Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Swiss Silliness

The Swiss can be perceived as a serious people who are most concerned with rules and punctuality. From what I can see, there is truth to that, but they also have a very silly side exhibiting a "joie de vivre". Oops, French again. I should say "Lebensfreude". Gorgeous autumn days are perfect for festivals involving pumpkins and cows. The first was the Pumpkin Regatta held next to a farm in Seegräben.

Jucker Farm

We arrived at the farm well in advance of the race leaving us plenty of time to explore. Not surprisingly, their decorations were made from members of the squash family.

not exactly a player piano, but there was music coming from inside!

beautiful spot
This was advertised as a regatta which is a boat race, right? We didn't come early enough to see the pumpkins morph into boats, but here are some before they were launched.

pumpkin iceberg with Titanic

one of the three frogs

dinosaur egg

The event was free. I'm sure they were counting on people buying food to eat there and/or take home. We did both. One lunch option was to buy a wurst or two and cook them yourself. We opted for the others that they cooked. Since it was pumpkin themed, I had to try some of the pumpkin soup which was warmed in the pot over an open fire. I met pumpkin seed oil for the first time. A few drops of that added to the soup is delicious.

I wonder if anyone knows how many pumpkins (even to the nearest hundred) and other squash were for sale or used in the displays. It was impressive! We bought a few squash and a bottle of pumpkin seed oil. 
these look like geese!

for carving

there isn't only one color of spaghetti squash!
They even had pumpkin flavored prosecco. Without free samples, we didn't buy any. Sounds a bit odd and frightening to me!

Sometime, probably while we were having lunch, the boats were taken down to the water.  (another pretty spot in Switzerland) Eventually the paddlers arrived, each with a helper. Getting into the boats was no easy task!

getting in without capsizing deserves a prize
rescue boat - just in case

on your mark,

race is underway

heading toward the finish line


Last year we discovered the annual "Kuhrennen" (cow running or cow race) while Karen and Colleen were visiting us. With fabulous weather predicted, we opted to go again and bring some friends along to share in an amusing afternoon. We knew the scenery would not disappoint.
cable car ride up to Flumserberg
I'm with Marisel, another American transplant

plenty of other folks came

Spectacular - does it get better than this?

We took a short walk up for these views. It was fun to look down on the "race track".

This year's festivities included a parade of tractors. Why? Who knows? 

These cows are innocently chewing away. Do you think they have any idea what is about to happen? 
this rider has a camera on her helmet!


Some cows needed much more encouragement than others.

nice helmet
Nope, I'm not doing that.

This cow's rider gave up and got off - the cow walked in the opposite direction of the race! What a hoot! 

After the race, we were treated to a short performance by some alphorn players. I still haven't had a chance to try one, but I hope to while we're here.

These are very big bells with harnesses for human carriers! Signaling the start of the race, the bells were carried and we could hear them. Because of the topography, we couldn't see exactly where they were going. On the way home, we saw them collecting the bells possibly to take home. 

recognize us?

Fred and Marisel

It's nice to know that the Swiss don't always take themselves too seriously. Their special events make for very entertaining outings for us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reflections of Year Number 2

It's time to look back on the past year and compare it to my first year here. Once again, I didn't spend anywhere close to the entire year in Switzerland. If my calendar records are accurate, I was out of Switzerland for at least part of 107 days, or 29% of the year! I visited ten countries (besides the US) including three for the first time (United Arab Emirates, Ireland and Russia). There were also trips to Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Turkey, Liechtenstein, Austria and one overnight in the United Kingdom. 

For a small fee of 3 CHF, you too can have this stamp in your passport. I'd been to Liechtenstein a few times before and finally got the stamp.

Since I'm following last year's report in this post, "cups of coffee" comes next. I can admit to having had many fewer cups of caffeinated coffee. Why? I learned how to ask whether decaf was available! I can now more comfortably go to coffee with friends without my heart racing afterwards. Why do I bother with coffee? It tastes good!

Other ways to measure the year:

Number of Swiss Festivals I witnessed: eight

September is the time for the cows to come down from the mountains for the winter. There are many opportunities to celebrate their arrival with the locals. Last September, I was lucky enough to see cows being herded down a street that was not closed for traffic. It was just a normal day near Appenzell.  (that doesn't count as a festival) We also went to an "Alpabzug" where multiple families paraded their decorated cows through town. Tom's parents were visiting at the time and it was a great way to show them some of the local color.

In October, my sister, Karen, and niece, Colleen, were with us in attendance at the kuhrennen (or running of the cows). This was a race although the cows were not enthusiastic participants. Very goofy, but entertaining to watch.

Harvest time is also the  time for the annual carrot market in Aarau.

During our brief stay in Basel in March, we witnessed three festivals that were all part of the Fasnacht celebration. First, Chienbäse in Liestal. 

Second, Morgestraich (in Basel) beginning at 4:00 am

Lastly, Basel's Fasnacht parade

The Montreux
                                    Festival takes place every July.

August 1 is Swiss National Day. It may not be an official festival, but we celebrated with the locals -  brunch on a farm.

Of these eight, only one did I see the previous year. I went to Fasnacht in Luzern in 2013 and Basel in 2014. The festivities were not exactly the same. Seven new festivals is quite an accomplishment, but I know there are more. Since I am typically in the  US in early December and again in early September, there are two festivals that I will probably never see. C'est la vie. Oops, that's French. So ist das Leben. 

Number of visitors we hosted here: six
Some people have stayed with us for a while, one we just met in Zurich and visited there for a day. Alicia doesn't count as a guest, but on her last visit one of her friends came too.

Tom's folks - Gornergrat (above Zermatt)

Colleen and Karen - between Brunnen and Fluellen

Maura and Alicia - Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Tom and Dean - Zurich

evening lap time
Number of cat sitters we have employed: six (if you include the vet!) 
Denali has spent many nights at the vet hotel. Last Fall, he was one sick puppy, I mean kitty. The vet assistant even used the "euthanasia" word with me. (I hate her now.) After many trips to see the lead vet (Dr. Daniel) and many CHF later, Denali is happy and healthy. He gets medicine daily which he takes willingly since it comes with some treats. He should eat exclusively special food, but as he is a high maintenance cat, he won't. We have to make a mixture for him. 

Denali and hydrangea both love the balcony - notice his Swiss medallion
We've been lucky to find neighbors that are willing to care for him. The girls next door were our first sitters, but as they are American expats too, they are sometimes gone at the same time we are. A young couple in our building has helped us out on one occasion. There is another young couple in the building next door. From their apartment, they can see Denali walking on the balcony. Carmelinda asked Tom at the bus stop one day, "who takes care of your cat when you're gone?" Tom's reply "are you volunteering?" She was and took care of him on two occasions. The problem with Denali is that he does not like to be left alone for long periods of time. If someone comes in to feed him and then leaves again, he will be fine physically, but not happy. This we know because in this circumstance, he pees on the couch (which we keep protected with a plastic tablecloth). I have been known to ask him if we wants to go live on the farm behind us!

Looking relaxed and content

On our last home leave trip, we had a friend's daughter stay at our apartment and commute to her job from here. We could tell Denali was happier - he did not pee on the couch the entire time Laura was here. Yay! 

Number of lemons harvested from the lemon tree on our balcony: zero
Summer 2013, the tree seemed very happy on the balcony and had several tiny lemons growing. As winter approached, we brought the tree inside and let it stand in the top of our stairwell where there is a skylight. It loved the warmth, bloomed again and was very fragrant. Sadly over the winter, it also was attacked by something which by Spring had made it very sick. We took a leaf to our favorite garden center and they were able to tell us how to bring it back to health. Now we need to ask how we should care for it this winter. In the meantime it looks healthy, but there are no lemons. 

Number of fireplaces in our apartment: two
There is a normal fireplace in our living room area and another out on the balcony. We have only used the outdoor one a few times, but it's fun to sit outside as the sun sets, have a fire burning and drink a glass of wine. 

Number of miles walked: unknown
There is a walking group every Tuesday morning that I often join. The international women's group (ZIWA) also runs half day or full day hikes that I go on when the schedule allows. Tom and I often take walks or hikes on the weekends starting right from the front door, going along the lake, or venturing further afield. Switzerland has many miles of "wanderweg" clearly marked with signs estimating the length of time to walk to the next spot. The trails are also well groomed although not many are paved.

I have spikes for my boots for winter hiking

Ann, Marisel, me

yellow diamond marks the trail

effort is rewarded with views like this

Number of hours in German class: 92 hours (many fewer)
I decided I do not want to only study the language. Going to class every weekday limits my opportunities to do other things too much. Yes, interferes with the social life. It was difficult to find a school that would offer class only two times a week during the day and not in the evening. I am happy with the school I found. They are closer to home and the maximum number of students per class is five. That's a good size. I still am not very brave about speaking, but both my reading and listening comprehension are much improved. I am not kidding myself - I know I will never be fluent. 

This group is from February - July. Our teacher is on the left. I need to take a picture of my current group where there is another student in my age bracket! That's a first.

That's an idea of what the year has been like. Switzerland is a small country, but there is still more to explore. And beyond its borders there is much more.....stay tuned.