Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Reverse Home Leave

After about seven months in the USA, we were on our way back to Switzerland.  Tom was going to attend an annual conference of Zurich Insurance's Investment Department and he wasn't going without me! We traveled a week before the conference to take the opportunity for some time to ourselves in Europe while the company paid for his airfare. 

The title of the post is "Reverse Home Leave" because that is what this trip felt like. I had to do the same juggling to try to see as many friends as possible. This required some prioritizing of people which is always tough to do and the usual running around to fit in everything and everyone.

This was the first time I traveled directly from Los Angeles to Zurich. That's a long flight! About 10 hours going to Zurich and 12 on the way back! I'd still rather stay on the plane than make the travel time even longer with a layover somewhere. 

We arrived in Zurich and while walking around familiar territory, we happened upon two quirky events. It was very refreshing to realize Switzerland hasn't changed much. Very nice of them to welcome us back this way!

The first was a gathering of a local violin club. I expect at some time they were playing their instruments, but we either missed that part or were too early. The reason for the elaborate costumes was lost on us.  

peacock hat

The second surprise was finding a jousting event - on the Limmat River!  Evidently what we saw was Zurich vs Basel. The winner was a little over enthusiastic and capsized his own boat!

not everyone happened upon this - some knew in advance

comfy pillow?
Fighting jet lag, we stayed in Zurich and spent the afternoon in one of the local museums, the Rietberg, that Tom had never been able to visit. It has an extensive permanent collection of art from many parts of the world: Asia, Africa and the Americas.  No photos were allowed, but I bought one postcard showing an example of the many headrests or pillows we saw. They're made out of very hard materials. Comfortable? I don't think so. 

I am a fan of this dancer and her group of musicians - from China, circa year 600. Wow!

It is a well-known fact that Switzerland has great hiking. There are countless trails that crisscross through the mountains and valleys. Tom and I had a couple routes in particular that we'd never been able to fit in our schedule before our move. Although the weather wasn't perfect (cloud cover), we headed out to hike the Stoos Ridge anyway and hoped the sky would clear. We didn't have flexibility in the schedule. 

chair lift

As the name indicates, we were going to walk along a ridge; therefore, we had to get up there. We made our way to the trail via both a cable car and chair lift. This time I was able to exit the chair lift without the trouble I had on my previous attempt. (no fall, but no grace either)

going into the clouds!

Since I don't love heights, maybe it's just as well I couldn't see much below the ridge. It may have been very scary!

The weather didn't cooperate for scenic views at the start of the day, but the wildflowers were definitely out in force. So much variety, but no edelweiss!

Groomed trails and trail markers like these is what we miss - Switzerland really spoiled us.

clouds trying to clear

As mentioned, trails are well maintained, but it wasn't ideal to be hiking while it was under renovation. All the loose rocks made for challenging footing. We were very glad we had our sticks with us.

Finally, we got the views we were hoping for!

We're just about at the end of our hike in the picture below. We got more than we expected from the altitude changes. It wasn't a dramatic difference, but what we didn't realize was that the trail went up and down repeatedly. By the end, my knee was seriously complaining. Actually, it was ready to stop before we were at the end, but I had to make my way back to the chair lift anyway. 

how did that car get there?


Going back down, we had clear skies. This little church is in the village where we started our chair lift ride.

after hike
before hike

One of the surprises of this trip was at a restaurant in Zurich after the hike. A Swiss family came in with three sons in ages somewhere between 10-15 years. All three of them were wearing NJ Devils caps!! Curiosity overcame me and I couldn't just let it go. I had to go up to their table, ask why they were wearing these caps and tell them we were also Devils fans. I already knew that the Devils had earned the lucky spot (by having a horrible record) of choosing the first NHL draft pick. This was the first year that the first draft pick honor went to a Swiss hockey player. Remember this name: Nico Hischier. We're hoping for great things from him! We learned that these boys were Nico's cousins! There had been an event in Switzerland that day celebrating Nico's achievement. The cousins all attended and received autographed caps. 

mealtime conversation
Before it was time for the conference, we took a short trip up to Germany to visit Opa, Tom's host father from so many years ago. He is definitely family. He has led the lonely life of a widower since Oma's death 6 years ago. There are no plans when we go to Krahwinkel other than to "hang out". I do a lot of cooking to give Opa a break from his normal routine and to leave a few things in his freezer. The rest of the time is spent chatting - he loves to talk! 

Opa is a good provider for the neighborhood birds

On our way to the Cologne airport, we stopped off for a short visit with Hartmut and Inge Handt who we've known for about 30 years. Hartmut stayed with us many times when our church in Westfield hosted a visiting German choir. It's lucky for us that that Handts live in Cologne and are convenient to visit when we're going to see Opa. 

Hartmut is wearing a shirt given to him by the Westfield choir some 40 years ago! The design is the monogram for JS Bach. 

Unfortunately, our first and only hike did my knee in for the rest of the trip! I had to try to avoid stairs and walk more slowly than my normal pace. We had to forego our other planned hike and I made some other changes in my schedule as well.

One scenic town we hadn't had time to visit before moving away is Thun (pronounced tune) - it was a priority on this trip.

is this cow embarrassed by the headdress?

We weren't able to visit Thun during their Ausschiesset festival, but having been to other Swiss festivals, we can imagine what it would be like. Their local folk hero is Fulehung and not surprisingly, there is a statue of him in the town. During the festival, he chases people armed with pig's bladders and a wooden club! Nice guy! Another part of the festival is a crossbow shooting competition.

Walking through the town, we happened upon a house where shooters stand aiming at targets on the other side of the street. I suspect this is just the practice location and the competition would be held somewhere with a larger viewing area.

crossbows shoot out of windows on the right side of photo

targets across the street (and castle)
ready, aim, shoot!
girl removes arrows from targets
Another surprise of the day was watching people surf! What? Switzerland is a land-locked country! Right, but Thun has a river with a sluice to control the water flow. It creates a small area with waves. It was very strange to watch this urban surfing.

I suspect we may see some more impressive moves in California or Hawaii some day.

Like so many towns, there is a castle and of course, it is at the top of a hill. I didn't enjoy the stairs up and down, but I'm glad I soldiered on. 

 Displays inside the castle:

stages of wood carving


view from the castle

It was a warm day and I decided it was worth putting my feet in the water. I didn't sit there very long - the concrete was too hot.

After our day in Thun, we celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary with dinner. We chose the restaurant particularly because it is part of a hotel management school. We knew the wait staff would provide some amusing moments as they always did at the Culinary Institute. They did not disappoint us and the food was good too!

While living in Switzerland, we had the pleasure of getting to know the Hunold family. I have a relationship with both of the kids separate from their mom. Luca and I sat next to each other in the Posaunenchor and played a duet together on my last Sunday with them. Laura is one of the German experts in the conversation group I attended. Luca was involved in a youth music competition conveniently taking place while we were in town. We went with the family to listen to some of the groups and then spent the rest of the day together. 

Luca's group, although he was not marching

Erich and Petra Hunold

me with Laura, my Swiss daughter


Luca's wind ensemble

We forgot to take a group picture until Petra drove us back to our hotel - Erich wasn't with us because there weren't enough seats in the car.

Luca, Laura, Petra and us

After a week together, Tom had to go back to work. I went off to my old German conversation group, neglecting to take any pictures, but had a nice visit anyway. It was tough speaking German. I do read in German so as not to forget, but rarely speak. The three days in Germany was the most I had spoken German in over six months. 

I met a friend for lunch which gave us a good chance to catch up. Again, no photo of us, but I took one in the women's restroom! I admit to having never seen a female urinal before and it came complete with instructions! I did NOT test it. Too much information?

After all that excitement, I had to go back to my hotel to recover a bit. (Wimbledon on TV was also another good reason.) Typical for this time of year, my former Posaunenchor was playing at a local nursing home. We usually performed three or four short concerts in the early summer. I met them at the nursing home and joined the audience. It was fun to see everyone again - some were surprised, but others knew to expect me. Afterwards, there was a barbecue at the tuba player's place. This picture was taken last September while I was still part of the group.  

Tuesday, I planned to join my former walking group which continues weekly, rain or shine. My knee was improving, but it was still not back to normal. I opted to just meet friends for the social part and skip the walking - good compromise!?!

Another "must" for this visit was to go back to our old neighborhood in Horgen. For four plus years, our view was marked by a burned out house. Every guest asked about it. Normally, I tried to avoid the eyesore when taking pictures of the mountains or a sunrise. Here you can see how the roof is open to the elements. Nearly a year before we left, most of the property was cleared and stanchions were installed indicating the size of a new structure. No work started before we left (we didn't suffer from the noise), but I knew from one of our former neighbors that construction had finally begun. I was curious and took the short excursion to see for myself.

view from our balcony after trees were cleared
electrical wires strung safely over the street
crane in view as I approached

looks much bigger - maybe four units instead of single family home

I also went to check our old building just to make sure - it's really not home anymore.  (therefore, I can't get a view of the construction from the balcony)

To make the day complete, a friend hosted an "apero" at her place while I was in town. It was very kind of her to provide a place to gather (and food and drink).

Catherine, our hostess, and Pat

back: Pat, me, Eva, Monika, Vicky; front: Sheila, Catherine, Karen

I wanted to see my tennis friends, but I didn't want to bring clothes and equipment for play. That ended up being a lucky choice with my knee issues. The group was meeting for doubles play and afterwards we would all have lunch together. Pat (who you may recognize from the pictures above) came to hang out with me since she is still recovering from a partial knee replacement. We had fun both chatting and watching the game (with a little commentating on the side). 

Helen, Margaret, Pat, Petra and Deb

One of my special friends from living in Switzerland is Eva. We spent most of a day together eventually arriving back in Zurich. We remembered to take a picture together when we were shopping for chocolate at Laderach! Seemed appropriate.


Fridays were often spent on half-day hikes led by Veronica. Well, again, I decided to pass on the hike to give my knee more time to recover. What should I do with my day? I hadn't been to the Zurich zoo since they opened the "new" elephant enclosure and it wasn't so new anymore. I have a friend who volunteers there, but she was out of town. The Hunolds were in town and usually go to the zoo once a year. What a bonus to be able to have two days with them. Tom and Erich weren't around this time, but we managed to have a great day anyway. 

penguins - Sarah's favorite

new enclosure is very nice - especially with baby
Petra, Luca and Laura were all tolerant of the big cats calling to me to come visit them. Someday I may get to see them in their real habitat if we humans don't destroy it all.
sleepy tiger

Denali's relation

red panda - Alicia's favorite

The red panda was moving around a lot as he/she ate an apple. These animals seem to either be hiding or very active. I like the active version better - they're very entertaining.

What are you looking at?
After a very fun day, we said "Auf Wiedersehen" again. I look forward to seeing them again sometime, somewhere.

This is definitely a recurring theme, but it is the truth. On our last full day in Switzerland for 2017, we decided to forego the "five lake hike" that we planned (2018 hopefully?) and instead went to explore Schaffhausen. It is a town on the Rhine near the German border.

Schaffhausen is known to have a large number of oriels - a vocabulary word I learned by living in Switzerland. ("An oriel window is a form of bay window which projects from the main wall of a building, but does not reach to the ground." Wikipedia) Here are some examples:

A typical site were plenty of interesting fountains. Something we miss when traveling anywhere else in the world is the Swiss fountains because the water is potable. We only need to carry a small water bottle and keep refilling it. When we went to the local museum of the city later in the day, we saw the originals of some of these fountains. Replicas are in use outdoors.


We found a walking tour to follow which led us to these sites:

Above the town is a fortress called the Munot which is surrounded by vineyards - we've actually had some wine from the region. There were many stairs to climb to get there, but I made it.


replica of the Munot inside it

view of Schaffhausen from the Munot

the Munot by postcard


 On the train back to Zurich, we had some great views of the Rheinfalls.

It was definitely fun to go back and felt a lot like going home. I'm very glad I was able to join Tom this year because after it's been 18 months away, it may be a very different experience. 

Before I close, I'll add one tidbit. I'm very used to the green crosses in Europe indicating apotheke (or pharmacies). The green cross in California is outside shops that sell marijuana. Not exactly the same thing.