The modern scrapbook: Follow the adventures of an American girl, living in Switzerland for almost three years, and her wild Swiss friends in her quest for the quintessential Swiss experience (and a few American ones).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ballenberg, a.k.a. condensed Switzerland

Among the many experiences I've had while my sister A has visited (including Cinque Terre, Prague, the Zürich Zoo, and a couple of incredibly weird art galleries) is our visit to Ballenberg a couple of days ago.  If you're into historical Swiss buildings from all regions of Switzrland, seeing "endangered" lifestock (such as this lovely rooster), and curious about the history of Swiss barbers and hair stylists, this is the place for you. Even if you're not, it's worth it just for the train ride from Lucerne to Ballenberg and the first few buildings of this open-air museum.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Master Flea Market Wheeler and Dealer

One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday is to check out either the Helvetiaplatz flea market or, in summer, the Bürkliplatz flea market. Since my friend M. was in the market for a keyboard (and ever since Sechseläuten I'd been pining for my guitar back in the States) I suggested we make a trip to Helvetiaplatz.

To my amazement, there was the perfect guitar right as I walked in. The lady said 80 CHF first, but I was really hoping to pay just 50 CHF. Unfortunately, this weird Italian guy came up to us and started giving us unsolicited advice--the lady at the stand was not happy with him....but she'd come down to 50 CHF. Since it was the first one I saw, I wanted to look around a bit more--also, I was a bit undecided if I should buy a guitar at all, since I'm in love with the nabaztag and want to save up for him. So we wandered around a bit more, but none of the guitars were as nice or as inexpensive as the first one. But by the time we'd made the full circle, it was gone!

But then, we found a rather simple keyboard for 70 CHF. The seller even let us try it out, and M. really liked it. Thanks to my "tough" bargaining, we got him down to 65 CHF--ok not much cheaper, but at least we had the feeling we got a bargain. I'm guessing M. is spending the whole afternoon with her new keyboard!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In which I experience Sechseläuten piecemeal, over seven years

Sometimes, it pays to be patient, and persistent.

Sechseläuten is an annual spring celebration in Zürich, centering around the burning of an explosives-filled effigy of a snowman, known as the Böögg, which takes place as the clocks in town chime 6:00 pm (hence the name, which means something like "six chimes").

I first exprienced Sächseläuten in 2001--we arrrived at the Sechseläutenplatz just in time to see it burning. But for the past couple of years, I've joined the festivities a bit later, around 7:00 pm. By then, the huge bonfire under the Böögg is somewhat reduced to glowing embers, just perfect for filling a portable grill and roasting some sausages . There's usually several shovels within the crowd (sometimes with extra-long handles), nearly always kindly lent to other eager grillers, in addition to a brave soul or two cleverly equipped with fireman clothes (it's still extremely hot by the fire) who bravely

But I'd never seen the parade of the guilds. The memebers of these guilds dress up in funny old-fashioned clothes and parade around town, sometimes throwing candy, bread, and flowers to the crowd, sometimes even serving a glass of wine or beer to the lucky spectator. According to E and N, the food stalls around make it great fun to "eat your way through Sechseläuten." Since it's a half-day holiday, and could be my last year in Switzerland, I decided to take advantage of my last chance to experience the culinary delights of this strange day.

I couldn't have picked a worse year to come. It rained like hell and I nearly froze to death. I might also be, these cute and clever Swiss traditions have become so every-day for me that they're no longer as interesting as they once were. Although I did enjoy some garlic bread and egg rolls, and managed to nab some flowers from one of the guilds. I did manage to snap a quick pic of a German baritone-playing colleague of mine who managed to weasel his way into one of the local Guilds. And after I left, I went to T's place to watch the 26-minute burning of the Böögg on TV from the comfort of her living room--in my opinion, the best place to see it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

In which I experience the Appenzell sense of humor

It was so nice this weekend, and it had been ages since I'd seen my friend E., that we decided to go on a little hike, on the Witzwanderweg (Joke Hike) hidden in the hills of Appenzell.

Getting there was an adventure in itself--we met up in St. Gallen, and then took a train to Rheineck, after which we climbed aboard a strange one-car cog railway that took us up the hill (nearly entirely underground) to Walzenhausen, where we were greeted with the first joke (fortunately translated into high German).  I wouldn't dare to translate--let's just say they're not too different from the types of jokes you might find in the hollers of my home state.

The trail was gorgeous--for the first half, there was an amazing view of Lake Constance, and the rest was either through the woods, farms, or villages. Unfortunately, none of the promised cafes and bars along the way were open (after all, it's normally covered in snow this time of year). We made it 2/3 of the way, to Wolfhalden, but alas, it was already 2:15 pm and all the restaurants had closed, bad news for me and my mother-to-be companion. By the time we reached the end, we searched in vain for some real Appenzeller food, but settled on a  Greek/Appenzell restaurant (with great meatballs, by the way).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ski legs and religious experiences

Each winter, my group takes off for a long ski weekend in a town called Taufers (Tubre in Italian), directly across the Swiss border in South Tyrol, Italy. Per strictly-followed protocol (i.e. tradition), we left Thursday afternoon to drive to Taufers. The drive took us past the Churfürsten Mountains and the Walensee, under the Flüelapass with the Vereina Tunnel (a rail-only tunnel with half-hourly trains to shuttle cars through the tunnel), and onwards to the windy roads over the Ofenpass. We got to Taufers just in time for dinner, followed by Williams (pear brandy).

Since I have not been skiing since birth, like most of my colleagues, I had to talk D into skiing with me the first run, until I felt comfortable. Yet instead she was nice enough to ski with me the whole two days. The weather was gorgeous, the snow great, and I had a great time.

Despite the amazing skiing, the highlight of the trip had to be the early morning (6:30 am) mass at the nearby Benedictine Monastery Marienberg, a UNESCO world heritage site. Being neither religiously inclined nor a morning person this was quite the personal challenge, but proved to be entirely worth it. After a relatively short mass (with the altar server strangely dressed in a black monk's cloak), the abbot of the monastery met us to give us a quick tour of the monastery. He brought us to his meeting room, where he told us about the lives of the 12 monks in the monastery, whose primary job is the upkeep of the historical monastery. His explanation was complete with large diagrams of how the monks spent their daily lives, and he loved telling us all the details about the beliefs of the Benedictines. He seemed especially impressed that a Chinese guy was at his monastery--you go the impression he hadn't left his monastery too much in the 55 years he had been there. We then got to take a quick look at the famous preserved frescos in the crypt, and you wouldn't believe how bright the colors were after 900 years. Then, after a quick breakfast, we were off to Züri again.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lenzerheide aka why haven't i done this before?

Went skiing in Lenzerheide this weekend, and stayed in a chalet arranged by T. The chalet was great--nice view, great location, fireplace! Met lots of nice mostly-Americans and Canadians, sledded, hiked, and did a little bit of skiing. But I wondered, why haven't I done this before?


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