Thursday, 24 July 2014

Art on the move

The Swiss are very fond of decorating their public transport. What better way than to put a smile on the face of their commuters each day.
An inner-city Winterthur bus

A beautifully decorated train at Zurich Hauptbahnhof

Komo-dough dragon

The Swiss like to do all sorts of things with their bread. This is my most recent favourite featured in the window of the bakery in Marktgasse.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Nobody warns you about the bugs

I keep thinking Switzerland really is an idyllic place to live - and then one of its resident bugs brings me back to earth with a bump.

My first ghastly contact with a bug was the tick, or die Zecke. A week before the incident I'd been given a handout at Kindergarten about forest school and deciphered enough to see advice to check my child for ticks after each forest school day. I brushed it off as something similar to hair nits in English schools - vulgar but rampant.

And then we found one clinging to the top of my 7-year-old daughter's leg after a visit to Zurichhorn Park in the city of Zurich. So I Googled it. And how scared was I! This little suckers can carry Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) or Lyme Disease - both which can be pretty nasty. I spent a few restless nights after this but we passed the two week mark unscathed (thank God) And we soon got our youngest two daughters, who regularly go to the forest as part of their school day, vaccinated. However, the vaccination is THREE JABS! The second, a month after the first and the third a year later. But I feel I can relax about them - we just need ours sorting out now!

The second contact we had with Swiss bugs was the Swiss mosquito which we encountered as soon as we moved here during last year's ultra mild October - my 4-year-old with her legs covered in bites (bedroom plug-in repellent now installed)

And now my poor hubbie is plagued by horse fly bites - three in as many weeks. Those things are pure evil - and like the mosquito, it's the female who is the bloodsucker, needing to gorge before she reproduces!

And then there are all the other outlandish bugs which are just slightly un-nerving...see the latest to land on my kitchen window at sunrise below.

Pic of the week

On the back of the door in the toilet of McDonald's Winterthur

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

UK libraries could learn a lot from Switzerland

In contrast to the speedy dwindling of libraries in the UK, libraries are incredibly successful in Switzerland, having moved with the times and fulfilling a real need in the community – and they are everywhere – we even have a library in our local village (population c 2000)

Apart from our village library where I am a devout regular, I mainly use Winterthur Library in the centre of our nearest town. To join I had to pay 58CHF (roughly £38) which includes an annual membership (50CHF) and the cost of the library card (8CHF) Now I imagine this would be unpopular in the UK but it makes so much sense – bear with me.

I do not begrudge paying the equivalent of £32 per year for a service which includes:

  • A 24 hour return service in the foyer where you can post your books or media at any time of the day or night and get a receipt.
  • An automated withdrawal service with at least two librarians on hand to help with queries.
  • Accessible opening hours to all eg opening until at least 18.30pm every week night.
  • A children’s floor with imaginative seating zones, a special section for young adults with computers, seating, funky comics and graphic novels, info about drugs, sexual health, etc. There are children’s story times, reading challenges and links with bigger events, eg there was bar football available during the World Cup. There are also special events such as cartoon tuition for free.
  • A brilliant resource for immigrants (like us) for integration into the community with many dual language books, etc.
  • A vast film and music section, with a lounge area where you can listen to music, watch films and even play the piano with headphones. Films are free to rent for one week but beware, the fine is heavy – 2CHF (£1.30) per day! This fine also applies to books after four weeks.
  • A great self service café where artists exhibit their work, with newspapers and a huge range of magazines available. This also includes a pretty outdoor area where they hold summer events eg a seedling swap, a harvest celebration with minestrone soup making, pepper tasting, etc.
  • A comprehensive website, where you can manage your account, renew books (up to 5 months) search for items and order items. Staff get straight back to you if you email them.
  • Rental space for local groups.
Website for Winterthur Library

Passing a leisurely hour or two is common place with my two girls at our town library.

 An example of some of the events which regularly take place.

Always a surprise in store with Winterthur Library's amazing collection of quality childrens' books.

Passing the time with neighbours at our local village library.

Monday, 21 July 2014

There are bargains to be found in Switzerland!

As well as loving the pools here, I am a huge fan of the libraries. We are regulars at Winterthur city library. It is open all day Monday to Saturday, has a huge children's floor in the basement, which includes an English section, dual language books, films, Nintendo games, etc, lots of imaginative seating areas and a teenage section with fantastic comics and graphic novels in all languages. There are also regular children's story sessions in German and English.

But the point of this blog post is that while shopping at Töss Zentrum today (which includes a fab Turkish treasure trove of a shop where you can find all those things you can't find elsewhere) I decided to take a snoop in the library there, which is situated on the upper floor to the left of the car park and is included on my Winterthur library card. In the entrance there were several boxes with books for sale - where I found a hard back version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the new illustrated version, FOR JUST 1CHF! There, a bargain is possible in Switzerland.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Our feathered friend at Pfäffikon

I am aware that my blog has become very swimming orientated as my enthusiasm for the Swiss pools and open water facilities has been unleashed but this will be the last one for a while, I promise. Yesterday was the last super sunny day of the latest heatwave so we felt we had no choice but to head for Pfäffikon in the morning. Pfäffikon is, amazingly, included on the Winterthur Sportpass by some special agreement but is a ten mile drive away, unlike the other pools which are mainly in town.

But it is well worth the treck - Pfaffikon Badi is brilliant, with lots of pools, a giant water slide (but small enough for my 5-year-old to go on by herself) an incredible Pizzeria and a mini beach and large jetty leading straight into the lake, with diving boards and floating sun loungers.

Yesterday we spent most of the time in the lake, which had these wonderful ice cold spots which you swim into from time to time. And we made a friend - a Great Crested Grebe which kept ducking under the water a little way off and then bobbing up right beside us, a game he seemed to be consciously enjoying! I made a little sketch (see below) when we got back and like how I seem to have caught a mischievious little grin on his face as he played his game with the humans.

Great place, including the feathered friends - but get there early on a sunny day - this place becomes rather packed as the day matures!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Swiss love of bikinis

The bikini is king in Switzerland. And I can see why. The Swiss, give or take a few fatties, are fit. So they have bodies which they naturally want to show off. In a way, a bikini nation (and you really feel out of place in a swimsuit in Summer) is a great incentive to stay fit throughout the year.

I mean, if you are overweight come July you have two options - battle the bulge into a swimsuit and sit in the shadow of an umbrella envying all those lean figures cavorting around the poolside with beautiful sun-kissed bodies or let it all spill out over a two-piece and sit in the shadow of an umbrella envying all those fantastic looking mums who can rock the tiniest of bikinis.

Some may say there is a third option - stay away from the pool/lakes altogether. But when those temperatures soar there is nowhere else you want to be. And with kids, let's face it, it's the easiest (and cheapest once you have a Winterthur Sportpass) way to spend those endless summer days.

I'm not rocking the bikini look just yet - I still have the muffin tops - but I'm one and a half stone lighter since this time last year and feel that string bikini may one day soon be within my grasp.

Happy summer days!

Soaking up the rays at Pfäffikon Badi

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Even when cloudy, swimming outdoors brings sunshine to your day

I’ve found a new addiction. It’s swimming in the great outdoors. And it has to be cold. And I’m gutted it has taken me until now – at the grand middle age of 41 – to find out how amazing this simple, in many cases free, pastime really and truly is.

When living in Britain, although I have always greatly enjoyed a swim, it never once occurred to me to go swimming in a river and although I enjoyed frequenting an outdoor pool during my teens, once this had closed I never again lived anywhere near an open pool (as so many others also sadly closed in the 1990s- why? why? why?)

It wasn’t until I moved to Devon in 2012 that I discovered the thrill of open water swimming, namely the sea at Sidmouth and the delightful Buddleigh Salterton. But of course, however wonderful swimming in these locations was, the swell of the sea, which was often fairly violent onto a sharply upturned pebbled beach, meant an incredibly undignified and often quite painful entry and exit each time. But it was still wonderful – I even spotted a seal popping his head above the water one morning!

And although I sorely miss the sea now living in this landlocked country, the pain is hugely compensated for by the ease with which I can once again reap the benefits of a cold, outdoor dip. Within 10 miles of our house, there are no less than ten wonderfully equipped outdoor swimming pools and a bundle of beautifully clear lakes (including the centre of Zurich) where I am encouraged to swim, with accompanying café, beach, toilet and shower facilities.

My favourite haunt right now (especially for the FKK area when the kids are at school) is Katzensee (see below) a wonderfully wild lake which is instantly accessible from the motorway and has a lovely shallow entry for ease of access. If I am short of time, it has to be the outdoor pool at Toss, which I often have to myself if it is overcast. The water was just 21 degrees this morning and after quickly recovering from the cold I enjoyed a half hour swim which set me up for the day – my skin is still tingly as I write this at 10pm. I honestly feel this is the best cure for depression – I challenge anyone to feel miserable after a cold swim!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

200+ entries received for a new national anthem

I have entered a competition to find a new Swiss national anthem! More than 200 songwriters have entered the contest to change Switzerland's national anthem which organisers say is currently a little too religious for a secular society.

The song has only been the country's official anthem since 1981 when it replaced another sung to the tune of Britain's "God Save The Queen" which understandably caused some confusion.

A total of 129 entries were received in German and 69 in its second tongue, French. Italian-speakers submitted seven, while 10 were written in the country's fourth official langue Rumantsch.

A jury made up of politicians, musicians, journalists and members of yodel clubs, choirs and sports associations will pick the 10 best entries, which will be posted online next year for the public to choose the top three, which will be performed at a national music festival in September 2015, when spectators and television viewers will vote for a winner.

This is the kind of project I love. I mixed my writing skills with my love of playing piano, singing and dabbling with GarageBand on the Mac. I submitted my entry in French as I have a greater knowledge of this than German, having worked in the Correze for 6 months as a teenager. I’ll let you know if I make it to the top 10!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Enjoying the sunshine at Freibad Auwiesen-Töss

Our nearest swimming pool is Freibad Auwiesen-Töss and we can't get enough of its excellent facilities. There is a super whizzy slide for the big kids (which of course includes us!) a smaller pool with a mini slide and lots of inflatables for the little ones to enjoy while their parents sun themselves on the side, a larger pool with three lanes and a diving pool.

The green surrounds are wonderful, with barbecue areas and plenty of showers to cool down. There is a restaurant cafe which does all sorts, from Thai curry to burger and chips to ice cream and slushies.

We have a Sportspass, which has just celebrated its 20th birthday with a special event which included free entry for all at the weekend, a band, swimming races for the kids and tight-ropes across the diving pool. The Sportspass is excellent value and includes entry to all five swimming pools in Winterthur - and the amazing Pfaffikon, as well as entry in the Winterthur when many pools become ice rinks!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Children's art workshops at Winterthur Kunstmuseum

The girls went to their first art workshop (Kunstspaziergang) at Kunstmuseum Winterthur on Sunday. It was brilliant. You drop them off at 10am with the lovely Annika De Tomasi and return for them at 11.30am. I think the idea is that you can browse around the gallery artworks while your children are in the workshop (admission is 15CHF and there is a huge selection of amazing masterpieces)  but it was such a gorgeous sunny day Gourmet Gray and I went for a coffee and enjoyed the sun in the nearby park.

Each workshop, which I think take place roughly once a month in term time, focuses on one painting in the gallery. The girls were given beautiful name labels featuring Van Gogh's Sunflowers and then taken to look at Van Gogh's Summer Evening near Arles (pictured below) They enjoyed an interactive talk about it for a while before heading for the workshop and recreating the masterpiece in paints. Their beautiful art work was still wet when we turned up so Annika has promised to send them to us in the post!

They had a great time and at the end were given an envelope informing the parents about the painting they have studied and a postcard of the painting. The cost is 5CHF each. We will definitely be returning.

I can't find any details of this on the website (I found out about it from a postcard I picked up during a visit) But I imagine Annika wouldn't mind people dropping her an email for further details of future workshops:

Kunstmuseum Winterthur