Monday, December 7, 2009

Happy Samichlaus Day (December 6)

December 6, 2009 is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. Before I share with you the activities that took place on this day, I must give you a little history of December 6th in Switzerland

December 6 is known as "Samichlaus" day. St Nicholas (Nicholas of Myra, Patron Saint of children) is popularly called Samichlaus in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. He appears not on Christmas Eve or Day, but on December 6. Samichlaus knocks on the door, frightened but excited kids answer. Samichlaus consults his big book of sins — co-authored by village parents — and does some light-hearted moralizing. Then he asks the kids to earn a little forgiveness by reciting a poem. After this and some assurances that they will reform, Samichlaus allows the children to reach deep into his bag for a smattering of tangerines, nuts, gingerbread, and other treats.

Samichlaus is accompanied by a character called Schmutzli on his visits to children, in particular in the central cantons. In contrast to the Patron Saint, Schmutzli usually is a rather dark and gloomy figure who carries a cane ("Rute") as well as the jute sack filled with presents. Female characters take on a similar role in other parts of the country, such as Befana in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino and Chauche-vieille in French-speaking Western Switzerland. In Ticino, children hang up stockings on night of December 5-6 (the word Befana is derived from Epiphany): "good" children receive sweets, while tradition has it that "bad" children find a lump of coal, or sugar lumps resembling coal, in their stockings.

Another tradition that occurs on December 6th is the Samichlausschwimmen. The "Santa Claus Swim" is annual event for people that are not very bright....or feel no pain (obviously, this guy does not feel much pain).

This is not just any swim. Imagine for a second taking a hot shower....and then all of a sudden someone comes in turns the water to full blown cold....and then drop that temperature by about 20 degrees F....Lastly, imagine sitting in that water for 4 minutes.

Now, hopefully you have a better vision of the Samichlausschwimmen. Can you guess the temperature of the water. Lets just say it is measured in centimeters....not Celsius or Fahrenheit if you know what I mean :)

Water Temperature 7 C / 44 F

The Zurich Dive team getting suited up just in case one of the participants decide to give up. After seeing this group of people, I seriously considered throwing in the towel.

Never underestimate the stupidity of men in large numbers (more than 1). This is 4 of the 6 from our group who took the plunge.

L/R (Nathan, Brian, Jan & Zann)

Here is Zann and I right before the swim. Ladies...don't even think about it, Zann is a happily married man. I am especially greatful that Z successfully completed the swim, considering I was probably the one responsible for peer pressuring him to participate

This year, approximately 325 participated in the Samichlausschwimmen on the Limmat River from Pier 7 to the Frauenbad (Woman's Bath). The distance of the swim was approximately 110 meters (football field from goal post to goal post). Check out the divers in the boats and a couple of red buoys in the distance. I think those bouys connect nets so if anyone drowns, they don't have to search the entire river.

Well I was the first one from our group to take the plunge. If you listen carefully, I am the one screaming like a 6 year old girl.

Halfway through the swim, the pain starts to go away as the body is nearly completely numb. It is interesting how the group naturally drew closer together. Maybe subconsiously we were thinking that togetherness could warm the waters. Not a chance!!!

If you ever a chance to do this it is an incredible "Mind over Matter" experience that I highly recommend. Walking up these stairs was the best part of the entire Swim.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

When in Switzerland - One Must Ski the Swiss Alps

This post comes to you by Nate. Today was the first day of ski least for me. Mandy is back in Raleigh and will not be able to conceive her first day on the Swiss slopes until sometime near the end of January when she returns.

I was invited to go skiing at the ELM Ski Resort by my manager, Hakan. This was a pretty big deal as the group that I was joining has had a "Annual First Ski Day" tradition for 9 years.
Elm is a quaint ski slope about an 1:15 hours from Zurich by car. The ski resort was perfect for working out the first day kinks and jitters.
The circle represents the ELM ski slope. For those Swiss that
might be searching for my loss wallet, I am fairly confident
that you can keep your search within this circle (see below for details).
The good thing about participating with these "First Ski Day" advanced skiers is that they love stopping for coffee, sandwiches, beer, soup, cheese plates and fondue (every 30 minutes).

L to R (Andreas, Carl, Hakan & Nathan)

Here is a quick shot of me cutting through the snow. I just noticed that this woman was admiring my form....or maybe...reflecting on how I almost ran over her.

Usually, bad things happen to me when Mandy is away. Well today, was no different. After the first coffee break (at 10:30 am) I lost my cell phone on the slopes (ok...I fall alot). At first, I was somewhat relieved as the phone is quite basic and only works about 60% of the time.

If you haven't read our blog in the past, let me educate you on Swiss people. The Swiss are the most honest people in the world. Within an hour of realizing that I lost my phone, Hakan got a call informing me that my phone was located. By the way, did I tell you that the Swiss are the most honest people in the world. Also, they are quite smart too. Who would of ever thought to call the last number dialed to help locate a cell phones rightful owner? life is good. Lets continue skiing. Actually, I should of quit after the last coffee break. Sometime between the last coffee break and our last ski run, I lost my wallet. WTF!!!! I am a train wreck today. Hopefully the honest & smart Swiss people come through for me, again.

As with all my blog postings, I try to share my experiences and the lessons that I have learned. Hopefully, you will be able to take something from these to apply to your daily life.

So, the lessens learned in today's experience are as follows:
1) If you have a pass code to unlock your cell phone, you might want to consider removing it. It is kind of hard for an "Honest" person to find the rightful owner of a cell phone if it is locked with a top-secret code.
2) If you find someones cell phone, be as honest as the Swiss and try to return it to its rightful owner. If you want to be "Smart" like the Swiss, try to call the last couple of numbers dialed to locate the rightful owner
3) Last but most importantly, always store important items (phones, wallets, ski pass, children, etc.) in safe places while skiing. With all the crap (gloves, goggles, hats, helmets, skis, poles, etc.), it is very easy to misplace important things.

You won't want to miss tomorrow's post, it should be exciting assume that I survive the adventures that have been planned. Mandy...I need you here. All I can say is "Never Underestimate the Stupidity of Men in Large Numbers".

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Market in Colmar, France

One of the best things about living in Switzerland is that traveling to other countries is so easy! Last week we decided we wanted to go to France for the day to see a Christmas Market. To France. For The Day. Okay - let's do it!:)

So we woke up early on Saturday to take a two hour train to Colmar, France. Colmar is known for their Christmas Market and we thought it would be a fun way to spend the day. I love the idea of outdoor Christmas Markets! We have outdoor festivals/markets during the summer in Raleigh, but never during the "cold" months. There is something to be said about the cold weather, Christmas lights, and gluhwein to put you in the Christmas Spirit! It could have also been the cute little town that helped too! Most of the businesses and residences had decorated for the season and it was very quaint.

I thought I was taking greats pics of how cute and quaint the city was but this was the best I got - you can still kind of see:)

Colmar was very "German" though. I'm not sure what I was expecting -maybe a bunch of people in berets drinking coffee and being rude? I mean they did say "Bonjour" - but all the sausages and sauerkraut on the restaurant menus threw me for a loop!:) But then today I spoke with Miriam, who told me Colmar used to be a part of Germany, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and found out the country's history. Colmar went back and forth between French and German control several times starting in the 1600's. Now it all makes sense:)! I know this is a bit random, but I love learning the history of these towns, countries, and regions - better late than never. Like I said before I used to HATE European history! Now it is so fascinating...maybe I should go back to school for European History? Yeah - just kidding:)

Anyway, Colmar. We went with Sarah and Zann on the train, then Nathan's boss Hakan and his wife, Jasmin, joined us later. We went for the shopping, but (like it usually is with us) it ended up a big eating fest! We tried the chocolate, gluhwein (mulled wine) kugelhopf, gluhwein, flammekueche, and more gluhwein! Colmar is the capital of the Alsace wine region, so we had to try a lot of that wine too - mostly white - I love France:)!

Some yummy chocolate! I'm trying to bite off my "fair share" before Nathan gets a hold of it!

The biggest loaf of "French Bread" I have ever seen!
Flammekueche (or Tarte blambee in French) is bread dough covered in creme fraiche, onions, and bacon - an Alsace Region Specialty - yummmmmmm!

This lady was making crepes - the one thing we forgot to taste - I guess we will have to go back!

The best chocolate booth there! Nathan said it was like a show watching this man sell his chocolate!

Although it was crazy crowded, the market was a little hokey - I swear several vendors raided the Dollar Tree and shipped it over - but the atmosphere made it all good.:) Of course Nathan thinks Swagger should have a booth next year:) I think I was expecting more handmade goods - but I guess that is where all the food came in! I did get a Colmar Christmas ornament to remember the trip though!

Cute booth selling these "wind mill" things powered by the flame from the candles burning beneath it - we had one of these growing up!

This was in the window of one of the stores - I think I'm developing a strange love of gnomes - because I LOVE IT!:)

We weren't sure what was up with all the stork stuff but it was everywhere. I'm just glad I got to try on one of the hats!:) I'm just going to go out on a limb, but I'm guessing it is the region's bird? Kind of like the brown thrasher is to Georgia:). (The one thing I remember from Georgia History class:))

We ended our day with a fabulous meal at the Pfeffel Restaurant near the Unterlinden Museum. If you are in Colmar, I would definitely recommend it! Everyone's dinner was excellent and the staff was really nice!

Group Shot (from left - Zann, Sarah, Jasmin, Hakan, Nathan and Me)

I was feeling a little guilty about all the calories we consumed until we had to run/all out sprint to the train station to catch our train!!!! We thought we were leaving at 7:37 but it was 7:27 - HUGE difference when you are a 15 minute walk from the main train station! But we made it - just in the nick of time - and sat down to enjoy the rest of our chocolate and Alsace wine to celebrate;)

GREAT day trip for Zurich - especially at Christmas! Au revoir et Joyeux Noel!

p.s. - so yesterday we went to the Christmas Market at the Zurich HB (main train station). Basically more of the same from the day before, but the Swavorski Christmas tree was so amazing that I HAD to include a picture! We also saw the "Samichlaus" parade down the Bahnhofstrasseand finished up our Christmas Weekend with the "Singing Christmas Tree"and more gluhwein!:) I leave for the States tomorrow and won't be back until the end of January, so this was a fantastic "goodbye for a while" weekend!

Friday, November 27, 2009

What does an Expat do for Thanksgiving?

I'll admit it was a little weird waking up yesterday and working like it was any other day of the year. It was especially weird because Nathan is traveling for work this week and he isn't even here! (Don't they know this is an important American Holiday? Helloooooooo!:)) I did have a small "Mandy Pity Party" right when I woke up, but then I remembered that I was going ice skating and out to dinner with friends so I wouldn't be completely alone on Thanksgiving (I know bring out the tiny violin.:))
This Thanksgiving I am very thankful for the creator of Skype, the internet, computers, video cameras, and just technology in general! Yesterday, I skyped with both my families and it was great to actually "see" them! First with my parents, two sisters, two brother-in-laws, and five nieces and nephews who were all in Charlotte, NC for Thanksgiving. The kids are so funny on Skype, because you can tell that all they are doing is staring at themselves on the screen:). Davis, Missy's little boy, sang me a Thanksgiving song he learned at Deerfield- so cute! I didn't know it was over (I thought there would be a second verse) and he was like "Mandy you are supposed to clap now." Oops - sorry Davis! I so wished I could have taken a video of the whole thing! But I did get pics while they were all talking to me! So here I am "hanging out" with my family on Thanksgiving:

Unfortunately James wouldn't come in front of the camera, but clockwise from top left is (Matthew, Davis, Harlee, and Mackenzie)

I also got to talk with Bonnie, Bob, and Grandma Evy - they were all hanging out in Atlanta. Bonnie and Bob had just taken a Thanksgiving Day walk around the neighborhood to counter act some of those calories, so I don't think she would appreciate me posting a picture of her:)! It was great to "see" them too - especially since we didn't have to sit in 6 hours of traffic to do it!:)

I guess if Nathan would have been home, I would have attempted to make the "Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner" - I guess. But honestly the more I thought about all the ingredients I would need for that and trying to actually find them in Switzerland would have been a bit of a nightmare. First of all, Turkeys are crazy expensive here and I don't think Nathan would have gone for deli slices. Second, they don't sell (at least I can't find) Cream of Mushroom soup - how would I have made the famous green beans with crunchy onions on top? And Finally - if you think I was going to buy a pumpkin, carve out the inside, and actually make the pumpkin pie filling from SCRATCH you obviously don't know me. (They don't sell pumpkin pie filling in a can here.)My idea of scratch is using my mother's pie crust recipe and not buying a Pillsbury's ready to bake pie shell! was probably better that I went Ice Skating at the Landesmuseum and out for a traditional Swiss Dinner at the Zeughauskeller!

Miriam, Sarah, Zann and I all met at the Landesmuseum to ice skate. I will admit they sure do things right! Look at how beautiful it was:

Okay - so I did take this from the website - but it is much better than the ones I took with my camera!

I probably haven't been ice skating in 10 plus years - which I didn't think was that big of a deal - like riding a bike, right? But when everyone was saying "don't hurt yourself" or "watch out - you're not a spring chicken anymore" (thanks Nathan) - I started to get a little nervous! Of course I was the only one of us that fell - twice - but no major damage and it was a lot of fun! The weather was perfect - cold but not TOO cold - and the setting was truly beautiful!

The entrance to the Landesmueseum

The skaters: Me, Miriam, Sarah, and Barbara

Look Mom - one foot! And synchronized - nice! And NO - this isn't when I fell!

From here Sarah, Zann and I headed to the Zeughauskeller. They had been here once before and said it was the perfect place for a feast! (You know like big portions us Americans would normally get on Thanksgiving:)). Very cool place near Paradeplatz in Zurich. I highly recommend it! It was really busy - probably the busiest restaurant I have seen here! I got the "Kalbsgeschnetzeltes" Zurich Style. In english that is - sliced veal and mushrooms in a creamy white-wine sauce - mmmmmmmm! And just so you know - they also serve a 1 meter long sausage! Wow! We'll have to make a special trip back for that - kind of like one of those eating contests - who's in?:)

This sign says "Please do not smoke - live artillery grenades stored here." Nice! I think you can guarantee that isn't something you would see walking into an American restaurant!

My dinner - it isn't Turkey but it was darn good!

All in all - a very nice Thanksgiving and I couldn't be more thankful for my family, my friends (old and new(!)), getting to experience an amazing year abroad, and for life in general!

Love, mandy
All the pictures from Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Krati in Zurich!

I can't believe I haven't written since the scary Zombie photos! Sorry! I left that next day for the States and since my parents (love you guys) are still stuck in the 90s and don't have wireless internet in their house (but I did find out they upgraded from dial-up to DSL this year - yeah!) it was hard to update the blog! Also, I was so busy with Swagger stuff that I didn't have time to write anyway - I was even in bed before 9:30 pm several nights! Totally lame I know, but I am getting old!

Anyway, so I couldn't believe that my older sister, Marla, came to visit last week - seriously I had put her on the "it's never gonna happen list" - something about a full time job, expired passport and 3 kids under 4:)! But her job sent her to London (thank you Bank of America!) so she got to visit with us in Zurich last weekend!

Marla arrived on Wednesday night. After picking her up at the airport (which I was late to - damn on time Zurich train system - can't you ever be a few minutes late!) we headed out for a few drinks at Hiltl with Miriam. This a great Restaurant/Bar-Lounge/Club off Sihlstrasse. Very cool lounge area with couches and a dance floor that people were Tangoing on while we were there.:)

For the record - I am leaning in - my butt is NOT that big!

The one thing I can say about Marla is she is awesome to shop with! She even has more shopping stamina than me (and that is saying a lot)! We hit the Bahnhofstrasse and I took her to a few of my favorite places including Globus and Sprungli (of course!).

That night I "made" (bought at the store) Cheese Fondue! We had Miriam and James over (seriously I think they had enough of us by the end of the weekend:)) and had a great night! Although Marla didn't like the Fondue - what's up with that? She said it tasted too much like Liquor (Kirsch)- um...duh - that's the point isn't it:) I'm so pissed I didn't take a picture b/c this was the first "party" in our flat!

Next day more....SHOPPING! I took her to the grocery store (I know it doesn't sound exciting, but they really are different than in the States - you have to "pay" for your shopping cart, the eggs and milk are in the middle of the floor, and people have no respect for your personal space - it was an experience for sure), the Niederdorff/Old Town, and finally down to Zurich Lake and to see a few sites. We headed back early to take naps before the Glocals Black & White Party that night!

View from Limmat River to Grossmunster (Great Church)

View of Lake Zurich

Glocals is an expat community that we are members of here in Zurich. It is a great group of people that organize events so you can go out and meet people! We've done everything from hiking, to cricket, to bbqs with them - I highly recommend joining some type of expat community if you move over seas! Anyway, so on Friday night, Glocals rented out the the 2B Lounge for a Black & White themed party. We haven't been "out" dancing, drinking, and carrying on in a long time so it was a lot of fun:) Maybe too much fun as I was worried we wouldn't be feeling so well for our Liechtenstein Hike on Saturday!:)

I love public transportation - you can legally drink a "40" while in transit! (Okay well not a 40, because they don't do ounces but still pretty BIG BEERS!)

Group Photo! (Marla, James, Miriam, Me and Nathan)

I had to put this photo in to prove I'm not as fat as I look in the previous photo!:)

Seriously Girls, the line isn't THAT long! And yes those are taps at our TABLE - well not OUR table, but somebody's table!

Liechtenstein is a 160 square kilometer Principality (very small if you can't do the conversion i your head:)) located between Switzerland and Austria. The Liechtenstein website says they are "the last German-speaking monarchy comprised of 11 municipalities with 35, 000 inhabitants". To get there from Zurich you take a train to Sargan then a bus to Liechtenstein - we headed to the capital, Vaduz. I'll be honest here - the city wasn't all that - but THEY sure think it is! Apparently the Liechtensteiners (whatever you call them) are very proud people! You should have heard the lady going on about all the "sites" in Vaduz!:) We did look at everything she pointed out (except the stamp museum - I didn't think Nathan could handle it) which took about 45 minutes. The vineyard was beautiful though so I'm glad we checked that out!

So thankful we were planning on hiking though or the trip would have been a bust (at least in my humble opinion). We hiked from Vaduz to Triesenberg. Nathan's boss recommended the "Three Sisters" hike, but when we asked the lady at the tourist info center about it, she looked me up and down then said "You can't do that". Not sure what THAT meant, but Miriam tried to convince me that it was because we didn't have the proper "snow hiking" equipment as that hike is very high up. Sure, whatever. That lady is just lucky I didn't show her what I CAN do.:)

The hike was only about 2 hours and it was a beautiful 60 degree day! I loved this photo of Marla and I near the top of the hike.

When we got to Triesenberg we went for a beer (little hair of the dog if you know what I mean). Marla said her view consisted of "The Alps and cute little Swiss Chalets". It doesn't get much better than that!:) And the Liechenstein beer wasn't half bad!

On the hike back down to Vaduz I saw this in someone's yard.
I promise right here and now that when I get back to the States I am going to start a garden so I can build this in my backyard! Priceless. Maybe I should start collecting gnomes now......hmmmmmm. But I'll probably have to charge admission because you guys are going to want to come over and hang out around it all the time!!!!:)

Great Krati (plural for Kratus in Latin - oh never mind) Weekend! Love you Marla! Now we just have to get Courtney and Missy over here!

xoxo, Mandy

p.s. - Here are the rest of the photos from our weekend!

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