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 area of Zurich we reside in is called Oerlikon (pronounced Ur-lee-kon). It was by chance that we ended up here. A little out of town (about 20 mins from the centre, such is the compact nature of Zurich) it is one of the less expensive areas of the city to live in and, being just a ten minute tram ride from Zoe's office, the location seemed ideal when we started looking for a flat here.
It's actually worked out brilliantly. I've just gone and got myself a job as Editorial Manager for a company that makes dental implants (well, I wanted a role I could get my teeth into) and my office is just 15 minutes away on the tram, a couple of stops past Zoe's. This makes it an hour less than my previous commute from Hitchin to London. On a cleaner, more punctual and cheaper transport system. It's simply wunderbar.
However, there is more to Oerlikon than just great transport connections and I haven't even gone into half of them! - Direct (and on time!) trains to Luzern and other places, plus they're extending the train stations for even more links, which, for a Brit used to getting soaked on a crowded platform, is pretty exciting. I appreciate, however, train ranting might not make for the best blog post. So enough of that...
Apparently, the name Oerlikon goes back to the alemannic settlement founder Orilo. Oerlikon was mentioned for the first time on record in the year 946. At that time the town consisted of no more than one dozen houses and was part of the municipality Schwamendingen, where the inhabitants of Oerlikon went to school and attended church. Zoe and I actually live just off 'Schwamedigenstrasse' now, though we're still not sure how to pronounce it.
In 1855 a railway (last mention I promise) that connected southern Germany with Zurich was built. As a result Oerlikon expanded and became a hub for industry and trade. One of Switzerland's biggest industrial firms bears the name 'Oerlikon' to this day and ABB are among the engineering companies that have big offices here. In 1872 Oerlikon was separated from Schwamendingen and became its own municipality. In 1897 a tramway (my previous promise referred only to trains!) from Zurich to Oerlikon was built and the suburb has been a busy part of Zurich ever since.
The town's industrial heritage is still very prominent today. One well know example is the recent moving of an entire building to make way for the expansion of the train station I mentioned. Yes that's right, here, you don't demolish buildings of historical significance to make way for progress - you move them. Even if, like the old headquarters of engineering firm Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (MFO), they weigh 6,200 tonnes.
You can see a time lapse video of this feat of Swiss precision here. It's a very nice building and fantastic that it has been preserved. It actually now has a bar in it which I visited with my new work colleagues the other day. I imagine the bar wasn't there when the builders were moving it or they'd never have got the thing 60 metres down the street, well, not in a straight line at least.
Next to the old MFO building is the MFO park. Created on the site of the old MFO factory, it's now an award winning bit of urban landscaping with platforms, stairs and scented plants, all on a frame which stands where the old factory walls used to be.
The building above dates from the industrial age and is now the heating plant for the surrounding residential buildings. The repeated number two on the side is a bit of left wing artwork that stands for 'community and the divisible', presumably in a nod to the common man / trade unions that used to operate in the area in its factory filled heyday.
Back in the old part of town there is another interesting piece of 'Kunst' (art). Aptly entitled 'The Walker', the bronze statue (below) of a naked chap going for a stroll actually has nothing to do with the Swiss passion for naked hiking, though it has caused just as much controversy.
When I read in the poorly translated guidebook blurb that the statue's erection had caused a stir I was a left feeling a bit sorry for the poor chap, but it turns out that they meant his mere installation triggered uproar. Installed in 1934 next to a school (I sense local sculptor Franz Fischer was looking to ruffle a few feathers) the locals protested vehemently against it and local writer Albin Zollinger called it "pornographic". They must have found something else to complain about, however, as it actually won a gold medal as Switzerland's entry at the World Fair in New York five years later and it stands next to the changing rooms of the local school to this day.
Attitudes must certainly have become more liberal in recent years otherwise the town would never have allowed the bright orange 'Dorflinde' to be built. Roughly translating as 'Linden Tree Village', this complex of bright orange blocks sits pretty much opposite our flat and contains, amongst other things, some local authority offices. The name refers to the village that was on the site until 1799 when it was burnt down in a battle with the French and the Austrians (and you thought the Swiss didn't get involved in wars!).
I thought the orange colour of the buildings might be a tribute of dubious taste to this blaze but my dodgy guide book (provided by the state I hasten to add) explains that it is "painted in the colours of the 1970s". That this is written in an almost boastful way causes me a great deal of concern. It may also help explain why the clothes shops here often seem to be in a time warp. If you want anything from C&A just let us know - still going strong in der Schweiz!
All in all, we love where we live. Equidistant from the airport and the city centre, Oerlikon is great for transport, has a few nice bars and restaurants and also, as we've seen, a few stories to tell too. Hopefully we'll be hosting a few more of you soon so that we can show you its delights in person.
I love the Zoo. Ever since David Attenborough’s dulcet tones ignited an interest in the natural world in a pre-school Mike I have held a fascination in the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit this earth. And a trip to the zoo still turns me into an excited infant even at the ripe old age of 27.
So, I could hardly contain my excitement when Zoe agreed on a trip to Zurich’s ‘Tiergarten’ (animal garden the literal English translation). And I could hardly disguise my disappointment when, on the day of our planned trip Zoe didn’t quite bound out of bed in the same way I did. With no thanks to a horrible migraine our trip was postponed.
However, dear readers, you will be pleased to hear that we did make it to the zoo a week later and it was very much worth the wait. Jumping on the number 4 tram we headed up the Zurich Berg atop which the animal park is nestled. Also residing there are the kings of the football jungle – the zoo is next door to the headquarters of FIFA. A visit to the zoo and the world cup in one day would probably have been too much for my excitable self so I vowed to return another day.
The concept of the zoo – to some merely caged animals paraded for entertainment – can be a little controversial and I must say, as someone cursed with a conscience, there is little more depressing than the sight of a miserable animal in captivity. I’m pleased to say that I have no such misery to report following a visit to Zurich zoo. It lived up to its billing as one of the best zoos in Europe with bright looking beasts, manicured enclosures and an extensive conservation programmes.
On arrival Zoe bravely put her newly learnt German into practice. Whilst the couple ahead of us valiantly requested their entrance tickets auf Deutsch they were clearly found out as British imposters when the lady asked if they wanted an visitors guide in English. Admitting defeat they humbly accepted. Undeterred, Zoe gave it a go in her best Deutsch and was not questioned. Looking at the guide as we got through the gate, however, she disappointedly said that she had been given an English guide without even being asked. A bit besmirched she handed the guide to me. On opening it up however, I realised that although the cover had been translated the contents were all in German. Zoe had successfully passed herself off as a genuine Swiss Miss. This was a seminal moment and we vowed to celebrate with a Bratwurst at the next possible opportunity. The celebrations were muted a little, however, when we realised I knew less animal names auf Deutsch than I thought so we had no idea which enclosures held which creatures! I guess it perhaps gave us a taste of what it must have been like to discover new animals for the very first time (or at least that’s what I told myself as we wandered past about 5 different breeds of Llama trying to find the lions).
Keen as mustard I raced to the first enclosure which the sign confidently told me (in English) housed a ‘Spectacled bear’. I was quickly brought down to earth when I couldn’t see anything. Perhaps he was hibernating. Or looking for his spectacles?
Thankfully the next paddocks contained plenty of life, from cute (if rather slimy looking) pygmy hippos, playful sea lions and wily otters.
It wasn’t just the animals at the Zoo that seemed content either, the staff too seemed courteous and in their natural habitat. The one exception was the guy tasked with feeding the camels. He didn’t seem too enamoured with his day job but I suppose getting repeatedly spat on by excited Bactrians is enough to give anybody the hump!
Possibly the highlight was the bull elephant Maxie. This, I assume, is short for ‘Maximus’. He is quite easily the biggest animal I have ever seen in the flesh. An absolute juggernaut of a creature. Born in Thailand he came to Zurich Zoo following a spell in a circus. He is kept away from his harem of females apart from at very defined times for the breeding programme as there is a risk he will injure them such is his size and boisterous nature. No one would dare call this fella Dumbo – he is clearly one creature not to be messed with. A huge new elephant enclosure is under construction at present, probably to make more room for Maxie, or perhaps because he requested it. I imagine if you weigh a good few tonnes you tend to get your own way.
Zoe was a particular fan of the orang utans. These extraordinarily human-like animals were full of energy and there were plenty of heart stopping moments as a very young member of the group tested out his capabilities swinging from rope to rope. The occasional slip whilst suspended 20 metres in the air brought gasps from the onlookers outside the enclosure but didn’t faze him at all.
The Masoala Rainforest was another great experience. Now in its tenth year, the huge greenhouse simulates rainforest conditions. It’s just had a new aerial walkway installed so, if you can hack the warmth and humidity, you can climb up and see the free flying birds and bats whizzing about among the tree tops. It’s pretty spectacular.
All in all it was a great day out and I’m pleased to say it completely met the expectations of my juvenile inner self. Enjoy the pics!
From walking in the air to the sound of a young Aled Jones, or starring in last year's festive John Lewis advert, the UK cherishes the humble snowman as a symbol of the fun that can be had in Winter despite low tempeatures. In Zurich it's a bit different. Here, the snowman gets executed.
Instead of being allowed to gently dissolve to form a slushy puddle when the mercury in the thermometer starts to rise, he is perched upon a pyre to burn until his head, stuffed full of fireworks, explodes.
This is Sechseläuten (pronounced 'Zeks-uh-loy-ten) or, in Swiss German: 'Sächsilüüte' (zeks-uh-loot-e) and is the traditional Zurich festival for saying goodbye to the winter and welcoming spring. Celebrated on the 3rd Monday in April since the early twentieth century, it's a national holiday in the Canton of Zurich (but not elsewhere in Switzerland). Last weekend for 2013's celebrations saw glorious weather here and we were fortunate to have had my parents with us to witness this fascinating cultural event as well.
The day begins with a parade through the city by the members of the 'Zuenfte' - the old city Guilds, each with their own marching band and floats. My favourite was the 'Zunft zum Kaembel' or 'Camel Guild'. Derived from an organisation of fruit and vegetable sellers from way back when, they were dressed in arab clothing and their procession included actual camels (see pic in slide show below). I've tried to find the reason for this link with the middle east but even on their website in doesn't seem to be explained - presumably they were wheeling and dealing with tradesfolk from that part of the world to stack their own veritable Aladdin's caves here in Zurich.
The origins of the festival go back to medieval times when the first day of summer working hours was celebrated in the guildhalls across the city. Back then, the powers that be strictly regulated the length of the working day and during the winter period the workday in the various workshops lasted as long as there was daylight. During the summer months, however, the law stated that work must cease when the church bells tolled at six o'clock. Sechseläuten is Swiss-German for "The six o'clock ringing of the bells". Changing to summer working hours traditionally was a joyous occasion because it marked the beginning of the season, though the parade and snowman execution didn't begin until 1902.
The procession of guild members heads to a dedicated square next to the lake where the snowman or 'Böögg' as he is known (a bit like a bogey man - very different to Raymond Briggs' interpretation!) is perched ready to meet an explosive end.
At 6pm we, and a staggering 5000 other specatators, gathered around as the bonfire was lit. The legend has it that the quicker the fire reaches the poor fellow to blow off his head, the better the summer will be. The quickest execution on record was in 1974 when his carrot nose was sent into orbit after just over 5 minutes, indicating a scorcher of a summer on the way. The longest burning at the stake on record was 26:23 in 2001. That is, until this year.
Despite a hot sunny day, it took 35 minutes and 11 seconds for the final giant pop to indicate our bogeyman had gone to snowman heaven. This of course doesn't bode well for our first summer in der Schweiz. In fact, since the Böögg met his violent end the clear skies have been replaced by clouds. Even the UK has had better weather than us.
I'm beginning to wonder whether sacrificing Mr Snowman was such a good idea...
P.S. Just in case the spirit of winter is here to haunt us for a while I've included a few pics below from the trip we took with my folks to Luzern before the weather changed. And thanks to Dad for providing most of the below photos.
P.P.S - this YouYube video will give you a good feel for - the festivities: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQBEMWfVAuE - skip to the end for the snowman's final moments.
Liverpool vs Everton, City vs United, Celtic vs Rangers.
These are the big clashes that come to mind when you think about big city rivalries on the football pitch. But Grasshopper Club Zurich against FC Zurich? That has to be a tame affair given the straight laced nature of the Swiss right?
Well, no, it isn't, as Zoe and I found out when we headed to the match on Saturday night. Having been to one Grasshoppers game before I thought I knew roughly what to expect, but it turns out a derby is a derby even here in der Schweiz.
On arrival at the Letzigrund Stadium I already noticed a different atmosphere in comparison to the match I'd watched when the boys came to visit. This time the streets around the ground were filled with fans drinking cans.
The reason for this became apparent when we got into the ground only to find in order to try and take the sting out of the derby atmosphere only alcohol free beer was on sale inside the ground. And there was no way back out. Rookie mistake.
Soon, however, the hordes who had now consumed enough booze to power them through a whole 90 minutes began to fill up the standing end of the FCZ Zurich 'Ultras' - the hardcore fans. Basically the complete polar opposite of the stereotypical Zurich native - loud and hammered and hurling abuse.
I kind of hope that they were the same people that commute quietly on the tram to their jobs at banks during the week and don't dream of rebelling by doing their washing on Sunday. And that the balaclavas they were wearing were the same which they wore for the family ski trip to Davos. That this was just them letting off all the steam from what could otherwise be a very civilised existence.
Though the two teams share the stadium, this was technically an FCZ home game. We'd therefore got FCZ tickets in the stand next door to the crazy ultras. And it proved interesting before a ball had been kicked.
About 5 minutes before kick off a group of lads in bomber jackets sporting mohican hair cuts unfurled a huge banner that was rolled above the heads of the crowd in the FCZ end, carried above our heads. Being underneath it I have no idea what it said but I assume something derogatory to the Grasshopper fans penned in at the other end of the ground.
This on its own was more excitement than I've been used to at a Swiss footy match but that was nothing. A few rows in front of us flares began going off beneath the canopy, filling the stand with smoke.
Taking in her first continental football experience Zoe was understandably a bit unnerved and asked whether we should be worried about breathing in the smoke. Given that you are unlikely to choke on so much as the words of a song at a Blackburn Rovers match these days, such is the placid nature of the crowd, I had no idea. Even the ultras I'd stood alongside at FCN Nuremberg during my time in Germany had only ever threatened my respiratory health with the odd cigarette.
Thankfully at that moment the canopy was then pulled away and the smoke cleared to reveal the derby was underway.
In the paddock next to us the flares continued to burn. An announcement that would be repeated throughout the match warned the FZC fans that flares weren't allowed in the stadium. They didn't care. This one of their few chances to rebel and they were going to make the most of it.
And it wasn't long before the goals began to go in. After a ridiculous handball in his own box by FCZ defender Yassine Chikhaoui gifted a penalty to the Grasshoppers. In his bright green away strip (what else would a self respecting Grasshopper wear on his travels) Izet Hajrovic stepped up to score despite being blinded by a laser from the Ultras end (see pic above).
And Chikhaoui was the culprit again as Grasshoppers went 2-0 up, this time his block sending a shot looping over the head of his own goalkeeper.
This didn't stop the FCZ singing and burning flares (I dread to think how they got them into the ground given the extensive frisking given to all fans on the way in) and it didn't stop FCZ pressing either, before half time they'd reduced the deficit to 2-1 through a penalty of their own.
The best bit of play of the match came early in the second half, a lovely interchange of passes saw Chikhoaui redeem himself somewhat by laying the ball off to the penalty scorer Milan Gajic who equalised with a brilliant low strike.
Cue a leap over the hoardings to celebrate in front of the FCZ faithful who responded by, well, setting off more flares of course! Oh, and hurling a few firecrackers for good measure.
It certainly wasn't a game for the faint hearted and it proved too much for FCZ goal hero Gajic who had to be taken off to be checked for a cardiac issue.
And it wasn't over there - Grasshoppers showed why they are challenging for the title and FC Zurich aren't. Two goals from well worked corners, together with some brilliant saves from their goalkeeper, gave them the derby day glory.
It was a real goal-fest and great experience. Zoe's only complaint was that all the pyrotechnics coming from the Ultras block didn't give off any heat - it was absolutely freezing in the stadium when the sun went down.
That said, the roar from the FCZ fans, even in defeat, was heart- warming and although Grasshoppers take the bragging rights, FC Zurich won the battle of the fans. The scorch marks on the roof of the south stand serve as testimony to that.
Hopefully you've all had a very happy Easter, or a 'Frohe Ostern' as they say auf Deutsch.
There are of course certainly worse places to be during a time of year celebrated with chocolate than in Switzerland and as they go for chocolate rabbits rather than eggs over here we've had a bit of a confectionary bunny massacre on our hands - it's been a bit like Charlie and the Chocolate factory meets Watership Down.
Religion is important to the Swiss also, and so the christian nature of the festival is very much celebrated. The Swiss churches love to toll their bells for any religious occasion (it was hard to get to sleep when the new Pope was chosen) and so the regular chimes for the frequent services have served as a nice reminder of the true meaning of Easter.
Eggs are still very much a symbol of Easter time in this part of the world, though more traditionally it's the hard boiled variety which are worth hunting for. You can buy them pre-painted in bright colours from the supermarket. The Swiss sprinkle them with 'aromat' which is like bouillion powder (the stock cube is a Swiss invention) before devoruing them.
We've had a relaxing long weekend despite the weather being pretty dire, popping into Zurich on Saturday to do a bit of shopping. The Swiss continue to find new ways to impress me with their efficiency and Saturday was no exception, with the major department stores providing machines that 'bag' wet umbrellas to stop them dripping on the shop floor.
We took shelter for lunch at 'Hiltl' - the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world having opened in 1898. Now, both Zoe and I are far from veggies, and I was a bit apprehensive about a meat free meal. I am, however, a fan of the 'pile it on your plate buffet', so I got stuck in.
It's a bit like vegetable pick-and-mix as you pay depending on the weight of the plate. Lots of the options are indian style in spicy sauces and the samosas and paneer cheese were real highlights. It was all delicious and the exotic flavours provided a moment of sunshine on a very grey Zurich day.
On Easter Sunday the weather wasn't much better but as the rain held off we headed off for a walk in Zurich's academic district. Using a fancy app which offers a number of routes around the city, we strolled among the buildings of the famous Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zurich (ETH for short) which is one of Europe's top science and technology institutions. It's buildings nestle among those of the University of Zurich and the University Hospital. This district of brainpower nestles on the hill just above the city centre, offering great views of Zurich's impressive church spires.
At one point during the walk we came across the original ETH observatory. Now surrounded by tall buildings it is hard to imagine that when it was built in 1861 it was nestled among vineyards and pastures. It seems the astronomers spent so much time gazing up at the stars that they missed the city of Zurich sprawling towards them. The observatory was closed in 1980 as light pollution from the surrounding buildings made planet spotting impossible.
It was a lovely stroll and the perfect way to work up an appetite and I didn't need to consult the stars to know that our roast lamb dinner was going to be delicious.
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…
After already exploring Zurich's old quarter during our first full weekend in der Schweiz we were keen to see and do something even more “touristy”. We both felt with only two weeks under our belt in the lovely Switzerland we had an excuse to dive into the local culture and explore.
Zurich Carnival 2013 was our chance to do just that. We did a bit of research and knew that the parade started on Sunday at precisely 2.31pm (another example of fantastic Swiss precision) where it made its way along the main shopping street in Zurich – Bahnhofstrasse. We thought we would head down and check it out and I was secretly hoping for some typical Swiss fare, namely cheese and chocolate!
The food did not disappoint! Before the parade had even begun Mike and I tried raclette on bread (basically a pretty satisfying cheese toastie), bratwurst mit Senf (one of the best sausages I have ever had), and Gluhwein (not my favourite thing in the world…)! All that sustenance soon warmed me up for the minus 5 not-really-parade-watching weather.
The town centre was buzzing which was quite a change from our previous Sunday´s exploring where all shops were shut (standard on a Sunday in Switzerland) and the only activity that could be seen was inside cosy cafes and restaurants with the locals maximizing Sundays for what God intended – good old R&R and socializing with friends.
Carnival day was quite a contrast and not just because people were out on the actual street but also because everyone as far as the eye could see was dressed up in crazy, elaborate and extremely well executed fancy dress costumes (see piccies in slideshow at bottom of post).
We had a wander around a few town squares where various bands were playing and got ourselves in position on Bahnhofstrasse for the parade to begin. There were a huge variety of people watching the parade – families, older couples, teenagers, as well as Swiss locals and tourists – it was a real community atmosphere which as the parade went on got rowdier and rowdier.
Thankfully Mike and I were stood far enough back to avoid tonnes of confetti being thrown EVERYWHERE. I was also thankful for not being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time as we saw a poor girl with gorgeous long hair being picked up by a guy in a scary witch costume, put into a wheelbarrow and completely covered in hay… he then proceeded to then cart her off in her new mode of transport and when we next saw her reunited with her family she looked like she was related to a scarecrow… thankfully as it was carnival she took it all in good spirits! With my curls I'm not sure I´d have been too pleased!
It was a great parade with some completely bizarre, and at times freaky, costumes. The atmosphere was fantastic and as a way to spend a Sunday afternoon I felt it gave me a peek into the real traditions and community of Zurich.
It's also very very clean. The trams and trains are spotless and there are bins and mini-recycling points at regular intervals. 'Zuri', as the locals call it, seems very polished. Even the older structures seem to have had the equivalent of building botox. German cities rebuilt following visits from Her Majesty's Lancaster bombers in WW2 don't look as shiny as Zurich.
With mountains visible from the town centre the air has a certain alpine freshness (nothing like those trees you hang on your rear view mirror) and the official figures I've seen indicate my lungs are indeed much better off here than they were when I worked in the big smoke of London.
This freshness might also have something to do with the temperature - winters here are cold - we've barely seen above freezing since we arrived - but equally the summers here are warm. We're certainly hoping for less of the grey drizzle that we're used to back on the island.
The cost of living is something we're asked about a lot and I'd say we've been relieved that prices aren't as bad as you might think. Given that salaries are higher here it's all relative, and whilst eating out appears to be astronomical, our shopping at Lidl is similar in price to home and the great public transport I was gushing about a minute ago is much cheaper than in the UK. Beer in pubs seems pricey but in the supermarket it's not bad and I've even tracked down a speciality beer shop that sells beer from all over the world, including Britain, quite reasonably should I fancy a taste of home.
To sum up, it's so far so good and whilst it's early days we feel like we're settling in well. Zurich looks like it's a great place to be.
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.