Send your toast soldiers back to the barracks. Switzerland didn't get to be the country it is today by having a soft centre.
All year round, but especially come Easter time, hard boiled eggs are a snack of choice. You can't help but notice the "Picnick-Eier" (picnic eggs) in the shops. The shells of these ready-boiled eggs are brightly painted in every shade of the rainbow. Sometime they're patterned too, or they even sport the Swiss flag. The shades vary in many different ways. But when it comes to eating them the rules are, as we've come to expect in Switzerland, exact (or should that be eggs-act?).
After you've peeled off the luminous shell you need to season the egg before you bite in. And plain old salt and pepper won't cut the mustard. Ironically, neither will actual mustard. You need to sprinkle your egg with a magical powder know as "Aromat" (shown below).
This stuff has been around since the fifties and I think the best way to describe it is as a powdered version of a stock cube which, incidentally, was invented in Switzerland).
I'm not sure, however, that crumbling an oxo cube on your boiled egg will have the same effect. This stuff is a unique blend of salt and spices. And it's pretty good. I'd recommend giving it a try.
Zoe loves the eggs, albeit without the Aromat. She eats them at least twice a week for breakfast.
For this Brit, however, you can't beat a dippy egg. And pass me the plain old salt.
In Switzerland, winter gets pretty cold. Can't feel your feet, nose Rudolph would be proud of, cold. The mercury struggles to climb above freezing and we humans struggle to climb out of bed, so low is the appeal of tackling the elements.
The Swiss, however, are used to this. They take it in their stride. But, of course, they have a secret. And I've sussed it.
I have established that the ability to take on Jack Frost and win comes from one source.
But not just any cheese. Melted cheese. In a pot, with wine and herbs. Fondue, to be exact.
You see, it turns out that eating fondue in Switzerland is not just a stereotype; it's compulsory. And I think it might be a method of survival.
When you line yourself with melted gruyere, a bit of vacherin, herbs, spices, wine and schnapps, the cold cannot penetrate. Swiss people are, as a rule, not fat. But I suspect, on the inside, they are mostly cheese.
Still not cheesed off after nearly 300 years
1. Never eat fondue with a hangover
My first fondue experience wasn't the best. In fact, it was horrible. Back in February I tried to tackle this national dish when some of the lads came over. As you may remember from a previous blog post, their visit got a bit messy. After a night on the town the fondue lunch I'd planned as a bit of a cultural excursion sounded like a terrible idea. And it was.
Determined to press ahead with the plan, I dragged the lads, and a less-than-impressed-with-us Zoe, to one of Zurich's finest fondue restaurants. The boys couldn't even face cheese and ordered something else. I felt ok for the first few cubes of cheese soaked bread. That didn't last long. They soon turned to lead in my delicate stomach, leaving me the same shade of green as the pesto fondue that is very popular in that particular establishment.
2. Prepare yourself for the smell
What didn't help is that fondue stinks. I mean, really stinks. Like feet. The cheese and wine mingle to form a pungent aroma that penetrates your skin and clothes and you cannot remove it. Well, maybe with fire (remove them first).
Don't let that put you off though – it tastes excellent.
I've had the pleasure of trying several different versions of "chäs" (cheese) fondue since winter returned. At a work bash we had a bit of a fondue sampling session with eight or nine varieties brought to the table. All smelled like feet but tasted great. A spicy version with tomato was a hit, as was one with truffle. The champagne one was a bit overrated and you can't go wrong with a classic "Vaudoise" style, made with Gruyère.
3. Accompany your fondue with booze
The trick to really enjoying fondue is to wash it down with a nice white wine. In fact, I'm told to forgo the wine can lead to digestive difficulties. And you should round it off with a shot of kirsch schnapps to make doubly sure it has a safe passage.
However, the accompanying beverage is a bit of a moot point. In their academic paper (I don't know why you are surprised, this blog is a serious portal for learning, in fact, you're lucky I don't charge tuition fees) Heinrich, Goetze, and Menne et al (2010) published the paper "Effect on gastric function and symptoms of drinking wine, black tea, or schnapps with a Swiss cheese fondue: randomised controlled crossover trial" proved that "Gastric emptying after a Swiss cheese fondue is noticeably slower and appetite suppressed if consumed with higher doses of alcohol."
They came up with the suggestion that you'd be better off drinking tea with your pot of cheese. Quite an academic achievement. It's almost as impressive as the fact that the 10 researchers (10!) presumably got funding for what is effectively a night out. Plus, they went on, despite what must have been a heavy night for those not on the tea, to publish the research paper with the world's best title. Science at its best.
4. Be a bit more careful if you aren't used to cheese
I also believe that if you are not used to a lactose binge such as is unavoidable with fondue then you should take care. Folks from Asia tend to have to take it slow, as people from that part of the world tend to eat less cheese than we do. They therefore don't quite have the enzymes to process it all. This can lead to the "cheese baby" effect, a sensation like a blockage that is not only unpleasant but can cause the unlucky recipient to slip into some sort of cheese-induced coma.
5. Don't drop the bread
The Swiss are stereotypically a reserved bunch. Of course that's a sweeping generalisation, and we've already met some colourful characters in the short time we've been here. Plus, some of the traits that have earned the Swiss this label don't seem as uptight now I'm here and experiencing them first hand. No noisy activities on a Sunday makes for a nice, peaceful day of rest, and is particularly valued if you've had a few too many bottles of Appenzeller beer the night before (though church bell ringers are exempt from this rule and as we live between two churches total silence is never really achieved).
Contrary to popular belief, the natives here love to let their hair down. And when they do, they do it big time. Whether it's pyrotechnics at the football or dancing until the early hours, it seems the seriousness of their day-to-day working lives often gets well and truly forgotten. I go for more post-work socialising here than I did in London. I'm also hard-pushed to think of another city that would open up its main streets, including the financial district, for the biggest techno-rave party in Europe. We enjoyed the 'Street Parade' very much, as did hundreds of thousands of other revellers. And this came only a few weeks after the "Züri Fest". Taking place every three years, it again saw the city opened up to drunken tomfoolery. In an English city it would be violent chaos. In Switzerland it was a great party.
But even when having fun, Swiss efficiency isn't far away. Apps and maps detail all the public facilities for each big event. And somehow the cleaning up begins before the party is even started. Whilst the party goers are catching up on their sleep the cleaning force is wide awake, removing any trace of the previous night's hijinx. If you head into town for a hangover-beating bite to eat you find life carrying on as if the party never happened. And through bleary eyes you wonder if it actually did.
When people think of Switzerland, chocolate is normally one of the first things that comes to mind. And after 6 weeks getting to know this place I am proud of how Mike and I are doing our upmost to sample different flavours and overall take great pleasure in choosing the next brand we should feast upon.
With this chocolate mission well and truly underway we were very excited to discover that this weekend, not a 5 minute walk from our apartment, was the Salon du Chocolat – code for, an afternoon of chocolate induced sugar highs and lows…
Walking into Zurich’s large conference and exhibition centre I had big hopes for the afternoon ahead. With live music playing Mike and I wandered throughout the chocolate stands and as we picked up speed we also sharpened our elbows and put on our best smiles to push our way through and blag as much free chocolate as possible. We did ourselves proud.
The choice was phenomenal. Coming from the UK I was always bowled over by the variety in Hotel Chocolat found on many UK highstreets but today raised the (chocolate) bar. To name a few highlights we had…
Apologies for the lull in blogging activity - such inefficiency is certainly not the Swiss way! The people to blame are our good friends Chris, Nick and Parso who came to visit at the weekend.
They picked a good weekend to get out here as we saw the first few days of consistently above-zero temperatures in a while. Nick arrived earlier than the others on Friday and we were able to head up to the Uetliberg, the hill overlooking Zurich, to take in the view.
It was a much clearer day than when Zoe and I made the trip up there previously and I was amazed to see the Alps looming not far away. I don't think there's much better in life than having a beer whilst looking at mountains and we did just that, catching up over a pint. Any negative health effects were surely offset by the fresh mountain air?
The other lads didn't arrive until late in the evening and Nick and I met them in the city centre to embark on my first proper Zurich night out. As you are likely aware, the cost of living means having a few pints in Switzerland can easily require the remortgaging of a property or the black-market sale of a kidney. Luckily, we have an organised and experienced pub crawl pilot in Parso, who had come armed with a map of the most interesting and (as we're all northern) reasonably priced bars the city has to offer.
The desire for a cheap pint (and nothing more!) took us off the beaten track and into the red light district - apparently Zurich's 'trendy' quarter. Here we did find some interesting bars, not least an FC Zurich fan pub where a drunken older lady gave Nick a 'Prost' so hard her wine glass smashed. Such was her level of inebriation this did not stop her drinking out of it.
When she then gestured towards Parso's camera phone and spoke some garbled Deutsch in his direction he thought he'd take her up on what he assumed was a kind offer of a photo of our group. By the time I'd processed what she'd said and realised she'd just sworn at Parso and demanded his mobile he'd already handed it over. When I explained what she'd said he understandably wanted it back. Luckily, after she'd downed the next shot the bar owner gave her it was not too long before P quite easily got back what was rightfully his.
We were then joined by Zoe who had been out at one of her Zurich girly meet up nights not far away (though not in the red light district, trendy as it is) to have some more drinks before heading home.
Unfortunately, we'd been much more organised in making plans for finding bars than for getting home from them so, after missing trains and busses I managed to get us taxis home (strange how my Deutsch improves with a few beers).
After a bit of time recuperating on Saturday, the lads and I headed out for a walk along lake Zurich to blow the cobwebs away. Zurich looks awesome in the sunshine and I think the boys enjoyed having a look at our new home. We strolled for quite some time until we reached the 'Zurichhorn' which is where the lake becomes wider. Given the weather was nice a little beer garden was open so we stopped and had a drink and a bite to eat. Actually, I probably now retract my earlier statement that there is nothing better than having a beer whilst looking at mountains. Having a beer whilst looking at mountains AND A LAKE can surely not be topped.
After a relaxed day we headed across town for our next 'cultural' experience - watching Zurich's top football team - the Grasshoppers. The bitter rivals of FC Zurich (whose fan pub we'd visited the day before), Grasshopper Club are currently top of the Swiss league. I've provisionally adopted them as my Swiss team of choice not because of their league standing, but as they wear the same blue and white halves kit as my beloved Blackburn Rovers. Surely after many years of torment you won't begrudge me watching a team win for once?
The Letzigrund stadium (above) is shared by both Zurich teams and in true continental style is seperated from the pitch by a running track. Another key difference in comparison to the English football experience is the lack of a meat pie, though the giant sausage with a bread roll was pretty good. With the visiting fans from St Gallen setting off flares in the away end I was pretty excited about the prospect of a good game, despite the stadium being far from full.
As it turned out the match saw 3 goals for Grasshopper Club Zurich and 1 for St Gallen with 2 red cards for the guests. On paper it sounds like an epic but in reality it actually was a bit tame. The goals were gifted rather than made and the gulf in the standard between the Swiss league and the English top tiers was evident. That said, we enjoyed it, though my only regret was that we were freezing in the stands instead of watching from a jacuzzi.
Yes, you heard me right - the game we went to saw the inaugration of GCZ's pitchside hot tub in which a couple of fans get to watch the game in their trunks whilst being served cold beer! The players even tried to join them as they celebrated taking a 2-1 lead!
After the Game we explored another couple of night spots including a mexican bar which was great fun despite seeming very much out of place in downtown Zurich.
On a trip to try and find the loo Nick and I came across a basement room with table football or 'Kicker' as it's called on the continent. Given that the room soon filled with Swiss blokes there was only ever going to be one outcome - Switzerland vs England.
It is to my shame that I have to report that Nick and I let our entire country down. We were comprehensively thrashed.
I'm not usually one to point fingers , but this national embarassment was mostly Nick's fault. Mexican lager had clearly not enhanced his hand-eye coordination. At least we can be grateful that England did not need to go through the agony of a penalty shootout before exiting this international contest. We left the room with our tails between our legs. Literally, as we'd been looking for the toilet even before the big match had started.
The next morning, the fondue lunch I'd arranged suddenly didn't seem such a good idea. Switzerland's pots of cheesy goodness deserve their own future post, but for now all I can tell you is that liquid cheese is not the best hangover cure.
We were sad to see the boys off on their way on Sunday afternoon, though this melancholy didn't last long as I went to bed soon after they'd left. I'm getting too old for such hi-jinx.
I think it helped us to feel more at home here having some of the people from our UK lives come to join us in our new Swiss world. For the same reason we're really looking forward to hosting Zoe's parents this coming weekend.
Big thanks to the boys for coming out here to help us explore Zurich nightlife. Thanks to their sacrifice we will be able to steer future guests away from some of the more diabolical establishments our new city has to offer.
A coupe of weekends ago, having got ourselves unpacked, and with the weather forecast cold but clear, we decided we'd have our first mini-adventure outside of the limits of Zurich with a trip to Luzern (or Lucerne as the french swiss call it and you may know it).
Despite being only a 45 minute train ride away, Luzern delivered all that we hoped for when first getting excited about making the move to Switzerland in winter time. Built at one end of a huge crystal clear lake, Luzern is framed on all sides by beautiful snow-capped mountains.
Having got our bearings with a bracing walk around the old town we ventured out on a boat tour of the lake with a round trip to nearby Beckenreid. But this was no ordinary boat ride. This, dear readers, was
'Cake on the Lake'.
Just when we thought that things couldn't get much better than bright blue skies and mountains straight from the Toblerone packet, we settled ourselves in for a boat tour that specialises in offering all passengers a huge selection of cakes and sweet treats. On board the 'Tortenschiff' (literally cake ship) we treated ourselves to a chocolate nut brownie and a decadent slice of raspberry gateau. Ironically the 'icing on the cake' was nothing to do with cake at all and came when it emerged they served cold beer too! Though I must confess the cup of tea we had subsequently was probably better accompaniment to the baked delights.
It was a lovely day and a brilliant first real taste of the natural beauty that Switzerland offers. With Luzern such a short distance away we'll definitely be back, not least for the cakes. Enjoy the pics.
According to its manufacturers, Rivella is 'the official thirst quencher of Switzerland'.
With around 200,000 litres of the stuff consumed in der Schweiz every day - around 10 litres per person annually - you can see where they're coming from. And having been here a few weeks I have no reason to think this claim flawed. The Swiss seem to be guzzling this stuff everywhere we go. In fact, I'm told only the behemoth that is Coca Cola flogs more bottles of fizzy beverage in Switzerland than Rivella.
So, what is this Swiss elixir? Well, created by a chap called Robert Barth in 1952, it is an alcohol free carbonated drink flavoured with fruit and herbs. What makes Rivella somewhat unique is that it is 35% 'milchserum' or whey as we call it. As such, it is not for the lactose intolerant and contains minerals and calcium. They also throw in some lactic acid which it is claimed 'restricts the activity of putrefactive bacteria' in the gut. Yummy!
In addition to the red label 'original' Rivella (pictured) there is a blue version (low calorie), a green version (with green tea extract) and a yellow version (made with soy instead of milk).
To date Zoe and I have only tried the original version and I have to say I quite like it. It tastes a bit like a less chemically enhanced iron brew and it's quite refreshing. In fact, I bought a bottle of the stuff today just cos I fancied it.
They sell loads of the stuff in some other countries on the continent too, particularly the Netherlands, but I've never even seen it in the UK. Apparently they did launch it to the British public with quite some fanfare back in 1999 but it failed miserably and disappeared from shelves, with a similarly sad story for the US launch.
I read it didn't take off in the UK because British people see milk drinks as something for babies, or milk something to add to tea. Well, quite right too. But the fact is there's nothing milky about Rivella at all in terms of appearance or taste. I wonder if we Brits might have missed out there.
Anyway, you can find more about Rivella and its ingredients here and, if this post has got you thirsty for a whey based refreshment, you can buy it online and have it delivered to the UK from here.
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.