Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Share a little of that Christmas excess with those in need

For many people, Christmas is a time of excess, with sumptuous food and lots of presents. Others have very little, even at Christmas. But here in Switzerland you can help!

The 19th ‘2 x Christmas’ campaign starts on Thursday 24 December 2015 and will run until Saturday 9 January 2016. The basic idea behind the campaign is to share a bit of this excess with others.

If you would like to get involved and help to make someone in need especially happy this holiday season you have two possibilities. You can buy a parcel online or put together your own parcel and drop it off at any Post Office near to you. The Post transports the parcels to the Swiss Red Cross free of charge and volunteers sort the contents.

Half of the donations will then be distributed through cantonal Red Cross associations to social institutions and people in need across Switzerland. The rest of the goods will be transported to Eastern Europe: mainly Armenia, Belarus and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Moldova. The local Red Cross societies are ensuring the correct distribution to the people in need which are mostly elderly, families with many children or social institutions.

Things to put in your parcel:
  • Non-perishable foodstuffs such as pasta, rice, oil and tinned goods with a shelf life of at least six months
  • Toiletries such as soap, shampoo and toothpaste
  • School equipment such as stationery, crayons and exercise books for children
  • New children's shoes
There is no need for special packaging. An old card board box that closes well is sufficient. Please don't donate any clothes because they are already provided via old clothes collections, and sorting them generates a lot of additional effort. Cuddly toys are also not needed.

Take your parcel to the nearest post office between 24 December 2015 and 9 January 2016, free of charge. The Post offices have printed address labels ready. All you have to say is say ‘2 x Christmas’.

Friday, 20 November 2015

You can rely on Swiss Post for those letters to Santa

The twinklies are in the shops, the Christmas lights are going up around town, it’s almost that time of year again.

As we open our advent calendars on 1st December I will also ask my daughters to write their letters to Santa this year so we can get them in the post nice and early. This is because the Swiss Post team (who do a wonderful job) will be replying to each and every letter sent to Father Christmas – around 18,000 letters.

However imaginatively the addresses have been written,  ‘Santa, North Pole,’ 'Father Christmas, Lapland,' ‘Père Noël, aux Rochers du Naye' or any other variation, they all reach the Swiss branch of the main Santa Claus post office in Chiasso.

This amazing service has continued for more than 60 years, with each letter being sorted by language and every sender receives a reply – in English, German, French, Italian or Romansch, and a small present – as long as they have provided their address. The envelopes are decorated with a special Christmas stamp and the postmark comes from the Berne-Bethlehem post office.

So don’t forget to get those letters to Santa early – and don’t forget to include your address. Have a lovely Advent time!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Winterthur's International Short Film Festival is launched

The 19th edition of the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, Switzerland's most important short film festival, kicks off today and will run until Sunday (8th)

A grand total of 59 films from 25 countries made the final selection for the International and Swiss Competitions, with Main Focus featuring everyday Arab life, while the Country in Focus section looks at Bhutan and Nepal. There will also be Swiss premieres of early shorts by Andy Warhol, celebrating 99 YE∀ЯS OF DADA.

On Thursday (5th) and Sunday (8th) there will be special screenings for children, The Magic Lantern: Shorts for Kids – True Courage? a programme of ten shorts for the whole family. The movies show the versatility of short film and most of them pursue the question of what true courage means.

This includes The Little Cousteau, a homage to Jacques Cousteau, featuring a little boy who longs for deep-sea adventures in a snow-covered city and Wombo, featuring an alien who makes an emergency landing on planet earth. But life here is no laughing matter. First, he is chased by a dog, then he ends up in a vegetable basket and nearly gets cooked for dinner. But why is all of this happening to him? The reason is simple: our alien friend happens to look like a potato!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Forest School

The Swiss love the great outdoors. And so do we. Which was why when the village kindergarten ran out of space for a sudden influx of children last year and offered a year of forest school we snapped up a place. And, although some mornings my 5-year-old would groan at the thought of another big walk into the forest and back (she would always come home with a big grin) we never regretted our decision.

And now the year 'in Wald' has finished, she still gets to do one morning a week in the forest, which is great. They do so much - they cook, create natural art, play games, light fires, sharpen sticks and saw branches off trees. Yes, it took me a while to get my head around too - the children are taught how to use matches and they are taught how to use Swiss army knives and mini saws to make things. And all the gear is kept in a cutesy little caravan in the forest, with a tiny lock on it (see above)

Monday, 19 October 2015

Winterthurs' Wildpark Bruderhaus is a great day out - even in the rain!

For a 'last day of the holiday treat' we visited Winterthur's Wildpark Bruderhaus which houses a variety of spacious enclosures comprising deer, lynx cats, bison, wild horses and wolves. It was a little rainy but that did not deter us as the walk through the forest is stunning at this time of year, with its autumnal colours and exciting clumps of mushrooms to find.

We love Peter Imfeld's White Stag sculpture which has steps up its hind leg for children to climb! The children's playground is on the way to the spacious wolf enclosure - the wolves stayed hidden but it was thrilling to glimpse three of them sheltering from the rain under the distant trees.

We entered the Restaurant Bruderhaus which was heaving with people - despite the weather - but a lovely couple shuffled around to make room for us. I enjoyed a very comforting Baileys Heisse Schoggi, the girls had mini hot chocolates and an ice cream dessert, which they were delighted to find came with a lolly, and we thawed out in the warmth and enjoyed the buzzing atmosphere. I was amazed to see a well stocked bar and a couple enjoying a bottle of wine at lunchtime. I love that about the Swiss, they just know how to enjoy themselves :)

Wildpark Bruderhaus also features a children's adventure trail with a rock garden, children's village and a Labyrinth. The Restaurant Bruderhaus is equipped with a barbecue area, benches and a 20-minute walk through the forest takes you to the restaurant Eschenberg, near the Eschenberg Observatory which opens its doors every Wednesday evening. Eschenberg Tower, which stands 30m high, is also located in the nearby Esch mountain forest.

Not a good day for Swiss politics

As protestors in recent clashes in Bern this weekend feared, Switzerland's vote yesterday saw the extremely right-wing SVP claiming 65 seats in the new National Council, giving it a right-wing majority for the first time ever.

Turnout was around 47%, fairly normal for a Swiss general election, but the SVP managed to achieve a historic high of 29.4% by spending more money than any other party – it seems money buys votes in Switzerland as it does everywhere else.

So what does this mean? In Swiss politics a majority in parliament isn't as dramatic as in Britain but it is still a big result and will dictate the path Switzerland takes over the next four years. Although Switzerland is a direct democracy, meaning that voters have a say through referenda, around 75% of all decisions are taken by parliament without asking the people.

Most immediately it will affect the election of the Swiss government, the Federal Council, which takes place on 9 December. The seven Federal Councillors are elected by both houses of parliament together, with a simple majority needed to elect each member. Although these particular elections often produce surprises, a second seat for the SVP is now almost a foregone conclusion, meaning that the right will then have four seats and a majority in government as well.

The SVP made the refugee crisis in Europe the main topic of debate, even though Switzerland has barely been affected by the recent migration so far. So this result is very disturbing. The right-wing majority is also likely to replace the Swiss political tradition of consensus with confrontation –for example, over immigration, over pensions, nuclear energy – as well as confrontation with anyone who disagrees with them.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Get set for Oktoberfest!

One of the (many) things I love about the Swiss is the way they adopt the things they love from other countries and cultures and make them their own. They do it with the language - big time, and there there is green cake (an amazing concoction of sponge, cream and green marzipan which originally comes from Sweden) and of course they do it with festivals (and the Swiss LOVE their festivals)

So at this time of year, the stores are suddenly packed to the rafters with dirndls – the amazing traditional dress with built in cleavage (well, you will also need to wear your best push-up bra of course ;) Because it's Oktoberfest time and there will be events taking place all across Switzerland, with much beer, much cleavage, lots of swaying and a bundle of great traditional Swiss/German music.

The ambiance is jovial and total strangers sing well-known songs together as if they have known each other for years. The Oktoberfest – the original of which is held every year in Munich and opens with the famous words, “O'zapft is!” (it’s tapped!) – is becoming increasingly popular here. Every year, Oktoberfest hosts invent new specialties to treat their guests to an unforgettable Oktoberfest experience.

Tomorrow, (Friday, 2nd Oct) there will be a Children's Oktoberfest for the kiddies to enjoy at Zurich HB between 1pm and 4pm, with clowns, magicians, a cotton candy and a carousel ride for free!

And in Winterthur's big event, which has now being taking place for 17 years, will happen on 22nd October in the grand Oktoberfest Barn, with further events across the city right up until 7th November – more details here.

For details of Oktoberfest activities throughout the canton of Zurich, visit here.

My first watercolour painting

I've taken on the task of teaching myself watercolours. Very tricky for me, being an artist far more comfortable with pastels and oil paints! So after a series of sketches, some better than others, I've produced my first painting which I am pretty proud of. Brütten Church, in Brütten where I live (10mins from Winti, up a very big hill) is very pretty and a prominent feature of the village, peeking out across the vista from miles around. I am planning a collection of pictures focusing on views of the church from many different viewpoints - some rather unusual! So please enjoy Brütten Kirche No.1 :)

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Landfill Harmonic - an orchestra created from rubbish

While working as an ecological technician at the Cateura Landfill, the largest garbage dump of Paraguay’s capital Asunción, Favio Chávez got to know and befriended some of the 2,500 impoverished families who lived at the garbage dump working as recyclers. Witnessing the rampant illiteracy, extreme poverty, pollution and surrounding culture of drugs and gangs, Chávez became acutely aware that the children needed something positive in their lives – something to keep them out of the landfill and striving for something more.

Having previously been a music teacher, Favio decided to share his love of music with the children, and began teaching music lessons using the handful of personal instruments he owned. He soon realised there wasn’t enough instruments for all the eager students, so he started experimenting with making instruments using scraps of dirty oilcans, jars, wood, forks and other junk in the Cateura landfill, the instruments began to take shape and become finely tuned musical instruments - violins, flutes, cellos, drums…all made from trash. From this ingenuity, the “Recycled Orchestra” was formed with the local children as its members learning and performing Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

So far, Chavez has taught music skills to over 120 children, inspiring hope, confidence and an awakening of passions within the children and their families who are now beginning to believe in a future beyond the slums of the landfill. The youth orchestra, now 30 members strong, has performed throughout the world and is the subject of the upcoming documentary Landfill Harmonic - to be shown at Zurich Film Festival on Sunday (27th Sep) 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Kiefer Sutherland and Mike Leigh in town for Zurich Film Festival

Zurich Film Festival kicks off on Thursday (24th September) with a visit from no less than Kiefer Sutherland and Mike Leigh who will be in town to collect special awards.

The film festival’s prestigious Golden Eye Award will be awarded to Kiefer on Friday (25th Sep) at the Corso Cinema, near Zurich Opera House (nearest train station is Stadelhoffen) at 9.25pm.

And this year’s Zurich Film Festival A Tribute to... award goes to British film director Mike Leigh (I'm a big fan) one of the most significant exponents of New British Cinema. Mike Leigh will collect the Golden Eye in person during the Award Night ceremony at the Zurich Opera House on 3rd October. A large number of Mike's films will be shown throughout the festival – my personal favourite being Secrets and Lies – pure genius.

Serving as the Festival’s most prestigious symbol of recognition, awarded in appreciation of the lifetime achievements of an actor or actress, the Golden Icon Award will be bestowed to Arnold Schwarzenegger on the evening of Wednesday, 30th September at 9pm at the Corso Cinema.

And there are several movies being screened for children, with the particularly heart warming Kids Film - Landfill Harmonic – screened on 27th September featuring a very special music teacher and a bunch of children from Paraguay using their rubbish to make instruments to form their own orchestra. Take a look at the dates, times, and trailer for the film here:

ZFF for Kids legal age is 6 years old with a recommendation of 8 years and over. Links to the ZFF for Kids can be found here.

Tickets are on sale now for ZurichFilm Festival which runs between 24th Sep and 4th October:

Saturday, 12 September 2015

It's Chibli time

It’s Knabenschiessen weekend! Knabenschiessen is one of Zurich’s oldest festivals  - officially held for the first time in 1889 – and is a traditional target shooting competition in Zürich held on the second weekend of September each year.

The competition is open to 13–17 year olds who either reside or are enrolled in a school in the canton of Zürich. Originally reserved for boys (Knaben), the competition has been open to female participants since 1991. The competition is held in the shooting range at Albisgütli to the south-west of the city centre on the slope of Üetliberg. It is surrounded by the Chilbli - a large fair.  (you can ride all of the rides for free from 11am to 11:30am on Knabenschiessen Monday)

Chilbli opening times

Saturday, September 12, at 10am - 1.30am
Sunday, September 13, 11am - 12.30am
Monday, September 14, 11am – 11pm

And this year, there is a giant slide to boot! The giant 200m long slide will travel through the city but there are a limited number of tickets available. The check-in tent opens at 11am and the slide opens from between 12pm until 8pm.

You need a ticket to access the slide. With your ticket you can slide as much as you want during a 2 hour slot. You have a choice between Action Tickets and Family Tickets (action time will be a bit more manic)

Children (6 – 16 years) CHF 18
Adults (from 16 years) CHF 20
Action ticket - from 16 years CHF 23

Children under the age of 6 are free if accompanied by an adult.

*Those under the age of 18 need to bring an exclusion of liability signed by their parent or guardian
•Bring your ID or passport
•Be at the check-in tent one hour before your time slot
•Do not wear jeans or any accessories that could be a security risk or damage the slide

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Zurich's big events and enochlophobia

I suffer from enochlophobia. What the hell is enochlophobia you ask? Well, I’ve only just found out myself  and I quite like it. Especially as it applies to me – and labels my irrational fear of large crowds.

Funnily enough, it is only since I moved to Zurich that I have realised this fear. It began when I first attended Sechseläuten. This very exciting event is held in April and involves the burning of a giant Snowman (the Böögg) whose head explodes in the centre of the city, letting people know what kind of summer is in store (depending on how long it takes – the quicker, the better - for the head to go BOOM)

A giant snowman’s head exploding, surrounding by galloping horses – this I must see, I thought. Except - despite being in the right place at the right time with my 6-year-old and 8-year-old daughters, I didn’t. That was because literally thousands of people were standing in front of me (and around me) to see the same spectacle.

We had actually got there half an hour before the event to bag a great view of the Böögg. But as the minutes ticked by, more and more and more – and more - people arrived around us. And then it began. Not the burning of the Böögg, but an extreme fear I have not experienced before. With 5 minutes to go, I was suddenly aware that we were tightly packed in among hundreds of other people and I panicked. Big time.  As thoughts of ‘I can’t move,’  ‘we can’t possibly get out of here’ and My daughters will be trampled to death,’ I started to sweat, my breath got short and I began palpitating. I grabbed the hands of my daughters and just managed to say’ ‘we’re going’ before charging head long through the crowds, quite rudely at times I’m ashamed to say - and kept my head down until I could breathe again. It actually took the entire time for the Böögg’s head burning and exploding – and the sound almost finished me off – to escape the crowd (about 20 minutes I think but to be honest I really didn’t care by then)

But face your fears, I have been told many times. And face my fears I did yesterday, heading into Zurich for the Street Parade. We arrived at Zurich HB just before the parade was due to start. It was so hot – Zurich HB was enschrouded with a blanket of oppressive heat. And bodies. Were. Eveywhere 'Oooo, why is the train station so busy mummy?' asked my 8-year-old.

'Because of Street Parade! Let's go!' I lisped through gritted teeth, fixing my face in a phoney smile and ploughing through the very loud, and in some cases, very drunk (it was lunchtime!) groups of youths and heading up Bahnhofstrasse. It was very exciting. My girls loved the outfits they saw. There was a lot of flesh on show – boobs, bums, giant inflatable willies... The buzz was tremendous. 

But with every yell from the tidal wave of people we were swept along with, I flinched. As we passed Globus (yes, I had already started to lose my nerve and sidestepped into a parallel street) there was a humungous crash at the doorway as the glass protection to the gold feather sculpture smashed (I don’t know how but a sheepish looking group moved quickly away) Then there was another crash. Then a firework. And my nerves had had it.

We reached Manor , bought wigs at the street stall outside…and went home. Mega fail. But we were there! And my poor children you ask? Disappointed again? Well, nothing that a little pack of fizzy sweets and a cool off in our local amazing outdoor pool couldn't dissolve. 

Next year I will try again. At least until Coop anyway.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Musikfestwochen is launched!

As the summer is coming to an end, Winterthur turns up the heat once more as the Old Town vibrates to the rhythm of Musikfestwochen which launches today (12th - 23rd August) Over the course of twelve days contemporary music and cabaret are celebrated in and around the alleys and plazas of the old town.

The heart of Musikfestwochen (this year celebrating its 40th birthday) beats in Steinberggasse where the main stage is set up and the majority of the concerts take place. Most gigs are free - tickets are only sold for the major concerts - and the three day weekend music pass is already sold out!

Sunday, 16th August is the family orientated day, taking place in the church square from 2pm until 4pm, with lots of drawing and refreshments. While in Untere Steinberggasse, there will be a Playbus, juggling, a tattoo show and general circus antics, including animation, taking place between 3pm and 6pm.

There will also be children's concerts taking place at the Kindertheater 'Roulette' on Graben between 2pm and 3pm at the weekend (Sat & Sun 2-3pm)

The children's theme continues into next week with Winterthur Library celebrating its Summer Stark Lesen challenge on Wednesday (19th) afternoon (2.30pm – 5.30pm) with other events taking place on the Church Square.

The children will also enjoy the overall buzz of the city during the week with lots of free concerts taking place all over – but perhaps bring along the ear defenders incase it gets too loud for tiny ears!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Friday, 26 June 2015

The Albani Festival has touched down!

I love the Swiss. I especially love how much they love a good party or festival. And what great hosts they make. So we always get very excited about the Albani Festival, not least because it is right on our doorstep.

St. Alban, chosen as the patron saint of the city of Winterthur and dedicated to the city's church, was executed in 286 during the persecution of Christians. On the Memorial Day of Albanus on 22nd June, 1264, Rudolf von Habsburg granted the town a charter of freedom and from then on, this event was celebrated on each Albanustag. The Albanifest as we know it today was established in 1971 and is considered Europe's largest, annually recurring city festival.

The main focus of the festival is eating, drinking and an amazing funfair which weaves its way through the old town and into the city park. There are also plenty of gigs to enjoy, throughout the day and night over the weekend, and the atmosphere is buzzing.

The weekend event kicks off today at 6pm with live music continuing until 2am!

In addition, there is a set price for all fast food and beverages – see below for an edited list of the most popular of festive fayre:
  • Halfe litre of wine 16 chf
  • Beer – 3dl - 4chf
  • Beer – 4dl - 5chf
  • Beer - 5 dl - 6chf
  • Beer - 1 litre – 12 chf
  • PET mineral, soft drinks 5dl – 5 chf
  • Coffee, tea – 3.50 chf
  • Wintiwurst – 6 chf
  • Cervelat grilled bread - 5 chf

Happy Albani Fest weekend!

Free tick removal card from chemists

After seeing a post about this on a Swiss mum's group on Facebook I went into my local chemists to ask about the tick (or Zecken) removal card - I hadn't the faintest clue what this was called so did a swishing movement on the back of my hand - and received one free of charge! I've put a (rather blurry) image of the procedure to remove the tick using the card underneath. If you don't use this method, there is a chance of leaving part of the tick behind which may then still infect the skin.

But above all, don't panic (like I always do - we've had two 'incidents' now) - apparently it takes around 24 hours for a tick to infect its victim and then it may not even be infected itself. The main thing here is to keep vigilant - these things really are tiny and like to hide in the creases of the skin ie the tops of the legs, under the arms, behind the ears etc, so get into the habit of quickly checking your little ones on a daily basis as they get ready for bed.

If you know your children will be going near/in woods - or indeed any kind of foliage up to their knees - you can also use a spray (pictured below) which deters ticks, readily available from any chemist.

If you need further information about ticks, please refer to my earlier posts here and here.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Music weekend in Winterthur

It was such fun walking around Winti on Saturday for my two little budding musicians as there were pianos scattered randomly around town for them to play on as part of the town's Music Day - and they embraced it, playing their little tunes at every one they saw. I first saw this idea executed in Liverpool and absolutely love it. It brings people together so easily through a love of and talent for music - which I truly believe is inherent in us all.

We also got to enjoy a concert at Winterthur's beautiful Music School on Sunday, topping off a beautifully musical weekend.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

ZVV's holiday pass for children

ZVV are running a holiday passport scheme for children over the summer holidays.

The special pass is available for the five weeks from July 4 to August 9 or 11 July to 16 August to all those born between 1999-2009 ie all children between 5 and 15.

For the cost of 24 chf, admission is free on all ZVV transport including all trains, buses, trams, cable cars and boats. Entrance is also free to 120 Badis and 45 museums across the canton.

This includes:
  • Free entry to Zurich Zoo
  • Free ice cream dessert at Panorama Restaurant Felsenegg
  • Free entrance to Schloss Kyberg (nr Winterthur)
  • 50% discount on all pizzas at Vapiano Restaurant
  • CHF 5 voucher at The Body Shop
  • 25% discount on all children's books at Bookstore Lüthy
  • Free ZVV anniversary frisbee from Zurich HB
  • Two free tickets for the Fantastic Four movie (although number of places are limited)
In addition ZVV are running a photography competition with the pass and the best three pictures will receive a free pizza meal and movie night out for the winners and four friends. 

The pass is available to buy now from any ZVV sales outlet and in larger Migros stores.
The ZVV holiday passport is not transferable and is only valid with a passport photo and personal details completed.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The birthday procession

I'm not sure if this is a national thing or it's just a local tradition but our kindergarten school have a wonderful tradition on someone's birthday. All the children go to collect the birthday boy or girl on their special day and take them to kindergarten, bedecked in royal robe and crown, in a royal wagon. It's such a lovely tradition. Like so many others here. Love it.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The robin tops UK poll for its national bird

I've just made a very quick watercolour sketch in celebration of the robin being hailed as the UK's national bird. Great choice. Not least because it was also my choice. Who fails to smile whenever they catch a glimpse of the endearing, cheeky robin? Such a British icon.

More than 224,000 people voted in the recent campaign launched by Springwatch presenter Ornithologist David Lindo who now plans to ask the government to officially recognise the robin as the national bird. In the poll the robin received 34% of votes, followed by the barn owl, which received 12%, and the blackbird, 11%.

We have a new pet - meet caterpillar Jessy!

Poppy came home from school very excited yesterday lunch time after rescuing a caterpillar from the jaws of a crow and tenderly carried him home all battered and bloody! Amazingly he seems to have recovered very well but I'm not sure how long he will last as he is not interested in the leaves we have provided for him so we have yet to find his diet of choice. Cue a return to the spot of the crime after school today where we will pick a variety of leaves and try and solve the puzzle (apparently caterpillars don't travel far from their food source) Oh and even though I keep referring to our new pet as a him, Poppy has for some reason decided it's a girl and named it Jessy.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Let's ear it for Swiss walk-in clinics

I have had my first experience of a Walk-In Clinic this morning and I am very happy with the results.

Walk-In Clinics are usually known as 'Permanence' centres here and located at various strategic points around cities. The one in Winterthur (open between 7am and 10pm, 365 days per year) is situated above the main train station, on the 3rd floor of the shopping centre. Funnily enough, the only other shop on this floor just happens to be the erotic Magic X shop so I felt rather conspicuous taking the escalator up there. However, the topic of sex doesn't have the stigma here that it does in the UK and a hugely diverse array of people drifted in and out of Magic X quite happily as I passed by looking for medical relief.

The ailment in question was concerning my right ear. I'll explain. With the tropical temperatures taking hold of Switzerland last week all this particular girl wanted to do was plunge into a wonderfully accommodating Swiss pool or lake to cool off (view earlier blog about my passion for outdoor swimming) In the space of nine days I swam in Winterthur's Geiselweid and Töss pools, Katsenzee lake and Pfäffikon pool and lake – oh yes and Bodensee Therme in Konstanz! 

The trouble is, since last year I had somehow been retaining water in my right ear, lasting for a duration of anything from 15 minutes to a few days. Although it wasn't painful it was extremely annoying and could hugely affect my sleep. And after swimming at Pfaffikon on Sunday I had it again - until this morning. This time around it was more of a nuisance – with a constant pulsating and 'popping' of water in my ear lobe - and last night I slept for a grand total of just two hours.

So I had to take action. After so little sleep I felt tired, lousy and miserable this morning so didn't fancy verbally wrestling with the non-English speaking receptionist of my local village doctor this morning (who I must point out is really lovely) But I had heard about the walk-in clinic at Winterthur Hauptbahnhof and dragged myself onto the 9.04am bus. I was walking into the clinic at 9.18am and was seen by the receptionist immediately who asked to see my health insurance card (which actually feels like a magic card most of the time because one flash of that at any receptionist and you can just walk out afterwards in the knowledge that everything financial is taken care of) I had to fill out a very simple form which was also in English and then directed to a very pleasant waiting area where four people already sat.

I was seen after half an hour by a (very young looking and non-smiley) male doctor who thankfully spoke great English, asked me lots of questions and then made his diagnosis – a build up of wax (Urgh!) which is why the water wasn't running away as it should after a swim. I was shown to another room where I waited just over another half an hour (luckily I'd brought a book) before another (very young looking and very smiley) girl injected pressurised water into my ear – a little uncomfortable but it only lasted 5 minutes or so – and I was cured!
Saved from giving up my passion for Swiss Badis and lakes

I went back to the first doctor for a quick check-up. And with one shake of the hand I was out of there. So in all, my visit took just over an hour but I didn't care. My fears of infections and never being able to swim again were all unfounded. Walk-in clinics get a big thumbs up from me. Excuse me while I go hunt for my bikini...(I won't actually be swimming for at least 5 days, just to be on the safe side as my ear has lost its natural 'coating' for a short while (double Urgh) but my bag will be already packed and waiting ;)

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Tick-Attack No.2

Surprisingly, not a place to find wood ticks
My youngest daughter has finally come into contact with the dreaded wood tick. It was on the back of her hand while she was in her Kindergarten forest class this morning when her little friend saw it and pointed it out (luckily the children here are incredibly clued up on them) A teacher immediately plucked it off and then sprayed the infected area. The red mark has disappeared now (a few hours later) but I will be vigilant, checking the site on her hand for the next couple of weeks.

Ticks are really nasty little creatures which can cause Lyme disease (affecting the nervous system) and a form of meningitis - encephalitis (TBE) Worst of all it seems that the Canton of Zurich is in the centre of an endemic - see map here.

After my eldest daughter had a tick episode early on after our arrival in Switzerland (I'm convinced it was by the stepping stones at Zurichhorn Park) I took both of my girls to the local doctor to receive the TBE vaccination – which involves three – yes, three – injections. The first two are given within three months of each other and then the third is followed up a year later. The vaccination is of the child-friendly kind and can be given to any child over the age of one.

So my girls are now pretty safe from tick-borne encephalitis - but there is no vaccination for Lyme disease, although – if caught quickly – it can be remedied with antibiotics.

Which for me has dampened my enthusiasm for our many pursuits 'im Wald' but as most of life centres around the woods here I have to grit my teeth and desperately try not to shriek at my dear children each time they lunge into the undergrowth, which is teeming with diseased ticks (in my mind anyway)

You see, not only do we live in the middle of a Tick-Attack in the middle of Zurich, they love deciduous woods with abundant undergrowth (which surrounds our village) and hang out a the edge of the forest and on forest paths lying in wait on low growing plants until some poor unsuspecting warm-blooded host (person or animal) brushes against the plant. However, they do not fall from trees.

You can take precautions by covering legs and arms and using repellent. But of course this does not entirely protect against them, especially when you have little ones running willy-nilly though the forest. Always check for them after a trip to the woods (they especially like to hide in arm pits, the creases of legs and behind ears – so a thorough body check is required)

It is important to remove a tick as soon as you find it. Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal device to grab the tick and pull it straight out (we have also been advised to stick it to a piece of sellotape and keep it as it provides valuable information for the doctor in any event of infection) After the tick has been removed, disinfect the area and make a mental note of it. If the victim has a fever or other symptoms after being bitten by a tick, call a doctor.

So here I am once again, watching daughter no.2 with bated breath, desperately hoping any dodgy 'bullseye' looking rashes will fail to develop. And fighting against the compelling instinct to avoid woods and other wild vegetation until Winter...

Monday, 1 June 2015

Sunday afternoon swimming in the Bodensee

The swimming facilities are amazing in Switzerland and we can be found in either a pool or a lake most weekends when it's sunny (and some evenings too!)

However, yesterday we thought we would take a drive out to Bodensee Therme in Konstanz on the German border (only 45mins or so by car)

This place has a real wow factor – the venue is huge, with a 50m swimming pool, a separate large non-swimmer pool with slides, a thermal pool, hot jacuzzis and – best of all - access to the Bodensee for a swim. And the sun came out too!

We had a great time, mainly alternating between the slides, the lake and the thermal pool - with very fast rapids which the girls loved. Graham and I took it in turns to have a very icy cold dip in the lake – it was 18 degrees (access is closed if it dips below 16 degrees) There is a pontoon to swim to but I was just happy to swim around the deck, tingling madly from the cold water. The deck links to the venue with a beautiful wooden bridge which spans a public promenade so you can people watch while you float. And then of course you can jump into the thermal pool to warm up!

The price is very reasonable – a family pass, (2adults and 2 children) is €24 for up to 3 hours or €30 for the entire day (open until 11pm!)

The restaurant was reasonable - we had two beers, two Oranginas, a mozarella and tomato sandwich, a huge bowl of chips (€3.50) spaghetti bolognaise and a huge hunk of meat with pepper sauce for just €34. And parking was just €3.50 euros for nearly five hours.

A lovely day out.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Zurich Street Food Festival rocks

So we went along to Zurich Street Food Festival and had a ball - and lots of lovely food. My very favourite was a taco with a hit at Primo Tacos - look out for the blue cat. The guy makes the tacos fresh on the spot, putting in the main filling and you get to add your own toppings from a lovely little row along the front of the counter which includes a coriander plant!

We had some lovely nibbles of amazing meat on the first aisle and the Spanish stall in the middle was very popular with my 8-year-old as one of the very kind ladies was encouraging Poppy to try all sorts. After a two year food 'drought' Poppy has become very adventurous with food recently so I wanted to embrace that with this trip to the food festival. And she loved it. My only grumble would be that there wasn't enough tasters. So we unfortunately spent a fortune on giving her different tasters of our own.

But the buzz was there. With everyone really enjoying themselves. And then there was the absolute cream topping on the trifle that was the food fest - an amazing outdoor badi and its grounds to enjoy for free!! Complete with children's pool with a slide, a little playground and and even a cocktail bar! If you are feeling flash, the Wodka Cooler was incredible (vodka, lemon juice and ginger ale) but it's pricy at CHF 16.

We pretty much had the place to ourselves early on but when the sun came out it soon filled up.

And the best way to get there - the No.6 tram to the Zoo which passes Zurich HB - alight at the Zoo tram stop and its a 15 minute walk from there (where you ogle at the world's press camping like vultures outside the gate of the FIFA HQ in light of its recent scandal)

If you haven't yet been to Zurich Street Food Festival - go tomorrow (11am-7pm) - you will not regret it - even if it's just for a relax at the pool free of charge, inhaling the gorgeous aroma of glorious street food from around the world.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Nibbles galore at Zurich Street Food Festival

Get set for Zurich Street Food Festival throughout the weekend, which luckily coincides with ZVV's free day of transport on Sunday!

The 3rd Zurich Street Food Festival takes place at the Dolder Ice Rink from today until Sunday (29th - 31st May)

More than 100 food stalls will be featuring delicacies from all over the world for visitors to try. All vendors are housed in creative food trucks and market booths.

Take note - there is no parking – so you will have to make your way by public transport, bike or foot (don't you just love the Swiss and their green ways?) And getting there by public transport is of course pretty easy from Zurich central:
  • Take the Dolderbahn from Römerhof
  • Take the No. 6 or No. 30 bus to the zoo
  • Take Tram No. 5 to Kirche Fluntern
  • Take bus No. 751 to Dreiwiesen
Zurich Street Food Festival takes place from 5-11pm today (Friday) 11am-11pm tomorrow (Saturday) and 11am until 7pm on Sunday.

En guete!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Expedition Wunderland arrives in town

I love going to shows. I miss going to shows here. Mainly because my grasp of the language isn't anywhere near sufficient, rather than there being a shortage of shows. In fact, there seems to be lots going on in Winterthur a lot of the time. And I should put aside my own needs and take my daughters to more of them as they too love shows. And of course they speak the language far better than me.

So this is why I have 'booked' two places for Expedition Wunderland, an improvisational comedy show geared towards children taking place at Gaswerks next month (although the piccy of an Indiana Jones look-alike helped!) We found out about this as Poppy's teacher gave the flyers out at school and mentioned that John, who used to help out in Poppy's class, is playing a role in the production.

John was one of those amazing teenagers who the hormonal thing seems to have completely passed by.  He was 16, incredibly polite, always smiling, very bright - just finishing Gymnasium and looking towards an even brighter future. It wasn't just Poppy who was gutted when he left her school as classroon helper last summer to move onto bigger and better things.

So of course we had to show our support. And I've never been to an 'impro-show' - and this particular show seems to be entirely directed by suggestions from the audience!

The reservation process is very strange - I have just booked two places on the website giving my name, number and address and not yet paid a penny! But it definitely registered because when I logged off the website and back on again the total availability - 120 - had gone down to 118. So watch this space...

The show, presented by Redaktion, takes place on Saturday 13th June between 1pm and 3.15pm and the age recommendation is 7-11 years. The address of the location is the Gaswerks Cultural Center, Untere Schöntalstrasse 19, 8401 Winterthur.

Admission is CHF 20, CHF 15 for concessions.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

FamExpo Winterthur 2015 this weekend

The FamExpo 2015 Winterthur celebrates its 10th anniversary as it arrives in town this weekend, bringing exhibitors from Switzerland and abroad to demonstrate and inform about their products.

Dedicated family councillor Barbara Schmid-Federer will open the FamExpo at Winterthur Eulachhallen this Friday (29th) at 9:45am before the exhibitions launch at 10am, featuring:
  • A live broadcast from PowerUp where visitors can submit song requests and see behind the scenes of a live radio station.

  • A stage show from Billy & Benno, with their funny, upbeat children's songs, which the whole family can take part in.

  • Former kindergarten teacher and music teacher Christian Schenker who has written songs for children will be performing together with his band Grüüveli Tüüfeli.

  • Winterthur artist Bruno Hächler will present his new CD featuring Jap, the dog who comes from England and drinks tea all day.

  • Circus Mugg will provide thrills for both young and old with a show followed by an interactive Animation Station where the little ones can get creative with circus props under the expert guidance of the young artists. 

  • The Tierli interactive show features cute little dogs doing tricks.

  • The FamExpo-Lotto featuring funny face cards for young visitors – there will be toys, clothes and accessories up for grabs.

  • Photographer Oscar Brunet will be at the Baby Face booth to capture your little pride of joy for the Baby Face 2015 contest in a picture you can take home for free!
It's all going on at Winterthur Eulachhallen, Wartstrasse 73 - a 15/20min walk down Wartstrasse which runs from behind Winterthur HB. Alternatively you can take the bus No.1 to Toss or the No.2 to Wulflingen for part of the way for a shorter walk there. Going by car is not recommended as there are very few parking places – but there is a special offer on the price of your public transport ticket if you are visiting FamExpo.

Opening times are 10am until 6pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (29th-31st May)
Admission 15chf for over 18s – under 18s are free.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Newts in our local pool

We had a wonderfully relaxing Bank Holiday weekend enjoying the Eurovision contest with friends and swimming in the outdoor pools - where we came across newts! Yes, newts in the public swimming pool!

Perhaps I should point out that the little dark 'Wassermolch' we saw was in a natural pool at Geiselweid Freibad in Winterthur. But it was so surprising - and very exciting for the girls - to see diddy newts scuttling about on the bottom of the pool.

I think it must have been the Alpine Newt as it is native to central Europe. The adults grow up to 11cm and are usually dark in colour, often with a marbled pattern.  They prefer ponds with vegetated areas which lack fish, which of course would explain the popularity of Geiselweid's natural pool. A blue tinge is often visible, which is what Graham caught sight of when he took the plunge.

It was cold - 16c - so only Daddy bear had the bottle to go for a swim in there, where he dived down to take a closer look, saying they appeared a dark blue colour close up. We jumped about excitedly for a while and laughed at Graham's icy shrieks before we settled for a swim in the much warmer heated outdoor pool nearby (24c)

Switzerland is so full of little surprises like this. I love it.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Afro-Pfingsten in pictures

Stories, song and dance on stage in the Church Square
An amazing array of merchandise at the African market
The most popular stall of the day with the smiliest drummers on Earth
Tales from Madagascar in Winterthur Library's beautiful courtyard 
Camel power: My eldest daughter did not stop grinning for the entire ride.
I felt sorry for these glorious 'ships of the desert' navigating the paving
My daughter took this photo of me (I always wanted dreads)