Zurich. It’s always a treat to see my Zurich-based friends, but this particular trip was even more joyful than usual. The election results had us all in a fabulous mood. Heck, even the roasted chestnut sellers were excited.

Zurich itself seemed largely unchanged. The city felt clean and safe and was bustling with shoppers. The usually crazies were out: Alle Tot guy and the Scientologists. It was as if I had never left.

Notice the tent to the left in the top photo? That’s Zurich’s version of Oktoberfest, going on now. Although we are familiar with the tent from past years, this was the first time it registered what beer was being served inside – Feldschlossen. What’s the point of a beer festival with undrinkable beer? But it wasn’t all bad – across the way floated the wine boats, which host Zurich’s regular wine tasting extravaganzas. Those brought back fond memories.

Although I don’t think back on Zurich and remember it for its culinary greatness, we were able to think of plenty of things we wanted to eat this trip. Mostly it involved chocolate and melted cheese. The trip also involved an obligatory dinner at Hiltl, my favorite restaurant in Zurich. Insanely delicious as usual.

It has been a year since we moved away from Zurich. Three years since we left Milan. Over four years since packing up and saying goodbye to New York. One of the cool things about moving so often is getting to go back to our former hometowns and walk around like we own the place. Get off the train or the plane and know exactly where we’re going and how we’re getting there. I definitely enjoyed that feeling on this trip to Zurich. I wonder how long before all this stored city knowledge wears off.


I think I’ve finally done it: I’ve gotten “grüezi” out of my system. After merely a week, I’m able to walk into a shop in Munich and not automatically blurt out the Swiss greeting. It’s actually not too hard here, since the standard greeting in Bavaria is “Gruβ Gott!”, which starts out a bit like “grüezi” anyway, making it possible to start out with one and then make a save half-way through and change it to the other without sounding like too much of a confused loser. OK, that last part may or may not be true – for all I know I sound like a confused loser all the time here. At least the Bavarians are nice about it. :)

I’ve also managed to break the Swiss habit of saying “merci” instead of “danke”, although I admit to letting an “en guete” pass my lips once or twice this week. Now as long as I can remember to say “Fahrrad” instead of “Velo” and “Schokolade” instead of “Schoggi”, I should be all set.

Me and the chocolate factory

After two years here, I finally made it to the Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate factory in Kilchberg, just outside of Zurich. You can’t actually go inside the factory (which may or may not be run by Oompa Loompas), but you can (1) walk by it and breathe in its insanely chocolaty smells, and (2) visit the factory outlet chocolate shop.

30 minutes later, and all my Christmas shopping was done.

The factory shop has limited opening hours, so check the schedule before you go. To get there, take bus 165 from Bürkliplatz to the Schooren stop, about 10 minutes away. The bus runs as infrequently as every half hour during the day; check out for specific schedule info.

Posted from Thalwil.

And you thought the White Man’s Overbite was an American thing

As it turns out, the Swiss are pretty good at it, too.

So tonight we went to a Wir Sind Helden concert. Now don’t get me wrong – Wir Sind Helden is definitely one of my all-time favorite German-singing bands. Right up there with Xavier Naidoo and the late great Falco. But I’m not such a fan of standing in a smoke-filled crowded room listening to really loud live music while drinking 7-franc Miller Genuine Draft (an atrocity which I’m sure would never happen in Germany, but the Swiss’ taste in beer is a story for another post). At least I had the good sense to hit up the coat check counter at the beginning of the encore, thus saving us an hour-long wait…

Mmmm…. winter

When we weren’t pulling our hair out trying to plan travel this weekend, we were off enjoying some lovely winter-like activities. Zurich is a fabulous place to be in the winter, assuming you like, um, winter. I am sorry we will be leaving before the real winter starts, but at least we are getting a little tease now.

Fondue season was declared officially open on Saturday. I think raclette season is right around the corner. Sure we’ll be bringing our fondue pot and raclette grill with us to our next home, but what if these treats don’t taste as good when you’re not physically located in Switzerland? Best to eat as much melted cheese as physically possible while we’re still in the country, just to be safe.

On Sunday morning we woke up early and went ice skating at Dolder. Environmentalists are unhappy with the fact that Zurich’s outdoor rinks have opened despite unseasonably warm weather, since it’s awfully inefficient to make all that ice. But if Al Gore can travel by private jet, I certainly get to take a little spin around the ice every once in a while. It was glorious. The rink was pretty deserted for a weekend, with the exception of some intense curling (matches? games?) going on in a roped-off section of ice. Given that it was before noon, we resisted the Gluehwein on offer in the snack bar, but it was tempting…

The wintery weekend was topped off with some roasted chestnuts. Now I’m just crossing my fingers that Coop will start selling Zimtsterne before we move away. Sometimes it doesn’t take very much at all to make me happy.

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