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

December Redux - Christmas Markets

I am taking an intensive German class, but it was canceled for December, so I had some extra time on my hands. When Brian headed to the US for work, I went up to Frankfurt and Dresden in Germany with my friend Dana. Germany is famous for their Christmas markets, which fill town squares for a few days or weeks. At the markets, vendors sell Christmas gifts and ornaments, often homemade, as well as steaming mugs of gluhwein and traditional foods. Switzerland and Austria also have Christmas markets, but even they will tell you that Germany's are best.

On Wednesday night, we grabbed the train from Zurich to Frankfurt, about a four hour ride. Frankfurt and its market was fine - not too exciting, but it got our palates ready for the Dresden market. Frankfurt does have the European Central Bank and the giant Euro statue, where the Occupy Frankfurt movement had set up camp.

hOccupy Frankfurt

After Frankfurt, we jumped on a train to Dresden, about a five hour ride away in East Germany. Dresden was destroyed during World War II as a result of Allied fire bombing and it has rebuilt significantly in the last decade. I thought it was an amazing city and look forward to going back with Brian soon! The Dresden Christmas market was actually a series of markets that stretched through the city, and had tons of delicious food and interesting ornaments.


Elbe River

After a day exploring Dresden, Dana and I jumped on a night train back to Zurich. If we had ridden during the day, we could have gotten back to Zurich in 8-9 hours, but the CityNightLine takes about 12 hours as there are more extended stops along the way. Dana and I got a sleeper car - of which I have no pictures. When you walk into the compartment, there are three beds on either side. The middle bed on either side can be lowered to turn the bottom bunk into a seating area, and there is extended storage next to the top bunk. We had signed up for a four person car, meaning that two other women could have been assigned to our compartment, but we ended up with the coach to ourselves, all the better to eat our snacks, watch bad movies, and claim the bottom bunks. We rolled back into Zurich Hauptbahnhof (main station) at 8:30am on Saturday - lots of fun!