Sunday, February 1, 2009

Zurich & Sankt Gallen, Switzerland

Some places, upon first visit, are full of surprises. Take Japan. Never did I expect to have three separate rooms in my tiny little bathroom – one for the bath and shower, one for the sink and washing machine, and one for the toilet. Also, many toilets in Japan were technological masterpieces, with countless buttons for warming the seat to different temperatures, or playing music, or things that will forever remain a mystery to me because I was too scared to find out. Mystery buttons on toilets = unexpected. I was also admittedly surprised when Phil and I ordered a pizza in Kobe and as soon as it came out of the hot oven, a raw egg was cracked into the middle of it and a grid of mayonnaise squirted over the top. A little bit unexpected to say the least.

I could go on about the surprises we encountered in Japan, but other places have also thrown us for a loop. Phil was surprised when he visited me in Spain and realized it wasn’t Mexico. I similarly couldn’t believe how European the architecture and people were in Argentina, and never did quite understand how the girls could eat all that fatty beef and pasta and empanadas and pizza and fried milanesas and still stay svelte and beautiful. I didn’t expect Bolivia to be scary, and I didn’t expect to not be able to understand the Irish (is that really English?).

Well, my friend, there have been no surprises here in Switzerland. The country has fulfilled all of my expectations and met all of my stereotypes, all of which have been and continue to be positive. You think Switzerland is clean? The cleanest. Picturesque? Like a postcard. Cosmopolitan? Everyone speaks multiple languages. Think the Swiss live on a diet of chocolate and dairy? Well, you’re not too far from the truth.I’ve been here since New Year’s Day. It’s been cold. I’ve been able to make lots of winter foods that I missed in Australia. I’ve traveled to a few cities. I’ve written half of my dissertation. And I haven’t been able to tell you about it because I’ve had some major internet troubles. But here I am and will try to blow through this past month over a few posts.

We arrived in Zurich on New Years’ Day. It was quite a shock to come from summer in Oz to winter in the Alps, especially when we were exhausted from the flight and didn’t have sufficient cold weather gear and were forced to wander around Zurich from 6am until 3pm when we could check into our hotel. Nothing was open since it was a holiday, so we basically froze our tired butts off outdoors. But, the scenery made up it.

I was really digging the free form snowmen around town. There were no people out and about so I made friends with them, instead. I called this one Chesty because he had a chestnut face.

I also called this one Chesty, because he had boobs.

The city is impeccably clean and the water in the river crystal clear.

BUT. And that’s a big but. The water may be crystal clear, but it is in no way potable. You know how you can drink the water from the fountains around Rome? Well, for some reason I decided that the water in Zurich’s fountains was pure melted Alpine snow and would be safe to drink. I mean, the fountains are totally the right height and everything to be a drinking fountain! (How stupid am I?)

Luckily sufficient time has passed for me to not be too embarrassed or humiliated that I got la turista in Zurich. It’s actually really funny and makes me look like a big dummie. lol. Here we are smiling before la turista kicked in.

We had quite a day in downtown Zurich, and I had quite a night in our hotel bathroom. ‘Nuff said.

The next day we headed to Sankt Gallen, our home for three months. It’s home to the oldest library in Europe, a quaint little Old Town, and a massive Baroque cathedral. Here’s the cathedral from the outside…

And the inside.

Like I said, the Old Town is totally cute.

Lots of buildings that look like they belong in a quaint little Swiss town. Imagine that.

And, lots of Christmas lights and winter-themed snow sculptures.

Our apartment is a few minutes outside of the center and we have an amazing view overlooking a little Swiss village tucked into a nearby mountain.

I have been able to tag along with Phil and his classmates on some of their fieldtrips and class dinners. We visited the Maestrani chocolate factory in a nearby town. They gave us unlimited chocolate to keep us happy while we watched videos on the history of Swiss chocolate and toured the factory. Did you know the Swiss consume the most chocolate per capita in the whole world? Yeah, you probably didn’t, but does that information surprise you? The Chinese consume the least. Also not surprising. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the factory but here I am with my purchases.

I also tagged along with Phil’s class to a fondue dinner at Beizli our second week in town.

The meal started off with what I’ve come to call a Swiss-style salad. The lettuces and greens here are amazing and there are many unusual varieties available. The salads usually have little separate mounds of grated carrot, beets, corn, and sometimes cucumber, with a pile of greens on top. The typical dressing is called French, but it’s actually uniquely Swiss. It’s mayonnaise-based, creamy with various herbs and a vinegary tang.

Being the silly American that I am, I expected the fondue to come with an assortment of vegetables and breads for dipping into the vat of molten cheese. However, we got a bucket of bread cubes and that was it.

You’re meant to dip the bread cubes into a glass of kirsch, local cherry brandy, before dipping it into the cheese sauce, which also had what seemed like two full bottles of kirsch in it.

I took a sip of the kirsch and about fell off my chair. Not learning from my mistake, I dipped my bread into the kirsch and then dipped it into the cheese and again, about fell off my chair. I didn’t do the double dip-de-dip again. For me, the alcohol flavor was way too overpowering even without double dipping.

As the cheese bubbled away and some of the alcohol from the kirsch evaporated, I began to be able to taste the subtle flavors of the Gruyere and Emmental cheeses and detected a hint of garlic.

I’ve made my own version of the Swiss salad at home, throwing some celeriac in the mix for good measure.

I’ve also gone crazy making barley vegetable cream soup…

Alpine macaroni with potatoes and cream and haricots vert, lasagna and warm weather cheesy baked pastas and bolognese and pies, like this veal and vegetable pie with a potato crust…

Everything is inevitably accompanied by a loaf of bread. Man, I tell you what, the bread is probably my favorite food-related thing about this country. I missed good bread while living in Australia (sorry Aussie friends) and jeez I sure am making up for it here. Most of the time it has a sour note to it, always crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, oftentimes with different seeds and sometimes made with potato dough. Even the convenience store right next to our apartment has the best bread I have ever tasted. Heck yeah! Bread for breakfast lunch and dinner. Lots of cheese, butter, and cream. Lots of sitting around my apartment writing. Lots of weight being gained. Lots of fun being had!

Stay tuned later this week for tales from medieval Bern, elegant Lucerne, and cheesy Appenzell!


MEGalomaniac said...

You managed to cram all your Swiss episodes in here! Awesome! And I love how you reflect on your past travells and tie it to the present! Can't wait to read on Cari!

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I know this is an old post but I was doing some research on the water fountains in Zurich and found your blog... Just wanted to comment that all of the water fountains in Zurich are potable. There are approximately 1030 of them all over the city and you can drink from all of them, some are even very good for you :) Looks like you had a lovely time in Switzerland! Have a nice day! :)

Cari said...

Hi Anonymous! Thanks so much for commenting on this post! I remembered hearing somewhere before I moved to Switzerland that the water in all the fountains in Zurich was potable. When I got there, I was reassured by the height of the fountains... BUT!!!!! I definitely got some sort of stomach virus from drinking from one of the fountains right near the river. It happened on my first day and usually I have a stomach of steel... so I'm not sure what happened!

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