Monday, December 27, 2010

pre Christmas Fun

Monday 25th December 2010


Greg and I, who generally go to no Christmas parties, managed two this year. About 80 people were at the ETH (technical university) party, mostly students or post docs.  The food was catered and Greg was in charge of the wine. (Great job, Greg!) The party got rowdy and I found myself dancing for the first time in years. Thanks to the wine consumed, I discovered I still have the moves. The second party was a dinner with the Sousos group (small start-up company Greg is working with). I was the only spouse there and I have to admit, I felt decidedly out of my league. Later, I explained my feelings of inadequacy to Katie and she pointed out, "Of course you did - they're all somewhere around the genius level!" That made me feel better ... I think.

There wasn't much snow here, in spite of the fact that Paris and London, Ontario, were among the parts of the world that were inundated with the white stuff. It was really important to me that there be snow for Katie and Heath's visit: after all, this is Switzerland!  The snow gods complied and by Thursday morning, when we met Katie and Heath at the airport, there was a decent amount on the ground.
Katie made a snow angel and together we built a snowman in the back yard ...and a very dapper young fellow he was!

Heath was felled by lack of sleep and post traumatic stress syndrome (he'd just completed a chemistry course). While he slept, Greg and Katie and I walked downtown to puruse the Christmas markets.

 Eating was a big part of the pre-holiday visit. We ate copious amounts of chocolate, soup that I made (yes, friends, I am finally bothering to cook and I make a mean soup), cheese fondue, pizza and pastry. We had a great lunch at a Lebanese restaurant.

One thing I really like about Zurich is that there always seems to be something going on. The night of the Sousos dinner, there was a special event for children where they put candles on about 800 paper boats and the fire department released them in the Lematt River. Jemolie, a large pricey department store, sponsors a free "Santa" tram - complete with Santa Claus and angels - for the kids.  One of the young guys at ETH invited Greg to join him in a marathon: run five kilometers and drink three liters of beer.  Downtown, there is the "Singing Christmas tree" devorated with live singers.  One night we wandered around downtown in a true winter wonderland. Suddenly, a runner dressed in spandex with a headlight on his head ran past us holding a sheet of paper. As we walked, we saw several more runners: all with headlights, all holding a sheet of paper, and all running in different directions. Zurich is pretty surreal at times.

This blur is my best shot at a runner - those suckers were FAST!
 Of course, cold winter weather is fine as long as you're dressed warmly.

... except for Heath who still whined about the cold ... in spite of about ten layers of winter clothes. Wimp!

We made sure we didn't sit too near him on the tram - in case the Swiss authorities thought he was a terrorist.

Katie and I did, of course, complete our traditional Christmas puzzle and then we bought a game of Monopoly for about $90. (Hey! I keep telling you Zurich is expensive.)  The game featured Zurich places and the cards were written in German. Fortunately, it seems our son-in-law spent his entire childhood playing the game because he could determine from just a printed word or two what each card said. The first game should be entered in the Guiness Book of Records as the world's shortest Monopoly game:  Heath triumphed in about 8 minutes flat. He's not a very gracious winner.

Saturday morning, we took the kids to our favorite market - now much reduced because of the cold weather.  I may have complained when my family made me buy the cheap "old lady" cart but I have to admit it's held up beautifully.

All too soon, it was time for the kids to return home.  At least I still had the snowman to remind me of our good times.

Or did I?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Market Strassbourg France

9 December 2010

After the last trip, I swear I'm going to paddle a canoe across the ocean rather than fly.
It was an exhausting trip to the States for Thanksgiving. 20 Nov flew Zurich-Atlanta-Jacksonville. Four days later it was JAX-ATL-Los Angeles-Fresno CA and then drive an hour to Visalia.  Three days later back in the plane Fresno-Salt Lake City-ATL-JAX arriving around 7 pm and then the next morning getting up and driving to the airport for JAX-ATL-Zurich (over night). What were we thinking???

The morning after we got back from our Thanksgiving marathon, I got up bright and early to hop a bus with the American Women's Club of Zurich for a two and a half hour drive to Strasbourg, France, to enjoy both their Christmas Markets and the beautiful old town. I thought I would be snoring before the bus got out of the parking lot but the pleasure of seeing new friends again combined with nonstop conversation with my seat mate Samantha ensured that I was wide awake for the whole trip. On the bus Cathy, a native of Nice, gave us some great advice on where to go - oops! better make that places to visit!

Strasbourg is a wonderfully preserved old city nestled against Germany. 

 As Dottie, Laurie and I were walking down the very busy pedestrian street toward the cathedral, a tiny puppy wandered into the people stream. People were exclaiming and trying to avoid it but I knew all it would take was a misplaced step to seriously injure the little guy. So, of course, I dropped my pullcart, causing several people to stumble over the road hazard, and scooped up the puppy.  I was wondering how I could hide him in our no-pet apartment when the owner came up, beaming, with a puppy twin in his arms. I wanted to smack him for being so irresponsible but took his picture instead. Here it is - fuzzy - but it does show what a cute factor was at work here.

We wandered around the stalls in the old square in front of the cathedral and then ventured inside. The exterior is stunning with its red bricks and a tower that can be spotted peaking over the buildings and streets throughout the old town. But the interior is breathtaking with its stained glass windows, soaring spaces, tapestries, a glockenspiel (Yup! Right inside the church) and intricate stone carving. There was also a nativity scene with some surprising elements like an elephant and some additions that were clearly out of scale with the whole.

Laurie and Dottie were meeting a cousin for lunch so I begged off their invitation to join them and set out on my own for a serious quest for confit de canard which Greg hasn't been able to find in Zurich. I visited "La Petite France" - a charming fairybook setting near the cathedral - and found a stall selling black truffles. I bought one that was slightly larger than a large walnut for about $24.00. That might sound like a lot of money for a fungus but it's actually a really good price for these delicacies and I knew Greg would be thrilled to get it.  I went to Monoprix, the French equivalent of our grocery stores Migros or Coop. The prices there were much cheaper than here in Zurich and I loaded my pullcart with duck breast, pate and confit de canard. I knew I didn't  need to worry about the food going bad, as cold as it was outside and in the bus "trunk".

How much is that doggie in the window?

Cousin Anne gave me the honor of hosting a "Flat Stanley" from one of her students. Since it was well after noon and he was complaining about being famished, we found a tiny French restaurant by the cathedral and enjoyed a glass of wine (for me, not him) and a tarte flambe.

I kept wandering around as the snow started to fall faster and faster.  The Christmas lights came on, adding magic to an already magical scene. 

The bus left at 6:30 and what should have been a nine o'clock arrival turned into after ten due to the blizzard like conditions as we left Strasbourg. We had a marvelous driver who delivered us safe and sound back to our departure point near the Hauptbahnhoff (main train station). The snow was gently falling onto a thick downy blanket that muffled sounds and reflected the light.  On my way to the tram, I stopped to breathe in the winter beauty of the Swiss National Museum,

Exactly as the digital sign had assured me, Tram 10 arrived one minute after my arrival on the platform.  Eight minutes later, I walked the two blocks to my apartment. Eleven o'clock at night (or 23:00 as we say here) and I felt perfectly safe alone in the white winter wonderland.

I took this from our living room window when I got home that night.

This summer, I hope Katie and Heath can make the pond hop so that I can take them to Strasbourg to see the storks that return every year to nest on the chimneys.  And I am extremely grateful that the kids managed to get enough time off pre Christmas that they're able to come here for a few days, negating the need for us to play sardines in another tin can for at least a month or two.

Wishing all my friends and family a winter wonderland of fun and magical holidays.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving and Other Things

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Katie, Heath, Greg and I are in Visalia, California (near Fresno) for our annual Thanksgiving visit with Greg's family. As usual, Mom and Dad have surpassed themselves in assembling our feast: we've gorged ourselves on turkey, ham, candied yams, pumpkin pie and other goodies.  Pinnochle rules.

I'm going to take the post-feast snooze fest to catch up on my blogging. 

In October, I convinced Greg to take a train to Interlaken so we could visit Ballenberg the next day. Interlaken is a beautiful little town between two lakes and is the jumping off point for the big three mountain peaks: Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch. Of course, we couldn't actually see any of these peaks as it was cold, foggy and raining while we were there. We stayed at a lovely little B and B outside town overlooking the lake. It was supposed to be a fifteen minute walk from town but I kept stopping to take photos so it was more like an hour.  When we got there, we discovered that the B and B didn't serve dinner and the only place in town that did was already closed for the winter. No problem. We caught the bus back into town and had a lovely dinner at a Swiss restaurant recommended by our hostess.  My cheese fondue was great!

The next day, we took a train and then bus to Ballenberg which is a big park filled with old buildings from all over Switzerland.  We tromped around up and down hills.

Going home, we took a different train and the scenery was drop dead gorgeous - the kind you think of when you think of Switzerland.

Last week, I went on an excursion with the Women's Club of Zurich. We took the train to Hergiswil.  There's a really interesting glass factory there with a kind of scary glass maze. The best part was we got to blow our own glass balls and I have pictures to prove it! (Of course, all we had to do was blow into the rod - the artisan did the rest.)

It was wonderful having a few days in Florida with Katie and Heath and our dog Abby before we flew out here. Tomorrow, we need to get up at the crack of dawn to drive back to Fresno. Our flight doesn't get in until 9 PM and then we have a noon flight the next day back to Zurich, arriving the next morning. Whatever happened to "Beam me up, Scotty"?