Monday, 29 September 2014

Zurich in pictures

I had a rare day off duty from looking after the kiddies so I took to the streets of Zurich with my trusty camera. It was a beautiful day, with the dappled sunshine filtering its way into the courtyards of the old city, giving them a magical charm. Aah, I love Zurich.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Pics of the week

Cows really are everywhere in Switzerland - and they're often very colourful too.

It may have turned autumnal but that doesn't stop the thriving outdoor cafe scene in Winterthur.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Feeling the love for Swiss binmen

It's bin day and the trusty bin wagon is always heading up my street like clockwork as I walk with the kiddies to school (yes, I still accompany them, I'm struggling to be Swiss about this particular issue) And the binmen always smile and say hello, even the one driving the wagon waves to us as we pass.

And this morning I got to witness an entire sofa going in! I stood and gawped as the grinder chomped it up, thinking it was never going to go. But it did, it was chomped right down with not more than a crunch and a big bin of rubbish went in right behind it. Now, that's efficient. Once again I found myself comparing this to UK practices. Both Binmen and wagon would have a hernia to find a sofa put out for them on binday. I remember a neighbour finding her black bin hadn't been emptied one morning because the lid was slightly open meaning too much rubbish.

But of course, all the rubbish is paid for here - the sofa was sporting its required Apfellmarken like all bin-bags must do. So more money means more efficient ways to dispose of the rubbish I guess - like the mega guzzling, swallow anything Swiss bin wagon!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Museum pass grants access to the cultural side of the city

If you would like to walk on the cultural side of Winterthur there is a Museum Pass which grants free access to more then 16 museums, including all alternating exhibitions. Available from Winterthur Tourism (tourist info at train station) and all participating museums.

Use of the museum bus is included in the museum pass. This serves the following museums: Oskar Reinhart am Stadtgarten, Kunstmuseum (Museum of Art), Oskar Reinhart am Römerholz (Sunday additionally Centre of Photography and Villa Flora). The bus departs from bus stop M at Winterthur main railway station (Hauptbahnhof Winterthur).

1-day museum pass: CHF 25.-
(excl. Swiss Science Center Technorama)
2-day museum pass: CHF 35.-
(incl. Swiss Science Center Technorama)

Participating museums
  • Kunstmuseum Winterthur
  • Fotomuseum Winterthur
  • Museum Oskar Reinhart
  • Fotostiftung Schweiz
  • Sammlung Oskar Reinhart
  • «Am Römerholz»
  • Swiss Science Center
  • Technorama
  • Museum Briner und Kern
  • Naturmuseum Winterthur
  • Kunsthalle Winterthur
  • Schloss Kyburg
  • Gewerbemuseum Winterthur
  • Schloss Hegi
  • Spielzeugmuseum
  • Mörsburg
  • Münzkabinett & Antikensammlung
  • Uhrensammlung Kellenberger

Monday, 22 September 2014

Winterthur's Open Doors art event this weekend

This weekend (Sep27/28) sees the biggest art event on the Winterthur calendar. Open Doors sees approximately 60 artists around the city inviting the public into their studios to enjoy a rare glimpse of them in action. Their work will also be for sale.

Open Doors provides both emerging and established artists the opportunity to open their studio doors and show their artwork and their work methods. It concludes on Sunday with a musical finale in the ESSE Musicbar.

Mike Albrow (left) is one of the artists who will be taking part in this weekend's event. Mike's work is largely figurative, with an energetic dynamism to it, featuring a wide variety of media. Mike runs regular life drawing classes for all. His studio is at the back of Buro Schoch – Sunrise, down the alley to the right off Marktgasse (Untertor 9)

For a guide to the artist trail, pick up a MAP Magazine from the office of Winterthur Tourismus, located at Winterthur HB.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Winterthur's NeverEnding story bench

So yesterday, we leave the library in Winterthur square as usual on a Saturday and, as usual the girls race each other to climb on the head of the amazingly surreal beast bench in the church square but there is a large man sitting in the way. He graciously moves to one side as the girls clamber up and when I thank him he tells me with a lovely big smile that the bench is actually modelled on the Never-ending Story. And despite this being a big favourite film of mine when I was originally entranced by it in 1984 at the tender age of 11, I never made the connection.

I didn't even realise that The NeverEnding Story (Die unendliche Geschichte) is a German made film. Indeed, it was made in 1984 as a German epic fantasy film (at the time of its release, the most expensive film produced outside the USA or the USSR) and directed and co-written by Wolfgang Petersen (his first English-language film) It is based on the novel of the same name written by Michael Ende, a German writer of fantasy and fiction.

It's a great story for little people, featuring Bastian Bux, a quiet boy who loves to read and is accosted by bullies on his way to school. He hides in a bookstore, interrupting the grumpy bookseller, Mr. Koreander. Bastian asks about the book Mr. Koreander is reading but he warns him it is 'not safe.' Nevertheless, Bastian 'borrows' the book, leaving a note promising to return it, and races towards school and when he realises he is late for a maths test. hides in the school's attic and begins reading The Neverending Story.

The book describes the fantasy world of Fantasia which is being threatened by a force called 'The Nothing,' a void of darkness that consumes everything. The Childlike Empress, who rules over Fantasia from the Ivory Tower, has fallen ill due to the Nothing, and she has summoned Atreyu, a young warrior from the Plains People to discover the means to end the Nothing. To protect and guide him. Atreyu is given AURYN, a medallion which represents eternity in an infinite snake design (the original prop is now owned by Steven Spielberg) and is helped by the Luck Dragon Falkar (who also sorts out Bastian's bullies at the end)

And every week for the last year since we moved to Switzerland, the girls have been clambouring onto the head of Falkar, appropriately, as Atreyu does in the film, which thrusts out into the world, full of magical potential. And the big snake with a crown which wraps around over Falkar protectively is Auryn, And the rest of the bench is infact a never-ending story. And it took all this time to realise. Thank you Mr Winterthur man for enlightening us!

And breathe...

So it all went well for Gourmet Gray at the Greifenseelauf yesterday and he finished unscathed with a great time of 2hr 6mins, despite it being nearly 25c. But a lot of people suffered - people were keeling over all over the place and pretty much every medical tent had at least one person inside - the medics were literally rushed off the feet.

But once again, it was super well organised. Because of the heat there were lots and lots of water stations, shower spots, people with buckets and sponges and local farmers had even put sprinklers along the side of the race. Bands, situated every 4km or so, were playing wonderfully upbeat tunes to keep everyone going.

All the finishers received a whiskey glass (!) and a gorgeous blue t-shirt proclaiming 35 years of Greifenseelauf success - and long may it continue.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Everything crossed for the Greifenseelauf

It's Greifenseelauf weekend. So I've just been 'admiring' Gourmet Gray's makeshift nipple guards (cut out of a regular plaster) in preparation for his half marathon run at the Greifenseelauf tomorrow. Yes, the things us running widows have to go through.

I will spend a couple of hours tomorrow afternoon as 1pm arrives with my fingers crossed, praying he takes it easy and doesn't pull/twist anything and basically makes it through in one piece. Not that Gourmet Gray isn't fit. He is. But I feel there is always a danger when you hit a certain age (ie over 40) that your body does not respond well to endurance events of any kind. Of course he would say that's codswallop, as every other 'serious' runner will probably assure me. And I know it's the running that keeps him happy - and he needs an event on the horizon to keep it going.

Although I don't yet need an 'event' to motivate me, I do love running. For me, it's one of those rare things that you can do from your doorstep, for free and just half an hour of exercise can keep those endorphins bouncing around in your system for the entire day.

And I think at some point I will be seduced into an 'event' in Switzerland because they make it so easy and organise them so well. The public transport there is great and paid for, the facilities are top notch and there is often even a pint of beer (ok, usually alcohol free, but very nice beer even so) at the end of it. Even the kiddies are involved with their own races. What's not to love?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Invite for a night in a barn

My daughters have got great imagination right now. My five-year-old picked up a stone the other morning with the words 'Look mummy, a ghost stone.' And she was right!

And Switzerland looks set to evolve those super little minds even further - Bee has been invited by her Kindergarten teacher to sleep in a barn with her classmates overnight and we are invited to breakfast the next morning! I love Switzerland.

It just so happens to be my birthday that morning too. So I plan to take my weekend breakfast specialities - Nutella twizzlers. The recipe is very simple - buy a ready pack of puff pastry (the circular one) lie it out flat on the worktop, smear it generously with Nutella and cut it as you would a pizza into neat little triangles. Roll them up, from the outside to the middle and oven bake for 10 minutes (hot oven) En guete!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

From the suburbs of Birmingham to affluent Switzerland - Spar lives on

As an English girl who grew up with a Spar as her corner shop I find it very funny that Spars are rife here in Switzerland. How could a store that seemed to English and so cheap, be so prevalent in highly efficient, affluent Switzerland 35 years later? So I delved into the history of Spar to find out the truth.

And I was amazed to find out that Spar was founded in the Netherlands in 1932 by retailer Adriaan van Well. It is an international retail chain and franchise with approximately 12,500 stores in 35 countries worldwide. It's headquarters are in Amsterdam.

The name was originally DE SPAR, an acronym of the Dutch phrase Door Eendrachtig Samenwerken Profiteren Allen Regelmatig (an English translation would be - through united co-operation everyone regularly profits). De Spar is Dutch for 'The spruce', hence Spar's slightly Christmassy logo. As the organisation expanded across Europe, the name was abbreviated by dropping 'DE'.

The word Spar means 'to save (money)' in some Germanic and Scandinavian languages. So somehow, Spar has managed to keep its prices down and serves local communities effectively, as it did in my Birmingham backwater environment in the 1970s. Funny how some things never change, where-ever you go.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Enjoying the Chilbi funfair on Knabenschiessen

We enjoyed a lovely day off today to celebrate Knabenschiessen, which sounds rather rude for an English girl like me. Knabenschiessen is not actually an official holiday but schools take the Monday off and many businesses close for the afternoon.

The literal translation of Knabenschiessen, is 'boys shooting,' referring to an event harking back to the 17th century when competitions were held for the Schützenkönig (King of the Marksmen) with the aim of encouraging young boys to get excited about shooting and their future military service.

The event is now a weekend celebration and the actual shooting takes place at the shooting range in Albisgüetli in south-west Zurich. Knabenschiessen competitors (girls have been allowed to paricipate since 1991) must be between the ages of 13 and 17 years and live or go to school in the Canton of Zurich. For the entry fee of 12 Swiss Francs, competitors receive the right to participate, ammunition and a Bratwurst. Each year, 35'000 rounds are shot during Knabenschiessen.

Funnily enough Albisgüetli didn't feature on tram No.13 as expected when I leapt on it with my two daughters outside Zurich HB this morning. The destination was instead Laubegg where the 'Chilbi' fun fair was taking place to mark it. The rest of the tram line has been closed for the fair so I think the idea is that you walk along the tram line through the Chibli to the event at Albisgüetli, although we didn't get that far. We were too busy enjoying the fair.

And boy was it big and busy! We had a great time, consuming Bratwurst, Chnoblibrot (garlic bread) and supping slushies while enjoying a few rides and some weird and wonderful sights. Apparently there was a happy half hour at some point today where all the rides are free but I have no idea when that was – hopefully I'll be more clued up next time round. Happy Knabenschiessen!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Swiss national pride

The Swiss are very proud of being Swiss, portrayed by the multitude of national flags which adorn houses, streets, shops, squares, schools - and even building sites (see below) I can't say I blame them. Everything works. Everywhere is clean. Everyone is pleasant. Well, there are always exceptions. But that is what they are here. Exceptions.

The flag thing is infectious. I've not yet been here a year and I already feel the need to erect a flagpole from our balkon. I have a Swiss flag bag and I caught myself nearly buying Swiss flag slippers in Marktgasse this morning. Swiss pride is steadily infiltrating this English gal and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. Swiss pride and Babapappa...

Friday, 12 September 2014

Autumn is here (a little too soon)

I love how close up and personal the seasons are here. It's not just the rural area we live in nowadays, where the ebb and flow of our journey through the year is visually depicted by the work of local farmers but the people embrace it too.

Winterthur's amazing market on a Tuesday and Friday morning has suddenly gone from the hot reds and yellows of strawberries and sunflowers to the more muted oranges, greens and browns of a mass of autumnal produce, in particular pumpkins, which are suddenly everywhere. A huge variety of pumpkins too! The girls really enjoyed spotting the more alien looking species on the market this morning (it was a school inset day)

And as the weather has turned to the particularly cool temperatures, people have donned their boots, woolly cardigans and scarves and taking to the outdoor cafes wrapping their blankets around their knees and supping hot chocolate. I am expecting the heisse Marone (hot chestnut) stalls to appear very soon.

I'll be sad to leave the outdoor swimming behind though. Most pools close this Sunday.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

We love Green Cake!

So we've now made Friday our Green Cake Day. We love green cake. It was one of those outlandish looking things we had to try when we first moved to Switzerland and it tastes as good as it looks.

And then on Great British Bake Off (there are some very English things I just can't give up) last night, that's what they made! It's official name is now Princess Cake. So I now even know how to make it (although I'm not sure I'm brave enough)

It is actually a traditional Swedish layer cake (Prinsesstårta in Swedish) but the Swiss have certainly adopted it because it is so scrummy. It consists of alternating layers of airy sponge cake, custard or raspberry/ strawberry jam (depending on whether you're a purist or not) pastry cream, and a thick domed layer of whipped cream. It is topped with lime green marzipan, in a perfect dome shape and sprinkled with icing sugar, and often decorated with a pink marzipan rose (the Swiss have dropped the rose too)

The recipe first appeared in the 1930s 'Prinsessornas Kokbok' cookbook, which was published by Jenny Åkerström, a teacher of the three daughters of H.R.H. Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland. The cake was originally called "Grön tårta" (green cake), but was given the name "prinsesstårta" or "princess cake" because the princesses, H.R.H. Princess Margaretha (1899–1977; later Princess of Denmark), H.R.H. Princess Märtha (1901–1954; later Crown Princess of Norway), and H.R.H. Princess Astrid (1905–1935; later Queen of the Belgians) were said to have been especially fond it.

The cake is widely featured in Tom McNeal's book Far Far Away.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Life drawing at Winterthur's Jam Studio

I enjoyed a bit of 'me' time last night when I attended a life drawing class at the Jam Studio, run by fellow English immigrant Mike Albrow.

While working as a builder in Manchester Mike fell in love with a Swiss lady, moved to Switzerland with her around 25 years ago and never looked back. He has since brought up a family here and created an amazing niche for himself as a chef by day and an artist by night/afternoon.

I have never attended an art class in an artist's studio before and I found it very inspiring. It's only a five minute walk from Winterthur HB, although half of that is navigating the winding stairs and corridoors up to the studio loft space - it was all very exciting.

The model was amazingly professional and starts posing at 6.30pm sharp. There were sofas to recline on and easels available, as well as paper and artist materials that Mike will sell to you at cost price. There is no tuition, you just get on with it - which suited me (my efforts are pictured left and below) and you can paint/draw/sculpt to your heart's content for two hours solid. The classes are ad hoc, mainly on a Monday or Wednesday evening as well as the odd four hour session on a Saturday morning with the same pose when you can create a bigger/final piece of work. To find out dates drop Mike an email.

Cost per session is 25chf.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Swiss military wake up call

On Wednesday I was awoken with the sudden thought at 6.30am that the world was coming to an end. There was a thundering roar coming through my open window and when I looked out I saw the cause - a convoy of tanks and other Swiss military vehicles were rumbling through the village. Although sleepy  and rather bleary, I managed to grab my phone and snap a picture - see below.

This is not the first time, they first came through late afternoon a couple of days before but despite the intimidating presence of a tank rolling towards you, the Swiss have a way of allaying any nerves - a soldier chucked a packet of biscuits out of the window to the daughter of my friend as they passed.

After the shock of a rude awakening it made me chuckle - yet another thing that would be outlandish in the UK but just seems to be the norm here.

A teepee surprise at Winterthur Library

We were very surprised to see a life sized teepee in the children's section of Winterthur Library and the girls wasted no time in flinging off their trainers, grabbing a book and crawling inside. Where they stayed for at least an hour! With the table gone to make room, I had to settle myself on a tiny spongey cushion in the corner to read the paper.

The library gets the English newspaper The Times daily so it's my new 'treat' to sit and catch up with news and columns from my mother country on our weekly library trip. (You can also look at back copies of several weeks back)

The teepee will be the focus of a special event at the library between 10.15am and 11.45am on Saturday, 27th September when children between 5 and 10 years are encouraged to find out about the life of indians and make their own teepee from paper.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Swiss Samaritans

I see there's a Samaritan 'exercise' taking place in my local village at the Schulhaus between 8pm and 10pm. Now I first thought this might be a little confidential session for people who are feeling low. But I've discovered the Samaritan organisation here has a much wider remit.

The Swiss Samaritan Federation is the umbrella organization of over 1000 local Samaritan associations and their cantonal associations. Within the Samaritan organization, the tasks are divided as follows:

The Samaritan Teams
  • organize public courses
  • care of the medical service at events
  • volunteers to provide care and welfare facilities
  • cooperate with emergency services
  • work with local authorities
  • organize local blood drives
  • provide health care equipment
  • involved in the youth work
Cantonal associations

The 24 cantonal associations support the work of teams by providing advice, training, communication, coordination and consultation with cantonal authorities.

The central organization
  • develops the basics the Samaritans work
  • develops training programs
  • organizes courses (training of trainers and training)
  • promotes the cantonal associations
  • provides services for clubs and parties
  • public relations
  • working with federal agencies and national organizations
  • interacts with the Swiss Red Cross
So, Im still a little clueless as to what is taking place here on 11th Sep. My Google translate reveals 'Nursing, pocket control...'

For those who are feeling depressed and need someone to talk to you can phone 143. The website is here.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Peppers and all things edible

We greatly enjoyed the pepper event at Winterthur Library on Saturday and it even encouraged Pops to taste peppers for the first time - and she loved them! It's a relief she heeded my warning about steering clear of the thin ones though! There were some very hot ones on offer, providing a great kick to a Saturday morning. My 15-year-old son has also been inspired to make elderberry jam this weekend with all those wonderful autumnal hedgerow fruits on offer - and it set! I am very jealous, my jam has been far too sloppy on the two occasions I've tried it (although his dad did suggest the addition of a grated apple might add the vital pectin needed, which he did do) We now have plums from a friend and I am hoping he follows up with some scrummy plum jam...

Our first harvest of the year, producing some very berry jam!