The THINGS take Switzerland

1 03 2012

A couple of weeks ago, some visitors decided to stop by. The timing wasn’t great because I had just started my new job and am also attending university courses for the first time in 20 years. That double whammy had me going to bed at 9pm every night for the first two weeks because I was simply exhausted.

The THINGS, as they are known, belong to my only good Canadian friend, the lovely and hilarious Ironic Mom. She is sending them around the world in place of her 7-year-old twins. (Though I’m sure that on some days she would have been quite happy to send the twins.) On their Excellent Adventure, which started last summer, they have already criss-crossed the United States and Zurich was the first stop on the European leg of their tour.

In addition to my new job, we were in the middle of an incredible cold snap, with daytime high temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius (3 degrees F for you Fahrenheit types). So flying and rollerblading – my staple activities when the weather cooperates – were simply out of the question. Actually, anything that required leaving a heated building was rather painful and not recommended.

(Maybe they can stop back here in the summer?)

Other hosts have been very creative with their blog entries about the THINGS’ visit – writing in rhymes and singing in harmonies – I’m afraid all I can offer is a few photos of nothing special in the land of cows and chocolate.

"We’re here!"

"Geez. Looks cold out there."

"SH*T. It IS cold out here."

"Want to go for a hike?" "No thanks, not today."

So to escape Switzerland’s harshest winter in three decades (and as a warmer alternative to any outdoor sports activity), we went to the gym. The THINGS hid in my locker until they realized that it was ME that would be working out… that they were just along for the ride.

"Get out of there, you two."

On the rowing machine…

…the bouncy gym ball…

…and the crosstrainer.

We did venture out into the city one day, and made some more friends (animal and human) in the department store’s extensive Switzerland souvenir department.

"Moo."

… as the salespeople wondered what the hell they were doing climbing into the souvenir kiddie mugs.

To end their visit we made one last stop, at the world-famous Spruengli chocolate store. After all, what do Swiss people need all those cows for, anyway? Because they are the world’s largest per capita consumers of chocolate!

The THINGS knew this, but had to wait till their final day here to partake in the experience.

"Yum, look at all those chocolate cakes..."

"...and the pyramids of macaroons."

The THINGS got enough of the “food of the Gods” to last them till they arrive at the next stop on their world tour. (Trust me.) They are off to the UK next, where I’m hoping Spring has sprung and they get to spend more time outdoors. Watch for further installments of their Excellent Adventure on www.ironicmom.com.

Meantime… I have to get back to my new job.

Shoes definitely NOT made for walking.

Advertisements




Swiss small-mindedness extraordinaire

2 11 2011

It’s time for me to make fun of the Swiss again. Point out another trait that is not exactly endearing.

It is also NaNoWriMo and I need to produce 50,000 words in 30 days. Let the month of marathon writing begin.

Yesterday morning I was amused to read in the newspaper about a conflict in our fair city of Zurich. An old building which looks like it was built in, say, the 16th century or so, was recently renovated, and new lettering went up advertising for the café in the ground floor – its name: “Haus zum Rüden / Restaurant und Bar”. Those are the white-colored words you see in the photograph below, just above the arches.

The freshly renovated building in downtown Zurich.

Now, the city administration took offense at this new lettering. Even more so when it found out that the letters extended beyond the façade of the building by a whole three centimeters (1½ inches). The lettering was placed upon the building without a permit, and thus the city imposed a fine for this offense. The owner of the building is now required to pay 214 Swiss francs (about $190) per year in order to have this writing stay where it is.

Wow. Infringing upon Zurich air is expensive.

As you can tell from the picture, the lettering does not, however, stick out from the façade as far as the flower boxes with geraniums do, or the actual building wall on the third floor and the roof. So why this lettering is offensive to anyone at all remains a mystery to me.

The newspaper article answers this question with the explanation that rules are rules, and rules are not to be broken, not here in Switzerland. Nonononono.

A few years ago we too experienced the wrath of a dictatorial city administration more focused on following building code rules than dealing with reality. We had bought an apartment in a building that had been completely gutted and renovated a year prior, including having two new roof windows installed, bathing the top floor in warmth and light. We were ecstatic to have found our perfect love nest.

Sixteen days after we moved in, we received a letter from the city stating that an observant neighbor had watched us put in two roof windows without a permit, and that said windows were to be immediately removed, the holes sealed up and the roof returned to its original state. (Oh, and by the way, the entire top floor of the apartment – our guest room and a very cool bathroom – was to be torn out and returned to the state of an unfinished, unheated attic.) This superfluous (de-)construction would cost us and reduce the value of the place by about one-third.

A nerve-wracking, unhappy year later, the previous owner – who was responsible for this mess in the first place – agreed to buy it back only after we threatened him with a million-dollar lawsuit. The city was not willing to budge, even after we had offered to pay a fine for the building code transgression that we did not even commit.

A few months after we moved out, he actually tore out the windows and returned the roof and the attic to their original state.

Three morals of the story: 1) There are con-artists everywhere, even in nice, orderly Switzerland. 2) Watch out for your neighbors… every single one of them is a spy with an overactive imagination. 3) Swiss civil servants have too much time on their hands, and a small-mindedness that could drive all the rest of us to jump off a bridge.





A teeny tiny vacation

26 08 2011

Today is the second anniversary of my skating accident. August 26th, 2009 is a day that will live on in infamy – read all about it here, if you wish.

Physically, I’ve pretty much recovered. I do still have some pain when doing a handstand or a cartwheel, and the flexibility in my left wrist is probably about 95 percent of what it used to be. But I can live with that. Psychologically, however, I still have trouble when I am traveling at speed and faced with a situation where I have to trust others to react correctly. I have a split-second to chart and signal my path, and I just never know what that other nutcase coming towards me – be it on a bicycle, attached via leash to a dog or with composite rubber wheels strapped to his/her feet – is going to do.

In celebration of two more or less accident-free years on skates (not counting my two splashes during last year’s Berlin Marathon), I decided to go for a mini-hike this morning, close to home. I had always wanted to walk up the hill that rises up high above the town I live in, near Zurich – to diversify my training and take a break from my rollerblades for a day. At the top there is a cafe with a terrace that features a panorama view: the city is to the left, its eponymous lake front and center, and the Alps rise off in the distance to the right. It’s simply spectacular.

...isn't it?

A cable car links the town in the valley with the recreation area on the crest of the range… the altitude difference is probably only about 400 meters but looks like significantly more. This is my preferred method of getting to the top, usually in anticipation of that wonderful, frothy latte macchiato that’s waiting for me there. But today’s mission was to propel myself up the trail as long as the weather held and it wasn’t too hot.

Cable cars are for wimps, anyway.

After about 15 minutes along, I decided that the next time I see the words “very steep ascent” on a hiking trail sign, I will believe them.

But the quiet (except for my heavy breathing) and the solitude of the forest (except for the baby snake lying across the trail that jumped about a foot as I approached, scaring the bejeeses out of me) felt like a little tiny vacation from real life.

Once up top, I decided that it was too soon to go back and continued on along the ridge for a few miles. Somewhere, I took another path back down I had never gone before, passing idyllic meadows with cows grazing peacefully in the sunshine. Arrived home after about 2 hours, soaked in sweat, knowing I had done my duty for the day.

What a great morning. What a great workout. Sometimes the world really is alright.