As the weather was great on Sunday, we headed to St.Gallen, an hour's train ride east of Zurich for the "OLMA Messen" a big agricultural fair.
This wasn't because I was looking to take my balcony veg growing to the next level (If Zoë sees another pumpkin plant she'll probably end me), but for two other great passions of mine – food and also sport, though not an event I'd seen before...
The OLMA fair offers everything from food stalls and beer tasting to the sale of power washing equipment and livestock. First up, we had a try of the local bratwurst, which is famous as it's allegedly so good that having condiments with it is a crime. Well, it was pretty good, but I think it's a bit pompous to say it wouldn't benefit from a bit of mustard. I don't thing adding a blob of "senf" should be frowned upon. Most things are better with sauce, right?
Having now made that statement, I'm probably no longer welcome in St.Gallen, so it's a good job we made the most of our day there. We tasted cheese after cheese, bought a bag of cheese and even said "cheese" as we posed for photos with cows.
There were lively beer and wine areas and I grabbed myself a can of Schutzengarten, the local brew, in anticipation of the day's main event: Schweinerennen.
Yes, that's right. Pig racing!
This turned out to be a serious sport. Serious fun that is. As the sun shone, a little man with cows on his belt buckles got the crowd fired up to welcome the racing piglets - a loud enough cheer, he said, would turn the racing pigs into fighting pigs! A small child next to us looked a bit worried about this and stopped cheering.
Herr Horse Belt also promised the event was to be "Speck-tacular" (Speck being German for bacon - get it?). I hoped the pigs didn't understand that gag, I thought it might put them off. And we had five francs on a pig in each race.
Then it all kicked off! Status quo started playing, hands started clapping and pigs began squealing with excitement as they were led to the starting gates. Talk about dramatic.
With five francs on the piglet in a black and white racing bib, we watched with bated breath as they raced to the course's jump. It turns out, when faced with a hurdle, pigs will fly!
Unfortunately the pig we backed didn't fly as far as we might have hoped and was pipped to victory on the home straight. There was always race 2...
But then, disaster! The pig we went for in that round stumbled at the fence and didn't win either. Pig sick I was.
Actually, even two losses on the trot (should that be trotters?) couldn't dampen our spirits. We went home having had a great experience, with full bellies and giant bag of cheese. We didn't win on the races, but we certainly pigged out!
Enjoy the pics!
A couple of weeks ago I took part in the "Greifenseelauf" - a half marathon held in Zurich, popular for its flat, scenic course.
I ran not just for the thrill of the challenge, but to raise money for The MS Society - an organisation seeking to beat Multiple Sclerosis. It's a cause close to my heart as my mother is a sufferer, and we have several friends whose relatives are affected.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of friends and family, when I stepped up to the start line I'd been promised £568, money to go towards helping those with MS and to support research aiming to identify a cure. All I had to do was run 13.1 miles. Gulp.
I'd run that far twice during training, so I was quietly confident I'd go the distance, but with the weather surprisingly hot, I wasn't sure I'd be able to beat my previous personal best of 1 hour 45 minutes, set at the Great North Run in Newcastle a couple of years ago.
It was interesting that I didn't see anyone else in a charity running vest as I made my way around, and I've never heard of any of my Swiss mates doing a sporting activity to raise donations for a cause. That isn't to say that they don't take on such challenges – the culture of sport and fitness here is incredible. If a Swiss person is late back from lunch, they may well have done an Ironman.
I think that's what's behind the lack of fancy dress competitors and fundraising requests. So many people do so many events here that they need to do something even more awe-inspiring to warrant asking for funds. Or they just consider their sporting endeavours and charity contributions as two very separate things. Maybe it's bit of both.
Anyway, back to the race, and just a few hundred metres in, my MS Society charity running rest came in handy. I stuck the bottom half of my face in it to mask the smell of an initial stretch past a sewage works. The pong didn't last long, however, and the scenery soon started to improve as we began snaking around the Greifensee.
The few folks that live along the rural route came out to offer encouragement by jangling cow bells and spraying the runners with hoses. Though the intention is kind, I tried really hard not to get squirted. Wet kit can lead to chafed nipples. And there really is very little that's worse than chafed nipples. As a result, some of my fastest stretches were those that involved sprinting past farmers wielding water cannons.
Though the course is flat, they throw in a cheeky climb at the end, just for good measure. It's not too big or steep, but coming 12 miles in, it feels like the Matterhorn. Thankfully, I'd been running up the hill behind our flat quite a bit during training, so I managed to make it to summit without too much trouble.
By going steady at the beginning of the race, and picking up the pace at the end, I'm pleased to report I came home in 1 hour and 39 minutes. Not necessarily a time an East African would be proud of, but
a great result for me. If I'd had the energy to celebrate, I would've done, but as you can see from my finishing video here, it took all my effort just to turn off my stopwatch. I was delighted and relieved to finally see my finishing committee of Zoe and our friend Nat waiting to point me in the direction of a seat.
If you check out the video, watch out for the tall bearded guy storming in behind me. I used him as a pacer for the last four miles but it seems he went for a different finishing strategy to me. I have to say, anyone can go that fast, and get their knees that high, is impressive, not least at the end of a half marathon.
So, all in all, a great experience for a good cause. And, as my legs are still a little heavy, I figure I can still make one last fundraising plea. It's not too late to donate online - you can do your bit to beat MS by heading over to www.justgiving.com/halfmarathonmikey.
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.