Wednesday, April 15, 2009


People often ask me for recommendations when visiting or living in Zurich.

Here is a short list.

Travel: I tried to leave Switzerland at least once a month while I was there, and I'm sure you'll take advantage of the travel opportunities, as well. Two of the most underrated cities in Europe that I've been to are Ljubljana and Vilnius. I've had great holidays (with direct flights) in Kenya and Thailand. Swiss Airlines posts weekend travel specials on its website every Wednesday morning. Coop sells discounted flight coupons every year for travel to major European cities. There are often relatively affordable direct charter flights (Edelweiss is one company) to holiday destinations like Thailand and Egypt. Within Switzerland, definitely get a 1/2 Tax (Halbtax) card if you plan on using the trains at all. Buying your Zurich tram pass annually saves a lot of money.

Neighborhood: I lived in Kreis 1, as do many of my friends. It's good for single people who appreciate convenience and location. Kreis 2 is a bit quieter (and close to Google). Kreis 8 has a lot of expat couples and is convenient to the lake. Kreis 5 is the up-and-coming area for the Swiss equivalent of hipsters and techno lovers.

Best fondue: Raclette Stube in Niederdorf

Most interesting restaurant experience: tie between Blinde Kuh (Seefeld), where it's completely dark, and Oepfelchammer (Niederdorf, ask for the Weinstube), where if you climb through the rafters and drink wine upside down, you can carve your name in the wall

Other Restaurants and Bars: Cafe Zaehringer in Niederdorf is reasonably priced, student-run coop that has good soups, veggie options, and is smoke-free on Sundays
Aepli Bar in Niederdorf is one of my favorite bars in Zurich: cute, unpretentious, and campy in a Swiss way
Zeughauskeller in Paradeplatz is the place to go for sausage and beer.
Tearoom Blunt in Kreis 5 is a good place for Moroccan style brunch.
Lumiere on Widdergasse not only allows dogs (as do most restaurants) but has dog food and dog bowls, and will serve your dog dinner while you eat.

Most random museum: Gletschergarten in Lucerne - truly bizarre

Most impressive collection of art in a small space: Sammlung E. G. Buehrle in Seefeld

Best gym: Fitnesspark Munstergasse in Niederdorf has a Turkish bath, awesome for winter!!

Best gummy candy: Baerenland (Marktgasse 11, near the Rathaus tramstop) has the best gummy candy in the world, and I consider myself to be something of a connaisseur. The German owner, Christian, is friendly and gives out more free samples than you can eat.

In the summer: they turn some of the outdoor swimming pools into awesome bars. The Frauenbad in the Limmat is my favorite bar in the world, and it's open to the public on Thursdays in summertime. Rimini (near the Boerse) does the same thing most nights in the summer, but I find it a bit more claustrophobic. Rimini stays open into the fall, because they put up a bunch of heated tents, which are pretty cool. If you can get tickets to see a movie at Orange Cinema in the summer, do it -- they set up an outdoor cinema and you watch movies on the lake, it's great. Go to Ikea and buy one of the little portable grills (they are round and look like a tiny UFO). Perfect for grabbing to take to the lake on lazy summer weekends.

Music: There are lots of summer music festivals in Switzerland, including the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Blue Balls Festival. Live music is great year-round, because the venues are often small, and the concerts are more intimate.

Other things to check out when they come around: Oktoberfest at the Bauschaenzli (if you can't make it to Munich, this is a fun local option); Sechseläuten parade and burning of the Böögg in April; parades and street celebrations all the time... Curling. There are thermal baths around Switzerland that are just awesome - Leukerbad and Vals are just two of them. There's a glass factory in Hergiswil near Lucerne that's cool, and the factory seconds store is deeply discounted. If you hear about a yodeling festival, go to it. They are awesome.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I've moved!!!

Greetings from California. I've moved, and so the blog will be moving, as well. No more Geocities, thank goodness, since Blogger is much more customizable than it was back in 2004. Everything - posts, pictures, links - will be here from now on.

See you on the interweb.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

18 March 2008

No time for a real post, as I'm trying to get my entire apartment packed up. Packing in the midst of a normal weekly schedule and a desperate last-minute travel schedule (must see... as much as possible... before leaving...) is no easy feat, and is further complicated by the following:

Even though my lease runs until March 31st, I have to be out of the apartment by March 26th, so that the professional cleaners (who charge about $1,000 to clean a 1BR apartment!) and painters can come in before the next tenant.

As wonderful as it is to move into an apartment in Switzerland - everything is sparkling clean and probably more sanitary than the stuff you're bringing with you, it is equally horrible to move out of an apartment in Switzerland for precisely the same reason. They expect things to be in perfect condition. The cleaning fee seems a bit excessive, but I'm told that they go so far as to take apart the faucets to check for any calcification that may have accumulated during your tenancy. The Swiss are nothing if not thorough.

After that, I'll stay with a friend for the remainder of my time in Zurich. Why didn't I just stay in my apartment until the end, you ask? Well, in Switzerland, they make it very difficult to break your lease at any time other than the end of March or September. I'd rather crash with someone than pay an extra six months' of rent.

Because of the discrepancy between the date I leave my apartment and the date I leave Switzerland, I have to sort my packing into more piles than usual: Trash, Recycle, Sell, To Use in Switzerland, To Use for Diving, To Use Immediately in California, and To Use Later in California. This is so that things can stay here or ship at the appropriate times. Argh.

After I move to San Francisco, much of my stuff will be in storage with friends in Zurich, and will follow once I've found a place to stay in California. A great idea in theory, but in practice, it's a bit difficult to get my stuff into their storage space. We all live in the old town, which is charming, quaint, picturesque, and usually closed to traffic.

We can usually get the car to my apartment, somewhat semi-legally, but to get to my friends' apartment, there is a gate that is closed except for early mornings on weekdays and on weekends. Since my time here is running out, my weekends are fully booked with travel and other hijinks. Weekdays, everyone works, and so we can't really spend a morning quasi-legally shuttling boxes between the two apartments.

It takes longer than you would think, partly because, although both building have elevators, they are very small (three very skinny people or half of an obese person can fit in), and you need to take stairs to get to the elevators. Yes. You have to take stairs to get to the elevators.

Furthermore, although the apartments are only about three minutes apart on foot, by car, it takes about ten minutes, because of all of the one-way streets, pedestrian streets, and looping around. If the gate is closed, add on another five or ten minutes of trying to wheedle the guard into letting you in for a quick dropoff. Whew.

Moving has always been one of my least favorite pastimes, but Switzerland takes it to a whole new level of awful. Don't get me started on what I have to do besides the physical move - Big Brother needs me to fill out countless forms and notify countless offices to erase myself from his books.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

5 February 2008

Life is moving too fast for me to document everything for you here in its full, detailed glory!

So, just a few quick notes on the past couple of months before they slip too far into ancient, forgotten history:

1) Flying from Zurich to JFK to San Francisco to JFK to Zurich in the span of ten days is a bit ambitious, especially if it also involves a delayed flight, a canceled flight, job interviews, and seeing friends and family in four cities on two coasts.

2) It is also ambitious to then go to a New Year’s Eve celebration in Zurich, when your total time between flights is less than 24 hours, and your out-bound flight leaves from another city. The traffic after the midnight fireworks will probably keep you from catching the last train to Basel, and throw a bit of a wrench in your plans to go to…

3) ...Marrakech, home of the best, cheapest, fresh-squeezed orange juice you will ever have. Also home to excellent food at the night markets, and fun bargaining opportunities that later leave you wondering why you were fighting so hard for a price that would have saved you only 40 cents off of the counter-offer.

4) You will drink more red wine in Madrid than anywhere else in the world, as you go from bar to bar, having a glass of wine and tapas. Beware when ordering the suckling pig at Restaurant Botin (the oldest restaurant in the world), because they will bring you one-fourth of the whole, fatty, crispy-skinned pig - little baby pig foot included. As for vegetables, the pig comes with two potatoes. Delicious, but not the most balanced meal ever. Especially since they start you off with a ham-and garlic soup that is festooned with pieces of deep-fried bread.

5) No matter where you go, the food and shopping are cheaper than they are in Zurich. Bring an extra bag to carry stuff back.

As for things that are coming up: my friends and I are going curling! Yes, that’s the one with the ice rink, the rocks, and the brooms. Who knows, maybe I’ll be really good at it, and will give up my lawyerly aspirations and become a pro curler.

Failing that, I’ll be moving to the States in May to start an awesome new job in San Francisco, where I look forward to making fun of the granola-loving, Birkenstock-wearing locals as much as I make fun of the cheese-eating, mullet-haired locals here.

Until then, I plan to get as much traveling and diving done as possible (Scandinavia? Baltics? Balkans? Greece? Asia? Who knows??), because once I’m back in the States, I’ll no longer be within a two-hour flight of two dozen countries. On the other hand, I’ll be able to get decent bagels and sourdough bread whenever I want.

Leaving Switzerland is going to be difficult, both in terms of giving up the fantastic life I’ve lived here, and in terms of deregistering with all of the proper authorities, giving the correct notices on the right forms, and doing all those other things that Big Brother requires of good Swiss residents.

On top of that, there are the usual logistics of an international transfer – packing, shipping, moving, starting a new job, and trying to get the timing of all of those (and the level of your bank account) to match up. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

15 January 2008

Happy New Year!! A lot has happened since the last time I wrote – skiing, interviews in California, family Christmas in New Jersey, seeing friends in New York, New Year’s in Zurich, and a few days in Marrakech, all of which deserve discussion, but I have Switzerland on the brain right now, so that’s what I’m going to talk about.

A college friend was in town this past weekend, so we went into the mountains to go sledding. I grew up sledding in my back yard with cardboard boxes and inner tubes, and I have to say that it’s an entirely different experience taking an old-school wooden sled up a gondola in the Alps to a two-mile (3 km) slope made especially for sledding.

First of all, you go fast. Really fast. And the sled has no steering mechanism. And the trail has all sorts of quick turns and big bumps. They’re sort of like giant speed bumps, and the sled is unpadded, so your butt takes the brunt of the impact. Add to that the fact that on Saturday, when we were there, it was snowing hard, and we didn’t have goggles, so we had to keep our eyes mostly closed to avoid getting stinging snow driven into our eyes at high speed. It wasn’t just sledding. It was Extreme Sledding, very exhilarating, and I highly recommend it, for as long as your butt can take it. I am still exercising caution when sitting down.

That night, twenty of us went for fondue, because it’s not winter if you don’t go out for fondue, and then we went out for drinks afterwards. And my purse got stolen. Stolen! In Switzerland! It was soon found, minus my cash and cell phone. And I am in complete shock. I filed a police report (entirely in my own special brand of German, because the officer taking my statement didn’t speak English), and an insurance report, and the insurance company is transferring money to my account, so there’s minimal material loss, but my faith in Switzerland has been deeply shaken. Sure, bags get stolen in New York, in Madrid, in Paris, but not in Zurich!! What is the world coming to, if your purse can get stolen in Zurich?

There are other signs that the world is spinning out of control. A friend’s Swiss flight back to the States before Christmas was delayed by almost five hours, and another friend’s checked bag was misplaced on the way back. These things may happen on other airlines in the rest of the world, but not on Swiss International Airlines, where you leave on time, arrive early, and pick up your bags ten minutes later.

And just this morning I read an article that clearly signals that the end of days is drawing near. Because of a shortage in Brazilian cow intestines, there is a looming shortage of Switzerland’s most popular sausage, a pork- and beef-based sausage called the cervelat. Six million Swiss people eat a combined 160 million cervelats per year (in addition to the hundreds of millions of other sausages – the 160 million refers to a single kind of sausage!), and this summer, Switzerland is hosting the Euro Cup, when millions of foreign sausage eaters will descend on Zurich and further increase the demand for cervelats.

According to the BBC, a “joint ‘Task Force Cervelat’ composed of scientists, bureaucrats and industry representatives has been formed to tackle the sausage crisis.” We can only hope that they will be able to find a solution to this greatest of problems. I am certain that this crisis is dominating front-page news around the world, so my apologies for beating a dead horse, but I, like all concerned citizens of the world, am worried about not being able to eat my tube-form dead cows and pigs at will.

Monday, December 10, 2007

10 December 2007

We had a fantastic week in Kenya, fitting in three dives, a safari, a visit to a local school-slash-orphanage to drop off some toys and supplies, and lots of lounging around in the pool. Kenya is many things that Switzerland is not– hot, sunny, and full of friendly people who told us that we should stay in Kenya forever. As with all countries, however, the positives come with some downsides, as well – the tap water isn’t even safe enough to rinse your toothbrush, the mosquitoes tend to spread malaria, and the roads are rather bumpy, even when they happen to be paved.

The population of Kenya is, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly black. We were tourists, though, and therefore came across a fair number of other tourists, but they were almost all white. I didn’t see a single other Asian person in a week of traveling until we were in the Nairobi airport on the way back. It’s really rather shocking to go to a tourist destination and not see a single Asian person (other than myself) taking pictures of everything that moves.

This unfamiliarity with Asians led to some interesting exchanges. Locals repeatedly asked the three of us (two blond-haired, blue-eyed Caucasians and one Asian) if we were siblings. I’ve spent most of my life being mistaken for my sister, or as a sibling of Asian friends, due to the fact that to non-Asian eyes, “all Asians look the same.” I suppose that to African eyes, all non-Africans look the same. One day, I was walking by myself, and a Kenyan asked me, based purely on appearance (since I hadn’t spoken) if I were Russian. Huh?!

Kenyans are exceedingly friendly. Children will stop their games upon seeing a van bearing foreigners and delightedly scream, “Jambo!” which is Swahili for “Hello.” Upon seeing me, however, they would get up and run towards the van, pointing and yelling, “Wachina!” which is Swahili for “Chinese.” I had to laugh, because that was pretty much our reaction when we were on safari, excitedly calling out, “Giraffe! Zebra! Oryx!”

Due to the existence of anti-American sentiment in many places, when asked, we generally said that we lived in Switzerland, which often prompted Kenyans to tell us that our English was very good, and which sometimes led down rather awkward conversation paths about how long we studied English. When bargaining for various knickknacks (no one can leave Africa without buying at least one wood carving, and no one can buy a wood carving without haggling), in the interest of appearing less prosperous, we were a bit vague about our professions – two of us are lawyers, and the third is an engineer for a company that manufactures electrical devices, which we turned into “I work in an office,” and “I work in a light switch factory.” I don’t think we fooled the salesmen at all.

It was a shock to come back to Switzerland – a week of wearing nothing but copious quantities of sunscreen, t-shirts, and shorts does not segue well into cold, wind, and rain. It is a relief, however, to be able to brush your teeth without fear of parasites, and to live mosquito-free.

This past weekend was spent with a friend in Amsterdam, where it is similarly cold and rainy. Next weekend, we’re heading for the mountains, where the cold rain will perhaps be cold snow, instead, and I can go skiing for the first time in fifteen years. Yes, I’ve been here for over three years and haven’t managed to muster up the motivation to go skiing. For shame.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

20 November 2007

“If you’re going to do something, you might as well overdo it” seems to be the theme of my recent and near-future life. I won’t be spending a whole weekend in town for two months. This past weekend, I was in Brussels. The next two weekends (and the week in between), I’ll be in Kenya. Then Amsterdam. Then Davos. The two weekends (and the week in between) after that, I’ll be in the States. Nineteen hours in Switzerland, and then an extra-long weekend in Morocco. Then maybe (just maybe), a weekend in Zurich before I take off for a weekend in Madrid. Whew. It ain't easy trying to be a jetsetter.

And it’s not just the travel that’s being taken to the point of excess. How’s this for a textbook example of gluttony – my friends and I flew to Brussels Saturday morning to try out lunch and dinner at two Michelin-starred restaurants (and the two meals combined took over seven hours), stayed the night, then flew back 24 hours later, just in time to waddle into Thanksgiving dinner #1. I had Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch the next day. Thanksgiving dinner #2 will be this Thursday (we make up for the lack of a long weekend by overdosing on turkey more than once). I will probably have eaten a month’s worth of food in a week’s worth of time. Burp. Incidentally, dinner at Comme Chez Soi was a near-religious experience, and worth every franc spent to get there, and euro spent to eat there.

Speaking of food, it’s common in many languages to use food-based pet names. In English, for instance, people call each other honey, pumpkin, sugar, or sweetie pie. A friend of mine was taken aback however, when her German boyfriend called her (in English) his “honey cake horse.” What?! It turns out he had directly translated a German term of endearment (Honigkuchenpferd, in case you’re curious) into English, assuming that it would make as much sense in English as it apparently does in German. A quick peek at a website listing other German terms of endearment reveals such gems as Humpfimumpfi, and Marzipankugelschweinchen (marzipan ball piglet). Charming, no? They just roll right off your tongue.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the stereotypical German speaker is not known for his (or her) romantic conquests – it’s hard to win someone over when you’re comparing them to farm animals or lesser-known carbohydrates. Never fear, though, just as in the States, there are dating sites and dating shows to help those who cannot help themselves. "Swiss Date" is a long-running dating show that is similar to the "Dating Game," where a bachelor (or bachelorette) asks three contestants a series of questions, and then chooses a lucky winner.

The sad thing, however, is that the show is entirely scripted, so that everyone know what questions will be asked, and the contestants often read their strained joking responses off of index cards held in their laps. I realize that reality shows are often scripted, but it’s best to maintain the semblance of spontaneity by eliminating the visible cue cards. Just a tip.

My friends and I leave for Kenya this week! The two of them leave Thursday morning and will actually spend Thanksgiving evening in Nairobi, where they plan to eat Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant that serves unusual game meats such as crocodile, giraffe, and zebra. I’ll join them on Saturday, and we hope to spend the week relaxing at the beach, going on a safari, enjoying the equatorial weather, and not catching malaria.