Switzerland

#26Cantons52Weeks Solothurn

Canton: Solothurn

Destination: Solothurn (the town)

Interesting thing: Solothurn goes up to 11! The town of Solothurn is centred around this number. There’s eleven fancy fountains, eleven churches and chapels and eleven towers.

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Welcome to sunny Solothurn! The old-town of this canton’s eponymous capital city is “the finest Baroque town in Switzerland” according to the official tourist site www.myswitzerland.com – and I’d be inclined to agree.

We had a delightful afternoon exploring the car-free streets of central Solothurn last week. The old town was constructed from the 16th to 18th centuries and is also known as the Ambassador’s Town because it was home to the French ambassador/s at the time. As such, it’s quite consistent in style, it appears no expense was spared in the building and it’s all very pretty.

We particularly liked the fountains. Not sure we found all eleven of them since we had to do a small detour so small people could visit the playground in the park, but we saw plenty. We stuck our heads inside the beautiful baroque confection of the Jesuit Church, as well as the larger St Urs Cathedral. We climbed the cathedral tower (248 steps!) and ate our lunch (of almost-local Schüblig sausage – tasty!) next to the impressive astronomical clock, which dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest structures in the town.

Once again, I’m left wanting more. Next time I’d love to do the magical number 11 tour of Solothurn, maybe visit some of the museums and explore more of the river Aare.

 

By the way, here’s a handy list of cantons visited / to go so far. 

Aargau

Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Appenzell Innerrhoden

Basel-Landschaft

Basel-Stadt

Bern *

Fribourg

Geneva

Glarus

Graubünden

Jura

Luzern

Neuchâtel

Nidwalden

Obwalden

Schaffhausen

Schwyz

Solothurn

St. Gallen

Thurgau

Ticino

Uri

Valais

Vaud

Zug

Zürich

 

*I haven’t written this up yet!

#26Cantons52Weeks Thurgau

Canton: Thurgau

Destination: Kartause Ittingen and the Hüttwilersee

Special guests: Fran & family from Little Zurich Kitchen

Interesting thing: Thurgau is famous for growing lots of apples. At the canton’s annual beauty contest for women, the winner is crowned the Apfelkönigin (apple queen).

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I was so pleased to be invited by my mate Fran from Little Zurich Kitchen to visit Thurgau together on the Auffahrt (Ascension Day) holiday Thursday. We went with both our families, had great weather and a lovely day out.

Thurgau is largely an agricultural canton in the north-east of Switzerland, named for the local Thur River. The capital is Frauenfeld, where Fran grew up, so it was great to have a local guide to some of this canton’s hidden gems. As well as telling me about the Apfelkönigin, Fran offered a few more interesting facts about the area – 1. Thurgau is also called ‘Mostindien’ (apple juice India) by [Swiss] outsiders, because it is famous for growing lots of apples, although, she warns: “it’s not a charming name.” We tried some of the local Sussmost (apple juice) and it was delicious!

2. The Zuckerfabrik Frauenfeld is one of two Swiss sugar factories. Fran says that, growing up, she loved the smell when the factory went into production each autumn but most visitors despise it! Read more from Fran about Life in Swiss Sugar Town.

3. Fran says, “the local Thurgau dialect is very high-pitched and most Swiss don’t like the sound of it!” We found the Thurgauers we came across to be quite lovely though 🙂

We started our day at Kartaus Ittingen, which is an old monastery that’s become a hotel / convention centre. Its large grounds and pretty gardens contain a brewery, trout farm, vineyards, dairy, greenhouses with veg, herbs, flowers etc. There’s also a restaurant, a theatre, a museum and art space and you can buy a bunch of local produce from the on-site shop. It’s a popular place for weddings and corporate events and you can stay in the old monk’s houses, which looked very pleasant! They also had a few art installations, including the cool The Loop. We had a wander around the grounds, explored the old labyrinth, then jumped back in the cars to head to the Hüttwilersee for lunch and a swim.

This small lake was idyllic and far less crowded than some of the Zurich area lakes would be on such a day (not that it usually feels that busy anywhere in Switzerland). What a pretty spot! The photos speak for themselves. The kids had a lovely time splashing about near the edge and I swam out to the pontoon and back. The water temp was a very decent 22 and when the sun was out it was definitely swimming weather.

Feels like summer has arrived!

 

Aargau #26CANTONS52WEEKS

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Canton: Aargau

Destination: Ebianum Baggermuseum (museum of diggers), Fisibach

Interesting thing: I found the museum commentary pretty interesting!

 

My 26Cantons52Weeks challenge has been on a bit of a hiatus. April’s poetry month, combined with our London trip and my writing course has not left much spare time. However, I’m back with two more cantons to write up, which will mean I’ve done eight so far (not counting Zurich yet, that’s my ace up the sleeve!) with 18 to go. We’re nearly at midyear but summer is a great time for tourism for non-skiers like myself so I’m still confident I can visit all 26 Swiss cantons in 2017.

So to Fisibach and the Ebianum Baggermuseum (museum of diggers)! It was a rainy Sunday and Himself had to work, so I decided to drive the kids to this hidden gem of a museum (Himself had taken them previously and assured me it was good for a few hours’ entertainment). It was an easy half-hour drive from our place in Zurich with the sat nav. I’m still new enough to driving here that I feel proud of making it to new places on my own in the car!

The museum is basically a huge, airport-hangar/barn of a room which displays the decommissioned digger vehicles, cranes, tractors and bulldozers used by local-family business Eberhard over the years. Eberhard is a construction and civil engineering business, but more about that later. There’s loads of construction vehicles on display, from Eberhard’s first steam-powered tractor to more modern machines. You can also climb on and into a lot of the diggers, which the kids enjoyed. Perhaps the best bit (for us) was at the end, where there’s a large indoor sandpit full of kid-size construction vehicles, as well as about 20 ride-on bobbycars, tractors and balance bikes. The kids played here for about two hours. On a rainy Sunday, I’d say about 90% of the museum visitors were families with 0-7 age boys. I saw a few girls too and I know I would have enjoyed playing here with my brothers as a child.

Your CHF15 entry (free for kids under 7) also gives you an audio tour of the museum, which I requested in English, and was delighted to find the commentary done by members of the Eberhard family (even in the English version!). I’ll outline the story, apologies for any gaps, I had to keep one ear on the kids!

Eberhard was started by two brothers in the 1950s after they got their first big break — winning contracts to help build Zurich’s Kloten Airport in the 1940s. After that they mostly went from strength to strength, winning both Swiss and international building contracts, including a substantial amount of work in the MiddleEast. I loved the mix of personal anecdotes and hard facts in the commentary. The commentators were from the 2nd generation of the Eberhard family, so they really know their stuff. Their grandmother, who had 10 children, was also the bookkeeper for the business (can you imagine?!) so, in typical Swiss fashion, they also had exact figures for things, such as how much they paid for various machines over the years and things like – “when we got back from the Middle East, our local bank informed us we were due to foreclose, luckily we secured a loan for 1 million Swiss francs, so we could continue our business…”

Since I’m learning a bit about memoir writing at the moment, I found these personal details and family history bits of the story really fascinating and nicely done.

There’s also a spacious café are with an OK range of food (picknick is verboten, but we had brought sandwiches so ate them alongside some food we purchased).

A really fun day-trip to Aargau!

#26Cantons52Weeks: St Gallen

Walensee

Canton: St Gallen

Destination: Walensee / Seerenbach waterfalls

Interesting thing: One of Switzerland’s favourite sausages, the Olma Bratwurst, originates in St Gallen. Also called the St Galler Bratwurst or Kalbsbratwurst, this tasty veal sausage was awarded IGP – Protected Geographical Indication – in 2007.

 

St Gallen is one of the bigger cantons, both in terms of population and area size. It’s quite close to Zurich and famous for its incredible medieval monastic library and next-door abbey, which I visited 18 months ago. It also forms part of the eastern border of Switzerland where it hits Lake Constance and is the ‘gateway to the Appenzell Alps‘. So, I was somehow thinking our St Gallen canton visit would be a bit more of an “occasion”. However, Saturday found us with the first real springlike day of the year and we were itching to go somewhere. In our usual Slapdashian fashion, we’d not really planned it, and didn’t want to go too far afield.

I have to give a shout out to two other local bloggers for the inspiration here — I remembered Mom in Zurich’s post about the Walensee and Himself is a big fan of Moms Tots Zurich‘s hiking info (as am I). We’ve driven past the Walensee on numerous occasions and it always looked lovely. So we figured, why not make a specific trip there.

The Walensee on a sunny March day is pretty stunning (more pics below). It’s one of Switzerland’s largest lakes and is mostly surrounded by dramatic cliffs. The bits you drive past are not anywhere you can stop. So we headed to the other side of the lake to Betlis with the idea to visit the Seerenbachfälle — the country’s highest waterfalls, with a drop of over 700 metres (I’m slightly confused as to whether this is for the two sections put together or the long, thin top fall alone but it matters not).

Those who had planned better could park near the ferry stop (the ferry wasn’t running when we went because: winter) and do a ~45 minute hike to the falls. Or, you could take the slightly hairy, one-lane road and then walk for 10 minutes. When I say a single-lane road, I mean it. The road is so narrow, there’s a strict regime for coming and going in 15-minute intervals so there’s only traffic going one way at any time. You are squeezed between the rockface and a sheer cliff down to the water most of the time. Of course, we blithely ignored the sign in German and almost had a head-on collision (at 20km/h) in a narrow tunnel but hey ho! Luckily there was a small verge that Himself managed to reverse into so the three cars going the correct way could pass us (two of which stopped to explain how stupid we had been). Anyway, it gave us an excuse to stretch our legs and take in the lake views.

When we reached the end of the road, however, our timing was perfect. Just the right amount of time for a stroll up to the falls and back before lunch! The Waterfalls were pretty cool – I was impressed by how close you could get. And the day was just magnificent. Green, green grass with its first smattering of spring blossoms, snowcapped mountains, the jade lake, blue skies with barely a cloud. Simply stunning. This is Heidiland (it actually is). And, to stick a bunch of metaphors in the blender, my little girl’s heart was alive with the Sound of Music.

Making our way back, we had a lovely lunch at the Paradiesli Landgastof – a very pretty hotel inside and out that reminded me of a Blue Mountains B&B. The kids also enjoyed looking at the handsome rooster and Llamas in residence. After that, we got back on the road — during the correct timeslot. And made our way home.

A lovely, if slightly last-minutey canton visit/ day out!

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#26Cantons52Weeks Jura

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Canton: Jura

Destination: Porrentruy / Jurassica

Interesting thing: Jura is the most recently created Swiss canton – joining the federation in 1979 – and is where the word Jurassic comes from

 

With its pretty, rolling fields flanked by roundish mountains, Jura has quite a different ‘feel’ to many of the other cantons I’ve been/seen so far in Switzerland. Which is kind of insane, considering it’s such a tiny country, but quite understandable given the fact of: mountains, mountains everywhere. But it was not always so. Back in the Jurassic era, this part of the world was all steamy swamplands, roamed but dinosaurs large and small. The clue is in the name – Jura / Jurassic. So we thought we’d go see some dinos when we visited Jura canton this weekend.

The Jurassic is named after the Jura Mountains within the European Alps, where limestone strata from the period were first identified. By the beginning of the Jurassic, the supercontinent Pangaea had begun rifting into two landmasses, Laurasia to the north and Gondwana to the south. This created more coastlines and shifted the continental climate from dry to humid, and many of the arid deserts of the Triassic were replaced by lush rainforests. On land, the fauna transitioned from the Triassic fauna, dominated by both dinosauromorph and crocodylomorph archosaurs, to one dominated by dinosaurs alone.  Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jurassic

The dinos, and in fact almost any sign of life, proved rather difficult to find though! We’d inadvertently visited during the local holiday period of Semaine Blanche – White Week – and on a Sunday, so there was a total of one boulangerie, one restaurant and a few bars open in the town of Porrentruy (to be fair, not much is open in Switzerland on Sundays as a rule but you do usually get a few more cafes etc.) Anyway, the sun was shining and there wasn’t much “Blanche” (snow) in town so we had a pleasant wander through Porrentruy. And an unexpectedly good lunch at L’Inter. (Hmm, #26Cantons52weeks is fast becoming #26lunches – I need to start #26typesofexercise!)

After our meal, we went to try to find the dinosaur footprints at the Jurassica Diotec. Both the Satnav and Google maps took us to a local tech park area and told us we were in the right place but we circled around a bunch of very closed-up looking buildings and could not see a hint of dinosaurs. There was no signage, nothing.

Luckily, Himself managed to flag down a local who was strolling by the river who told us they were “three buildings across”. We went there and, tucked away in a courtyard behind the engineering school – Success! Pretty awesome. On the way out we saw a tiny sign pointing to where we’d been but without some serious persistence, it would have been missed entirely. There’s heaps more Jurassic Jura to see nearby, including a whole Dinosaur Theme Trail you can hike – once again, we might have to come back for a more extensive visit to this fascinating canton with our little dino-lovers.

Appenzell #26Cantons52Weeks

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Canton: Appenzell Innerrhoden / Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Destination: Hoher Kasten “The Top of Appenzell”

Crazy thing: The canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden was the last jurisdiction in Europe to grant women the vote – in 1991. Yes, that is only 26 years ago. What the… ?

 

We visited the Appenzell yesterday. I say “The Appenzell” because there’s actually two “half-cantons” that make up Appenzellerland in tourist terms – Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (the split happened back in 1525 due to religion: Catholic / Protestant). Well, I’m going to claim both since we drove through Inner and Ausser before catching a cable car to the “Top of Appenzell”, where we had views over the two half-cantons and beyond — all the way to Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein and France (on a clear day).

We picked a rather windy Sunday for our trip, which meant a slightly hairy gondola ride up to Hoher Kasten for lunch at the revolving restaurant. The cable car had actually been closed due to high winds the previous day so we weren’t even sure if we’d get up there! Luckily it was running and there wasn’t too much rocking and rolling except right at the end as we ascended up the almost sheer rockface to the cable car station.

It was a rather grey winter’s day so we visibility wasn’t the best ever, but we could see all the way to Lake Constance and various other vistas. Added bonus was that, due to the inclement weather, it wasn’t at all crowded and we had a prime window-seat for our meal in the revolving restaurant – which was super-cool (the food wasn’t half bad either).

On the way home we stopped at a farm vending machine for some apfelsaft and raclette cheese. I am fascinated by these things.

Farm vending machine at St Gallenkapel

Farm vending machine at St Gallenkapel

Short entry this time – not much more to say, really!

Ticino #26Cantons52Weeks

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Canton: Ticino

Destination: Bellinzona

Special guest: just the family this time

Cool thing: The Gotthard tunnel is currently the longest train tunnel in the world. At the “deepest” point you’re below 2.3km of mountain and temperatures can reach up to 45 degrees C.

 

I’m reaching a point in my life where it’s a tad embarrassing to admit my favourite food is pizza (yes, I’m 25!) but the fact remains. So we figured, in the week of my birthday, why not head to Italian Switzerland for one of the country’s finest oven-baked dough-and-cheese treats? So yesterday we headed south.

It was actually pretty good timing – Zurich, and indeed all the bits of Switzerland we passed through on “our” side of the Alps, were full of squally snowstorms and subzero temperatures, while in sunny Ticinio it was, well, sunny! (full disclosure: there was some snow on the ground and an icy wind, but it was 10 celsius and lovely in the sunshine). We got to travel through the recently opened Gotthard tunnel, which meant our travel time from Zurich HB to Bellinzona was a shade under 2 hours. This was excellent because 2 hours is about as long as Himself and I can manage to entertain two young children on a train journey while maintaining our own sanity (thank goodness we decided not to visit Australia this year!)

Bellinzona is famous for its three castles, which are UNESCO listed. I’m pleased to report we visited all three although, being winter, they weren’t looking too lively – you could walk around the grounds and the ramparts but not go inside (however this also saved us paying any entry fees, ha!). There’s usually the dinky little Artù Castle Train running a few times per day to take you up the very steep hill to Castello Montebello and Castello Sasso Corbaro but this was also on “winterpause”. No matter, we lucked in by getting to the postbus stop at just the right time (buses were only once every 2 hours!) so we caught the bus to the top (Castello Sasso Corbaro), took a look around, then walked down to Montebello, which was the biggest castle with the most to see, as well as a small playground for the kids, and then it was time to catch the postbus back to the station and get the train home.

Did I mention the pizza? In between the Castlegrande and heading up the hill to the other two, we had a nice wander through the town of Bellinzona, checking out the Saturday produce market (we bought some cheese for our newly-acquired raclette grill) then stopped at a local pizzeria for some very tasty birthday lunch.

A brilliant day out in beautiful Bellinzona and that’s Ticino ticked off the list. However, I feel like we may have to revisit this canton before the year is out, as there’s so much to do here – eg: I’m slightly bummed we didn’t go to Swissminatur yet!

Glarus #26Cantons52Weeks

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Canton: Glarus

Destination: Braunwald / Glarnerland

Special guest: Cath

Cool thing: Glarus has one of the funkiest coat of arms of any canton –featuring this cool dude, Saint Fridolin of Säckingen – an Irish missionary who spread the good word (ahem) in the Rhineland during the 6th or 7th century

 

Happy New Year! 

This post kicks off my “26 Cantons in 52 Weeks Challenge” where I’m attempting to visit each canton of Switzerland throughout 2017. I was hoping to go alphabetically or in some sort of logical order (by geographical size, population, altitude or when each canton joined the federation etc) but in none of those lists does Glarus come top. It’s just a nearby canton with a mountain that seemed like a good one to visit right after New Year’s while our friend Cath was in town.

So – Glarus!  Conveniently located a 45 minute drive from where we live in Zurich, the Braunwald in Glarnerland is a pretty mountain area just up from Glarus’ capital city, also called Glarus. The city of Glarus looked very attractive as we drove through it, but sadly we didn’t have time to stop.

The Braunwald was a new mountain for us (hence the appeal). It contained the usual assortment of cable cars, Bergrestaurants and stunning vistas. Unfortunately there was almost no snow! Up until this point, it has been a rather disappointing winter for skiiers and snow bunnies. We saw quite a number of people making the best of it, gritting their teeth and playing games of cards on the terrasses of their chalets while there. We did feel a bit sorry for them – you would have expected guaranteed snow in the first week of January in Switzerland at over 1,000 meters above sea level! I bet they were relieved when it started snowing the next day and there’s been plenty more snowfall pretty much ever since.

Anyway, it was good for us, as we had snow-free roads to get there, non-slippery paths to walk and even some nice green grass. We arrived at Glarus Nord and parked near the station (from here up it’s all car-free) so we caught a cable car up to the Braunwald (1256m above sea level). Then another cable car to Grotzenbüel (1559m) where we ate our lunch. We were kicking ourselves though, because if we’d spotted the path to walk five minutes further along, we could have gone all the way up to Gumen at 1901m! You start to become an altitude snob on these trips.

Anyway, it was lovely. Taking people up mountains is probably one of our favourite things to do with visitors, so I imagine we’ll have a fair few of these sort of trips in the year’s challenge. I also like the idea of having a special guest on some/all occasions! In this case, Cath got a respectable dose of the Swiss alpine experience, we had some lovely sunshine and all got a very decent “mountain high”.

One canton down, 25 to go!

Flat, fat, Christmas and New Year crap

My latest “Roxette” haircut. Maybe another NYR should be find a decent hairdresser!

 

A few short weeks ago I was riding high. I’d had a couple of poems published and a story up in a local newspaper (43 Habits You’ll Pick Up Living in Switzerland). I’d just completed a rough draft of my first novel and poems and even a few short stories were falling out of me all over the shop.

And now… I’m the kid after Christmas. It all just feels a bit jaded and useless. Where’s the confidence-bordering-on-arrogance? The joie de vivre for this writer’s life?

A few things I was looking forward to got derailed. After a few months of little to no drinking, I got a bit festive and the wine intake has crept up again. I kicked Facebook off my phone and I feel better, but it’s created space for loneliness — amazing how social media sort of causes but cures that. Which basically proves it’s yet another addiction. David Foster Wallace (yes, I am that wanker today!) gave what I think is the best description of addiction.  Or, if you prefer, Homer Simpson – “Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

I think I’m tired, it’s been cold and dry and dark but without the joyous surprise of snow. I think a few months of sitting still at my computer tapping out the words finally caught up with me physically and I’m feeling heavy, unfit and yuk. I miss my friends and my family. Even those who are nearby. I think finishing things and achieving things, while wonderful, does result in a bit of comedown afterwards. It can be hard to keep the momentum going, especially at this time of year when things are winding up.

But anyway, it’s inching towards 2017 now and I’m trying to look forward. Play it forward.

Last year’s New Year’s resolution was to make some small, incremental changes that would hopefully make a big difference to my / our lives and I think I’ve achieved that. (Interesting to look back actually – in 2015 it was about surrendering to my fate and a year or so before that it was Don’t Rush In Where Angels Fear To Tread… something I may have to re-examine given my furious forward-pace of work recently. Ha!)

So I think 2017 is going to be all about consolidation and possibly realignment – shaving off the excess to concentrate on the main game. I’ve put in some amazing groundwork in 2016 and I want to build on that. This means not getting distracted by stuff, no matter how important it may seem. And this is going to include saying no to paid work if need be, which is slightly terrifying when I think about my bank balance! Hopefully it’s all to the greater good though and the fact I’ve made this commitment to this Writing for My Life thing will eventually start to pay off, literally.

So I’ve come up with some more ideas – why not. And because this has worked for me in the past, I’m going to make it into a statement of intent. With SMART goals even (yes, I’m that wanker too today)…

In 2017 I would like to

  • have a reasonable first draft of the novel by mid-year to give to early readers to feed back on
  • (self-?) publish my novel by the end of the year. [I’m not sure how realistic this is – may need to be revised, depending on how well point 1 goes!]
  • (self-?) publish a chapbook of poetry and/or publish or contribute to a book of short stories
  • record more poems – let’s say 6. At least one every two months
  • perform some poetry live to an audience at least once (eek!)
  • make a bit of money off my creative writing (ie: non-journalism)
  • get at least five pieces published in places that are not Claire-controlled: journals etc.
  • complete A2.2 German (I admit, this was rather an afterthought!)

PLUS – I’ve also had an idea for this blog that I’d like to reclaim some of the travelogue stuff and so Himself, the kids and I are going to do a 26 Swiss Cantons in 52 Weeks challenge where we’ll visit all 26 cantons of Switzerland throughout 2017. I’ll aim to take at least one photo (if not a whole gallery) of each and do a writeup of something we saw or somewhere we went. We’re planning to go alphabetically but we’ll see how it pans out.

Phew – that should probably be enough for now. I’d better go get some rest before NYE !  Oh, and I’m hoping to do a year-in-review of this blog at some point in the next week or so as well… stay tuned. 🙂

The black in your blue

 

oeschinensee

 

Blue mountain water

Black-backed like lead paint or

Ash in the sky

An old school-desk painted over many times

A clean sort of grime

Watercolour liquid, semi-opaque

The silt of millennia

Ancient clues in aqueous solution

We splash like young fools

As the earth revolves

Cradled in the bowl

of a mountain so old

Our tiny joy

A fleck against

All ecstasy and angst.

The black in your blue

I know it’s me too

The picture he gave me

Words that came through

Firefly times

All our past lives

Constantly strive

Never-forever… abides

Oh my narrow-wide mind

an always-restless bride

Reflected in

My blue-black eyes