Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Discovering Switzerland in America

Time (a Swiss preoccupation, how appropriate) has taught the The Frau that small slices of Switzerland are readily available for her consumption not far from her American home. 

Take this refrigerator at Esther's European Imports in New Glarus, Wisconsin. It's not often a selection of drinks in an American store excites The Frau, but that is because most American shelves are not stocked with Rivella, Elmer Citro, Pepita, and Sinalco. Merci vielmal for this cornucopia of Swissness, Esther from Thun. She has run this shop for many years.


Next, take this shelf. It looks like something found in Switzerland, but nope, this is a shelf at Alp and Dell in Monroe, Wisconsin. It's the largest Emmi cheese dairy outside of Switzerland (they even have a supply of Swiss brown cows and proper Emmi equipment here). Esther's husband, Tony, runs this place and will take your order in Swiss German if you prefer. And guess what, American friends, his shop delivers. So forget that pizza delivery, it's time for a little Raclette this winter.





Then...The Frau was recently wandering the streets of San Francisco, when she found Switzerland at Pier 17. It's an expanding hub of Swiss diplomatic presence in America and it comes with a proper Swiss clock so you're not late to discover it. Expect nothing less.













Finally, The Frau can't help it–she always gets a little nostalgic when she sees this plane, whatever American airport it happens to be waiting in. But she feels very lucky to have gotten to spend almost a month in Switzerland this year and even more time experiencing the American side of Switzerland. And there's a lot of Switzerland still waiting to be discovered in the United States. 





Thursday, October 05, 2017

What to do in Switzerland This Fall

Is it too early to be thinking about December holidays? Swiss grocery stores say “no.” In fact, they were thinking about Christmas way back in August. Here’s a display from the Baden Migros grocery back in September.

Until December, though, there are lots of great things to do in Switzerland. Here are a few highlights:

Eat Chocolate and Cinnamon-Roasted Pumpkin Seeds at Jucker Farm

Every fall in Switzerland there’s a pumpkin paradise just waiting to be discovered. It takes place at Jucker Farm, a working farm where towering sculptures made from pumpkins can be enjoyed along with some chocolate and cinnamon-roasted pumpkin seeds and fresh apple cider.  

There are two Jucker Farm locations in Northern Switzerland: Seegräben and Jona. Both are wonderful. At lunchtime, each farm restaurant offers a hot buffet with meats and pasta, a salad buffet, soups, sandwiches, flammkuchen, and desserts like apple strudel. The food is reasonably priced and very good—which makes finding a table difficult.

For more information visit www.juckerfarm.ch

Observe the Largest Turnip Parade in the World

Photos by Brian Opyd
On the scale of parades featuring flames in Switzerland, the Richterswil Räbechilbi (Turnip Lantern Parade) is quite tame. But what it lacks in risk it more than makes up for in its ability to celebrate normally ignored root vegetables.

Think 29,000 kilograms of turnips (all grown locally), 50,000 candles, 1,100 participants, and 20,000 visitors (in a town of 13,000) and you’ll get the idea. When the Swiss combine the words “turnip” and “festival” they mean business. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Richterswil Räbechilbi is now the largest turnip parade in the world. 

For more information visit www.vvrs.ch
This year's parade is Saturday, November 11 at 6:30 p.m. in Richterswil.

Hike the Morteratsch Glacier Trail


If The Frau had to choose her favorite hike in Switzerland, it would probably be the Morteratsch Glacier hike—especially if it’s mid-October. There are several reasons for this. 

One is the sheer beauty of orange and yellow larch trees framing the icy snow and the (hopefully) blue sky. The Engadine area is famous for its autumn colors, and not without reason.

Two is the length (approx. 5-6 kilometers, 1 hour 40 minutes total) and ease of the walk (fairly flat, on a mostly wide and graveled path), which allows one to admire the scenery without being distracted by blisters or aching muscles. 

Three is easy access. The hike begins and ends at the Morteratsch train station, whose neighbor is the Hotel Restaurant Morteratsch—a relaxing place for lunch.

For more information www.pontresina.ch

P.S. 96.9 more ideas for un-touristy fun are included in The Frau's second book, 99.9 Ways to Travel Switzerland Like a Local, which was published in May. It makes a great Christmas gift, at least for those of you already buying Lebkuchen at the Migros.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

So American. So Swiss.

Yodelers. Sorry for the gigantic Pause.

Uh, will you listen to The Frau? She is SO American now, starting every sentence with “Sorry.”

Sorry. The Frau has been busy.

Oh, busy too? How American of her.

The Frau threw a slightly lighter stone...
Ahh. The Frau hears herself being so American and she can’t stop it anymore. Oh well. Despite being oh-so-American now after almost, yes, three years back in the U.S., The Frau is still up to her Swiss ways too. Earlier earlier this month she was running around Switzerland doing research for a couple of projects, including a piece about a very special festival in Interlaken, which ran in the Financial Times a week ago.

The big news (if you don’t have time to read the FT piece) is that The Frau threw a big boulder at a Swiss festival called Unspunnen. This festival, held only every 12 years in Interlaken, was amazing because it was the first festival that really allowed anyone—yes, even tourists like The Frau—to not only witness Swissness, but to participate in Swissness.

Because here’s the thing—watch something at a festival and you might take a picture. Participate in something at a festival and you’ll tell a story about it instead.

Thus, the boulder throwing. Throwing a gigantic stone is one of three traditional Swiss sports (along with Hornussen and wrestling) so at least now The Frau has a claim to Swiss sporting fame. While she didn’t volunteer to throw the 184-pound boulder (she could have though, you know, Swiss personal responsibility and all) she did throw a 30-pound stone—wearing sandals, no less.

During her trip to Switzerland she also biked the Albula Pass (you must do this next year, Yodelers, if you haven’t—the SlowUp makes it easy by closing the road), hung out in St. Gallen, Appenzell, and Schaffhausen—you know for research purposes, and saw a few friends too.

It’s still hard for her to come home to America after Switzerland, at least the America that’s going on these days. But someone has to try to make it a better place, and The Frau continues to try, this year by taking a leadership role with her local citizen’s council.

And in the meantime, there’s book number three to finish, all about American life after Switzerland—in other words—American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. And boy are there a lot of things The Frau wishes she had known about her own country. Way more than 30, but now the fun part begins of choosing exactly which 30 to highlight. Stay tuned.

And if you haven’t check out book number two: 99.9 Ways to Travel Switzerland Like a Local—it’s filled with un-touristy ideas for the upcoming fall and winter. And it's in black and white now too. 




Monday, August 07, 2017

Badenfahrt, Switzerland's Biggest Party: August 18-27

Baden, located 27 kilometers west of Zurich, is usually a quiet spa town. But every ten years, it hosts a ten-day festival that draws a million visitors. In terms of comparative population size, imagine 475 million people descending on New York City for an event. (A number greater than the entire population of the United States.)

Why is the Badenfahrt festival so popular? The name, meaning, “Baden goes,” comes from the Middle Ages when the spas at Baden were a popular escape for dignitaries. During the Reformation, many Protestant Zurichers found themselves fleeing to Baden for the kind of elusive fun that only Catholics could have back then. But the real party began in 1847, when Switzerland’s first train route opened. The “Spanischbrötli-Bahn,” which went from Zurich to Baden, made it easy for Protestant Zurichers to come to “crazy” Catholic Baden to eat sweet pastries (like Spanischbrötli, for which the train was named), sing, and let loose at the thermal spas.

Swiss people tend to relax most when given an organized reason to do so. The first Badenfahrt festival in 1923 proved this to be true. Today the festival features parades, fireworks, carnival rides, several entertainment stages, and that oh-so-Swiss trust that allows a million people into an unfenced festival area knowing that they’ll all buy the festival pass anyway. Besides, how can you rope off an entire city?

The Badenfahrt festival features hundreds of creatively themed food structures representing everything that Swiss industriousness is capable of. Forget a simple food tent; at Badenfahrt, the Swiss prove that the Greeks aren’t the only ones to build Greek temples. The Swiss build them too, along with sand beaches, the Eiffel Tower, and Japanese Gardens. Give the Swiss some scaffolding, and they’ll give you the Taj Mahal—even if its only purpose is to serve sausage for ten days.

Aside from Zurich’s Street Parade, Badenfahrt is the festival to witness the Swiss as you never have before—shrieking at 3 a.m., throwing beer bottles into the street, and dancing to rap music. To experience Badenfahrt is to experience the Swiss at their most fun-loving and free. Until of course, the clock strikes midnight on the tenth day of the festival and street sweepers arrive on the twelfth ring to start cleaning up the mess, making the entire experience feel like a figment of your imagination.

Tips:

The big, once-every-ten-years festival takes place in Baden from August 18-27, 2017.

Spanischbrötli pastries, a specialty from Baden that dates back to at least 1780, are a featured food at the festival, but you can try the sweet buttery combination of hazelnut and carrot almost anytime at the Moser’s bakery in Baden.
Moser’s Backparadies
Schlossbergplatz 2
5400 Baden
+41 (0)56 222 42 55

For more information:

Read The Frau’s article in The Independent about Badenfahrt.

Listen to the swissinfo.ch podcast featuring The Frau discussing all things Baden.

Read 99.9 Ways to Travel Switzerland Like a Local for 98.9 more tips like this one. 

The Frau's latest book is now available in Black & White. It's Swiss quality at an American price.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Don't Miss the August 1 Brunch

The Frau has only has one regret regarding the traditional August 1 farm brunch: That she didn’t discover it sooner. August 1 is Swiss National Day and there is no better way to celebrate it than by having brunch on a farm. Think endless Birchermüsli, Zopf, fresh breads, smoked meats, butter, cheese, eggs, honey, homemade jams, and Incarom coffee served over the sounds of a few loud moos and you’ll get the idea. Over the last twenty years, the August 1 brunch has become such a big deal that there’s now an entire website devoted to it, and Migros, one of the largest grocery store chains in Switzerland, publishes “Brunch Magazine.”
Swiss National Day Brunch

Support for local farms in Switzerland is nothing new. The Swiss have long preferred to buy local products over imported ones and will gladly pay extra for the pleasure of helping their countrymen. The popularity of the brunches is just an extension of the passion the Swiss have for eating locally.

There’s more to a farm brunch than food, however. Many farms offer opportunities for children to feed goats or rabbits, some have organized art projects during the brunch—make a purse out of a paper plate, anyone? Others offer entertainment such as line dancing, mini alphorn concerts, or farm tours. The goal is to bring people from the city and countryside together, which is a mission that countries like the United States would be smart to consider too.

Though August 1 has only been celebrated as Swiss National Day since 1891, the country was founded 600 years earlier on August 1, 1291 when the three cantons of central Switzerland—Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden—took an oath in the Rütli meadow on the banks of Lake Lucerne to establish the country. But the people of Switzerland have only been able to celebrate their national holiday work-free since 1993.

The Swiss make up for all that lost partying time with a huge spread of food followed by an evening of fireworks. To show your Swiss spirit and epitomise Swiss brunch fashion, be sure to wear the semi-required edelweiss shirt. And for your personal collection, you can also stock up on Swiss flags, Swiss candles, Swiss lanterns, and anything else you can think of that’s Swiss—hardboiled eggs decorated like a Swiss flag, anyone?

To find a brunch near you, (and there most likely will be one, since up to 350 farms across the country now participate) you can search for a brunch by canton or by zip code on brunch.ch. Once you decide on a brunch location, be sure to reserve your spot ahead of time. Over 150,000 people make reservations for brunches across Switzerland, so you do not just brunch on August 1 when and if the spirit moves you. This is Switzerland, so farm brunches are highly organized—just like the country in which they take place.

For more information:
What: Brunch on a Farm
When: August 1, Swiss National Day
Time: Approximately 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Price: Approximately 25 SF to 40 SF
Where to book: brunch.ch (German, French, and Italian only)
And yes: There is a brunch hotline…check the website for all your brunch news and needs.

P.S. You can enjoy 98.9 more ideas like this in The Frau’s new Swiss travel book, 99.9 Ways to Travel Switzerland Like a Local.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Learn to Play the Alphorn on Horn Mountain

Yodelers, it’s that time of year again—time for alphorn camp, that is. 

So stop putting off learning the Swiss national instrument and start spending your first weekend in July attending Fritz Frautschi’s short beginner’s alphorn class in the most appropriately named alphorn-learning location in Switzerland—the Horn Mountain.

Not far from Gstaad, the Hornberg is your stage, the cows are your audience, and the Hotel Restaurant Hornfluh is your après-horn, serving you that well-earned drink after a hard day of practice.

Fritz Frautschi founded the Swiss Alphorn School over twenty years ago and offers courses in the Bernese Oberland. He credits the popularity of his alphorn classes with people’s desire to get back to nature. Unfortunately, learning to blow one of the world’s largest wind instruments isn’t so natural. The alphorn is 3.5 meters long and has no finger holes, tubes, or valves, so all note variations are controlled by the speed and force of your lip vibrations on the mouthpiece. According to one student, the more you kiss your spouse, the easier blowing the alphorn becomes.

It’s much easier to learn the alphorn if you’ve previously played an instrument like the tuba or trumpet. But regardless of your musical experience, Frautschi prioritizes teaching you how to make a lovely sound—which is great, because a beginner playing the alphorn often produces a sound that resembles a dying cow


Speaking of cows, the alphorn attracts them. Play a few notes (good or bad) and cattle come calling. The alphorn is how the farmers bring their herds home and how you, the non-farmer, can entice an unintentional but very committed audience. Tourists may flock to you as well. And if The Frau’s experience counts for anything, you don’t have to be a master player to get a following.

As well as attracting cows and tourists, the alphorn also inspires Swiss conversation. The instrument’s history may have a lot to do with this; besides bringing the cows home, the alphorn was also used to communicate with fellow herdsmen across many valleys.

The Frau once called the alphorn “Switzerland’s secret social networking tool” because all the normal cultural formalities that apply in Switzerland are set aside if you carry an alphorn. Fellow alphorn players, strangers or not, are always on first-name terms with each other. So if you’ve always wanted to get to know a particular Swiss person better, now you know what to do.

Come home from alphorn camp and play the Swiss national instrument on a city street, and you will have discovered the key to Swiss culture (and perhaps a nice source of income).

For more information:


Price per person: CHF 450

P.S. You can enjoy 98.9 more ideas like this in The Frau’s new Swiss travel book, 99.9 Ways to Travel Switzerland Like a Local.


Thursday, June 01, 2017

Goods and Bads of Life in Switzerland, 2.5 Years Later

There were times during The Frau’s visit to Switzerland last month (mostly when she was in the city relishing that EVERY car actually stopped for EVERY pedestrian) when she really wanted to move back. Like really, really wanted to move back. Especially when she saw Swiss children as young as her daughter confidently walking alone to school. Or when she sat on a bus seat without any disgust at its level of cleanliness.

And then there were moments, mainly when The Frau was sweating in small shared spaces or listening to her friends’ neighbor’s televisions through shared walls, where The Frau just sighed and said to Mr. Frau: ”Wow. I really, really do not miss this.”

The take away? There are goods and bads in every country. It’s up to you to decide what goods and bads are best for you.

Back in Switzerland, 2.5 years after leaving.
But The Frau admits: she couldn’t help but feel envious of her American friends who moved to Switzerland when she did who are now in the process of applying for their Swiss passports. This is mainly because another passport represents a level of freedom to move between countries that would be wonderful. Relying on varying whims of employers and governments is not so wonderful. In any case, The Frau would love to have more options in her life rather than fewer. But her nationality options are what they are right now.

In any case, her trip proved she wants to be living abroad again, or at the very least, spending her summers in Europe. After all, what’s the point of working remotely like The Frau does now if you don’t take advantage of a little country hopping—even if it has to be limited by tourist visas?

In any case, here is an Unscientific Summary of Swiss Life, 2.5 years after living there:

GOODS

Cities built for pedestrians instead of cars (pedestrian bridges, pedestrian tunnels, and crosswalks that cars actually respect). All seem so amazing now.
Swimming in Lake Zurich
Transport that works (except when the power goes out during a storm!)
Cleanliness, both on the ground and in the air
Nature integrated in cities
The coffee
The bread
The cheese
The chocolate
Produce that’s just produce and not a sci-fi experiment (i.e. not on steroids)
The pure beauty of the landscapes
SlowUp bike rides that close roads to cars almost every Sunday from April through September for pure (and free) biking pleasure (In Chicago, they do this once a year on Lake Shore Drive, but they make bikers PAY for the priviledge of riding on roads normally reserved for cars. Sad.)

BADS

Small apartments
Hot apartments
Hot public transport
Crowded public transport
Pushy, rude people who aren’t at all “sorry” for crashing into you
People cutting in line
Living with neighbors/Shared walls
Shared laundry/Laundry days/Small washers
Swiss German
That foreign feeling

Here’s the big thing: after being back in the U.S. for 2.5 years now, The Frau knows that you cannot truly be integrated into a culture and society unless you’re born into it. She admits—she feels very alive in the U.S. right now. When you understand the culture and the language because, well, it’s yours, the way you live and experience things is on a much different level.

Also: While The Frau sees the goods and bads of Switzerland and the U.S. at heightened levels—as horrible as it is sometimes when looking at the bads of a place with a 360 view—she will always be grateful for such a wide lens of the world. (Every American leader should be required to have lived the real deal abroad—but that’s another topic.)

In any case, The Frau had to unexpectedly digest a tear when taking off from Zurich a few days ago. But Chicago greeted her 12 hours later with a rainbow as if to say, “Welcome home—remember—there are beautiful things here too.”

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