Thursday, July 31, 2008

Swiss National Holiday : How will you celebrate?

It is our first Swiss National Holiday tomorrow in Switzerland, like the US Independence Day on the 4th of July.

My bro is still in town so I think we will try to chase down some fireworks, either from the Zurisee or from Uetliberg. Lord help me now... I the crowds will be manageable.

What are your plans? Any other suggestions for us for a great 1st of August?!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Zürich? Expensive? Yes.

Reading the 20 Minuten earlier this week, it was clear to me why everything is just so expensive here...

Zürich is officially one of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world according to Mercer Consulting Company's yearly review. 'The survey is based on the costs for expats specifically, based on the prices of over 200 products and services, like rent, public trasportation, household goods, groceries, clothes, and freetime activities.' (1)

Moscow is number one, followed by Oslo in 4th place, Seoul in 5th, Genf in 8th and finally Zurich.

Therefore, according to this survey, Zurich is the 9th most expensive city in the world.

Now, this might not mean much until you ask... well, surely New York is in there at 3rd right? or 6th? New York, the first American city on the list, makes its appearance at the 22nd place.

That's right. Zürich is not the place for a cheap girl like myself - however, the good news is that while the cost of living is quite high, the quality is also quite high. Regardless, the prices make my heart palpitate almost daily. But I will get through it... Denner will help me.

(1) 'Teure Städte: Zurich und Genf in den Top Ten der Welt' 20 Minuten from 25.7.2008, www.20Minuten.CH

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Part 2 - Memmingen Fischertag

Continued from Part 1 - Memmingen Fischertag... After the Fishermen had their catch, the march to the center of town began. The whole community was out and it really felt like such a tight knit, happy community... well, except for this cranky fellow, but then again, I might not be so happy either if I had woken up at the crack of dawn to jump into a cold creek with some stinky fish and then, as soon as it was time to chill, some American tourist was chasing me down the street to get a photo like this... I too might give that girl a cold stare. ;)

Memmingen is a very historical city that was not heavily damaged during the war, therefore a lot of old buildings still stand, and the walk to the city center was very charming and picturesque.

At the center of town, the weighing takes place, but I couldn't get very close due to all the spectators and the hoorah going on around me.

There was quite a crowd of supporters, and behind me there were bandstands set up with visitors, family and tourists galore.

There was an oompa band, or whatever you call them, playing in the square, adding to the froehes fest atmosphere.

You have got to love men in lederhosen whether they have got a big horn or not... I didn't mean anything sexual there, I promise...

Before 9 am, all the fishermen had to take their catches up to the podium to be weighed. I don't think that everyone weighed their fishes though as during the 10 minutes in which we watched, we only saw a couple fishermen take the stage.

Jace and Ingo

Our gracious host, Ingo, explained that being the Fisherking can actually be quite an expensive endeavor, as you find yourself paying the town's tab whenever you go out for a pint at the pub! However, despite that, a few proud Memmingen men were eager to be crowned the Fisherking for the coming year. Why not when you get to be a prized guest at all city festivities for the year, and you probably get a new hat or something too? Either way, I think it is all just great.
And the festivities -and beer kegs!- were ready to roll as soon as the Fisherking was announced. I tried to get my hands on one of these kegs, but the beer dude gave me this look and I turned my heels fast!
So instead of a beer at 9 am, we decided to get some delicacies for a typical Bavarian breakfast/brunch and we first headed to the Metzgerei for some weiss wurst!

I love how they handle the wurst here... and I am not being dirty at all here either when I say that, I promise. Look at this skilled professional juggling these wursts! ;)

And if you are going to eat weiss wurst, you need to get it's traditional side - a Breze! Or in English, a giant, oh so delicous, carbohydrate rich, salty PRETZEL! So after the butchers, it was off to the bakers... and then the candlestickmakers! Not really, but I was super happy to be going home with 10 of these babies. I can't recall what Jace for himself. ;)

And we went back to the house to enjoy our delicious, traditional Bavarian brunch of weiss wurst and breze with a bit of sweet senf (mustard) and a Radler. Yum, yum, yum... before we headed out for a tour of the historical city of Memmingen.

Note to readers: Don't make the mistake I did and look like a total anfaenger (beginner) in front of the Bavarians. 1) Don't admit that you have eaten weiss wurst cold... and 2) and this is the killer, don't eat the skin of the white wurst or else you, too, will be told, "You will never be a Bavarian!"... they meant well, but I think they really meant it! ;) You have been forewarned. There, Ingo.. I blogged about it. You don't have to start your "Swisstory-THE TRUTH" blog afterall... however the toilet story won't see the light of day! :)

Next posting: Historical Memmingen.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Part 1 - Memmingen Fischertag

We left on Friday to get an early start on our weekend, and we drove with Jace's workmate, Ingo, to his hometown of Memmingen in the Bavarian state of Germany. The timing was significant, as we were going to observe a time honored festival celebrated in Memmingen since 1465 and given its name in the 1900's, Fischertag.

Once a year, the Memmingen creeks or canals (as I will call them, because they just look like canals) are drained and emptied for cleaning. Before they can be emptied and cleaned, the men of Memmingen fish out the fish with special nets and traditional dress.

The fisherman with the largest fish caught on the day, by weight, is hailed the Fischerking and will be honored throughout the coming year.
Here the fishermen are patiently awaiting the
signal to jump into the canal!

ON the Fischertag , the whole town, and a lot of tourists it seems, came out for the event which started around 7 am when the fisherman gathered at the canals with their equipment and support team. The fishermen sat around the canal, waiting for the signal that meant they can jump into the canal. Whether they do it surprise or scare the fishes or just to build up the excitement, minutes before 8 o'clock the down hushed to an eerie silence.

Fishermen jumping into the canal!

THEN at 8 am on the dot, a canon was fired, signaling the entire town that the festival was on and that they could enter the canals! There was a whole lot of splashing and suddenly the previously silent town was a flurry of excitement!
The fishermen have long poles with nets that they use to scour the bottom of the canals for the fish (they are going to die anyway when the canals are drained, so perhaps they are doing them a favor despite scaring them half to death by jumping into the water on them!).

The excitement went on for awhile, with fishermen catching fish after fish and exchanging their filled nets, reading for the next catch.

The nets are big and U shaped, with a flat top that lays along the bottom of the canal, so frightened fish are easily scooped up into the nets.

Then, as fish are caught they are thrown up over the railing to the support team. As females are not meant to take part in the Fischertag activities in the canal, a lot of women are supporters on the sides of the canals, exchanging nets and putting the fish into the Fischertag buckets for weighing before 9 o'clock.

Exchanging the nets.
Ten minutes into the morning, the action was still going... actually, the photos don't really do it justice... as you can't hear the noises they were making. How do I describe it?.. well....

When a fishermen caught a fish, he would make this loud noise while he was carrying the fish to the sides of the canal to exchange his net - something like "AY YA YAYA YAYA YA YA YA AY" and then the person taking the fish from the fisherman would reply "AY AYAY AY AY AYA" just to stir up the competition. It is hard to imagine, but it was insane with all the "AY YA YA YA YA's" going around.

Then again, why imagine it when you could watch this VIDEO to get the real picture!

Some Fishermen wore traditional dress and some wore costumes that look like smiley faces, but that is really the city's symbol, the Mau, or the Memmingen Moon. The men also had to wear their fishing licenses in their hats - like this one- worn by a Memminger that I am guessing has participated in Fischertag before!!! And likes a good beer after a hard day's work of fishing!

These are the buckets that fish are kept in until weighing. (The Fisher King, LOL!)

The fish are then kept in buckets of water and marched to the weighing table in the center of town. After about 25 minutes, the event was pretty much done, with men hanging around in the creek/canal to splash around and enjoy the cool water.

Then, they will march to find out who is the next Fischerking...More on that tomorrow!

Until then, here are some proud Memmingen Men (only men that live in Memmingen are allowed to participate in the Fischertag!) in their traditional garb.

A colorfully dressed Memminger, on his way to give up his catch.
Waiting for the next big one... I want this hat badly.

This is my favorite. He is quite a hunky fisherman. Very Robert Redford does the Fischerking.

Traditionally dressed and very fashionable, if I do say so, fisherman... resting from a hard day's
work of trying to become the Fischerking!

Continued tomorrow...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Frey Lemon & Black Pepper Dark Chocolate

I originally read about this crazy chocolate concoction in the post from Geeks in Zurich: On cheese and chocolate and naturally I had to try it! So go figure, the next day I saw it in Migros and game on.

That evening, during one of those peckish hours, Jace asked what chocolate we had and I gave him this as a blind taste test. He really liked it! He said he knew the taste from somewhere, and I said, "Lemon Chicken?" and he said, 'No, but it is something similar...I think I have had this before.' Anyway, he liked it.

Not sure if it is my favorite, but definately good. Thanks to Geeks in Zurich for the tip!

Please post your favorite Swiss chocolates in the comments and I will look forward to giving them all a good try or two! I will then post about my favorites.

Oh and please check out The Adventures of Swiss Family Willis blog - I cannot get over their Chocolate Index. Genius!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sacher Torte in Vienna

You might have seen my post on Vienna the other day and realized that I have no idea what I am talking about when it comes to Vienna. But I will one day. Don't worry. I will get around a bit and you can come with me. We'll learn together.

Until then, let me tell you about something I already feel I know pretty well. Something close to my heart... or at least my lips... and my hips!

Sacher Torte.

To be honest, I have had Sacher Torte a few times over the years. I first visited Austria when I was 16 on study abroad in Germany for a year. My host family took me to Salzburg and we really experienced every nook and cranny and crumb of the city... which meant we generally ate a big lunch with the intention of skipping dinner to indulge in an afternoon tea comprised of a big Stück of something sweet, like Sacher Torte.

The first time I tried it, I can't say it moved me. But my host family was so thrilled by the moment that they persuaded me to send my family back home an entire Sacher Torte... by air mail. I can't recall what it costed during the day, but while I was in Wien last week an entire, authentic Sacher Torte was 60 Euros...those be take away prices too. That's right - $93 USD for a cake. Worth it? Perhaps not the whole cake, but a piece for 4.50 Euros sure was.

Ok, now time for the sinful truth - during my three day stay in Vienna, I actually had two pieces of Sacher Torte. Isn't life grand?!

And besides the fact that I am a relentless sweet tooth and lover of baked goods, the reason was that I tried an imitation piece on day 2 and was so disappointed that when I came across an authentic cafe in the Wien Airport, I went for piece 2 because I had to know if life as we know it had come to a sad end, and all Sacher Tortes were like the dry, cold, lifeless piece I had on day 2.

And let me tell you - NOTHING BEATS THE ORIGIONAL. My second, original piece of Sacher Torte, was heaven. The original was chocolaty, but not too sweet, and delectable with a fruit marmalade in between the dark chocolate layers. And an original is always served with freshly whipped Sahne or cream, because, as wikipedia says, 'native Viennese find the cake too dry on its own.' And hell, while you are at it, and you only live once, get the Melage, or coffee with whipped cream on top. It won't hurt at all. I promise.

And drink the water that comes with it. We wouldn't want you drying out (why is that there by the way??? I asked once and they said it was to keep you from becoming dehydrated! Although... I have seen Viennese add it to the coffee to prolong the drink... please, someone set me straight!)

Regardless, if you are in Vienna, go to the proper Sacher Hotel or a Sacher Cafe and get 'the origional Sacher Torte.' Don't be stupid like me and settle for imitations. It just won't do.

And Enjoy!

Let me know - do you like Sacher Torte?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Come. Let me show you Vienna.

Last week I was in Vienna (or Wien if you want to say it in German) for work and on our last full evening there my boss and I wandered the streets a bit, doing the tourist thing. The sky, as you can see, was just amazing and it was the perfect temperature, as Jace would say, approximately 23 degrees C / 73 degrees F.

Having been in Wien just 9 months ago, I acted as the guide for my boss who had previously only had a drive-by of the city. I did my best in German to show her the sights. I know I speak German pretty well, but in my head I always think I sound like a child. Has anyone watched Dora the Explorer in German yet? I watched it with Jace for the second time today, and I have a strange feeling that I talk exactly like Dora (short, simple, baby like sentences) ALL THE TIME. Oh help me... regardless, we had fun touring Vienna... here, let me show you Vienna.

Here is a building with a statue of a horse in front of it.
And this... a bunch of angels on top of an old building in the old part of Vienna.

Actually, I think this is around the Heldenplatz, I think. Some guide I am, right? Anyway, I at least knew the route to take to see all the really big buildings. That is what it is all about, right? The big, old things that look good in photos!
Just like this! I looked this up on Google though after the fact!
This is the Vienna City Hall, looking a wee bit ominous silhouetted against the evening sky.

They actually have a Film Festival on during the summer months, and while we didn't wait until 9 pm for the movie, the set up looked awesome and I would love to see a movie next time I am in town.
Another fun shot of the City Hall, or Rathaus

I love trolleys. They have nice ones in Vienna too.

And this. I think it is a church.
Actually, this is the famous church in Vienna, with the famous roof.

Ok, enough, this is actually the Stephansdom... but I only know that from Google. With Google's new photo and map overlay it is difficult not to find what it is that you saw. Give it a try!
After my grand tour... HA.... we sat on the river and had a beer. Actually, I loved it. My boss asked if I wanted a beer, and I said, "If you want a beer I am up for it. It's up to you!" And she said something like, "That's right! I am the boss! Let's go." And we did.

Now that is more like it... a photo that doesn't need explanation. Just a great Viennese sundown. And the sun went down... and we laughed and laughed... and then we cried. No, we didn't cry really. But we should have, the sundown was that beautiful. Next time perhaps. Next time when it is not my third week on the job!
Simply lovely. Thanks for a great night, Vienna.

Thank you very much.

Ps. Please click on some photos and see them big. It is even better.
Pss. Post a comment. I love them and read them all.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Part 2 - Hiking Adventure: Graechen (4.1 hours)

Continued from PART 1....speaking of which, amidst the fear, it was exactly at this point in the hike that strangely my feet became the topic of the day...

Topic of the day, my sport shoes.

Teetering on a rock, seriously contemplating calling the choppers, we came upon a couple, only the second and third life forms we had seen in several hours, and the passing conversation went like this:

Small talk between couple and Kurt... (Note: I could not hear it but I imagine it like this... )

Couple (they are one in this case): Gruetzi miteinander. Isn't it a beautiful day? Keep going! You are about 2/3's of the way there. Perfect conditions.

Kurt: Gruetzi miteinander. Oh great. Yes, I am loving this weather. I hike quite regularly. I have calves of steel.

Couple: You seem to be well prepared and equipped, but... (this is where I come within hearing distance and they stop to stare clearly at me and my shoes) oh, I would not climb this mountain with tennis shoes. Oh goodness. That is not safe. That is 'Lebens gefahrlich' (such a great German phrase that was created to evoke fear, it means life endangering...)! You could break a leg like that.

(This is where Kurt finds out that I speak high German pretty fluently and I can understand enough Swiss German now to have a panic attack in the Alps...)

Me, perhaps on the verge, then again, yes, screaming in German: Um, YEAH!!! I KNOW! THEY LIED TO ME. (I actually think it was more like, "THEY LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIED TO ME!") They said that this would be a CASUAL HIKE... on PAVEMENT. They said it would be O-KAY to wear these shoes. Now.... I am here. What am I supposed to do now?!

Kurt: No I didn't!? I told you to wear hiking shoes. I told them to be prepared!

COUPLE, actually the nice gentleman of the couple, the frau was done with me and my obvious stupidity, recognizing the panic on my face: Oh, the path is not that difficult. It is ok. You will be ok. There is nothing really dangerous on this hike. It is just that you need more supportive shoes. We don't mean to scare you.

Me: Oh, ok. Thanks. It's not much further.

Mann: No... no... But you do have a cell phone right? If you need... help.

Me: Um... yes. Thanks...

Mann: But don't worry. We don't mean to scare you. You are not in danger. Have a nice day.

Regardless of his consolation, this is how I felt:

Angry Jessica.

Surrrrrrrrrrre, I thought... I will be just fine. It is rough terrain but can't be dangerous, right?

But they were right... I had the wrong shoes. I was ill equipped. Luckily for all involved, after that little chat, it did get easier. So much so in fact that even small children and dogs could have traversed the path. Oh wait, that's right, this was the point when some four legged friends and a very fit senior citizen crossed our path making me feel completely inadequate and childish... So I sucked it up for at least 4 minutes and tried to get a grip.

The dogs... don't they look like they are mocking me?

Here they all are... mocking me...

Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the children that passed by later, running down the mountain and giggling in fact, but it was a good sign and preview of the good conditions that followed. In fact, the remaining 2 hours of the hike went really well. We finally made it to the easier path and a clearing where an excellent view awaited us. And I sucked it up. I sucked it up big time.

The gorgeous view.

The wide, but steep, but safe path.

Kurt also allowed me to persuade him to take the broad, although steep as hell, ski path up the remainder of the mountain as opposed to the teetering rock slide cliff face.

Here we are on the path next to the rocky cliff face. But it is safe, and my shoes like it.

The weather held out all morning and afternoon, but the further we climbed the thinner and colder the air became. Around this point, all I could do was set small goals for myself to get another 20 steps up the mountain. I told Jace to keep in front of me so that his sweet, strong, hiker bum would provide incentive. ;)

Around the 3 and a half hour point, the ski lift came into sight and I started to sing 'You are so beautiful to me' in my head and 'Could you be, the most beautiful SKI LIFT in the world... can't you see...' Thank goodness I wasn't singing out loud as sound carries up there and I think the mountain goats would have not been impressed.

This is where happy Jessica made her appearance, near the lift. Like this:

Finally, happy Jessica.

And the mountain goats rejoiced! Yeah!

At the top of the mountain, everyone - ok just me - was happy to be alive and well!

And we were all friends again. THE END.

Actually, that wasn't the end... there was still the three hour drive back home..!

Regardless of all the mix ups, I think it was a great day. I can't wait to (buy some proper shoes and) do it again soon (and by 'it' I mean a much smaller and less challenging mountain somewhere within a hour's drive)!

Favorite conversations of the day:

Me to Jace: Hey babe. Do you think that there could be a rock slide while we are up here?
Jace: No, I don't think so. These rocks have probably been here forever.
Me: Yeah, but they had to get down to this point somehow, right?
Jace: Um, well yeah. Good point. (Pace quickens...)

Kurt to group: Breath in deep. Breath very, very deep. It will help to give you POWER.
Me: (after 5 seconds of deep breathing) HACK... COUGH.... HACK...
Jace: Are you ok babe?
Me: Oh yeah, I think I just breathed a very BIG bug, very DEEP.
(Now that gave me power....)

Kurt to the group: I think once we get to the restaurant, we should go to the very top.
Jace: That is another 2 hours, right? I don't know, Kurt.
Kurt: We can do it! You just need to be motivated.
Jessica: Kurt, have you heard the expression 'don't push your luck?'
Kurt: (Silence)
Jessica: That means NO.

In the car on the way home...
Ingo: I was really hungry on the way back down, but there were so many flies around me on the way down, I think they might have sensed my impending death, that I couldn't get my sausage out. They really wanted my sausage.
(He meant his German sausage... er, I mean his wurst... ok, I'll stop now...)

Also in the car:
Ingo: So I was hiking alone for like 2 hours, and I had to pee, but I knew as soon as I got it out there would be like a family coming around the corner and I would be embarassed. But after a long time, I saw no one and so I thought, heck, I will do it now. And just at that moment, a whole family and a couple, and some dogs came. And I was like, ahhhh, and I had to hurry to put it away!!! (Same dogs as above!!!)

I look forward to your comments! And recommendations on EASY hiking adventures near Zurich!


Contact me. | Advertise on Swisstory