Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bürkliplatz Market

After doing Zermatt and the Glacier Express and stopping in Chur on our way back from St. Moritz, I thought we might just need a bit of a rest day in between all of that Swiss highlight action. And I was right. Considering that my family loves to take photos, I decided that we would sleep in but try to make the Burkliplatz market for a bit of photography inspiration as well as to pick up some yummy Swiss cheese and other nibbles to try later in the evening.

I love the Burkliplatz market because it is like a dependable friend. It is without fail always open on Tuesdays and Fridays, always comes ready to please with stalls and stalls of vendors, and you never leave disappointed... unless of course you buy too much! And everything is always so beautifully displayed - don't believe me? Check out this slideshow!

After a stroll through the market, we wandered around my favorite parts of Zürich, then had lunch at one of my new favorites on a sunny day, the Restaurant Bauschänzli, right on the Limmat near the market. Read my write up on this biergarten on Spottedbylocal - Zürich!

Then we went home and chilled, to prepare for the next day's adventure - Stein am Rhein!

Ps. If this post looks familiar, that is because I did a similar one in May last year. Can you blame me though? The market is incredible!
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Monday, September 28, 2009

I LOVE Picasa 3.5

I upgraded to Picasa 3.5 a few days ago, and it just finished checking all my photos with its new face recognition tool! And I absolutely love it, because now all my photos can be referenced by person, and I hardly had to do a thing. Here's what you do:
  • Download the upgrade for Picasa 3.5 - this takes all of a few minutes based on your connection speed
  • Picasa will go through all your photos looking for faces and will group those that it thinks are similar together.
  • If it is correct, you accept the group and give it a name - usually the name of the person
  • If not, you ignore the group and/or can put it into the proper group
  • From then on, all new photos are scanned and categorized and if it is unsure about one a question mark displays so you can confirm the new photos... and you have all your photos automatically categorized by person!!! I LOVE IT!
It is totally awesome, because now I have a file with all of the 400+photos of me from this year and one with the 800+ of Jace! I wonder who is the photographer in our family... ;)

Then you can make cool collages of all the photos in the file - like this one above. I am sure there are more uses for this... but all I can think of are all the collages I am going to email people and make them think I painstakingly collected all the photos of them. ;) Or I will save the photos over years and years and send a historical montage. hehe... I just won't be looking at the one of me over the years. Too scary!

What will you do with this cool new feature?!

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chur - One of the oldest settlements in Switzerland

Ok... let's get one thing straight first of all. It it not pronounced with a 'Ch' sound like the word 'chuck' like it would appear. Instead, Chur is pronounced like 'Ku-ir.' And the more you can prolong the 'oo' sound, the better. Good luck with that... carrying on.

We stopped on the way back to Zürich from St. Moritz in the town of Chur. We thought it would be tiny, but actually this capital of the beautiful Graubünden region was a nice size for an afternoon lunch stop and wander, not to mention quite enchanting actually - a warm welcome after the airs put on in St. Moritz.

Chur is nestled into the hills and mountains of the area, and this former Roman city and meeting point of many alpine routes is also one of the oldest settlements in Switzerland, making the old town a really scenic place for a stopover.

Here are some photos of the old town for you to enjoy.

This is smack dab in the middle of the old town - the church and fountain. Lovely area. When you turn around the corner, down the next lane is the first photo in this post.

Walk behind the church in the center of town, and follow the signs to the cathedral... just up these steps a ways. It was a nice cathedral but I preferred the sights of the alleys and streets in the old town.

Psst. this is my future garden. That is right. Be jealous. It was beautiful, and we ate lunch right across from it at a bit of a dive which had great food in the end, even a specialty of the region called Capuns or chrutcapuns which are bundles of Swiss chard stuffed with dried meat and smothered in butter and cheese. I was not a big fan, but my mom and brother had them and enjoyed them. Here a recipe from my favorite Swiss food magazine for capuns.

I would recommend a stop in Chur if you are coming back from St. Moritz. It is about 1 hour and 15 minutes from St. Moritz and another 1 and a half or so from Zürich. It breaks up the trip just perfectly and is a picturesque, small town, hard to get lost in, but hell - why not?! It is that lovely. Next... our day trip to Stein am Rhein!
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Goodbye Kraft Mac - Hello Älplermagaronen

I interrupt this series of posts about my September Swiss Tour 2009 to talk about something very important... something that I feel I have a duty to tell you about before the moment just passes us by.... please allow me to present: Älpermagraronen.

I am not sure if that is the right way to spell it in Swiss German or not - but this is Swiss Mac and Cheese. And it is THE BOMB. I had that humdinger of a plate up there in Urnäsch over the weekend, inbetween cow sightings and pig races, and at the recommendation of Chantal and although my lactose intolerant intestines still say 'No!' my eyes and my palate are still saying 'Yes, yes, yes!'

First of all, the noodles are not anything like the boxed variety. These are more like spätzle, or little Swiss dumplings. The cheese is naturally no form of processed cheddar either - this is Appenzeller cheese, and it is my favorite Swiss cheese by far. The dish is generally made with fried onions on top as well which I think rounds the creaminess out perfectly as well as gives you some really tasty after-breath... but it is worth it. Do not be deterred.

And SAY YES TO APFELMUS PEOPLE! That is applesauce and the combination of apple and cheese is of course classic, but the smooth, creamy homemade applesauce generally served with Älplermagaronen is so heavenly that if I were left alone in a room with a trough of it, I would not be able to help myself...I really wouldn't! I love that stuff.

Here is Betty Bossi's Älplermagaronen recipe in German if you are feeling up to making it yourself, but check for this specialty on menus in the Appenzeller region and get ready for a treat...! YUM x one billion!

Chur tomorrow!

Ps. Here is the version that Susan mentions in the comments from Gasthaus Traube in Appenzell... more on that little town later! It was also a stop on our Swiss Tour!
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

St. Moritz in September

Sankt Moritzersee, Sankt Moritz

After 8 well-spent hours on the Glacier Express, we finally made it to our destination for the night - St. Moritz. While the Queen and Prince William were not joining us this time at this ski-destination for the rich and famous, we still had a lovely time without them eating a great dinner in town, walking around the posh town the next morning, seeing the sites.

While my family was having fun taking photos of this conditorei in the background, I asked this man with a nice bum which way it was the the See (lake) and he was polite enough to show us the way. Jace on the other hand was stuffing his face as usual... come on Jace, let's go see the lake!

We eventually made it down the hill to the lake, and it was a beautiful sunny day. Actually we had great weather the whole week!

I can only imagine how stunning the views and mountains would be in winter, covered with snow and little men skiing up and down.

There is a great viewing platform in the middle of the lake, easily accessible from the parking lot next to the train station in St. Moritz. Here my Mom and Aunt are busy taking photos. We lost Nathan long ago - I think the giant ice cream cone may have side-tracked him as well.

We had a fun time walking around the lake, taking in the fresh air, and posing for future St. Moritz postcards that would have a headline like, 'St. Moritz - Where you are as free as a bird, but as a poor as a beggar.'

Or perhaps... 'You will jump for joy when you realize how much money you saved by visiting in the low season and not in the peak season! St. Moritz! Yeah!'

So um, yeah, it is an expensive city because it is so touristy and posh, but it was still lovely and worth it for taking in the entire sites of the Glacier Express. Next time, we will leave some time for hiking as the area was truly gorgeous... next update - CHUR!

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Alpabfahrt Urnäsch - Appenzell

On Saturday, I went with my work colleague, Michele, to the Alpabfahrt in Urnäsch, a small village in the Appenzeller region, an area fast becoming my favorite in Switzerland due to the wonderful landscapes, tradition, and cheese!

We went on Saturday for the Alpabfahrt, which literally means 'Alp descent,' and the name suits perfectly as that is exactly what happens. In the Fall, before the weather turns cold and snowy, the (milk) cows are brought down from their lush summer pastures in the Alps, where they grazed all summer long on the vitamin rich herbs and grasses between the Bergs. And their journey down the mountain is celebrated with a traditional march and festival, full of music and dancing and food.

Urnäsch Alpabzug 2009

As taken from the Appenzell Tourism site, here is what happens during the Alpabzug:

The procession of the Appenzeller Alpabzug can start as early as 2 or 3 am, when the farmers start the journey to bring their cows out of the mountain. It is said that in the early hours you can actually hear the cowbells ringing in the distance. When the Alpabzug arrives in the city, the procession is led by a boy, generally in Senne dress, leading a pack of white, hornless Appenzeller goats, herded by a girl in a brown-or blue-striped dress. The herdsman is next in line in Volltracht, or in full traditional dress. On his left shoulder he carries a richly carved bucket. He is then followed by three of the farmer's most beautiful cows that carry the heavy Senntumsschellen or ornate cow bells.

Next march four farmers in the traditional costume (with earrings in the right ear, part of the traditional costume!) followed by the rest of the unadorned cows, or Viehhabe, and the horse with the milking gear, or Alpgerätschaften, and the baby cows and perhaps a dog make the conclusion of the train.

I loved every minute of the event - waiting for the Senne to come, seeing all the cows and hearing the crowd talk about 'What a beaut' that one was or what fine coloring that one had. The atmosphere was great - lots of food and music, and not at all as touristy as I thought it would be, especially considering that this event is what I - and no doubt many others - imagine when they think of quintessential Swiss tradition. There are many more Alpabfahrts happening this fall in case you missed the one in Urnäsch. Just have a search online for events near you.

Beautiful Appenzeller Region - quickly
becoming my favorite area in Switzerland.

Other great posts about the Urnäsch Alpabfahrt:
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review of the Glacier Express: Zermatt to St. Moritz

Ok, before I show you the pictures of the Glacier Express - which was AWESOME - let me explain a few things. You are on a moving train for a long time (almost 8 hours if you do the whole strek, which we did...), so a lot of the pictures are, well, let's just say blurred or blocked by things in or on the train or completely ruined due to glare if you have the fortune of a beautiful sunny day, which we did. So I will be the first to say that the photos are crap but please do not let that persuade you from partaking in the Glacier Express yourself, because it was a pure pleasure... ok... I am glad I got that off my chest. Now let's look at the best of the bunch of crappy photos as I tell you why you need to make reservations for this scenic train experience for 2010 right now.

We boarded the panorama train in Zermatt and reserved tickets for the full journey to St. Moritz - but you can get off and on at any of the stops inbetween. The full journey is about 8 hours - which in hindsight was probably a bit too long and we could have happily gotten off in Chur.

In addition to a normal ticket for the journey, you have to make an additional reservation for the Glacier Express. Don't forget this step! It is CHF 30 per person for this special reservation. We did the journey on a day pass, my family on the Swiss pass, and then we all reserved seats and lunch. So in the end it really wasn't very expensive to take this scenic trip across the lower half of Switzerland.

The ride is very comfortable and you have a great view due to the huge picture windows to the ceiling and in the ceiling - although it can make it a bit dizzying at times!

You also get ear phones in order to hear the commentary along the way and a nice bell chimes to let you know when the next commentary will be on. So you not only see a lot but also you learn a lot as well.

I also booked us a reservation for lunch on the train, which was somewhat expensive but very good. We got the daily menu which they served at your seat and even offered seconds! Jace got a huge steak and probably put his vegetarian neighbors into a bit of a panic - sitting on a long train, cows in the hills and on your table... haha - but it was delicious. If you have a bit left in the budget, I recommend eating on the train despite all the reviews on TripAdvisor that say the service is poor - it was still fun.

The best part of the ride naturally is the gorgeous scenery.... lots of mountains, valleys, gorges, canyons, green pastures, ski areas and more! I really enjoyed the trip for the diversity of landscape that you were able to see from the comfort of the train. Not great for photography lovers, as I mentioned above as it is not the best location to takes shots of the stunning scenery. This can be painful sometimes as you just want to take a picture of the amazing site before you - but alas - your shot turns out like this:

Regardless, we were able to get a few nice shots to prove the ride is worth it! Beautiful Switzerland unfolding around you...

The Glacier Express runs from the end of May to the end of October. I would recommend booking in advance, lunch too, especially if you are traveling in the summer months. You can also get some great rail and hotel packages, too.

Make sure you include the Glacier Express in your travel plans - it was a great adventure and means of seeing some of the most beauftiful Swiss country on offer!

More resources:

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Monday, September 14, 2009

King of Switzerland's peaks: The Matterhorn

Last week my family was in town, and I took it upon myself to have a mini blogging-break so that I had time to enjoy my time with them and also plenty of time to explore all the wonders that Switzerland has to offer. Thanks again to everyone's advice on where to go. We took a lot of it on board and I look forward to telling you what we got up to over the next few days... first up - ZERMATT & the Matterhorn!

We left Zurich on Saturday morning around 9 am and traveled via train to Zermatt (the most direct route is about 3.25 hours over Visp). The scenery along the way is stunning, of course, and hence the time went by quickly. As my family was traveling on a Swiss Pass, all train travel over the 8 days they visited was included in the pass. Great bargain! And we started our journey in Zermatt as we had reservations the next day with the Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz. More on that tomorrow!

After a quick lunch in Zermatt - a tourist trap city with few permanent residents but packed with tourists - we headed for the Gornergrattbahn, a scenic train ride lasting just 29 minutes that takes you up Gornergratt for one of the most stunning views of the Matterhorn. The tickets for this train are not cheap - we paid CHF 76 return for the two of us - and that was with the half-fare card! Luckily, the SwissPass also got my guests half price as well - but it was well worth it for the stunning views from the top. The trains run about every 20 minutes and the ticket office and loading zone is directly across from the Zermatt main train station. You cannot miss it. (Ps. Zermatt is a car free city! Oh yeah... others that do not need a car in Switzerland! So if you drive, you have to park in Täsch and take the commuter rail into Zermatt...)

Once at the top, we were greeted with a beautifully clear day and the magnificent Matterhorn in the distance. Actually the views from Gornergratt in every direction are pretty inspiring - full of mountains, lakes, glaciers, and mountain goats! Don't take my word for it though - check out these photos from the top of the world:

As we were waiting for the train to go back down to Zermatt, we spotted these mountain goats, coming to get something out of this container - we think it might have been salt. And if you thought mountain goats were agile before, check out how precariously this little guy is perched above the mountainous cavern below! (Ps. if this is not a goat - please tell me what it is...thanks!)

Top left - See that white speck - next to that, that is him!

Again! Top left is the goat... WOW! How do they do it?!
There were other creatures up top, too - strange creatures these... they have six legs! :):

There were also some bees up top at 3000 meters, buzzing around the only flowers seen for miles. Crazy bees. No wonder they are all dying off...

After walking all around and taking about 4.2 million photos, we were in need of some refreshment - and despite the onset of a cold (typical eh, as soon as visitors come!) I could not help myself and Jace and I enjoyed some local beer and a plate of meat and cheese from the region at the cafe/hotel on the summit. Yum!

Make sure you bring a jacket to the top with you - as it is much cooler up top than down below, despite the direct sun. Oh and don't forget that sunscreen. Slip, slop, slap ya'll.
It was the start of a great Swiss adventure - first the Matterhorn, then THE WORLD....! Ok, so then the rest of Switzerland... ;) More on that coming soon! But I would highly recommend a trip to Zermatt. It is the pinnacle of Swiss tourism and well worth the visit to see this majestic mountain in all its glory.

Stay tuned for more Swiss Adventures from my September 2009 Swiss Tour... including the Glacier Express, St. Moritz, Appenzell and more!
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