Friday, October 31, 2008

Just how expensive is Switzerland? The Starbucks Method.

I get asked a lot about how expensive Zurich and Switzerland really are, and while I always say things like 'VERY' and 'Are you prepared to sell your organs?' I always feel that perhaps the message is still getting lost or the reality is underestimated.

Welcome, the Starbucks method.

I think that by comparing the price of a cup of Joe, you can see very clearly how expensive different places are, because let's face it - it is just coffee, and it is the same around the world - that is the whole point of the Starbucks experience. And the price for a fancy cup of Starbucks is no doubt reflective of the purchasing power and cost of living abroad.

So here goes...

Here are the prices for various coffees at a Starbucks in Zurich, Switzerland:

Cup of the Day (Tall) - CHF 4,40
Espresso solo - CHF 4,20
Iced Caramel Macchiato (Tall)- CHF 6,20
Cafe Latte (Grande) - CHF 6,60
Mocha Frappuccino (Tall) - CHF 7,10
Premium Hot Chocolate (Tall) - 7,10
(this is crazy, the price of chocolate should be lower in Switzerland!)
Cappuccino (Venti) - CHF 7,20

I will have to ask for help regarding price comparisons, but I know that when I lived in Boston a Tall Grande Latte was about $3.80. So if you forget exchange rates and look at the purchasing power of a dollar or a franc for that matter, it is 73% more expensive to buy a Latte in Zurich than in Boston.

How is that for a comparison?

Who wants to join me for coffee now?! :)

Have a great weekend. I will be spending it with Sarah and I cannot wait. Perhaps we will see you at the Wine Messe (on about 8 ships on the Zurich See, I think) or on the streets of Baden. Have a good weekend!

Ps. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ps. It is winter.

We got our FIRST SNOW yesterday. Actually, I think it was more like "Schneeregen" which means "Snow rain" which translates to sleet. Just another example of how German is so efficient and just takes a bunch of words and adds them together to make new words.

Anyway, when it would snow before Halloween or on Halloween back in Ohio we would freak out a bit because it always felt too early. And I admit, as I drudged through the sludge on the way back from the train at midnight last night and then through it on my way to the bus this morning, I was feeling a bit moody.

But already a lot has melted and I might be able to enjoy one more mild weekend before winter truly whips its ugly head... then again, maybe I will just polish up the snowboard and everything will be ok. ;)

How to use the SBB automatic ticket machines...

Ok, so if you are unlike me and you are a genius and have no issues figuring out electronic machines that are in foreign languages and use foreign currencies and are flat out foreign, ignore this post and instead may I interest you in the archives?

But if you are like me and you have had issues with these things or you just might, then here goes... A tutorial on: How to use the SBB Automatic Ticket Machines!

For starters, these machines are generally found in and around Zurich. They are slowly being replaced in other cities by the smarter and generally easy to use computer based maschines, but you will find these old school versions still, especially on the station platforms. All tickets bought from these machines are valid for boarding within the hour, with the exception of the Tageskarte or daily pass which is good for 24 hours.

1. This is an automatic ticket machine. Say "hello" - it won't bite. These things are everywhere in Zurich (and in many other regions as well) and you use these to get a ticket for public transportation. You can get a ticket on the bus from the driver, and you can always get a train ticket at the counter, but if you are in a hurry, this is the best way.

2. First start by figuring out where you are going and telling the machine.

There is a great list of destinations on the machine:
Let's say I wanted to go to the airport. I would search for the destination on the list. Oh look, there it is! Zurich airport. And I would remember the number 8058.

Now you type the number (remember 8058!) into the machine using the keypad. Like this one:

You will now see in the screen at the top the price to the destination you have chosen:
But don't pay yet! Now it's time to...

3. Select your fare.

Using this section of the machine, you need to tell the machine a few things:
a) Would you like to travel via first class? Then push the 1.KL button. The price updates (to be more expensive!)
b)Would you like to have a round trip ticket? Then push this button with the arrows... the price updates (to about double!).
c) Do you have a half fare card? If so, select this button and automatically your ticket price will update and be halved! Yes!

You can do the above steps as many times as you like until you get the ticket that you want and the price that you want based on the fare that you want. Still with me?

4. Time to pay. You can pay with coins or bills.

Coins go in here, obviously.
Bills go where the arrow is pointing, and the machines do give back change but ONLY IN COINS!

Your change and your ticket will come out in this part of the machine:

There are three quick options on the machines that are quite handy. You literally can just push, pay and go.

a) The "To Zurich" easy button: If you know that you want to go to Zurich from wherever you are, you can push the RED button here and it will display the fare to Zurich Zone 10. Push the round trip button or the half fare button to adjust the fare and pay! Fast and easy.

b) The Localnetz button: If you just want to ride around in your local Zone or network only, you can push the orange button and get a quick ticket for the current zone. Push the round trip button or the half fare button to adjust the fare and pay! Fast and easy.

Don't know if where you want to go is in your current zone? Well, if it is not in the list below the orange button, then it's not! Find it in the master list and push in the number.

c) The Tageskarte Localnetz: If you want unlimited rides in the local zone you are in for the next 24 hours, push this button and you will get a day card, good for unlimited trips in the current zone. This is great if you are a tourist in Zurich and just want to ride around Zurich all day. Push the white button (plus the half fare if you have that!) and you are off! Just make sure you are already in the zone that you want to travel around all day or else you might have to buy extra zones later!

Some other things to note:
  1. Luggage is not an additional fee, so feel free to lug it on.
  2. You dog, however, is an extra fee. Make sure you buy the ticket for man's best friend. If it is a lap dog, meaning a small dog (there are size restrictions but I am not sure what it is exactly), it rides free.
  3. If you ride at night, after midnight, make sure you buy the extra Nachtnetz zuschlag. I believe it is 5 CHF extra to ride at night.
I hope this was helpful. In the beginning, despite my German knowledge, I was always buying too many tickets or too expensive ones because I forgot the 1/2 fare button. I also DID NOT GET the zones either. So don't feel bad. If you have any questions, let me know! Once you get it down it is easy to get around Zurich using the automated machines.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

CH does NOT stand for CHeese. Duh...

Have you ever noticed that the abbreviation for Switzerland is "CH"? Like for example, the Swiss currency is Swiss Francs, but the abbreviation is CHF. Have you noticed that? Did you ever wonder why on earth they don't use SWF or something more logical?

Ok, well, I have. I guess I have a lot more time on my hands than some. ;)

So I hunted down the answer, and to my surprise, CH does not stand for the culinary wonder of "CH"-eese. Unfortunate, I know. And not altogether illogical considering "cheese" is an English word. ;)

Actually, Switzerland, or the Swiss Confederation, in Latin was called Confoederatio Helvetica. Why? Because once upon a time, long, long ago, the area now known as Switzerland was occupied by tribes, one of the most important being the Hevtii tribe. The tribe was conquered by the Romans around 15BC and the Confoederatio Helvetica region took turns being chunked up and occupied by a plethora of groups, hence the multitude of languages spoken in Switzerland, until 1848 when the autonomous cantons of the region joined together to form a federal state and kept the name "Swiss Confederation" or Confoederatio Helvetica for historical reason.

Update: SwissGuy has a much better summary of the democratic history of Switzerland's independence... see the comments!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Recycling - where does it all go?

Short update on the recycling front. I am still doing my best to be a good little Swiss recycler and put the paper and cardboard recycling out once a month but I missed it last month. Darn. That doesn't mean everyone else did, oh no. Check this out.
This is where all the paper and cardboard goes after it is collected throughout Urdorf by what I assume are volunteers. They ride through the streets, tossing the papers into the truck, and then they drive it here and sort it out into these containers. (On a hot day when the guys take their shirts off to sort the papers I swear this is the most popular spot in town... even more so than the pool, but I digress...).

The same day it is collected and taken away to become toilet paper and God knows what else that is made out of recycled materials... it always amazes me though how much paper is collected! 3 containers full! It makes me happy to see it on my way back from grocery shopping on the Saturdays, our collection days. And it also always makes me curse and spit at the ground for forgetting once again to put my paper and cardboard out...

Ah...November, I am all over you. Watch out!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Adventures in Broccoli Land.

Brocki - not Broccoli - Land near Sihlcity.

This past weekend, on Saturday, I met up with Juanita again so that she could take me to Brocki Land. A Brocki is basically a second hand shop, like a Goodwill, with lots of donated and gently used items, and considering that I needed a fondue pot and didn't want to spend CHF 80, Juanita recommended the brocki and I was off.

So all Saturday morning on our way to the Brocki I was joking around and talking about how I was excited to be going to a Brock-li. (Like broccoli, get it? Oh aren't I so funny and clever?) And it was funny and I explained that it was a slip of the tongue but in the end it was just so much easier to call it a brock-li and that was that for the rest of the day. (Ps. The Brocki land is awesome by the way and I got two bowls, a fondue pot, 2 sets of fondue sticks and a fondue stand and heater for the bar-jin price of CHF 20....!!! Booja. I will be going back again, no doubt about it.)

Anyway, Jace gets home on Saturday from an afternoon at the pub with the boys, watching a football game, and we have this conversation as soon as he walks in the door:

Jace: Hey babe.

Jessica: Hey! How was it?

Jace: Good. But they lost.

Jessica: Oh that's too bad.

Jace: Did you have fun at the broccoli market?

Jessica: What?

Jace: The broccoli market. Did you have fun with Juanita at the market?

Jessica: I didn't go to a broccoli market. I went to a brocki. I told you, remember, it's like a Salvos. Like a second hand store.

Jace: OHHHHHH.... I told all the guys at the pub that you were out shopping for broccoli. They thought you were a bit strange. They kept asking 'What? She is out shopping for broccoli?' And I said, 'Yeah, that is what she said.' Ha ha... They thought you were so weird.

Jessica: Great. Thanks. No, it was a Brocki, not a Broccoli.

But it was obviously too late. It appears as though my slip of the tongue was not so uncommon or that I might have been talking about broccoli for a few days now. Either way... I didn't buy broccoli, but a fondue pot, and I will definately be having more adventures in Broccoli Land again really soon.

View Larger Map

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Christmas Markets?

Hey there, just a question for the Swisstory readers.

Which Christmas markets are particularly good around here? Which ones should I definately not miss?

I am planning some trips and events around Christmas time and wanted to get some feedback. Thanks in advance for your help!

Friday, October 24, 2008

I love Austrian Airlines...

Here are 5 reasons why I love traveling on Austrian Airlines.

1. Great food. While many airlines are downgrading meals or getting rid of them altogether, Austrian Airlines provides small snacks that are unbeatable. My flights are usually less than 1.5 hours and I always get a tasty little something. See below. It was yum. And I love the triangle boxes.
2. They always provide excellent service. For example, on the last flight, as the stewardess served the drinks she asked me if I was cold. Maybe I looked cold, and indeed, I was. So I said, 'Yes.' And without asking for it, she said she would bring me a blanket and she did within a minute. That is service.
3. They are part of the Star Alliance so I get points just like when I travel with Swiss Air.
4. The stewardesses are way stylish, even though they have what I think are the ugliest all red uniforms. Somehow they accessorize brilliantly and make it work!
5. They have modern planes, or at least ones with funny names like - The Fokker 1000. And no, I am not making that up. See below.

If you have an option, go with Austrian Airline. I have not been disappointed yet.

The Fokker 1000... Doesn't this remind you of Meet the Fokker's? :)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Super Lignual Swiss

It always amazes me here how lingual people are.

Here is an interesting story to show you what I mean.
Yesterday on my way home from work, I was in the train, standing near the exit, minding my business, doing the ipod thing like everyone else around me when all of a sudden this old woman came out of nowwhere and tripped over my huge size 10 boot on her way to the door.

Using my lightning fast reflexes, I quickly grabbed her before she fell and broke her hip and said, 'Oh my gosh, I am so sorry' because no doubt my ginormous boot was at fault. It was in this fraction of a moment that I realized I was indeed in Switzerland still and should have said 'Es tut mir echt leid.' But before I could correct myself, the woman turned to me, looking at bit surprised at my super human strength and said, 'Oh thank you. It is ok. I am sorry too. Thank you.'

And I just stood there, mouth agape. I mean, if I was 70 something and just had my freedom of mobility flash before my eyes, I think the last thing I would be able to do is respond casually in English.

I mean, I know Spanish ok, but if someone tripped me up in the airport and said, 'Lo sieto' the last thing I would be thinking is 'Es ok, no hay problema. Gracias mi amigo.'

Someday, I will get there... while my mouth is used to speaking German now, obviously my brain is still playing favorites.

Ps. Watch out for gargantuan boots on the train. It is a big problem, I hear. Pun intended. :)

Viennese Apfelstrudel

I travel to Wien (Vienna in English) frequently for work, and on the way home from my trip last week, I stopped at the Sacher Cafe in the Vienna Airport (the same scene of the real Sachertorte escapade back in July... my how time flies when all you do is eat fancy cakes).

Anyway, this time, while waiting for my flight (ok, so what if I only had 10 minutes before I had to go through security, but that is all the time you need to down a piece of cake my friends...), I decided to enjoy a melange (recall, melange = coffee with whipped cream!) and a piece of Viennese Apfelstrudel - or apple strudel for the linguistically challenged.

When we were in Vienna last year with Val we actually watched a short demonstration about how to make Viennese Apfelstrudel while visiting Schloss Schoenbrunn and it was really interesting. They really care about their pastry here, and that makes me happy. Don't believe me... ok, fine, here is proof:

Ok. Yes. I am officially a geek that keeps photos in her inventory of apfel strudel making. Let it be know. Go scream it off some nearby mountain already and let's carry on with the strudel review....

Here you can see the delicate layers of pastry, cinnamon-y sugary goodness, and firm apple slices with just a hint of raisins. Yum.

I have to say it, and it pains me, but while this was good it was not better than the Sachertorte.

I don't know if I can even compare them really without being incarcerated, but I did. So there.

Let me repeat it just to get my message across - I would have preferred the chocolately Sacher in hindsight, but this was still great strudel. The filling was lovely. And it was a HUGE piece for 4.50 Euro.

Recommendation - don't ask them to warm it. I felt it took a lot of the buttery, layery goodness out of what would have probably been the best pastry in the world.

Nevertheless, who am I to say... perhaps you should try it yourself!

Ps. They had great looking apple strudels and about 1538 other kinds of strudel at the Lucerne market!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lucerne Saturday Market

I love a market. It is true. Don't believe me? Read this, or this ... hence, I had a great time walking around the Lucerne (Luzern) markets with Juanita on the weekend. I have to admit, there was nothing uber special about the market's contents. They had fruits, vegetables, cheese, meats, fish, and the like. They did have some amazing handicrafts though and some beautiful flowers. But I think what made the market special was that all the stalls lined up along the river's edge. I mean, have you ever seen a prettier backdrop for a bunch of potatoes? No? Me neither.

And I felt like Fall had opened up it's mouth and eaten us whole, too, because Fall's frohliches fest was everywhere. There were heaps of gourds and pumpkins and vats of cider, dried flower crafts, and canned goods, ready for the hard winter ahead. Dried arrangements and centerpieces were also in abundance with a mix of the items in the photos below.

Gourds and some paper lantern flowers. What are these things? I must know. Flower? Mineral? Fairy houses? I must know.

Knowing my affinity to punishing myself with garlic, I almost poured the contents of these columns of yumminess into my purse. But alas, Juanita would not let me. ;) Actually, it was because we were both drooling and our purses were probably not big enough...

You could smell the Anis from these cookies three bridges away. I personally would like to collect the wooden molds that are used to make the patterns on these cookies, but for that I might need 22 more Swiss bank accounts.

More gourds. Seriously, this big boy at the bottom makes me blush just a bit. I am so sorry. This is a PG13 blog. I will be more careful next time. ;)

On a more PG note, I am in love with these hedgehogs. They are somehow made out of wood, and I recall now that I have seen them before - at the Munich markets. Don't believe me... here, check this:
Blast. They are different, but equally cute. Actually, the one from Lucerne is cuter but they were gone when we went back for a second look. Blast x 1000. (Ps. I saw a real one of these when I was in Vienna last week. It was just walking down the street. A REAL HEDGEHOG!!!)

This cheers me up though. These are all "Sirips." That is how they spell it in German, I recall, syrups for the English speakers. These are made from fruits and you mix them with 'Minerales Wasser - mit Gas" - that means, mineral water with bubbles. They were about 8 CHF per bottle which in hindsight is pretty good considering it is fresh fruit and it would go a long way.

Finally, these babies were in a lot of the fall centerpieces. They are African pickles. And they are so cute. They are about the size of a small plum and they look amazing in a dish with some gourds. Should have bought some, darn. Next time, next time.

Go check out the Lucerne Markets. I highly recommend it!

Weekly Lucerne Farmers Market along the river Reuss, every Tuesday and Saturday, 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lucerne Cheese Festival

Over the weekend, a fellow Zurich-Expat Blogger, Juanitatortilla, and I went to Lucerne on what she termed a 'blind date' :) to hang out and partake in the Lucerne Cheese Festival! We walked around the markets in Lucerne (photos tomorrow!), which I admit are far more interesting than the Zurich markets, in my humble opinion - perhaps the atmosphere, being right on the river with all the Kappellebrücke in the background had something to do with it. Then after working up an appetite, we found our way to the main event, the Cheese Festival!

The festival was a lot, LOT smaller than expected, about 4 booths worth (perhaps we missed something?!) but it was still interesting and quaint, in the way most Swiss things are. The highlight of the day was having Raclette, the real deal where they char the cheese wheel right in front of you, for lunch.

It smelled heavenly so we waited patiently in line and shelled out - in hindsight a montrous sum of - CHF 9 for a puddle of melted cheese, 2 potatoes, a few pickled onions and 1 gerkin. It was good, but we both agreed that it would have been far more satisfying if (there was more! and) it was served on a heated plate to keep the melted goodness from sticking.

Here is a wee video from the Raclette wonder... I didn't notice it until the playback, but check out how the chef TOTALLY sneaks a bit of cheese off the scraper. IT IS TOO FUNNY!

Here is the only cheese that was on sale at the Cheese Festival. I took some home, of course, and it was GOOD.

Here is Juanita with her plate of raclette... sadly, I think this was one bite in... it is just so tiny. Good for the waste line though! More room for cookies from Austria, right Juanit

Finally, cheese wheel rolling. Don't worry. This isn't child abuse. These were filled with air...

Thanks again, Juanita for a great first date! ;)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bring some (more!) culture to Berne, Indiana!

Photos from Berne, Indiana's Swiss Heritage Days!

I get emails from time to time from readers, commenting on the blog and asking specific questions about living in Switzerland. I love them. Keep them coming.

I most recently got an interesting email from Doug, a volunteer on the Swiss Day Committee in Berne, Indiana, USA, as he calls it "a very tiny American town founded by the Swiss in the 1850's." Doug had an interesting request that I thought Swisstory blog readers could definately help out with... Doug writes:
"I'm looking for things we can do in our town to relate back to Switzerland. In other words I'd love to get some ideas of Swiss culture from you...

Berne is in a transition mode that is trying to start a tourist economy. Heritage tourism is the goal, but some things we are doing are really not Swiss. I don't think there is a well known distinction here between German and Swiss...

I volunteer on Berne's Swiss Days committee, a celebration that coincides with the Swiss Unification but always in the last week of July. I have to say it is very hard to come up with ideas, or come up with entertainment and then get everyone on the same page about what that Culture is...

As you are an Expat, the same things you find interesting or unique could easily help us. I would really appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks for listening,

Here are some of my ideas...

1) Raclette.
Doesn't get more Swiss than this. I would buy a couple of the fancy raclette machines and a few wheels of cheese and do the traditional Swiss cheese meal. It certainly drew a crowd at the Cheese Festival I went to this last weekend and will blog about tomorrow. I think it could work for Berne, Indiana, too. It will just be hot out, so perhaps this is something you can do to raise money in the winter for the Summer event?

2) Bake off.
Distribute a traditional Swiss baking recipe - perhaps Lebkuchen or Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) and then give out awards for the best tasting cookie, best decorated, etc. etc. That way you can introduce traditional Swiss baking to the area and enjoy the results!

What other ideas do you have for Doug? Check out what the Swiss Heritage Society in Berne, IN does already on their website:

Other links:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Raclette zum Essen!

Instructional: How to do Raclette the Swiss Way.
(or at least how I think you do it... we have yet to do it with anyone Swiss. hehe)

1. Fire up the Raclette. Let it get nice and HOT, HOT, HOT!

2. Gather the ingredients.

Raclette Cheese. Small boiled potatoes.
Grilling meats. Little gerkins and pickled onions. Raclette seasoning.

3. Start grilling and put the Käse under the burner to start it a melting. Yummmmm... I actually put the raclette seasoning on before it goes under the heat, but you can do it when it comes out as well. Or both!

4. When the cheese is nice and bubbling, take it out and pour the cheese over the boiled potatoes or whatever else would be improved by a heap of CHEESE.

5. Rinse and repeat.
Ok, don't rinse, but repeat until all the ingredients are gone
or until you are too full to move anymore! :)
Enjoy! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Sweetest Thing...

I finally got it - my Absentee Ballot! Thank goodness, too, as I was starting to worry that I might have registered for my absentee ballot incorrectly and might be unable to do my civic duty! But alas, all is right in the world, and this bad boy will be going out on Monday morning to make the deadline... now... who should I vote for...? hm.... :)

Contact me. | Advertise on Swisstory