Monday, April 18, 2011


18 April 2011


Last week I went on another lovely excursion with the American Women's Club. This time it was on the train to Appenzell, a Heidi-like small town near the German Border.  The trip was a gourmet delight! We had a wonderful guide who loaded us up with food and facts.

Our first stop was in the middle of the road - literally!  A local artist put in a round turntable right smack in the middle of the road. His rationale? He wanted all the tourists visiting Appenzell to be able to stand on the circle facing outwards and take in the whole panorama in two minutes. He also built a table and two chairs by the bubbling brook. In the summer, a drawer opens up intermitently under the table and a waterfall gushes out. Unfortunately, it had not yet been turned on for the summer.

So ... a table was placed in the middle of the turntable. It contained a local white wine and a focaccia like bread with Appenzell cheese on top. Yum! There we were, all crowded around a revolving disc in the center of the road, stuffing our faces!

For the next two and a half hours, we followed our guide through the lovely old town, the center of which is mostly pedestrian only. We stopped at a meat shop to sample wonderful cold cuts and salamis; a bakery where we sampled different breads, including a delicious pear bread and a bread stuffed with hazelnut paste; a hotel where we sampled the local beers; and, of course, a cheese shop to try some of the famous Appenzell cheese.

We also peered into windows where we saw the crafts of the area: leatherwork and silverwork, lace making and primitive folk art featuring lots of cows. Our guide shared pictures of the local folk costumes: for the women tall hats that would look appropriate on the Flying Nun's head and a large spoon worn in a farmer's right ear.

The area is famous for its Landesgemeinde, an open-air parliament where citizens vote directly on major issues. We saw the square where Appenzell's 1000 citizens gather annually and vote with a show of hands (although some of the men still follow the traditional custom of bringing a sword to raise). One year, the vote was so close that candidates voting for one guy had to go into a building on one side of the square while those voting for his opponent went to a building on the other side. Each citizen had to walk through a hallway, single file, which made it easier to count.

Some of the buildings date from the late 1500's, following a fire in 1560 that destroyed most of the old wooden buildings in the town. The town is famous for the pastel colored murals that cover the facades.

This is the oldest house in the town.
There is a lovely old Catholic church with an organ that has around 1200 pipes (I think she said.) Behind the church is a cemetary with unusual burial markings. The ones covered with black linen scarves are for adult; the white is for children. Bodies only rent the space for twenty-five years. Not sure what they do with them afterward ... maybe send them off to the Catacombs in Paris?

It was overcast most of the day and so the pictures aren't great. But hopefully they'll give you an idea of this charming little town surrounded by gentle hills and mountains and hiking trails.

Friday, April 15, 2011


15 April 2011

Sechseläuten is a traditional spring festival in Zurich. The largest of the Zurich festival's, it is a public holiday in Zurich but not the rest of Switzerland. Its name means ringing of the six oclock bells. In medieval times, working hours were controlled by the city of Zurich. In winter, workers toiled as long as there was daylight but in summer the church bells rang at six o'clock to signal an end to the working day. Back then, anyone wanting to pursue a craft had to apprentice with a guild and so guilds wielded a lot of power. They celebrated the first day of summer with parties in their guild houses - I'm guessing alcohol was involved.

The guilds lost much of their power when Napoleon invaded and gradually became social, rather than political, organizations. The Sechseläuten is a way for the guilds to remind us they're still here and has been going on since the 19th century.

The party - and it is one long party - begins on Friday evening when the guilds invite important guests (each year from a different canton) to hear brass bands ... and alcohol is definitely involved.

Couple on their way to Friday party. Our invitation must have been lost in the mail, along with our invite to the Royal Wedding. Sigh. The postal service.

On Sunday, alcohol is replaced by candy floss and huge balloons as children - anyone dressed in period costume is welcome but I think most of the groups of children were associated with a guild - parade through the old part of town.  There are also floats and animals - my favorite were the long haired camels.

Isn't he cute?

Part of the parade features children from countries of the world.

The main festivities occur on Monday and here alcohol - and plenty of it - reappears. In fact, many of the participants of this parade walk the route drinking beer or wine. Some of the participants even go along with a flagon of wine and plastic glasses and pass out booze to the parade watchers. Sigh. All I got was a bunch of flowers.  Only members of the 26 guilds- and their children - are allowed to take part in this parade. The parade is HUGE. 

Here are the flowers I was given - a whole bouquet! The parade participants hand out flowers and candy. The bakers guild throws dinner rolls and the wine guild shares wine. Somebody else handed out packaged cookies.

throwing candy

0ver 7,000 participants in historic costumes representing the city's 26 guilds, 500 horses, 28 music corps, as well as 50 horse drawn vehicles - nothing motorized is allowed - and carriages form one of the biggest processions of its kind in Europe. About 100000 people show up to watch the parade, with the festivities broadcast all over Europe.

The parade ends in a large square in front of the Opera House. Here is a towering pyre topped by the Böögg, a cloth snowman figure representing winter who was paraded through the streets at the end of the children's parade. The pyre is lit at exactly six o'clock and  the horsemen from various guilds take turns riding wildly around it.  As the fire licks upwards, loud bangs signal its progress. Soon, sparks and flames are shooting up and out: I don't know how the horses do it.  How long it takes for the flames to reach the Böögg's explosive filled head predicts the length of summer (sort of a Punxsutawney Phil Groundhog Day thing). The shorter the time it takes for the poor guy to lose his head, the better summer will be.

This year, the Böögg's head blew off in 10 minutes and 56 seconds, a very short time. Summer should be long and beautiful: just as the rest of the seasons have been since we moved here.  The party doesn't end with the Böögg's demise. Many people hang around, using shovels to gather up some coals and then have their own bar b que parties. 

Greg and our friend Dottie and I were able to snag a table in an Italian restaurant where we had a wonderful meal as we watched brass bands go by, still playing merrily along. When Greg and I got off the tram outside our local tavern - which also happens to be a guild house - we found our guild's band playing away.

It takes stamina to be a guild member in Zurich.


Guilds in In Zurich, the guilds used to be powerful, economic, political and military organisations. If one was not a member of a guild, one was not allowed to work as a craftsman.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring in Zurich & Other Stuff

5 April 2011

We've heard spring here last year was godawful with lots of rain and cold. Well, guess Mother Nature felt badly about that because, after a mild winter, she is giving us a warm, sunny, beautiful spring!

Greg and I have been enjoying long walks admiring the flowers (and perhaps stopping for a glass of wine or two).

Greg wasn't really drunk when he took this one - just being creative. I think.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the wonderful weather. And there's always something happening in Zurich.

The streets are again sprouting cafe tables and chairs.

This is a neighbor on top of a building across the street from us. The roof is four stories high. Hope he doesn't fall asleep.

This is a gathering that had me stumped but Greg keeps up on the newsworthy. Apparently it was International Pillow Fight Day.  Sigh. We were pillowless.

They do a lot of stuff here for the kids. This is some kind of carnival.
Check out the dog coming out of the fountain. His owner cycled by us a few minutes before, with the dog trotting along at her side. They got to the fountain and the dog jumped right in!  Who needs Pooch Parks when you have people parks and fountains?

When we got home, as we were getting ready for bed, we heard some loud booms. As used as we are to somehow managing to precipitate bombings and revolutions in the countries we visit, we immediately thought the city was under attack.  But no! There was a huge fireworks display going on in part of the city: I could just see the pyrotechnic blossoms over an apartment building to our right. 

Here's the Other Stuff:

This is the month we were supposed to be spending a long weekend in Moscow. We had the nonrefundable hotel and airfare booked and then discovered that the Moscow consulates really weren't keen on handing out visas. After several abortive attempts, we gave up, figuring that, if they made it that hard to get INTO the country, what might they do to us after we got there?  Fortunately, we had booked through who worked tirelessly on our behalf and  got the hotel fee returned.  Not so lucky on the airfare but it was one of those super discounted fares so not out too much.

While Greg works, I've been off having fun with the American Women's Club.  In February, we were off to the Emmental Cheese factory where we learned how they get the holes in the cheese. I'd tell you but it's top secret.  (Okay, so I forget.) Then we traipsed back to the bus and it was off to the Kambly Cookie Factory where we had fun making our own cookies and tasting the billion or so kinds they had. Not a good day to be on a diet. Not that I was. The factory visits were fun but the star of the day was the picture postcard Alp scenery. Yodel lay ee, Yodel Lay ee, Yodel Lay who who.  Eat your heart out, Heidi!

Oh, to be a mouse in this place!
That's my friend Dottie on the left. 

Katie wanted a chocolate fountain for her wedding but we decided it might ruin her dress. Look at this, Katie! Two never ending streams of chocolate: one dark and one milk chocolate. Oh, to be able to take them home!

This is the American Women's Club group that went on the Emmentaler trip.  Such an interesting and diverse group!

In March, Dottie  and her niece and I boarded a train to the same Bad Ragaz Thermal spa that I had visited with the American Women's Club.  You can stay there all day for only 40 francs. I told Dottie (and I wasn't kidding) that we need to make this a monthly if not weekly trip.
No good pictures as water and cameras don't seem to peacefully coexist.

So ... forget Oh to be in Paris now that spring is here. I'm very happy to be in Zurich, thank you very much.