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:


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.)


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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