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.