Sunday, March 29, 2009


Swiss people adore their train system. It reflects themselves in many and very flattering ways. It is fast, accurate, precise, up to date, clean and busy. And I have to admit, I am one of them as well. Maybe it is like with those men that have a huge landscape with toy trains up in their attic. They just stand there, marvel at its intricacy and from time to time glue another tree onto a styrofoam hill. I look at the map of Switzerland, criss-crossed by all its train tracks and just enjoy the thought of little trains moving back and forth across it.

Although, in reality, we also have to deal with its harsher sides... But let me start with talking about commuting. Every morning I wait on track 1 for the 7:08 train to Zürich. And often, there is a little downer: the train is late. Not that I need to be on time, nobody is checking whether I come into the lab at all, but that's just not the way it is supposed to be. Dammit! On the other hand, late trains are a sore spot for many, including the SBB itself. I guess a good indicator for that are the display panels that announce the next train to come. The old ones, which have this flipping mechanism for time, type of train, destination, etc., like those retro alarm clocks, they actually have a "4", to tell you that a train is four minutes late. Where else do you find that? Panic beyond three minutes. Not too bad. When the train finally rolls in, there is this slightly aggressive movement going through the crowd: get to the doors. But you are not supposed to run, you just have to be at the right spot when the train finally stops. There are a couple of tricks. First, there is a five meter strech on which you can be pretty sure that the first door of the third coach will be. Second, face the incoming train and make your correction walking backwards. This allows you to force people out of the way without looking at them. Boarding a first class coach and walking through into second class (which gives you, ideally, a two-meter headstart to those waiting outside because you enter the coach from another coach, not from the outside) is considered bad manner though. Don't ask me why. But I frown upon them. Cheap bastards. Then, pick the first seat that is available. The train is gonna be full anyway, so choosing a seat in an empty compartment is ridiculous. Once the train is on its way, read your newpaper. Don't talk. There is nothing worse than stupid conversation (note: all conversation is stupid at 7:08 in the morning). I remember the day when those two hair dressers (sorry about that, they might also have been in retail or the like) started to talk about their adventures in high school. At the time when girl A was bitching about biology classes where they looked at those freaky single-cell and double-cell creatures ("Wäisch no wommer im Bio die gruusige Ei- und Zwöizäller händ müesse aaluege?") I was ready to stuff their mouths with the business section of my newspaper.

Anyway. I did not. They are still among us.

Last Thursday however, the worst case scenario happened. Complete meltdown. In Dietikon, which is both the ugliest town in Switzerland and at the artery of the Swiss rail system, a train ripped down the power cable and placed it neatly across all six tracks that constitute this artery.It did so at 4 pm. Just when the rush hour started. Zürich main station was shear madness. Basically, wherever you wanna go from Zürich, its via Dietikon. Except for places like St. Gallen, which do not count. In my view.

"The next extra train leaves Zürich from track 16 at 17:15". Luckily, 16 was close. I even got a seat. What followed was an enjoyable train ride on rat runs through Zürichs countryside. Everybody was chatty (its allowed in the evening), commented on villages with silly names and reassured how great the Swiss train system is. How fast they brought order back into chaos and
that in any other country... It all changed when this elderly lady needed to go to the toilet. Which was locked. Like all toilets on the train. "How dare they?" "Like prisoners!" "Incredible?" The mob was furious. And the lady pressed her legs together. When I left the train in Baden I passed by the train conducter and told him to help the elderly lady in compartment 1 in coach number three. He promised to do so.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Things you better don't do

Eating two Schwöbli and a bar of chocolate just before you enter the gym and then decide to fill your water bottle with sickly sweet ice tea instead of, well, water.

After 30 minutes I had to abort the mission. I guess I would have puked all over the floor.

Yes. This is a blog entry. Yes, I go to the gym (and so does Esther). And what are Schwöbli? Well, the name derives from Schwaben, which are the German people just across the border. They seem to make nice little rolls, and they are called Schwöbli. They are made out of a dough with milk instead of water and only in Basel will you get them if you order a Schwöbli in the bakery. Everywhere else they are called Weggli. There is also another one, which is called Schlumbi. At least in Basel. Everywhere else they call it Mutschli.

That's how it is.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Our little town

That's where we live. It's a little town called Baden, at the edge of Switzerland, just next to Germany. Or nearly so. The river that runs through it comes for Zürich and later on joins (hang on, I have to check the map) the Aare (I knew it!), which a couple of miles later joins the Rhine (at least that one you should know by name). The great thing about Baden is its medieval character. It starts with the remains of a proper fortress, from where you have a splendid view of the old part of the town, with lots of little alleys and houses which would be great to live in (if you can a) afford it, b) don't mind the dark rooms and c) happen to find an empty one (which is the difficult part)), and goes on with lots of places that are just, well, nice to visit. And so we just walk through the little alleys, buy an ice cream in one of the local bakeries (which happens to sell ice cream as well), and head for the lower quarter of the town, the "Bäderquartier".
That's where the town got its name from. The springs with healing powers! Lots of old hotels host even older ladies with arthritis and other illnesses that need treatments that only Baden can provide. In between the old hotels, you find peculiar second hand shops and completely refurbished buildings where old and new fuse in great architecture. Finally, you choose one of the bridges to cross the Limmat to the other side, which is called "Ennetbaden" (other-side-of-Baden, they weren't really creative back then), and walk back up.
And there it is! Tada! The youth hostel of Baden, hurray! It seems to be an ex-shed or so, large windows, a fountain in front of it and suddenly, there it is again, the inner voice that urges you to buy two plane tickets to Auckland one way... But we resist (collective sigh in New Zealand) and head back to town, up to the lime tree place and back to our flat. Which we feature another time...

Sunday, August 24, 2008


They call themselves "Karls Kühne Gassenschau" (Carl's bold streetshow), and that's what they are indeed. It's street theatre blown up to incredible proportions, lots of action, pyrotechnical stunts, any stunts you wish, actually, spectacular sound and good humour. Karls Kühne Gassenschau are always worth a visit.

Their current play is called Silo8 and tells a story from the future, where there are way to many elderly people, so they wipe out their memory, stuff them into container villages, and store them like rabbits until they die. But the senior citizens fight back. They try to escape, get hold of a little bit of their memory again and overturn the dictatorship of an evil doctor. Finally, Alfredo remembers Aurora again and together they fly into the night.

The story so far. But then there are the special effects! A quad racing against a motorized wheelchair, a fully fledged washing machine for humans, exploding (and collapsing) buildings (twin towers, actually...), a flying merry-go-round and a dream ship propelled by a jelly fish. The great thing about the show is that they always overdo it a little bit. No, not a little bit. A lot. Where a senseful person would stop pouring petrol, they add another bathtub full. Where you would strongly suggest to tighten the screws, they don't. And if you have the feeling that the length of the rope will not ensure their security, for them it's just fine. Like that they keep the anarchy in their show. And that is good. The first row reveives blankets together with the instruction to use them for protection, and yes, they will not tell when, it will be obvious.

Last week we went to Olten to watch them. Of course, after all the years the whole show has become big. Heaps of visitors, catering, shuttle busses etc., but there is still the boss welcoming you, ushering people to free seats and when 20 of them had no place to sit, they told the audiencence on the benches to shift a little bit, and voila: everybody was seated and happy.

And now, we will go for a stroll, and later on feature some pictures of where we live...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Gere the name of a incredibly tiny village. It consists of about roughly 6 huts or so, but look for yourself:

View Larger Map

Its claim to fame is that one of the huts used to be the retreat of Dr. Bircher-Benner. The inventor of the Birchermüsli. Oh yeah. Not too bad ey?
Well, and this is the place were a friend of us, with good connections, has access to a hut. It comes complete with running cold water, a stove and all the crockery/cutlery/whatsoevery that you need to hang out for a couple of day.
Already the way that takes you there is spectacular: up to the Gotthardpass, with the famous church of Wassen (that's another story that will be told another day), Urseren, Furkapass, the whole shebang. And if you are lucky, your friends even pick you up at the trainstation of Oberwald and bring you up to Gere. And I tell you, its spectular! Meadows full of alpine flower, honest old-fashioned farmers making hay and smiling at you (and they will also smash the window of your car if you don't have the permission to use their road, we had the permission), marmots galore playing in the sunshine, a well with ice-cold water (our bathroom for the next three days) and finally, the hut. Two tents, ready for those that want to be even closer to nature, steep mountain on all sides and a view that contains not a single hint of civilisation. The beer is already in the well, nicely chilled, there is red wine (Dole, from further down the valley), a selection local cheese, the local rye bread with nuts, we bring some cake. Heaven.
It is incredible. It takes roughly 2 minutes and you are completely relaxed and nothing else is important than just the here and now. As Andy commented: "...and the things you have to do are instinctual. The reward is immediate. You don't HAVE to do do anything. I can see how god is created in these places."
The next day is 1. August, the Swiss National Day. And the weather is bad. But we are fiercely determined to have a BBQ. So we go and collect some stones, set up a fireplace and after a little bit of fiddling a nice fire is burning. As you can see, we really took care of the fire and were rewarded with some nice steaks and sausages. And you get thoroughly smoked. Back home it took two showers to get rid of the smell! But who cares? (well, the people in train back maybe did). We served the meat with potato salad, some fried veggies, oh my god, I love food. And up there, in Gere, it all tastes better!
Every morning you have to fire up the stove (another moment to catch some smoke), which is a little bit tricky and really something for boys (i.e. for me), cook water for the coffee, move the large rock to access the "fridge" outside of the house, cut some cheese and bacon, warm up some more to wash the dishes, maybe fry some eggs... Funny, its like normal life, I guess, but its fun. Even washing the dishes is an event.
Later we did some hiking, playing in the stream (building dams, breaking down old ones, flooding empty beds, watching the water finding its new way, they had to drag me away after two hours).
We will definitely come back. Did I say that one of the huts there is splendidly renovated and refurbished? 700 Swiss francs per week, place for 6 people. I don't know the phone number...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

An old saying...

Is this dust on this blog? ;-) Never mind.

An old kiwi saying says that if the customer cannot come to Revel cafe, Revel cafe has to come to its customer. In our case this meant that we bought ourselves a proper espresso machine. It was the result of long and tedious discussions, about, well, I have to give you a little bit more background to make you aware of how complicated the whole process was.

It starts, like so many good stories, with a Swiss company. Nestle. Yes, its Swiss. Very much indeed. And its reputation is not the best. As is often the case with companies that have grown to the size of an average country on this planet. Lately, Nestle came up with an ingenious coffee system, aptly named Nespresso, which is simple and addictive: you buy their machine, you buy their coffee capsules, you stick to them forever. For two reasons: the coffee is extremely good and no other capsule fits in your machine. End of story. One capsule (i.e. one cup of coffee) costs about 60 cent.That's quite something. Plus, the capsules are made of thick aluminium, and although Nestle promises that they recycle them completely, that doesn't make it much better. Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to recycle aluminium? Here you go. By the way, if one replaces the word "coffee" with "mp3", "machine" with "iPod" and "Nestle" with "Apple", you get a similar story. Anyway. Back to what I wanted to tell you. We were seriously considering buying something to prepare ourselves a proper coffee. But what? Mama said "Nespresso" (she loves her machine, especially the fact that you have to push a single button to get a delicious latte macchiato (and I assure you, it is divine). The other Mama said "A fully automatic machine, which grinds your beans freshly". And right she is as well. Although more expensive in the beginning, the running costs are low and the coffee great.

This was followed by long searches on the internet and in-depth discussions with people that turned into fanatical coffee afficionados as soon as you asked them about their opinion. Interestingly, everybody sweared that his/her system is the perfect solution. Which should proof that they are all ok and that whatever you buy, you will be happy. Interestingly, it had the opposite effect: we became extremely unsure and picky.

It all ended with a visit of my brother who told us that there is only one real solution: a semi-automaic espresso machine. You fill it either with ground coffee or with pads (which are considerably cheaper than the Nespresso capsules and about equally simple to handle) and you get the real feeling. You stay independent. You treat not only your taste buds but also your soul and and and. But, and here my brother held up his index finger and became very serious, but, it must be heavy. So heavy that you can fit in the portafilter without moving the machine. Or you srew the whole damn thing onto the kitchen table. Which, funnily enough, is never considered as an option. And so there it is, the Solis Espresso Design Pro (what a cheesy name!), full metal body, a whopping 12 kg (that's what they told us, seems lighter thought) and a coffee to die for. Revel cafe just entered through the door. The Flat White is back. Thank goodness!

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Another 25 Minutes and I will get the key for our new apartment. Yay! I can't wait to just stand in there, close the door and know: "This is ours". Interestingly, a voice inside my head says: "For a while..." The voice may belong to some doomsday pessimist or to a world traveler. I assume the latter...