Friday, May 24, 2013

The mundane: garbage, recycling and groceries

We are not tourists - we are residents of Switzerland. We have had to learn and follow the many rules of this country. Many of the rules seem silly to us, but "them's the rules!"

Disposing of waste is complicated! We live in an apartment with dumpsters out front, but we must discard things properly. The green dumpster is for "bio" or plant based waste. Here we put any dead flowers, vegetable or fruit peels and coffee grounds. We discovered that there are biodegradable bags for sale to line the "bio-bin" in the garbage collection area under the sink. The bags make emptying the bio-bin much easier and more pleasant. 

under sink garbage sorting compartments
What do we do with "garbage" that doesn't fit into a bag for the dumpster? Good question. We currently have a broken ironing board and exercise machine in the basement.  There is a recycling center in a neighboring town that might take them for disposal, but we'd have to pay. For now, they sit and wait.

Surprisingly, there are fewer things recycled here. Not surprisingly, recycling is complicated. There are recycling depositories around towns and near train stations. Here you sort the glass between white (clear), green and brown. There is also a container for metal (aluminum or tin cans and jar lids). Some of these centers are within fences that are locked on Sunday. Others are out in the open, but rest assured, you do NOT recycle on Sunday. It's a rule. I know someone who was scolded by a Swiss person for recycling at the train station on a Sunday. Really.

We can also recycle plastic drink bottles, but they have to be returned to a grocery store with the labels removed. At the grocery stores, there are also slots for old batteries, water filter cartridges or empty whipped cream cans! 

Other empty plastic containers? (shampoo, salad dressing, dish detergent) Too bad - all go into the regular garbage! This garbage must be in the appropriate bag and then put in the silver dumpster. Our bags are special for Horgen; therefore, they are only for sale in Horgen. If I go to get groceries in a neighboring town, I can't buy the Horgen bags there. We've heard stories about the garbage people leaving wrong bags curbside and tenants being fined for using the wrong bags! They are serious about this rule too.

It's always a challenge to find your way in a new grocery store or a recently rearranged store.  In another country, it's tougher. Suffice it to say, the first grocery trips took a long time. I had to sight-see my way through the stores to try to find everything on my list. Sometimes the packaging is so different, it's hard to recognize the product or the stock is arranged in a different way - another challenge. Who would put coffee filters near the plastic bags and wraps and not with the coffee? Not me! 

A very good idea that we've seen all over Europe is the carts chained together. A token or coin must be inserted to release a cart. Return the cart and recover the token or coin. There are never parking lots over run with grocery carts. Produce is weighed by the customer. You have to check the code number on the display and then choose that number at the scale. Forgot to weigh? There is a scale near the cashiers, but rest assured eyes will roll at you.

And about those cashiers...they stay seated and do not help bag your groceries. There is a divider on their counter. Your groceries go on one side and you have to bag them. It's a sad day if you're not done before the person after you is done. Then the cashier has no place to put the next customer's choices. Of course, if she helped you...

There have been many days when I go to both of the main grocery stores in Horgen because they don't both have all the things on my list. On other days, I go to a store with better prices, but they don't have a full line of groceries so I must continue on to finish the shopping somewhere else. I've figured out how and where to find most of the things we want. Price is another problem. Meat, especially beef, is very expensive here so if we're going to France or Germany, we usually get some meat there. Obviously, all of these chores are time consuming,

Just for fun, I'll let you know about a few other ways you can get yourself into trouble.
Trains all have first class and second class areas. Obviously, first class costs more, but offers little for the expense. If you're traveling to another country, maybe it's worth it, but the local trains are not. Most days tickets are on the honor system, but you don't want to be in first class by mistake when the spot check of tickets happens. You can't just excuse yourself and move to second class - at least not without paying a fine (80 CHF per person!). Be careful when driving. If your car is beyond the white stop line at a traffic light, the fine for that is steep too. We've also been told that they are not lenient about speeding. You may get a ticket for driving just a couple kilometers above the speed limit. We use the cruise control regularly to keep us from going too fast. So far so good - we haven't been fined for doing anything wrong...yet. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Since I'm guessing most people have never heard of Sechseläuten, I'll provide a little background information.
Excerpt from Wikipedia:
The Sechseläuten is a traditional spring holiday in the Swiss city of Zurich celebrated in its current form, on the 3rd Monday of April, since the early 20th century. Additional events of the holiday also include a children's parade on the Sunday preceding the Sechseläuten, a parade of the 26 guilds in their historic dress costumes, each with its own band, most with a mounted "Reitergruppe" and horse drawn floats, and a ceremonial galloping of the mounted units of the guilds around the bonfire. It is here on Sechseläutenplatz where the "Böögg" is burnt. (a snowman effigy on top of a large pyramid sticks - so this is what they're saving firewood for???) The Böögg has a head full of fireworks. The crowd watches the for the head to explode - hoping it will be soon. A delay indicates there will be a lousy summer. (Could this be the Swiss version of Groundhog Day?) We learned recently that the name dates back to the days of old city gates. With Sechseläuten, the gates remained open until 6:00 pm (sechs) instead of closing at 5:00 (funf). 

Here the Böögg is being prepared for its demise. Men handing up wood for the bonfire.
A majority of the parade participants were men, but not all. Many women were along the route with baskets of flowers. They presented them to their men. By the end of the parade, some men were carrying a lot of flowers. This also may be a bit of a popularity contest. I'm sure the florists love this tradition.

flowers at the ready

I was not able to identify all the guilds - maybe you'll do better. Hint, not all 26 are shown here. 

This parade is only in Zurich. Every year, they invite one of the other cantons to be a guest participant. This year it was St. Gallen and everyone received small St. Gallen flags. I have to include their flag throwers. I think they need some help from my expert guard member niece, Jess.

St Gallen flag

We learned an amazing tidbit from another expat with a Swiss husband. Tickets are sold for two rows of seats on either side of the parade route. Do I want a seat? Of course I do. I just had no idea that was a choice. We were able to arrive moments before the start of the parade and our seats were empty. I was very glad for a seat - the parade lasted 3 hours! I'll admit, I got tired of it by the end of the second hour. 

The videos give you a feel for what the parade was like. The oddest thing was that it went both directions on the street - fine in the beginning before anyone was on the way home. Eventually we had groups going both ways in front of us and sometimes bands playing at the same time. "I can play louder than you can!" Unfortunately, the new groups were on the far side of the street. As we were more interested in things we hadn't seen before, the ones coming through for the second time blocked the view. Why do it this way? I have no idea.


Monty Python?


bakers with giant "zopf"


very popular fellows

 This group was giving out dates (the fruit!).

wine press

Yes, they were actually giving out small plastic cups of wine. I didn't get any because I was too busy with the camera but a few in our group did. Other guilds were throwing candy, oranges or rolls!

      Not to miss an opportunity to make money, one of the local chocolatiers was even selling chocolate  Bööggs. They certainly weren't worth the asking price (which I've forgotten), but they allowed me to take a picture. 

      Finally the parade ended, and a large crowd headed over to Sechseläutenplatz and the Böögg. Everyone was curious about how long it would burn. We weren't able to get a good view since we were certainly not the first there. I'm guessing plenty of people didn't bother with the parade and just waited for the bonfire. Unfortunately, it was the slowest since 1988 (40 minutes which did get a bit boring) and doesn't bode well for our weather - I'm choosing to not be superstitious and hope for the best.  (Photos thanks to Teri Mason and the local paper on the following day.  )

      Luckily, it was a beautiful sunny day. It was fun to be out and participate in another Swiss festival. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Easter in Budapest

I would guess that most people in Switzerland do not attend church. Nevertheless, religious holidays are plentiful even in the non-Catholic cantons. Tom's office was closed on both Good Friday and "Easter Monday" (day after Easter) which made for a 4 day weekend. We were called to go.....somewhere! We originally hoped to go to Istanbul, but being farther south (and warmer) and having much Christian history, it is a popular Easter destination. By the time we looked, it was crazy expensive. We quickly abandoned that plan and headed to Budapest instead which was also on our list of places to explore. We found it to be similar to Vienna and Prague - no shortage of beautiful buildings.

Sadly, the weather was again not our friend. We were forced to explore in the cold rain. One afternoon we got lucky and it was a very welcome change. 

I started this entry about 3 weeks ago. Now so much more has happened... I better get this finished! I'm sure everyone is curious - what will come next?

Budapest has the largest synagogue in Europe. Sadly, it was also Passover so we could only view it from the outside and go in the attached museum.  It was also impossible to get a decent picture of it from the street in the rain so yes, this is a postcard.

every leaf is engraved with a name of someone lost in the Holocaust

hats made from the Torah and clothes made from prayer shawls = sick!

Nighttime views of Buda look better at night than in the cloudy daytime sky.

Royal Palace - now museums

Parliament Building - notice long line on the right side. Guests can only enter as part of a tour. Very inefficient way of selling tickets - we waited 30-45 minutes while watching English and German tours be crossed off the list of available options for the morning. We opted to scrap the idea and move on.

St. Stephen's Basilica
Basilica interior

Bridge over the Danube between Buda and Pest which we crossed on foot several times


Are we still in Switzerland?

or maybe in the US?

near Downton Abbey with Branson waiting?

funicular up to the palace

don't move!

official residence also known as Sandor Palace

There happened to be a Spring festival in the Royal Palace courtyard while we were there. It was fun to see food and wares for sale and folk dances. The food was out in the open and not wrapped. Not exactly what we're used to.

Specialty bread product cooks while rotating on a spit.  When done, you can choose toppings of cinnamon, chocolate or nuts. We opted for cinnamon and nuts which they put on two different sections of the roll instead of combining. I assume the cocoa powder was sweetened, but we'll never know.

not bad, but definitely for outdoor eating only - very messy

Is long, braid-able hair a requirement or dance ability?
Here are some short video excerpts of folk dances with and without instrumental accompaniment:


We actually watched the women with only their voices as accompaniment after the others and it seemed really dull in contrast. 

Hungarian bagpipe?

now you can see why we rode the funicular up!

How can an April Fool's baby not be silly?

Happy Birthday Tom!
Trip highlight: Bach's St. Matthew Passion at the Budapest Opera House! There were "subtitles" like at an opera, but shown on a screen high above the chorus and other visuals accompanying the text. That was our church service for Easter 2013. Would be hard to beat.

Budapest Opera House


interesting - sip hot wine while driving?

Hot chocolate was tasty and very hot. It was also served in a glass without a handle. I had to wrap my napkin around the glass to drink it. Not the best plan.

Parliament on the Pest side

Fisherman's Bastion, or the best place to get views of the Pest side of the city.

did I mention it was raining?

Matyas Church - never went inside because there were services in progress

This is what the Hungarians think tourists want to buy - they were everywhere:

 EGGS! Some displays nicer than others.


Not sure what you're supposed to do with these plastic peppers....

Heard of House of Hungarian Wines? We hadn't either, but it was fun to taste their wine and it was warm and dry inside - a bonus! One dessert wine purchased to bring home.


fun colorful phone booth

Tom made some new friends


Cave Church

Finally, we got some sun before we left.

Even with sun, it was still cold and windy, especially on the bridge. I wore my hood most of the time and then had no peripheral vision. Note to self - always bring a hat when traveling between October and April. It would be nice to visit Budapest with better weather conditions, but it may never again be so high on our list of places to go.