Showing posts from 2011

Helicopter flies trees

While driving the other day, I was forced to stop... not for cow traffic but for helicopter tree transport. There are houses here in Gstaad that are so difficult--if not impossible--to reach with trucks that helicopters are used to transport heavy and oversized items, like this pine tree. The helicopter picked it up behind an embankment to my right, flew over the road, and deposited it on the other side. It was very loud... and thankfully... very fast.

Post-election thoughts

Last week's Swiss parliamentary elections resulted in left and right parties losing votes and seats in the Nationalrat or Lower House. Losing the most votes was the Swiss People's Party (SVP), this country's right wing party best known for spreading xenophobia with its provocative posters. Remember the three white sheep kicking one black one out?

Upon reading the voting results, I sighed in relief for my American half and for my foreign friends. Perhaps, the strong Swiss Franc cannot be blamed entirely for the drop in occupancy rates in area hotels.

I have often thought that Switzerland was a land of contradictions. For example, our municipality nearly always votes SVP. But, I've noticed a rash of rich foreigners buying property in our area. How can a region sell property to foreigners and grant them large tax breaks while voting to stop immigration? Money? No! Duh!

Finding Late Gothic art at the foot of the Alps

Coming came down from the mountains to get some shopping done in Bern didn't turn out that way. I ended up checking out a few churches and walking through the old town.

If you ever make it to Bern, go to the Münster. It's a large Gothic cathedral in the old town, dating back to 1421. (Interestingly, a small romanesque chapel existed there as early as 1191 during the founding of Bern.)

My legs were too sore from yesterday's training to go up the Münster's tower which is 100 meters tall. Apparently, it's the tallest cathedral in Switzerland. I did, however, enjoy looking at the Last Judgment sculpture above the main portal. As it turns out, it represents one of the most complete Late Gothic sculpture collections in Europe, and it is the only sculpture in Münster to survive the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation.  I had never heard of him, but the artist was Erhard Küng from Wesphalia. It totally reminded me of Hieronymous Bosch's "Last Judgement."…

At the grocery store today

While rushing to check out at our local Coop grocery store this morning, I found myself in line behind a woman arguing for a refund in broken French. I slowly emptied my cart of its contents--amazingly fresh organic vegetables and fruits--onto the conveyor belt and listened.

The woman explained in broken French that she had purchased six yogurts, and six yogurts only, and she felt she should be paid out SFr 80. The checkout girl, who was obviously Swiss German speaking,  nodded her head, filled out a yellow slip, and answered the woman in even worse French.

One thing was for sure. This discussion was not going to end soon, and as I glanced at my watch, I realized I would be late for my appointment. So, I placed my produce back into the cart and stomped over to the next lane, uttering complaints under my breath. When I spotted a neighbor in line, I said something about continuing to shop at competing grocery store Migros, which has a customer service desk. While unloading my cart yet …

Open-air museum closes for winter soon

If you haven't been to Ballenberg yet, I urge you to go. Ballenberg is an open-air museum located near Brienz. There, you will find more than one hundred century-old buildings from all over Switzerland as well as farmyard animals, demonstrations of traditional crafts, vegetable gardens and fields and more. Houses are grouped according to region and are linked through a series of paths that lead through enchanting rolling hills and forests.
Ballenberg closes for the winter Monday October 31, 2011 at 5 p.m. The museum reopens Good Friday, April 6, 2012. For more information, click here.

Football with a view

If you ever get a chance to go to a football game in Thun, we recommending getting an upper level seat facing the mountains. This past August, we enjoyed an incredible sunset, while watching the beefy Brits score their one goal against the lithe and quick Swiss. Better next time FC Thun!

A taste of Sunday out of the mountains

A few days ago, the children's school fall holiday began and we hopped in the car and drove south. Six-and-a-half hours later, we arrived in the Principality of Monaco. When we left the Alps, mid-day temperatures hovered in the single digits; and when we arrived at our destination around midnight, we rejoiced at feeling 18 degrees C.

During out stay in newly married Prince Albert's land, I was struck by more than just balmy temperatures. While enjoying a black coffee and writing post cards under the arches of the Place d'Armes, I sat back and observed the scene around me.

It was Sunday, yet a produce market was in full swing. Stylish women wearing sunglasses and carrying wicker baskets picked up and sniffed red peppers; salespeople argued loudly about politics; children played at a nearby playground while their care-keepers chatted.

My eye stopped on a bevy of smartly coiffed women at a nearby table. They spoke in fast French, chain smoked, and drank a cloudy beverage tha…

First hike of the year

A few weeks ago, I over-exerted myself by going on a hike from Reusch (1,350) to Scex Rouge (2,971m), the last part of the Glacier 3000 Run course. It may have been an unwise idea for me to attempt 1,621 vertical meters for my first hike of the year.

The two girlfriends who had invited me, had--unbeknownst to me--been going on weekly hikes since April, one of them actually participating in the Glacier 3000 Run. I figured if people can run up that mountain, I could certainly walk it. I had been running five to six miles on the flat four times a week all summer.

So upon their advice, I purchased expensive walking sticks. Later I would be glad I had them. Our planned Tuesday hike was delayed because of fresh fallen snow. We let a few days pass, and then Thursday evening, we decided to go the next day. I packed a small rucksack with a bottle of water, a spare shirt and sweater, some almonds, and a hat. I decided to leave the dog at home. I had a feeling he might be too much of a distract…

A land of contrasts

In the USA, the eff-word is generally considered obscene and reserved for rated R or PG-13 movies. In Switzerland, where there are rules for everything, none seem to exist to prevent the commercial use of such a word.

And here in the Swiss Alps, the eff-word seems to have passed our local skate park propriety test. We thought the noise emanating form the van's speakers was well paired with the name of the local band "The Fucks." The what? That's right!

Perhaps, we're simply getting outdated... although my children thankfully agreed with me.

Catching mice in the fall

Since our return from the U.S.A., temperatures have been warm, hovering in the mid to high 20's Celsius. We've enjoyed wearing T-shirts and shorts and not having to turn on the heat. Locals tell me that while we were away, it rained incessantly and was quite cold. Although they didn't have much of a summer, the rain refilled water reservoirs and brought ground water levels back to normal.

Yesterday, the weather started changing and the temperatures became more fall-like. I look forward to the disappearance of fruit flies.

Neighborhood children have been setting traps for field mice that have been making mounds of dirt in the meadows. One can see their many little white flags marking the location of their traps. Every evening after school, Ramon, the 14-year old next door, makes his rounds, collecting mouse bodies and cutting off their tails.  Did you know that our commune pays SFr 1 per mouse tail? These children are making a fortune!
Last week, I was excited to meet Jason…

Smoking outside, a problem for some

When smoking was banned in public spaces in Switzerland. Meanwhile, my smoker friends grumbled, predicting the end of pubs and restaurants. I was thrilled.

As they say, there's nothing worse than a reformed smoker! But I'm not as extreme as my friend Chantal. She can’t stand cigarette smoke, even outside.

Chantal is the author of One Big Yodel, one of my favorite expat blogs in Switzerland. Check out her informative and funny post "Lunch al fresco (if you can)" on the smoking topic. A Chicago native and current resident of Baden, Switzerland, Chantal received the Rosalie Fleming Memorial Humor Prize for her satire on the airline industry last year.

Chantal’s post reminded me of a New Yorker's experience following the smoking ban in his city. As he sat in a cab with an Italian visitor, they spotted a crowd of smokers gathered on the sidewalk in the financial district.

“You have a lot of beautiful and conservatively dressed street ladies here,” said the Italian.


Swiss rail is great and worth the money

Living in Switzerland, I often take our rail system for granted. It usually takes an outsider to remind me how lucky we are to be living in a country with functional public transportation.
During breakfast this morning, a visiting American friend voiced his amazement at the efficiency of Swiss rail. Not only did he laud Swiss rail's online timetable, he couldn't believe it actually indicated the arrival and departure platforms ahead of time.

During his trip from Basel to Gstaad, he had been worried about the short four-minute layover in Bern. When the time came to switch trains, he easily found his connecting train, thanks to presence of large platform numbers and destination signs.

For those of you who don't already use it, click here to access Swiss rail's super efficient timetable.

On a related note...

I read in the newspaper this past Friday that Switzerland's Transportation Minister Doris Leuthard had unveiled a proposal to increase the price of the annual hi…

A moonlit carriage ride and slowing down

The other night, I went to a birthday party that ended with a horse-drawn carriage ride under a full moon. Despite freezing temperatures, my children, our little dog, and I felt warm under doubled over wool blankets. The clip-clop of horse hooves and the crisp night air lulled me into relaxation.
Out the back of our covered wagon, I watched the moonlit, mountainous landscape pass by, noticing every roadside tree, rock, and snow measuring stick.

Soon, the three-year old child sitting opposite me, fell asleep, her little body nestled at her father's side. As we moved through the wild, mostly uninhabited region behind Lauenen, I thought of my grandfather who had grown up there. I remembered the stories he had told me, including his witnessing the first motorcar to roll into the village. My grandfather died at 95, never driving a car. Yes, he walked a lot.

This carriage ride has prompted me to share a blog with you that I have been following for the past few years. It focuses on some…

Building terraces in the garden

The weather this past month has been so glorious that my stone wall/terrace project took most of my attention.  Finding a balance between outdoor and indoor projects is a challenge living in the Swiss Alps.

As you can see, I am more or less finished and just need to find a few more rocks to cap off the tops.

Next, I will plant some sun loving plants. Any suggestions?

Is there such a thing: warm and attractive pajamas?

Scouring the web to find plain white flannel pajamas without silly bear motifs or goofy pink bunny patterns, I have come up empty handed.

In an effort to save energy, I've been gradually turning down thermostats. We're down to 16C (60.8F) at night. My goal is 13C-14C (55.4-57.2F). The nuclear catastrophe in Japan is reminding me that although we are lucky to be living in a time and place of plenty, things might not always stay like that.

Thriftiness doesn't have to mean inferior quality.  On the contrary. How well I slept during my childhood holidays spent at my grandparents' chalet in the Swiss Alps! Under layers of thick cotton sheets, wool blankets, and a huge puffy down comforter, I roasted even though the room was frigid. My sinuses felt great, my skin remained soft, and I felt truly rested upon waking.

Today, Swiss landlords are required to provide a minimum of 18C (64.4F) at night, which was regarded as "sick room" temperature fifty years ago. People …

It's never too late to learn rules of the road

I've had my driver's license since I was 16 years old. Granted, the test that I took in Middletown, Rhode Island, was easy. No highway driving and no parallel parking were required, (although I had practiced it with my instructor). All I was required to do was drive around the block, use my blinker and execute a three point turn. Voilà!

The most valuable driving knowledge I have collected during the past 24 years, I've learned on the road.

Like the day I drove a friend from Newport to Cape Cod and forgot to look over my shoulder to check the blind spot before passing a car on the highway. Thank goodness my friend yelped, as I could swerve back into my lane on time and avoid an accident.

Or the four times, I lightly hit a car in a parking lot, because I misjudged the distances or forgot to use my mirrors.

Or when I slid into a speeding car that was going uphill on an icy single lane road. I learned that even though the driver of that car was speeding, she had the right of w…

A global warming theory

Thank goodness we had snow during the Christmas holiday. We could ski nearly every day of our two-week break. Since then, the weather has warmed up considerably, to the point that we have been sunbathing in T-shirts in front of the house.

The sun has done wonders for our Vitamin D levels but wrecked havoc on the snow. Grey-green patches are now visible on many a southwest-facing slope. Some mountains have closed their lifts.

With worried frowns on their faces, locals say in hushed voices: "This is April weather. It doesn't look good for the rest of ski season. We need more snow."

With temperatures hovering around 10 C, it's even too warm for snow machines that work best when temperatures stay below -5 C. I don't like snow machines. They are ugly. They use too much electricity and water. Mostly, I don't like them because they are just band-aid solutions to the bigger problem, that the earth is warming up and that we are unwilling to reduce our use of gasoline…