Sunday, August 21, 2011

Andermatt / Gemsstock

Another weekend, another Swiss adventure for team Ferris-Wheeless. I'm sure you are getting sick of our jet-setting ways, but remember: no jets yet, just lots and lots of trains. In fact, we rode four different trains on our way to today's destination: Andermatt and Gemsstock.

Andermatt is a small town in southern Switzerland right in the heart of the Alps. It doesn't get as much traffic these days after the Gotthard rail and car tunnels (some of the longest in the world) bypassed it under the Alps. However, it's a good jumping off point to Gemsstock, a 2961m peak that has a handy gondola ride straight to the top. That's a good thing, since hiking to the top would probably kill us. Just walking around at the summit was enough to give me a headache. And this isn't even one of the tallest peaks in the Swiss Alps (that'd be Monte Rosa at 4634m!).

After taking some great photos at the summit, we retreated back down the mountain to the mid-way gondola stop to grab a snack and fool around on the slack line (mostly falling off the slack line, that is). From there, we hiked back down the mountain (way easier than hiking up) and caught our trains back to Zürich. Another successful weekend! Click below to see all our photos from the trip.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rhine Falls and Schaffhausen

One of the best things about living in Zurich is the easy access to other cities and natural beauty, all by public transport. So far, taking a little day trip on the weekend has required almost no advance planning.

Step 1: Get your transit pass(es).
The Sunday before last, Brian and I got our half-fare cards, which give you half off of all public transportation travel within Switzerland, as well as discounts on private transport (e.g., mountain gondolas) and travel to Germany and Austria. In addition, we can get daily and monthly add-ons that provide unlimited travel throughout Switzerland. I also got a 9 o'clock pass, which gives me free rides around Zurich after 9am (Brian has been walking to and from work, so hasn't needed a pass).

Step 2: Figure out where you're going. Last Sunday, this took the form of "it's a nice day, we should go somewhere, or else we'll play on the internet all day" around 10am. So, off we went to Zurich HB, the main train station. We decided on Rhine Falls, about 50 minutes to the north of Zurich. It was just barely within the Zurich transportation network limits, so I just needed to buy an add-on to my pass, while Brian got a day ticket.

Step 3: Profit. Rhine Falls is a total tourist destination, but fun. We rode a train (S-Bahn) to Winterthur, a largish city to the north of Zurich, and then transferred to a train that passed by Rhine Falls. After getting off at the almost non-existent train station, we walked down the hill to the falls.

Rhine Falls is the largest waterfall in mainland Europe, by width. As it was a beautiful Sunday, it was chock full of tourists. There is a walkway from the train station to a platform directly on top of the falls, but we opted for the boat tour, which gets you close enough to the falls for it to splash on you. We also took the boat that lands you on the little rock that lies in the middle of the falls; from there, you can climb to the top and took over the falls.

Rhine Falls

After our boat ride, Brian and I had some ice cream and walked along the Rhine River for 45 minutes to Schaffhausen. Schaffhausen is a small town to the north of Zurich in a canton (like a state) of the same name. It is dominated by a old fortress, the Munot, which was built in the 16th century. We walked up to the fortress and then up to the top to take in the view of the town.

Step 4: Return to your home.
At Schaffhausen, we went to the main train station for the town, grabbed a train back to Winterthur and then back to Zurich HB (there are direct trains to Zurich HB, but it was quicker for us to do the transfer). Once there, we ran the gauntlet of the main station grocery store for some milk (it is one of the few groceries open on Sunday) and then took the tram and bus back to our apartment, just in time to make some dinner.

We plan on using trains, buses, trams, gondolas, cable cars, funiculars, and boats lots more in our future travel around Switzerland. So far, in addition to Rhine Falls, we've been up to Uetliberg and Felsenegg, both hiking and overlook points near Zurich, as well as to Luzern and Mount Pilatus, to the south of Zurich.

Monday, August 15, 2011


So far, we've had more thunderstorms while in Switzerland than in all of six years in Seattle. Include humidity and a fair degree of sunshine, and despite claims that this is the coldest and wettest summer in Zurich on record, I still say Zurich has Seattle beat in the Summer Department.


Zurich Summer

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Grocery Store Adventures

You move to a new country. At some point, you can't avoid it: you have to go to the grocery store. You must stare at a wide variety of food products and only sort of get what you're looking at. You must interact with your fellow man at the checkout.

Zurich has two main grocery stores: Migros and Coop. They are fairly standard stores, and within themselves, have a range of sizes - from the baby Migrolino and Coop Pronto to the big MMM and Coop City. In addition, there is Denner, which strikes me as a Trader Joe's without the cool products, but with the limited selection, cheap prices, pre-packaged produce, and warm beer. There is also your variety of ethnic stores and little kiosks around town.

While in our temporary apartment, I've limited myself to the large Coop near us, as well as the smaller Migros and the nearby Denner. I've gotten my Migros and Coop store cards - they only provide limited benefit in the way of coupons or other benefits, but they prevent additional question/answer at the end of the checkout line [Them: "Haben eine Supercard?" Me: "Eh? Oh, nein, danke"]

Generally, grocery shopping has taken me about an hour per trip, mostly because I spend a lot of time wandering around lost and staring at things. As you would expect, grocery shopping is different from the US in innumerable ways, but here are the main ones I can think of:

1. Everything is not in English
This is sort of a duh. But when you're wandering around looking for the lemon juice or trying to differentiate between types of beans or rice, you remember it much more fully. In Switzerland, most things are labeled in German, French, and Italian - since I speak only bad French, this has been helpful, as then I can at least get a gist of what I'm buying.

2. You weigh the produce, not the cashier
In the US, you take your produce to the cashier and the cashier weighs it as part of the checkout process. In Switzerland, and in much of Europe, you weigh your produce at a scale, poke the number corresponding to your produce, and stick the given sticker on the bag or fruit/vegetable. We had read about this, but of course, forgot the first time we went to a grocery store for a banana. And were, of course, judged.


3. The produce, for the most part, looks great and is local
Almost all produce I have bought (except lemons and avocados) has been really good quality and from Schweiz - so from pretty close by. I feel like we've been eating a lot of fresh produce - could it be that it's so pretty? Or could it be that I have a lot of time for cooking. Who knows.

4. You're not going to find everything you want
Also maybe a "duh", but there are lots of things that you're expecting to find that are not on the shelves of common grocery stores or are hard to find. For example: skim milk is not a super common item in Switzerland (and Brian drinks a lot). Other things somewhat difficult to find that you (or I) may want: chicken stock (or any kind of stock that's not in bouillon form), peanut butter (such an American thing), American cereals (Cheerios, Crispix, etc.), cheddar cheese (what? in this land of cheese? it's true), most "ethnic" foods (Mexican/Tex-Mex, Asian), brown sugar, anything larger than a small packet of baking soda/baking powder/vanilla, and bulk food bins. On the flip side, there are tons of products I've never heard of and lots of great, cheap cheese. I love cheese!

5. Variety of brands? Not so much.
You want some chickpeas (I always want some chickpeas)? In a typical US grocery store, there are like, at least 5 varieties or brands to choose from on the shelf. In Switzerland, maybe (if you're lucky and there are some at all) two.

6. Things you think you should be refrigerated? They're not.
Milk? Eggs? Mostly on the shelf, rather than in the refrigerated section.


7. Sales are less common
Before coming, I thought sales were totally not-at-all common, but I'm glad to see that sales do happen. They're usually on the perishable items, though, like meat and dairy - you're not going to see sales on canned goods or wine. Also - usually in the US when you buy something in bulk, you get a discount. Not so much in Switzerland. This does keep me from buying anymore of something than I need right now.

8. Empty your cart/basket (it won't empty itself)
You approach the register. You should empty your basket onto the conveyor, rather than just plopping your basket on top. Since most cashier here sit while checking people out, this is more convenient for them. Also, have your cash (preferred) or card ready, as well as your Migros Cumulus or Coop Supercard ready. Checks? Not done in Switzerland. Ever.

9. You bag your groceries
There are no bag boys and I have gotten very good at bagging my own groceries. Perhaps this is why people come for their daily shopping instead of weekly or monthly trips - the chore of bagging one's groceries (and being rushed along) overtakes the chore of going to the grocery store daily.

Oh, you thought I was going to do ten things? I'm not.

Friday, August 12, 2011

So You Want to Move to Switzerland

When Brian first mentioned the slim and distant possibility of a job in Switzerland, I was all over it like cheese on grits. For those who know me, I like to know everything about everything, so I did some research on what's involved with working and living in Switzerland and, more specifically, the experience of being a foreigner living in Switzerland. Here are the various resources I have used, for anyone else considering a move to Switzerland, or just curious.
  • My first resource was a PDF document put together by the Swiss government on working and living in Switzerland. My favorite sentence: " expenditure is highest worldwide with the exception of the United States." Touché.
  • I read a number of blogs of people who moved to Switzerland from other countries (generally the US, but also the UK and Australia). It has been really useful to hear about others' experiences and try to learn from them. Some, such as Swisstory, have ended as the author has moved onto another country, but are still good resources. Others are still active and interesting, including One Big Yodel and TwoFools in Zürich [edit - no longer available, as they moved back to the US!].
  • There are a variety of discussion forums and mailing lists geared toward English-speaking expats. I subscribe to the Expats-in-Zurich and Expats-in-Switzerland yahoo mailing lists and there is (very) occasionally something of interest there. I also read and reference English Forum Switzerland often. I've found that almost all of my questions have been asked and answered there at sometime, and if it hasn't been, I can ask and get responses quickly, albeit occasionally snarky (it is the Internet, after all).
  • As soon as we decided for sure that we were moving, I plunked down for Living and Working in Switzerland. I read it cover to cover and it's a great reference guide. There's also a book, Zurich for Newcomers - I flipped through it in a bookstore, and it didn't seem to be worth buying. The American Women's Club of Zurich has published a book, Living in Zurich, that sounds pretty comprehensive, but I haven't checked it out yet.
  • I also picked up a few guidebooks: A Rough Guide to Switzerland and Rick Steves' Switzerland. Usually, I'm a Lonely Planet fan, but their most recent Swiss guidebook is from 2009 - it'll be updated in 2012. For the other two, I think having both is useful - the Rough Guide gives a lot of context and talks about more places, while the Rick Steves book gets into the specifics of how to actually do something (like go up that there mountain!).
  • Finally, we talked to people! Through friends, we met a few people who already live in Zurich. I have also met a number of spouses of Googlers, and it's been great to ask them the dumb questions that come to my head (e.g., "what is that thing sticking to the wall of that building", "how do you pronounce MIGRO and COOP [the two main grocery stores]").
While I don't know everything about everything yet, the above have all been great resources to help get there.

Switzerland: The Prologue

So. Switzerland. Brian and I have been here for more than two weeks now. But let's back up a little. Why Switzerland? Brian got offered a job with Google and they gave him the choice of staying in Seattle or going to their office in Zurich, Switzerland. After talking to the different groups, it seemed that the Zurich office was a better fit for what Brian is interested in, and I was (more than) willing to take the steps necessary to move to Europe.

We also figured: hey, we don't own a house or a car and don't have kids or pets to worry about moving. This is not to say that moving to Switzerland was all cheese and chocolate. Luckily, Google took care of a lot of the details in terms of getting the entry visas in process. He also has a relocation package that has taken care of moving our things from Seattle to Zurich, setting us up with a temporary apartment in Zurich, and helping us find a permanent apartment in the tough Zurich rental market. However, we still had to deal with paring down our things, moving out of our old apartment, finishing up our respective job/graduate school, saying goodbye to our friends in Seattle, and leaving Seattle and specifically Ballard, our lovely neighborhood in Seattle for the last two years. In addition, moving to another country comes with its own challenges: different cultural norms and different language being foremost among them. I'm sure we will expound more on those challenges and our experiences in the future.

But let's just talk the facts for now. Switzerland. What's up with Switzerland?
  • Switzerland is about the size of West Virginia, but with more than four times the population.
  • Switzerland is officially the "Swiss Confederation" or Confoederatio Helvetica, so the country is often abbreviated to CH (and its domain extension is .ch).
  • Switzerland is a federal republic made up of 26 cantons; we are in the Zurich canton. Each canton has its own constitution, government, and parliament. Sort of like a state, but smaller.
  • Zurich is not the capital of Switzerland. To be specific, Switzerland does not have a capital - Bern is the de facto capital, as it is the federal seat of all the cantons.
  • There is not an individual head of state like in other countries - instead, there is a federal council made up of seven people that are elected by the legislative body. The federal council members rotate the presidency of the council between themselves, but they, as a body, are the head of state. Confusing, huh?
  • Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Romansh is a Latin-based language spoken by approximately 70,000 people in southwestern Switzerland. The NYTimes had an interesting article on the language and its speakers last year.
  • German is the most common language, spoken by about 70% of the country, generally in the northern and eastern parts. However, Swiss German is what is spoken in common usage, while standard German, or high German, is what is written and what is spoken in formal settings. Swiss German is a fairly different language that is mostly not intelligible to those who just speak standard German - there are different pronunciations and different words. In addition, the Swiss German dialect varies across cantons.
  • You can watch all of Rick Steves's episodes on Switzerland on, which is pretty much all the exposure Brian and I had to Switzerland before we landed a few weeks ago. :)
Alright, enough knowledge for now. We'll get to the "omg, why is this like that" in future posts, I'm sure.


Once Brian had worked out a date for his PhD defense, we decided it was time to plan a trip somewhere, with that somewhere being Hawai'i. In 2009, we had a great trip to the island of Kauai with Martin and Melanie, and we'd heard that we should check out the Big Island next, so we flew off to Kona at the beginning of July.

We spent our first two nights in Volcano, a town just next to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Unfortunately, while we were there, there was no lava flowing into the ocean. However, the lava lake within Halema'uma'u Crater was visible at night as a bright orange glow. During the day, it was a little steamy. Both were pretty neat. (neat!)

Halema'uma'u CraterHalema'uma'u Crater

While at the park, we did some great (and some boring) hikes and enjoyed our hotel, which seemed to have been dropped into the jungle-y set of Jurassic Park. We also took a trip up to the Visitor's Center at Mauna Kea, high above the clouds, and took a look through their high-powered telescopes to check out the moon and Saturn.


For the other four days on the island, we spent it Kona-side. On the drive over to the west-side, we stopped at South Point, the southern-most point in the United States (clever name, right?). While there, Brian took the opportunity to climb into the ocean (quickly). Sketchy part was apparently getting out on the rusty ladder.

Brian jumps

We stayed south of Kona, in a partly-open-air cottage on the property of a coffee farm. The owners gave us papayas, pineapple, coffee, and macadamia nuts straight from the farm, and it was a great affordable place. We would recommend it for those who don't mind some geckos and bugs in your room or macadamia nuts falling on your roof :)

While on the Kona side, we saw lots of beaches, did some hikes, kayaked and snorkeled to Captain Cook monument, watched sunsets, and ate great food. I mean, can you not have a great time in Hawai'i? I think not.

BrianLook, Ma, no hands!

Sunset in KonaSunset
In the end, our trip took place just a few days before our stuff got hauled onto a ship to go to Switzerland, so we had to do a little bit of preparation while on vacation, but hey, it all worked out! For the rest of our pictures, see here.

Congratulations Brian!

After seven (7!) years of graduate school, Brian received his PhD this summer. While he did not receive the actual piece of paper saying that he is a doctor until mid-July (a mere three days before we left for Switzerland), the pomp and circumstance took place in June with the rest of the graduates.


For graduation, his entire family came into Seattle for a weekend of celebration. While his mom and grandmother had flight troubles that prevented them from attending the actual departmental graduation, they got to campus before Brian turned in his very-purple robe and hat.
The Ferris Family

Unsurprisingly, it was a weekend of great food. On Friday night, while Brian was on his way back from DC after being nominated as a Champion of Change, his sisters, dad, and brothers-in-law had delicious meals at Tamarind Tree and Third Place Pub. On graduation day, Brian and I got a big load of treats from Cafe Besalu for the family, and followed up the ceremony at Shultzy's, Brian's source for sweet tea, German sausage, and soccer throughout graduate school. That night, we went to one of our favorite restaurants in Seattle, Pair, with Ethan's family, and had the fun of ordering one of everything on the menu for our party of 13.

Finally, on Sunday, after a morning of family portraits and a trip to the Ballard Farmer's Market, we had a more formal party at Licorous to celebrate Brian's and Ethan's graduation with family and close friends. The staff there were great, and helped us create three signature drinks that were served, along with a great selection of appetizers. With a souvenir menu, what's not to love?

Personalized Menu

Unfortunately, Licorous closed shortly after our party, but we would still recommend their parent restaurant, Lark, to anyone looking for a great meal in Seattle.

Finally, after the weekend, many of the family headed up to the Methow Valley for a week of family and food! For more graduation weekend photos, see here.

Methow Valley

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


A few weeks ago, I saw a blog (that I can no longer find) that was made up entirely of other people's blog posts apologizing for the lack of updates. You know the type: "Sorry for not posting..." We have no apologies. We've been doing things, meeting people, seeing places. But in the interest of accounting for our time and appeasing friends and relatives, we are back. Revived.

Look at us looking at you!

In fast-paced summary since September 2009, much like the beginning of a West Wing episode, here are the highlights, with a surplus of exclamations and without many events that are worthy of inclusion:

Rest of 2009
  • Melanie and Martin get married!
  • Girl's weekend with Katie in Chicago
  • Leavenworth Birthday Weekend!
  • Mount Baker New Year's!
2011... so far

Oh, perhaps we should expound on a few of those. Next time.