Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Halloween isn't that big of a deal in Zurich (the only Halloween stuff I saw was at the Coop Grocery store and it was only 1 meter by 1 meter!) But were invited to a Halloween party and decided to to go all out! We only had 1 day to find a costume (and Nathan refuses to buy "only make") so we went with Zombies! I went to H & M and found the cheapest clothes I could buy and Nathan ripped up his Brooks Brothers' stuff - good times!

I really wanted (needed) fake blood but I can't find any to buy, so I decided to make some and looked up how to do it online. I was super excited b/c there were only 3 ingredients - corn syrup, red dye, and chocolate syrup. Surely I could find that in Zurich - right? Wrong! They don't have corn syrup in this country:( What's up with that? I was slightly depressed when I was walking out of the Coop then as if a gift from God I saw 1 package of "fake blood" out of the corner of my eye! Yeah!!! I think it really made our costumes..... We definietly got some looks and several people took pictures of us on the train:)

Happy Halloween!
xoxo, Mandy

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hiking... and Oktoberfest in Zurich

7 hours of hiking then several 1 liter beers at Oktoberfest - you can't get much more Swiss and German than that!

Yesterday we had planned a day of hiking with our friends Miriam and James. We wanted to go somewhere near Zurich (basically to cut down on travel time and train cost) and to go to Oktoberfest that night. Miriam had a book of hikes "in and around Zurich" and said she would pick a "blue" hike. What is a "blue" hike you ask? The book described blue hikes as easy and good for young children.

W.T.F. Never trust the Swiss and their hikes - especially if you aren't Swiss! Easy enough for a 6 year old? Really. No - really? I want to see these 6 year olds.

The hike started in Lachen, said it would take around 5-6 hours, and had a vertical change in height of 1000m. Miriam told us she thought the 1000 meters was 500 up and 500 down. Okay - we have done that before. No biggie. But.....I'm pretty sure they left out a couple words in the book, because the 1000 m were definitely all uphill (and then of course 1000m down hill) and we were hiking through cow pastures and cow crap. Good Times:)

But after all the bitching (sorry Miriam:)) the view from the top was amazing! One of the best panaramic views we have seen on our hikes!

This was also a great hike b/c with all the cow pastures and cow crap came.....the cows! We were definitely up close and personal with them - so much fun!

This is one of my favorite pictures I have taken in Switzerland!

So I finally got to see one of those Swiss 6 year olds. After we stopped for a coffee at a little restaurant, we headed down for our last 1 1/2 hours of the hike. A dad and his son were there - which I didn't think much of - but after they left (who knows how long AFTER us) they basically ran by us and down the very steep hill at Olympic speeds. Seriously - I wanted to trip them but I refrained. This of course after we had already been lapped by some 65 year olds hiking UP the mountain!
There was snow - it really was treacherous!
I'm probably just jealous. But come on - that was a tough hike! It definitely wasn't "blue"! I started sweating and breathing heavy after the first 15 minutes of hiking straight up the side of a mountain! Whatever - I don't need to justify my physical abilities to you people. I'm simpling going to say the book had a typo and that the 6 year old was on speed. And all I know is that this is how I felt after we were finished.

The only thing that kept us all going was that we planned on heading to Oktoberfest in Zurich when we were finished! Of course this seemed like a great idea when I thought we were going to have a leisurely hike through the country side, but half way through the hike - I was drenched, pretty sure I smelled, and had cow dung all over my shoes. But hey - a plan is a plan - right? And we were meeting another couple so we couldn't bail!

We arrived at the Oktoberfest tent near Burkliplatz around 6:30 pm. We didn't have reservations so we had to stand in the "ohne" (without) line. Our other friends, Sarah and Zann, joined us shortly after and we waited for nearly an hour before they let one person from our line in the door. However, it really didn't seem that long and it was definitely worth it once inside! Granted it wasn't the Haufbrahaus, but I think Zurich did have a pretty respectable showing!

We ended up sitting with some cool Zurichers and started making "friends" immediately. Nathan loves the waitresses and I got to meet Bond, James Bond.
Nathan loves him a woman that can carry 6 1 liter beers at a time!
This was Bond. James Bond:)
The band was fun and since I had Miriam to translate all the cheesy German songs for me it was really hilarious! There was a song about a red dingy boat and one where the crowd shouted "you horny pig" (in German of course). It really made me wish I had studied up on my German a bit more.:) Of course they also played German classics like Sweet Home Alabama and Country Road too!:)
This was the crew:

Zann - "Sweet Home Alabama"

Sarah - "Peace Dude - now give me back my glasses"

James - "This wool hat is really hot!"

Miriam - "Wow - you speak really great German." "That's b/c I'm German."

Nathan - "Wow that's a really big pretzel you have there"

And Me - "You can have her for $5...I need another beer."

So here we all our - getting a bit tipsy off our 1 liter beers. And yes we are standing on the benches with our cow dung infested shoes - but don't judge us - we were in the moment (and probably had been overserved). :) But I wouldn't go sit down at the 2nd table from the front on the right side of the stage either - just sayin'. Surely they do a thorough cleaning every night - right? I mean it is SWITZERLAND.:)

Another great day living the life of a Swiss German! Now I've got to go to bed - I'm still not feeling that well.....
Prost, Mandy

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cheese Fon-DO's and Fon-DON'Ts

For all you married folks, out there, is there anyone that DIDN'T get a fondue set for a wedding present? How many of you have it stored away in a dark & dusty place waiting for that perfect occasion.

For your information, there are some very good "Non-traditional" uses for a Fondue Set.

1) It can be used as an oversized Potpourri burner
2) For all you high tech Red Necks, you can use it as a stove on your next camping & hunting excursion
3) Most importantly, you can always "Regift it" to another lucky newlywed couple.

Joking aside...It is time to break out that Fondue set and fire it up.

First of all, let me explain how fondue started. It is a a Swiss-born dish (cooking lore says it was created in the 18th century in Neuchâtel to use up cheese rinds and stale bread). Fondue reached its height of popularity in North America in the 70s and 80s. Like all old fads...there is always a comeback. OK I AM STILL WAITING FOR JAMS AND PARACHUTE PANTS TO MAKE THEIR RETURN

We have lived in Switzerland for almost 6 months continuously trying to adapt to the Swiss culture. Now with the onset of Winter, my wife has been pressuring me to buy her a Fondue set. Well yesterday was the big day. Keep in mind that this is very stressful buying experience as there are only about 40,000 to choose from. After hours of searching, we found the one we were looking for....THE ONE THAT WAS ON SALE!!! (Love you mom...thanks for teaching me how sniff out those deals).

1) For Cheese Fondue, Ceramic, stoneware or enameled cast iron are best because the heavy bottoms keep it from scorching.
2) By the premade packages. The ingredient list on the Swiss Fondue package ($4.99 for 400 grams) is close to classic homemade – emmental and gruyère cheeses, white wine, potato starch to thicken, kirsch and brandy were the main ingredients.
3) Do always add a little extra kircsh and white (dry) it enabler for a more enjoyable evening.
4) Consume alot of white wine and kirsch to assist with the digestion process. (ARE YOU SEEING THE TREND? ALCOHOL IS KEY TO GOOD FONDUE)
5) Do prepare the fondue on the stovetop before transferring it to the burner. Melt the cheese completely. Over an alcohol burner or candle alone, it will never get hot enough to eat.

1) Don't make cheese fondue from scratch. If you do have the time, inclination and "Martha Stewart" or "Susie Homemaker" will, here is a good recipe. If you're doubling a cheese fondue recipe, don't double the liquid. Increase the liquid by 1 1/2. Otherwise, the fondue will be soupy, not thick.
2) Drop your bread in the cheese. Tradition has it if you drop the bread into the cheese (often known as a swimmer), the entire table must take a shot of Kirsch. Other traditions are if a woman drops her cube of bread off her fondue fork and into the pot, she must kiss all the men at the table. If a man drops food off his fork into the pot, he must supply another bottle of wine for the table.
3) Don't drink cold water with cheese fondue. Cold Water & Hot Fat do not mix very well. Supposedly, the cold liquid and melted cheese in your stomach will congeal into an indigestible ball. (But keep in mind that if this were entirely true, a cheese pizza and a beer wouldn't be the excellent partners they are.)
4) Don't use a metal pot. Metal pots cause the cheese to burn. If you do happen to crisp the cheese, don't throw away the golden (not black) crust left on the bottom of the fondue pot. It's considered a delicacy, to be peeled off and shared among fondue aficionados.
Good Luck,

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ordering at McDonald's made me nervous!

I ate at McDonald's. There I said it. Are you happy? Don't judge me. It was the first time I have had Mickey D's since May - and you know what- it was damn good!:)

I haven't craved fast food at all since we moved to Zurich, but something about getting over the flu and the fact that both my sisters and all my nieces and nephews are in Raleigh made me home sick, so I thought what is more American than McDonald's - right? I needed a little "taste" of home!

But when I went to order -it was a little scary! First of all, all I had on me was 10 CHF (right now 1 CHF = $1) and I didn't want to (couldn't) spend more than that. Now you are probably thinking - how could one person spend more than $10 at McDonald's if they were trying to be spending concious? Well - Switzerland is home to one of the Most Expensive Big Macs in the World! So of course I knew I couldn't get THAT, but all I really wanted was a cheeseburger, small fries, and a coke light. I just wasn't sure how much that would be. The menu states that a cheesburger is 2.50 CHF, but none of the drinks (getrankts) or fries (pommes frites) are listed! Hello? What happened to informed buyers?

Anyway, when I got to the front of the line (yes McDonald's is crazy busy in Switzerland - they don't care that the prices are insane), I asked the cashier "Sprechen sie English?" - "Nein". Damn - I didn't think so (I was in Oerlikon). So I said a little prayer (so as not to completely embaress myself when I couldn't pay) and ordered. Guess how much it was? Guess.

9.90 CHF! Yep! For a cheesburger, small fries, a small drink, and 2 ketchups (.20 CHF a piece)! But a small price to pay for the only slice of Americana I could get today:)!

Once I sat down, I started reading their marketing and found out it was Schwiizer Wuche at McDonald's! (I think they were advertising this at the counter, but again I was too nervous to go over my budget so I wasn't really paying attention.) What does Schwiizer Wuche at McDonald's entail? McFondue, McRosti, and McRaclette burgers! Yum!

So what are on those burgers? Well the McFondue is pretty easy to figure out - it has swiss cheese on it:) (Le Gruyere & Emmentaler) and "fondue sauce". Rosti is basically Swiss Hashbrowns. So the McRosti had hashbrowns and bacon on top of the burger - yum! And Raclette is a type of cheese and an "eating process" here in Switzerland. The McRaclette has raclette cheese, gherkins, and pickled onions on it (typical toppings when serving Raclette at your house).

They all sound so good! But I am seriously going back for the McRosti! And since they stop serving it on October 20th - looks like I'll be eating McDonald's TWICE this week:)! Supersize Me - here I come!:) And you know what....

I'm lovin' it!

Friday, October 9, 2009

So do I have the Swine or Not? A trip to the Swiss Doctor.

I haven't been feeling great since my parents left about two weeks ago (and yes this is my excuse why it took me so long to post on the trip:)!) Runny nose, coughing, headache, fever - the whole nine yards. Some days were worse than others. Nathan, nor I, EVER get sick - so I just thought I had a cold that I caught from my Dad (thanks Dad:)) during our travels. I mean - we even went hiking last Sunday (probably not a good idea in hindsight....) - I couldn't be THAT sick.

So the fever thing really just started this past Tuesday, so it wasn't till then that I started thinking flu. But nah - I couldn't possibly have the swine - I work in MY apartment by MYSELF! Some days I don't even leave the chair in front of my computer (yes - it kind of sounds pathetic when I write it down - but truly I love my life)! Anyway, I just started downing the Theraflu every 4 hours as recommended and thought I could handle it myself.

The truth is - I dreaded going to the doctor in Switzerland. Well not really going to see the doctor, more like dreaded trying to FIND a doctor. I knew it was going to be a pain in the ass. First, because I don't speak German. Second, because I don't really know anyone that I thought I could ask for a referral for a good doctor (that would also have the same insurance as we do). And Third, because the whole International Insurance thing has me a bit boggled.

Well I was right - it was a pain in the ass. BUT our International Insurance provider was very helpful in trying to find me a doctor. AFTER they told me they only had referral doctors in Geneva and asked if it would be a "problem" to go there (obviously the girl I was talking to didn't know much about Switzerland). (I also thought it a bit odd they didn't have anything in Zurich since Nathan's company is headquartered in Zurich and our insurance is through the company but details -right?) So after I politely told her that, yes, traveling on a train for 3 hours to Geneva with a fever and a cough would be a bit of problem for me, she actually got a doctor on the phone to talk to me and he said I could either go to the hospital or wait a very short 24 hours to find a referral in Zurich. 24 HOURS!!!! What?!?! BUT then the very nice girl came back on the line and said since I was so sick she would try to speed up the process. THANK YOU very nice girl - I appreciate it! I really didn't want to go to the hospital - there are sick people there:).

So the insurance company called me back around 5 pm (my original call to them was at about 11 am) and said that they couldn't find a doctor with an opening (yes - THEY called around trying to make an appointment - me likey) and they suggested I go to Permanence Hauptbahnhof a walk in clinic in the main train station in Zurich. I called ahead just to see what the wait time in the Walk-in Clinic was this time of night and they said 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Oh HELL NO. I am not sitting around a bunch of sick people for 2 hours - you never know what you could get.:) So I decided to get up early and be the first patient at 7 am!

First off - of course I felt better when I woke up this morning and was debating on not going but Nathan "forced" me to. When I arrived at Permanence - my first impression was that of a very nice clinic - thank goodness (but honestly I didn't expect much less - we do live in Switzerland). I was patient number 4 and the whole thing from signing in, to seeing the doctor, to taking blood, to getting my diagnosis only took about an hour. A little info about Permanence - it is "the first private medical station in Zurich which provides urgent out patient care for local residents of the Zurich area and for tourists without prior appointments". I thought it was well run, clean, and the doctors and nurses were very nice. So if are in Zurich (for vacation or as an resident) and have a non hospital condition and can't get into your doctor- I would recommend it!

So what was the diagnosis you ask? WELL.... the doctor said that I had a VERY aggressive viral disease (some number he showed me was supposed to be around 8 and mine was 59.) And that my white blood cell count was down quite a bit - but since I DIDN'T have a fever this morning he COULDN'T diagnosis me with the SWINE. YEAH - I didn't become a statistic this morning!:) He said I probably DID have it though, and that I fought it off by myself. Yeah ME! He said this was better than getting the vaccination, so good job on my part for fighting it off. He then told me to still stay away from pregnant women and little people (not sure if he meant midgets or children so I'll be safe and avoid both) for another three weeks. He gave me a prescription for some cough stuff and that was it.

So there you have it - the SWINE (that I probably had) really wasn't that bad (for me anyway)!

Here's to good health for the rest of the season!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hiking - Melchsee-Frutt to Jochpass

This is a catch up blog!  We actually took this hike on October 4th, but I came down with the flu that week and I was still working on my parent's trip blogs, so I never wrote about it (even though I am back dating it to October on the blog).

Here are the details -
- Train Zürich HB to Stöckalp
- Gondola Stöckalp to Melchsee Frutt
- Hike from Melchsee Frutt to Jochpass
- Gondola from Jochpass to Trübsee
- Gondola Trübsee to Engelberg
- Train Engelberg to Zürich HB

This was supposed to be a 4 hour hike and we knew that the last gondola down from Jochpass was at 17:15 so we had a goal.  But this was a Swiss 4 hours so we thought it would be more like 5 with lunch.  Miriam, Nathan and I had gone together, but the Meet Up group we were with consisted of about 30 people.  And of course with that many people you have some folks that aren't as fit as others, so they take longer.  We got a little annoyed with this early on in the hike, so a group of about 7 of us took off ahead of everyone else. 

The scenery was so beautiful filled with mountains and lakes (like all Swiss hikes I guess:))!  You could even see the glacier Titlus from the trail once we got closer to Jochpass.

Start of the hike

First lake we saw right after getting of the gondola

Most of our group - yes it was a big one!

Let's do this!

I think this is about the time we decided to go it on our own!

Great - now which we do we go?

And then Nathan saw these markers - but what do they mean?  Take the trail on the top - oh okay

Group shot!

You can't build your own markers Nathan - we really don't know what they mean - we can seriously mess someone up!:)

Another lake - I think there were 5

Okay we picked the wrong trail - I think we want that one down there - oops!  The hill you see here is deceiving in the picture - it was VERY steep so we basically had to run down it and hope for the best!

At some point Nathan was done with us and put on his ipod!

I love this shot!

And this one!

I'm pretty sure that is the glacier - this is pretty zoomed in and we couldn't have gotten there from where we were (well at least not for several more hours!)

And finally Jochpass - yeah!!!

I remember this being a pretty difficult hike (however I did get the flu the next day so maybe I was just sick), and it took our group a little over 5 hours to complete it.  Thank goodness we went on in front of everyone, because we got to the gondola right at 5:15 p.m..  And thank goodness Miriam speaks German because she had to tell the gondola operators that we had about 25 people still hiking in this direction!  They waited for everyone (about another 45 minutes) but they weren't happy! 

One of the two gondolas we had to take down.  I think this was right before some Swiss guy totally made fun of our group saying that his 6 year old could do that hike in less than 4 hours.  I'm glad I didn't understand what he was saying (Miriam told me later) or I would have told him where to stick it!

Not my happy face.  We were DONE with this hike by the end!

However, even with the drama - this hike was one of the most picturesque we have seen - loved it!

Here is a link to the rest of the pics!

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