Saturday, May 30, 2009

Market Day

I took myself on a tour of Saturday markets in the Zurich area.  It's a lovely day, as a storm this week blew out all the humid air.  First stop:  Oerlikon Farmer's market.  It's in the marketplaza of one of the bigger suburb (as suburban as Europe gets anyway).  Lots of flowers.  There was also a lot of lovely produce.  The peaches and nectarines now are quite good.  Also had some bread, cheese, butcher and fish stalls.  I bought 50g of Vacherin cheese, which the guy thought was a strangely small amount.  Maybe I can try bits of all the famous "swiss" cheeses.  They're so pungent.  And oh so good.  The market was pretty crowded and a lot of people bring along cute little baskets to carry their goods in.  

Stop 2:  Fleamarket Kanzlei near the main station.  This one is supposedly the biggest year-round flea market in Switzerland.  Today it was outside, and the diversity of goods was very entertaining.  Bikes, clocks, clothes, antiques, books, records, video games, electronic parts, you name it.  Get it here.  I scored some books for one franc each, including a cookbook for Swiss bread products.  In German.  

Stop 3:  Burkliplatz on the lake.  This market is only in the summer, but was probably bigger and more well-attended.  Perhaps due to the central location.  Again, lots of different things, but a little classier.  There was a lot of jewelry.  Many stalls also had old postcards and stamps from various countries.  There were lots of people speaking lots of languages.  I lunched on a brat mit brot.

After the markets, I wandered through the old town, visiting the two big churches, Fraumunster and Grossmunster.  They are probably the best known Zurich landmarks, and had nice stained glass. They were however, very small compared to their Catholic equivalents in other countries.  Zurich was the home of Zwingli, so the protestant movement was big here.  Having borrowed the Lonely Planet from a friend, I stopped by the most interesting sounding site:  Cafe Schober.  Home of the rich, melty, hot, milky chocolate drink.  The place had four different rooms, some inside and some outside, decorated in different styles.  Settling in the red and gold French Rococo room, I sipped the delicious drink and read for a couple of hours.  

On the way back to the station, I stopped in Globos.  It's a department store, but downstairs they have the Swiss equivalent of Herrod's food halls.  Fancy food in every flavor.  Hoity toity people buying it.  Open floorplan.  Plenty of eye-candy for foodies like me.  It turns out that Switzerland has a yeast extract product similar to marmite and vegemite.  It's called Cenovis and might be the best of the three.  Sweeter and less acrid.  I know own a container of all three, having never actually finished one.  

This week flew by pretty fast.  After getting over a little bottleneck in the lab, there was tons of work to do and things seem to be going well.  That is if we ignore the fact that a lot of our blanks are positive. . . Tuesday and Wednesday I went to frisbee which was fun and tiring.  Two of the women have been with the team for 10 and 15 years.  They were the coaches for a long time when it was open, and also coached the Swiss National team.  Pretty sick.  They're fun to watch.  

Thursday, Silke and Olivier went sailing again and I tagged along.  The wind was quite strong on the way down, but let up a bit as we went out.  The lake is kind of sheltered, so we struggled our way to Zurich lake for better breeze.  They let me steer and tend the mainsail for a while.  I'm pretty bad, but it was great fun.  And on the way back, we had a tailwind and mounted the Spinnaker, a big sail that goes in front of the whole boat.  Set-up and take-down of the boat is a lot of hassle though.

This week was also pizza week at the EMPA restaurant near the lab.  You pay 10 bucks, and can fill a shell with whatever toppings you like.  I get a little overzealous and filled mine so tall that it didn't fit in the conveyer belt over.  Tsk tsks all around.  Those piggish Americans. . . I was just trying to get my money's worth.

The marathon training schedule starts this week at 9 miles, increasing by about a mile each week until a 20-miler at the end of September.  Should be exciting.  It's a good thing to keep me occupied.  Since I've almost run through all the Gilmore Girls episodes I brought.  Sad. . .

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I've just realized that I've spent 1 of the past 3 years in another country, 5% of my total life.  Plus, I've been to every country that is part of my ancestry.  

Monday, May 25, 2009


The weekend in Neuchatel was lovely.  Beautiful weather and scenery, good food, French everywhere.  Saturday morning, we went into town for the market.  In addition to the standard produce stalls, there were quite a few cheese and patisserie stalls.  There was one bread booth selling chunks of a loaf that was at least 6 feet long.  We met Aline's parents for lunch at the terrace restaurant next to the market and had steak tartare and frites.  Raw meat is oh so good.  They have a lot of good charcuterie here.  At home we have generic grocery store brands for mac and cheese, cereal, and other basics.  Here they have brie, camembert, and delicious smoked charcuterie in grocery store brand.  

After lunch, we drove down to her family's lake house, or "chalet."  Her grandmere was there, and we took a rowboat out on the lake.  There were a lot of sailboats out.  We passed a campsite that was packed with jolly vacationers.  And there are swans everywhere here.  Like canadian geese, but much more attractive and less prone to depositing large quantities of fecal matter.  

In the evening, we met up with some of Aline's primary school friends for a BBQ by the lake.  There were about 100 people in the small park with 3 grills, so grill-wars were in effect.  Everyone spoke in French all evening, and I understood about half of it if I paid attention.  Still, it was interesting to meet them and to listen.  

Sunday, we drove to the Val-de-Travers for a hike up to Cruex-du-Van.  It is a huge cliff formation formed by glaciers.  About 1 km in diameter, it cuts a half-circle into the side of the hill and has a very long sheer drop.  Again lots of people. We continued our walk down the valley along the Gorges de l'Areuse, where the river cuts its path between smooth rock walls.  The rock formations were amazing and the water below was black and calm.  It took about 6 hours for the whole hike, so we were pretty caput afterwards.  After dinner, we said goodbye to Aline's family and hopped the train back to Zurich.  It was really fun to go with her to meet her family and see her home.  

I was moderately surprise to learn that Swiss people actually use the things that we think of as typically "Swiss."  Every child seems to have a swiss army knife by the age of 10.  Sigg water bottles are everywhere.  And Swiss watches too.  Though our American version of "Swiss" cheese is thankfully absent.  

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Un bon weekend

Thursday, I went sailing with a group of friends in Rapperswil, on the south side of Lake Zurich.  It was a lovely day, and though the wind was elusive at first, everyone got some good time on the boat.  We planned a pique-nique (that's French for pic-nic) for dinner, and Silke and Olivier pull out a camp stove, fondue pot, wine, nutmeg, pepper, garlic, a huge loaf of bread and a large quantity of cheese.  They proceeded to make fondue over the camp stove.  It was quite merry.  

My grad student, Aline, invited me to her parent's home in Neuchatel this weekend.  We left on Friday and got in a good wander around the old town.  There was a castle, an old prison tower, a protestantized cathedral and a lot of cute little streets.  There was also some sort of ancient bicycle convention and about 200 people rode around town on those old bikes with a huge front wheel.  Costumes included.  The town is really old (14th century?) and a lot of the old buildings are yellow-hued with colorful shutters.  There were lots of sidewalk cafes and happy looking people going for their afternoon stroll.  There were a couple of lovely gourmet food shops with charcuterie, artisan cheeses, and italian imports.

Her home is up in a valley about 5 km from the lake.  They have a breathtaking view of the valley which is currently checkered with yellow safflower fields and dotted with quaint little towns.  I met her family, who were quite charming, and got to practice my French listening skills.  I think they actually increased dramatically this weekend.  Rather I just remembered.  It's been about 6 years since I studied French after all.  And they have cheese after dinner.  

More on the rest of the weekend tomorrow.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thoughts on being away

I've spent a lot of time out of the country this year.  When I tell people that I've taken a year off to travel and learn, they often say, "Careful, you might never want to go back to school."  I can't really imagine why.  All the time I've been away, I've enjoyed myself for sure, but I've never stopped missing home.  Nowhere I've been has struck me like, "Hey, I want to live here forever," and certainly not like, "Hey, I think I'll stay here right now and not go home."  And school?  I couldn't imagine wandering around without a purpose for years and years.  I can't wait to get back to school.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cheeseries and bakeries

I took the trip down to Luzern today to meet with a prof there.  Most of the morning I had free for wander time.  It's such a pretty little town at the edge of the lake and mountains.  There was a farmers market going on along the river with really nice produce and breads.  Apparently it's apple season, because there were buckets and buckets of them.  I got some fresh apple juice/cider that was amazing.  The number of bakeries and cheese stores is absurd.  I might have to change my policy, because if I visited each one, I wouldn't be anywhere very fast.  So yummy.  And pungent.  

I came here three years ago with Matt and Jamie, and it was a little strange to walk by places where we walked or had hot chocolate.  Eerie.  I must say it was much better in the sunny weather than in constant drizzle.  

Otherwise, things are same old.  Matt got a job in Colorado, so he will officially be there too in the fall.  None of that long-distance business.  monkey.  business monkey.  ok bye

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I ran in a relay race this Saturday.  It's called SOLA and it's put on by ETH, one of the big universities in town.  A certain number of people on each team have to be affiliated (students, alums, faculty, staff, etc.), so you basically get a bunch of academic types running around Zurich for 12 hours.  It was 114 km in total, and our team finished in 10.5 hours.  And there were about 700 teams.  Talk about a massive event.  It was weird showing up at your specific start point and waiting around for your teammate to arrive with hundreds of other people.  (I had more trouble than most because I couldn't understand the numbers shouted out) The run was really nice, and the scenery was great.  Afterwards we went out for pizza (restaurants are so expensive here).  I forget that Europe isn't big on tap water.  So you can pay 5 bucks for mineral water or pay 5 bucks for something else.  Or beg and beg for them to fill you glass from the sink.

Today I went for a wander in town.  I hadn't really been to the old town before, so I walked around the deserted (Sunday, shops closed) pedestrian streets surrounded by super cute swiss buildings.  It was very scenic, and the only things open were a couple of kebap shops.  Eventually, I made it to the lake, which is curiously banana-shaped, and walked along the shore.  There were so many people out.  It was worth the walk just for the people-watching potential.  There were a lot of dogs playing in the water, ladies sun-bathing in their swimsuits, and happy people eating Movenpick ice cream.  One guy was stacking up rocks by the lakeside.  And these were probably 5-10 kg rocks of random roundish shapes stacked in a vertical stack of up to 6.  I was impressed.  Somehow, I made it to the botanical gardens.  They were really pleasant, and had three domes with various other climates.  And I had a pretzel from bretzelkonig! All in all a good day.

Next week, my grad student is gone for the first couple of days, so work will be slow, but I plan to figure out how to do laundry at my apartment and take a trip to the facility in Luzern to learn about a project.  And Thursday is a holiday.  Plans to be determined, but may involve sailing in Rapposwil on Silke and Olivier's boat.  

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time is flying

I guess I've been busy, because this week is going fast.  Work in the lab is going along, with lots to do.  I'm trying to branch out and meet people in the Engineering side of the world here. (Though the ecologists are very pleasant.)  Lots of pipetting for me.  

Tuesday, I went to a practice for Zuri Ultimate Flyers, the mixed club team here.  They were pretty good and prepping for a Swiss National tourney this weekend.  It was interesting playing with people speaking a different language.  Thankfully, there were three other English-speaking-types, and the team was really good at translating for us.  It was really nice to get back in the game again, though I've been pitifully sore for a couple of days now.  

Last night, I went into town with my Persian roommate, Samira.  She was looking for more summery clothes, so we went to Bahnhofstrasse, the big shopping street here.  It was nice to wander around town a bit, but soreness got the best of me and we came home early.  I did finally figure out the multiple train pass situation.

On last Sunday, I went wandering on the hill nearby where there are a lot of forest paths.  The Swiss really seem to have it down.  They don't feel like every single person/family needs their own little house.  They have little shared garden plots for flat-dwellers.  They seem to recycle religiously, including greens.  Their cities don't sprawl for miles.  They just kind of run into pretty fields with interspersed housing.  And the transportation is amazing.  

This coming Saturday, I somehow got a spot in a 14-person 114 km (~67 miles) relay around the city.  My leg is about 7 miles through the north end of town.  The ecology department has a team and someone couldn't do it last minute.  It should be exciting.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More on the language business

Get this:  When people walk into a conversation here, they actually ask what language to speak  Deustch? Francais? English? and transition accordingly.  You can't tell me that's not awesome.  Us silly Americans.  Alas, Mandarin is little utilized here.

I had the special Swiss sausage, Servalas.  Apparently it's made from the intestine of special Argentinian kind of livestock.  Switzerland recently joined the Schegen states (like the EU but not), which ban this kind of import, so there has been a lot of hullabaloo about how to continue authentic production of the sausage.  It didn't really have such a distinctive taste in my opinion, but sausages are generally tasty anyway.  I love how hullabaloo is not listed as a spelling error.

Sidenote:  30% of Zurich residents are expats.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


There is an Action! section at the grocery store for things that are about to pass their expiration date.  It has a big red sign with a prominent exclamation mark.  

Friday, May 8, 2009


So I went to the grocery store last night around 7:10 to pick up some goods.  Turns out all the stores in town close at 7PM on weeknights.  And that's even a little late for Switzerland.  Most stores are not open on Sundays.  And it's illegal to make ruckus after 10PM in this country.  I like it.  People here seem good if a little introverted.  Like Minnesotans.  And it turns out you can see the mountains from our lab.  

We've had several gorgeous days here in the Zurich area with temps around 75F.  I started riding my bike around today, which makes things a lot faster to get to and fro.  Things are getting started pretty fast in the lab.  My grad student had just gotten the methods figured out, so there's lots of molecular biology lab work to be done.  I'm gonna have quite the micropipetting muscles be the time I return.  It'll be good practice though.  I hope to sit in on lots of seminars around the institute and learn as much as I can while I'm here.  

The people in my department are all very welcoming and very diverse in origin.  None of the professors are Swiss, and few of the students are.  It's interesting to get perspectives from everyone.  This afternoon we had "bier freitag" (sprite freitag for me) and tomorrow, one of the professors is having a housewarming party with sausages and whatever else people bring.  Should be fun.  

I haven't actually made it into Zurich yet, but hopefully Sunday is the day for wandering the town.  Or museums if it is raining.  On another high note, I'll be going on a sampling trip to glacial streams in the mountains in June.  The landscape is supposedly very pastoral.  Cows.  

I still haven't managed to stay up past 9PM, but I haven't had any naps!  I'm so good. . . Hopefully my sleep schedule will get more normals as the days pan out.  

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Swiss people speak a lot of languages.

I made it safely to Switzerland yesterday afternoon after a hassle-free flight.  By the way, the Amsterdam airport is very cozy.  The grad student whose project I'll be working on, Aline, picked me up from the airport and we bussed to Dubendorf, my home for the next two months.  My flat is run by two of the research institutions here in town, and I share it with two other foreign grad students.  We sent into the office/lab at eawag yesterday to see the place and fill out some paperwork.  I also took a trip to the Migros supermarket, which, like all supermarkets, was very exciting.  It turns out Zurich is not actually in the mountains, but there are a lot of pretty fields all around.

The architecture here is all very Swiss, yet very modern, and everything seems very new and clean.  There's a nice stream running through town with a great running path.  Many churches around town are regularly tolling out the time.  It's supposed to rain this weekend, so maybe I'll hop the commuter train into Zurich and check out a museum.  To do today: get bike repaired, more aclimating.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Away Again

It's been a fabulous couple of months here involving a lot or reading, some time volunteering at my grandpa's nursing home, hanging out with my awesome family, signing up for the TC marathon, and watching spring make it's usual jumpy start here in Minnesota.  I can't imagine a time more enjoyably spent.

I leave today for Zurich, where I will spend two months as a visiting scientist in a lab that specializes in leaf litter decomposition in streams. I hope to spend a lot of my free time wandering around the area.  I've already found an Ultimate team I can practice with twice a week.  After my Asian experience, it feels like 2 months with go by in a flash.  And Switzerland should be so much easier to get around than India or even China.  So it really doesn't feel like anything big is happening here, though I know it will be a lot of fun.  I even fit all my stuff into a medium size backpack and a small purse.  

So I should be posting pretty regularly again until mid-July.  In other good news, I have a great-looking apartment in Boulder for the fall and should be registered for classes by the end of this week.  I'm very excited to go back to school.