Tag Archives: Switzerland

Zurich Sechseläuten

16 Apr

Today the city of Zürich celebrates the special and old tradition of Sechseläuten, and as a result, I am celebrating only having to spend a half day in the office!

The Sechseläuten tradition might seem a little bit odd, especially if you wander down to just outside the Opera House at 6pm today and don’t realise what is happening. A snowman will be sitting proudly on top of a huge wood pile. But the snowman will not be smiling for long. At 6pm sharp – this is Switzerland after all – the wood is lit and the crowds will anxiously wait for the head of the snowman, which is packed full of firecrackers, to explode. It is said that the time it takes between the fire being lit and the head exploding will be an indication of how good the summer will be. The faster the time, the better.

The snowman (which in Swiss German is called the Böögg) represents winter and the ritual burning is a way to “get rid” of the winter and get ready for spring.

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After the actual event, locals make use of the embers of the fire and grill sausages and meat before heading home. But only if the weather is good!

While working in Switzerland, I have only been to see the event live in 2016. My first job in Switzerland was outside of the city, so I had to work the full day. 2016 was a disastrous year. It was the first year for the new Bööggmeister (the man who builds the snowman), after the previous one had retired. It took the head 43 minutes and 34 seconds to explode, which was the longest time it has taken to explode on record. The weather was wet and it had rained the night before. When it became clear that the wood was not catching fire, the organisers began to pour petrol on it; otherwise, I have the feeling that we would still be waiting for the head to explode now.

For this reason, and even though I am free to go and watch the event in person, I will be staying away. I already have the feeling that I am a bit of a jinx because of the long time that was recorded in 2016. I will be watching from the safety of my sofa as the event will be covered live on Swiss TV.

Keep your fingers crossed that head explodes quickly and the summer will be good!

Back to reality

7 Apr

Sorry for the recent radio silence. This week I have been pushed into the deep end and I am fully immersed in the world of work and life back at home. This week has been business as usual: I’m back in German lessons twice a week, I skipped the writing club this week to meet up with some friends and, suddenly, it is the weekend again.

My first day in work I was absolutely dreading. For the record, a six week break is not a good preparation for starting another job. On the train into work, I was thinking about all the things that I would be missing out on doing at home: reading, drinking tea, having a nap and watching Judge Rinder in the afternoon. But it wasn’t long before these thoughts were a distant memory and I had Excel spreadsheets back on my mind.

The bad thing about working in Finance (and there are a lot to choose from so it is a tough decision to make) is that the beginning of the month is the busiest time. It is also the time when you normally start your job. I have had so much information thrown at me that, by the end of the day, my head has been spinning.

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It’s always interesting to see how things are versus what you were actually told in the interview. Interestingly, this is where our travels in South America have been very useful – nothing shocks me anymore. It is clear that this job will keep me busy and I will not be able to say that I am bored at any point. The best thing is that I know that I can make a contribution in this job, in a way that I wasn’t able to in my last job. I think it will be rewarding and hectic at the same time.

I have enjoyed being in the centre of the city and being able to go out for lunchtime or going for a walk along the river, when the weather has been good. It’s also nice that the company is a lot smaller and there are mini-perks, like fresh fruit is delivered twice a week to the office and tea and coffee is free. It is a different feel to the company but one which reminds me of the first big company that I worked for.

It’s now the weekend and I am taking time to recover from getting back to work. I was beginning to think that next week would be easier because I have already adjusted to working life, until I realised that this week was only a four day week. Oh well, perhaps next week will be even worse. Who knows? For now, I will enjoy the weekend. I hope your weekend is as relaxing as I am hoping mine will be!

Testing times

10 Feb

On the first Wednesday of February each year, the sirens are tested across Switzerland. Even though the testing is publicised in the newspaper, radio and television to remind people that it is just a test, I had completely forgotten this week until the piercing sounds rang out at about lunchtime. The sirens last for about one minute and sounds about as apocolyptic as it gets. I have no idea what tourists think when suddenly all of the sirens begin.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like to be alive in the blitz and to hear these sirens again and again, day after day. I also find it about surprising that a country that hasn’t been to war in over 500 years feels the need to have a general alert signal but we have nothing like this back in England. I guess we would have to just rely on social media and the BBC to tell us if a state of emergency had been declared.

In the current political climate, it is easy to see why such practices still take place. Virtually every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is check the news to make the rest of the world hasn’t been destroyed by one of our world leaders accidentally pressing a button that they shouldn’t have.

When my friend came to stay last weekend, she was surprised that we had a nuclear bunker built into the house. The entire population of Switzerland can be accomodated in nuclear bunkers with a reinforced steel door, if the need arises. This might seem paranoid but people in the UK were still building nuclear bunkers into the 1980s. The bunkers are also checked periodically as well. Inside they have a built-in radio so that messages can be relaid about what it happening and when it is safe to leave the bunker.

Our nuclear bunker is actually what we use as a basement now. So, if we did have to go down there and shelter, we would be sharing the space with ski equipment, bikes, recycling that needs to be taken to the recycling centre and a nice collection of wine. I remain hopeful that these things are like travel insurance: you have it just in case but you never have to use it. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Weekend Wanderings

31 Jan

It already seems like the weekend was an age ago. I had a visitor staying with me over the weekend so things were a bit full on. My friend, Jenny, who I have been friends with for longer than I can remember, arrived on Friday lunchtime. I always enjoy having people to come and stay with me because it means that I get to take some time off work and show people the sights and do things I wouldn’t normally do.

After she arrived and we had had lunch, we caught the train to Zürich’s very own mountain, Uetliberg (all 800 meters of it!). From the top, you can get a great view of the whole city – from the airport to the city centre to the lake. I have been many times with many people and, obviously, the view is heavily dependent on the weather. Although it wasn’t the best weather I have seen while I was up there – that honour goes to my brother, who visited in August 2016 when the weather was just phenomenal – it was still impressive.

After a short walk and a quick beer while we waited for the train, we went to the FIFA Football Museum. I haven’t been there before and I have heard mixed reviews about it. I had also heard that they were thinking about closing it down because they don’t have enough visitors. I was pleasantly surprised. There is a lot of memorabila from past World Cups, the actual World Cup that will be presented to the winning team later this year and some great interactive games as well.

At the end of the tour, you can test out your football skills in five different games. Apart from a mum or two, we were the only women there. One man even said to me, after I had completely one of the skills tests with 100% score, “Wow, fair play to you, that was excellent.” Comments like that make me wonder if some men are even aware that women are now entitled to vote! Patronising comments or not, I would recommend the Museum, if ever you are in the area.

We headed home for a Raclette dinner, a few beers and an early-ish night because on Saturday we were up and out to go to visit Mount Rigi in Central Switzerland. Jenny really wanted to see snow but there hasn’t been any in the city for weeks so we had to head high up into the mountains.

The weather on the way up was making me nervous. It was so foggy and it was virtually impossible to see anything out of the train window as we made our way up. At the top it was even worse. I have been to the mountain before but the visibility was so terrible that I couldn’t even find my barrings to navigate our way to the top.

Finally, the fog and the cloud lifted slightly and we (very carefully) made our way to the top over treacherous black ice. The top was incredible. You had to be careful because the snow was so deep that the fences that prevent you from falling over the side of the mountain were completely buried. The top reminded me a little bit of how I imagine the surface of the moon to be. The snow was so compact that it looked like there were craters in places. Plenty of people were also falling over because they only had trainers on but luckily we had sturdy footwear.

I was losing hope that the fog would lift and we would be able to see the Alps. All of a sudden, the sky was crystal clear and the white tops of the mountain were radiant against the backdrop of the blue sky. We spent a while appreciating the view and taking pictures. Seeing Jenny’s utter delight at the mountains reminded me of how lucky I am to live here and for these sights to be right on my doorstep.

After a very gingerly descent down the mountain (but at least it was clear now), we had a bite to eat and headed back down the mountain to go to Lucerne, a place that Jenny has not been before but where I have been several times.

We had a wander around the city, which I always think is completely arresting and so quiet. We arrived at 4pm and noticed that a lot of the shops had already shut. People often complain that shops close early in Zürich but they are definitely open later than that. I do think that it is good that shop staff aren’t expected to work for the whole weekend but it just seems a little too early to me. I did wonder if the companies ever wonder about how much money they have lost through shutting early. They probably don’t give it a second thought; this is Switzerland. Everyone has enough money.

We decided to have one beer in a British pub and see if the football was on. Two football matches and a few-more-than-one beers later, we headed home.

Sunday was more relaxed. We watched the Australian Open final and then had a short walk around where I live. We managed to see some Red Kites, Buzzards and even a little Woodpecker. Jenny got some cracking photos of these too!

It was then time to go to the airport and the weekend was, once again, over far too soon.

World Snow Festival 2018

19 Jan

Today I had a day off and, rather than spending the day at home not doing very much, I decided to get out of the house and explore some of Switzerland. If I am brutally honest, I haven’t explored Switzerland half as much as I would like to. It was the perfect opportunity to start to rectify this.

Completely by chance, I saw what this week the World Snow Festival was being held in Grindelwald. So, I decided to head out to see it. It took quite a few train changes to get there but, as I had the whole day to myself, it didn’t really matter. The information on the website was that there were 14 international teams who would be entering. Their task was to make sculptures from snow. The public and a panel of judges could vote for their favourite.

I was quite surprised by how much snow there was as I was heading away from Zurich. Even though it was colder, it was still possible to see a small bit of blue sky poking through the clouds and by the early afternoon the skies were beginning to brighten slightly.

After finally arriving at my final destination, I was more than a bit disappointed. When you hear the word Festival, certain images come to mind, like activities to do and see as well as sights, smells and sounds. The Festival itself was located at the main bus stop next to the train station in Grindelwald. The sculptures were just dotted out where people were waiting for their bus.

And that was it. No more information apart from the information that the teams had written about what they had built and the obligatory plea to beg you to vote for them. It wasn’t clear to me where you could actually vote. No one from the tourist board or the team was there to give more information about the competition. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. So I didn’t vote.

The Slovakian team would have got my vote. Here is their entry.

Yes, it is Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel, from IceAge who spends his life chasing after an elusive acorn; completely inspired choice of entry! I have no idea how they made it or how long it took but hats off to them.

It struck me that this was a real shame that something that is published on the official Swiss Tourism website isn’t a bit better organised and there aren’t any engaging activities for visitors.

Tonight is the prize giving for the winners so I would imagine that the atmosphere then is a lot different. It could just be that I went at the wrong time. Also it isn’t like Grindelwald is scrapping the barrel for visitors. People flock there every day because it really is stunning. See this photo that I took at the train station before I left to see what I mean.

Article writing

10 Jan

As part of my increasingly desperate attempt to forge a career of some sort in the world of writing, I have started to write articles for my friend’s tea website. I noticed that the blog section of the website hadn’t been updated in a while, so I asked (rather cheekily) if I could write some articles for him. I was delighted that he said yes! After 35 years on this planet, I am finally beginning to understand that the phrase “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” has more than a grain of truth to it.

I never knew that tea was so complicated and how many different types of tea there are. I have had to do quite a bit of research about tea because, apart from liking to drink it by the bucketful, I didn’t know too much about it. There are some very technical aspects to brewing tea, which have been fascinating to learn.

At first I was hoping that I would be able to write about one to two articles per week but work and other commitments very easily get in the way. It’s also easy to make excuses to not write anything. Slowly, I am learning to get into the habit and I am finding that I have more and more ideas about what to write and what people might like to read and learn about tea.

However, I am still writing a bit less than I was hoping to but at least I am writing something. The feedback is that the articles seems to be well received by people on social media and the website, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

Now, here comes the plug. If you are interested in having high quality teas delivered directly to your door, then you should definitely check out Tèaura. First founded in Zürich, Switzerland, all of the teas have been hand-selected from Taiwan, China, Japan and South Africa and can now be shipped worldwide. There is also a UK-based website (www.teaura.co), if you are based outside of Switzerland.

If you look hard enough, you might also find something written by yours truly.

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Photo Credit: Jamie McKee @ Tèaura

Good Luck for the year ahead!

2 Jan

Although I have been in Switzerland for New Year for the last three years, this year I learnt something new about what charms the Swiss think will bring good luck.

I went to a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve, where there was, what I can only describe as paraphernalia, to help predict what the year ahead will bring. This was a spoon, small bits of metal (which type I am not sure), a candle and a bowl of water. The basic idea is that you put a piece of the metal on the spoon and heat this over the candle. When the metal is melted, you pour the molten liquid into the water. The shape that the metal makes is then a prediction of what will happen to you for the next year. There is a small interpretation book provided, so you can check out the meanings.

My form looked like a rain drop or a meteor. These shapes weren’t described in the interpretation booklet so I settle for on it looking like a ball. This means that I should play more sport in the upcoming year. This is probably a fair assessment and much more preferable than what the two other options could signify: namely, spending a lot more time in the rain or the end of the world as we know it is right around the corner.

I have never seen or heard of this before, but the kits are available in the local supermarkets. It was interesting to see how many different forms and shapes were made. Of course, it is just a bit of fun but at a party, it was an interesting ice-breaker.

I was also handed a miniature figure of a chimney sweep. Apparently, in Germany and Switzerland, the chimney sweep is a very lucky symbol – a bit like a four-leaf clover. I think that this was doubly lucky for me because I was given the figure by an actual chimney sweep.

img_9896As I had never heard of the connection of luck with a chimney sweep before, I decided to do a bit of research on the Internet before. Because, as is often the case, when I asked why a chimney sweep has a connection to good luck in Switzerland and Germany, no one could actually give me an answer. I was met with a shrug, a blank facial expression and the answer “I’m not really sure. We just always hand them out at this time of year.”

So, I found out that a chimney sweep is good luck for purely pragmatic reasons. If a chimney was blocked, it meant that you would not be able to cook anymore and so you would have to get the chimney sweep to come round. Once the flue was cleaned, you could carry on eating again. Hurray! It also meant that there was less chance of the house catching fire because of the soot stuck in the chimney.

I think the connection is completely charming. It is a shame that this is a profession which is possibly in decline, as we tend not to have houses with fire places, as we did in the olden days. But through the giving of these charms the legend will live on for generations to come.

I am a firm believer in the phrase that you make your own luck, but it still nice to have a few good luck charms tucked away just in case.