Tuesday, September 11, 2012

One Year Swissish

More than a month ago, Brian and I hit our one-year-anniversary of living in Zurich, Switzerland. They gave us new ID cards and everything! I can't remember what we did to celebrate - I suspect we may have eaten some Mexican food, rather than Swiss food, though. Some thoughts after living in Switzerland for a year...

Switzerland is expensive. In particular, Zurich is expensive. There's no way around it - Switzerland is a little painful. The smallest coin is a 5 rappen piece and the smallest bill is a 10 franc note. I have seen people pay for small purchases with a 1000 franc note, with nary a bat of an eyelash. Our apartment is lovely, but the rent is much (much) higher than what we paid in Seattle for a similar apartment. Eating out and doing any sort of entertainment is also very expensive, but I think we're adjusting. 25 CHF for a Thai curry? Sure! However, this means we don't go out to eat or drink in Zurich very much... and when we go out anywhere else, it is VERY EXCITING. I will note that, excepting meat, groceries are not all that ridiculous in price compared to the US.

The language is weird. I have taken about six months of intensive German class and a few months of less-intensive German, and, for the most part, I cannot understand what people say around me. Swiss-German is a strange language, more closely related to Dutch than to 'real' German. My favorite YouTube video demonstrating the difference between Swiss-German and 'high' German is here (the fourth person starts speaking in Swiss-German). Fortunately, our mail and other documents are in 'high' German, so my classes are not for naught - and some people will tolerate my 'high' German questions.

It's beautiful here. We have been all around Switzerland, though still a lot to hit: Geneva, Lausanne, the Jura, the Matterhorn-when-not-hiding, and much of Ticino. The Alps are amazing and less than 2 hours away. Zurich has a breathtaking view of the Alps... though, like Seattle, a bit dependent on the weather. Otherwise, Zurich is very nice - a small, green city, that likes its pedestrians and public transport riders more than its car commuters. Having not driven a car in more than a year, I'm fine with that :)


It's very efficient. Mail within the country is delivered within a day. We went to get Swiss driver's licenses and had them in the mail within two days after visiting the Swiss equivalent of the DMV. The federal train company apologizes over the loudspeaker if trains are more than 2 minutes late, and there are articles in the newspaper if trains are more than 15 minutes late. Doctor's waiting rooms have no more than three seats - because why would there need to be more? Getting from our apartment to the top of a mountain is clearly described in the public transit software, and connections are all timed.

It's very safe. While bike theft is somewhat common, most people generally don't seem concerned about the well-being of their things. I have gone often to the Zurich-run beach on Lake Zurich, and have seen people leave their belongings without any watch while they go swimming. People ride the train and go to the bathroom and don't worry to much about their things. People never worry about muggings or any such thing while walking through a particular neighborhood.

We are so close! To everything. To France, Spain, Italy, Germany... anywhere! It's pretty amazing to travel two hours and be in a new country, with a new language, new food, and a new culture.

We're having fun. Come visit :)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer Beginnings

Brian and i are fast approaching our one-year anniversary of being Swiss residents. To start the summer, we have, of course, taken lots of trips!

In June, we took the train down to Florence, Italy, about a six hour ride that connects in Milan. After an epic meal that night, we picked up a rental car the next day and drove to Chiusi, where we had rented a house and met up with Brian's parents, sisters, sister's husband and sister's husband's parents. Whew. We stayed for about a week and had a great time exploring the nearby Tuscan hill towns, relaxing at the house, and eating delicious food (of course). My few pictures are here, but Brian took lots more on his Google+ page, if you are connected with him there.


We left Brian's parents, Harvey and Kelli, to enjoy the house by themselves for a few days and made our way back up to Zurich. Unfortunately, in our absence, a landslide had cut off the northern entrance to the Gotthard rail tunnel for approximately one month. Instead of taking just one connection to get from Florence to Zurich, it instead took five, though we only got in about a half-hour late to Zurich. Harvey and Kelli were less lucky a few days later, getting into Zurich a full two ours late (Swiss train efficiency, where are you?!).

For their visit to Switzerland, we finally had the time and the right weather to go up to Jungfraujoch, the "Top of Europe." The Jungfrau ("Young Lady") is one of the main summits of the Bernese Alps, together with the Eiger ("Ogre") and Monch ("Monk"). Jungfraujoch is a point reachable by train on the saddle of Jungfrau and Monch, at 11,716 feet (3,571 meters). After about an hour on a cogwheel train through the Eiger, you reach Jungfraujoch. We enjoyed the amazing views of the Alps and Aletsch Glacier, the expensive Swiss food in the cafeteria, and the lightheadedness from altitude. Harvey could only spend a few days in Switzerland, but Kelli stayed on to see more of Zurich, as well as take a day trip to Gruyeres, in French-speaking Switzerland.

Aletsch Glacier

Finally, after a few relaxing weekends, Brian and I hauled ourselves out of the apartment last weekend to go searching for the Matterhorn. Despite our review of the webcam prior to getting on the train, the Matterhorn decided to hide behind a cloud once we got there, but we had a nice day trip around Zermatt and up the Gornergrat summit for a small hike and lovely mountain views.

Matterhorn Hiding

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Ah, Paris. For our big trip in May, Brian and I headed off for a few days in Paris, and met up with our friends from Seattle, Darcy and Ian. We took the TGV, which takes approximately 4 hours to zip you from Zurich HB to Paris Gare de Lyon at speeds reaching up to 200 mph! While in Paris, we saw most of the sights, thanks to Darcy's Paris enthusiasm, and ate most of the food, of course. We stayed in the cute Rue Cler area, where we had ample supplies of croissants at our ready, as well as the Eiffel Tower peeking above the buildings.

Amy + Brian

In addition, we ended up being in Paris during the final French presidential elections. As we visited the Arc de Triomphe, we saw all the police and riot barriers and decided we should get dinner in another area. As it turned out, we ate dinner right next to the Bastille, where the real party was going down when Hollande was announced as the winner. We got caught up in the crowds, got kissed by a random French guy, and heard the singing of the Marseille. Exciting!


My favorite parts of Paris were the Musee d'Orsay, all the city gardens, eating on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, and the small amount of shopping I squeezed in before we left - as well as seeing our friends :) Brian and I will definitely be back to Paris in the future, but maybe we say that about every place we go? More pictures here!

Monday, April 9, 2012


We had a beautiful March here in Zurich - nice spring weather, blooming cherry trees, longer afternoons... and then April came, and now we're back to clouds, rain, and cool temperatures. April showers bring May flowers?

Fortunately, Brian and I had planned an Easter trip to Barcelona. We had gone to Madrid in October and were excited to check out the Catalonian city on the sea. Mostly for the (slightly) warmer weather than Zurich and the food (seafood! ham! sangria!), but also the sights.

While in town, we visited Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi's unfinished-but-still-under-construction masterpiece cathedral. Pro-tip: buy online tickets beforehand, instead of waiting in a massively long line like us! Though the outside facades are interesting, the inside is amazing and worth the wait.

Sagrada Familia Sagrada Familia

We also saw some of Gaudi's other works, including apartment building facades and Park Guell, a park on a hill overlooking the city. Completely filled with tourists on a sunny Saturday, but very interesting architectural features and views of Barcelona.

Park Guell

Of course, we visited museums, other churches, and walked the streets and waterfront of Barcelona. But we also ate lots of great food! I didn't plan ahead too far, so some of the restaurants we wanted to check out were either full or closed for the Easter holidays, but we did have some great Catalan seafood dishes and Spanish tapas. For those planning a trip, our two favorite places we tried this time were Tapas 24 and Suquet de l'Almirall. More pictures here!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Trash Matters

The Swiss, for better or for worse, have a reputation for being strict with their rules and unaccommodating to deviation. This stereotype has been most visible to me with regards to the subject of waste management (echo, echo...). In the US, for as long as I can remember, recycling at home has meant throwing whatever you want recycled into a bin and every week or two, someone comes and takes it away. Sure, there were a few years in Seattle where there was a separate container for glass, but that went away soon enough. Where it all went, who knows.

In Zurich (and most everywhere else in Switzerland), things are of course a bit different and require more thought:
  • Metal and glass are dropped of in neighborhood collection areas. We have one about one block away and another about three blocks away. Because this is Switzerland, you can only deposit at them from 7am to 7pm, Monday through Saturday. No Sunday recycling, y'all. If you recycle outside of these hours, people will give you dirty looks. That is your punishment for most things in Switzerland.

  • Plastic drink bottles are generally taken back to the grocery store and dropped into big baskets. These grocery stores also sometimes have drops for batteries and light bulbs.

  • Plastic non-drink bottles are generally not recyclable. Same for plastic bags. Baffling!

  • Paper and cardboard are collected from homes, but only periodically. Paper is every two weeks or so, cardboard is four to five weeks, and it will only be collected if it is neatly bound (like a present!) or otherwise self-contained.

  • About once a quarter, a bag is dropped in mailboxes for clothing and shoe donations.

  • Electronics that are kaput or otherwise useless can be taken to stores that sell similar items for recycling. OR, in Zurich, you can go to my favorite recycling-related-thing: the cargo/e-tram. This is basically a big dump truck that shows up at different tram stops in the city and accepts either electronics for recycling or big bulky things that would otherwise not fit into your trash bag. I don't know why I think it's so great, but it is.

  • As for trash bags, or the Zuri-Sack in Zurich, they are purchased from grocery stores or the post office for about 2 CHF ($2.50ish) a piece: rather than pay a trash bill, you pay at source, so the incentive is to fill up that bag as much as you can and use it as little as possible.

For compost, I don't have a clue what to do - I wonder how our neighbors would react to a worm bin on the front deck?

Friday, January 13, 2012

December Redux - Mürren

Right before Brian and I headed off to NC, we spent the weekend in Mürren, a small town above the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Bernese Oberland. The Bernese Oberland is, by some accounts, the most beautiful part of Switzerland and where the most famous peaks of the Alps are: the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau.

To get to Mürren, a car-free town on the edge of a mountain, we took a train from Zurich to Bern, from Bern to Interlaken, and then from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. From Lauterbrunnen, we hopped on a gondola up the side of a mountain and then took a cogwheel train to Mürren. We arrived in the middle of what some might call a blizzard, and walked through that mess for about 1/2 mile to find our hotel. Half the fun is the journey, right?

Mürren is known for its views of the three famous peaks and as the launching point to the Schilthorn, another peak in the Alps, famous for the revolving restaurant on top that was featured in the James Bond movie, Her Majesty's Secret Service. Due to the blizzard-y weather, we spent most of Saturday on a snowy walk down the mountain (pro-tip: you can take cable cars back up the mountain), reading books, and eating tasty food at our hotel's restaurant.

Gimmelwald Cable Car Station

On Sunday, the weather cleared a little bit for us to get some nice views before we headed back down the mountain to Zurich. I loved our hotel, the Hotel Bellevue, and we definitely want to go back on a clear day to see all the mountains!

Bellinzona Castle Wall

December Redux - Cheese and Castles

In December, we had our first visitors - Kari, Brian's research partner from UW, and Eric and Morgan from California.

Kari, along with her friends Rike and Heinz, shared lots of meals with us while she was here, including fondue and raclette, the two cheesy traditional dishes of Switzerland. I'm sure that most people here are familiar with fondue- in Switzerland, it is pretty much only served with cubed bread and it's traditional to have shots of kirsch (brandy made with cherries), supposedly to make sure the cheese doesn't clump together in your stomach.

Raclette is both the dish and a type of cheese. In the traditional method, a big block of raclette cheese is heated under a special grill under the top layer of the cheese gets all melty. The top melty layer is then scraped onto boiled potatoes (usually) and served with cornichons and pickled onions and perhaps pickled mushrooms and baby corn. Raclette is sometimes also prepared in a mini grill pan for those who don't want to buy the giant block of cheese. Warning: raclette cheese is moderately stinky so your kitchen will smell like it for a few days.

In addition to eating cheesy dishes, Kari got a tour of Google and some shopping and tourist days as well as a talk at ETH, the technical university in Zurich.

Only a day later, Eric and Morgan strolled into town on their European tour. For the day, we went down to Bellinzona, a small city in the southern Italian part of Switzerland. Bellinzona is known for the three castles that dominate the town and is a UNESCO heritage site. (That night, we made them eat raclette, to continue the cheese theme).
Bellinzona Castle Wall

The following week, Brian and I had booked a table on the Fonduetram. As it sounds, it's a tram that serves you fondue while driving you around the city. It's a little kitschy, but the fondue was tasty and included a nice appetizer and light dessert. The best part is probably seeing people and views out the window - however, with the fondue, the windows steam up a bit. To help out with this, they provide each table with a squeegee to clean the windows.

Fondue Tram