Switzerland

#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

 

Limmatschwimmen

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On the weekend I participated in the annual Limmatschwimmen. This is where around 4,500 people jump in the Limmat River and float 2 kilometres through central Zurich from the Frauenbad to Flussbad Oberer / Unter Letten. It’s the one day of the year you can do this, the rest of the time there’s boat traffic, not to mention you’re liable for a hefty fine and risk being swept away by the current if you jump in anywhere but the approved spots (eg: Letten). You have to purchase tickets to the Limmatschwim online on the Wednesday beforehand. This year, tickets sold out in 8 minutes. I was lucky enough to get four (the maximum) for myself and three mates.

I was pretty excited before the event. After 2.5 years living in this city, I feel like I know this stretch of the Limmat quite well. I’ve walked alongside it, over it, photographed and looked across it, shown it off to many visitors, even swum in it at Oberer Letten. So the idea of floating the entire “city” length of the river was pretty thrilling to me.

This year’s event, the 52nd Limmatschimmen, was postponed by the organisers by one week and they definitely made the right decision. The previous Saturday was wet and about 19 degrees. This Saturday was gloriously sunny and 31.

Everyone gets given a floatie as part of the ticket. This year they were sting-rays, which my 5yo was very excited about (he loves all sea creatures). In previous years it was a turtle. I rigged up a “waterproof camera” using my old phone and a plastic ziplock bag, so apologies that some pics are a little blurry.

Floating through the city, filled with nervous excitement, grappling with my silly camera, I think I almost forgot to enjoy myself at first. It’s funny, you know. I love water and swimming and I’m a good swimmer, and yet my worst nightmares (as in real, sleeping nightmares) involve tidal waves. Growing up in Australia, my parents taught me to Never Turn Your Back on the Sea. I have a love/fear/healthy respect relationship with water, I guess. Anyway, I finally relaxed about halfway along. The current through the city was not particularly strong and the participants were nicely spaced out. One of the reasons I adore Zurich is for events like this is there’s enough people to feel buzzy but it’s not horribly crowded (I can only imagine how rammed and unsafe-feeling an event like this would be in London!) The river is not particularly cold at this time of year – it flows out of Lake Zurich, which is a balmy 21-25 degrees in summer. Even so, by the end of the nearly-one-hour swim I was a bit chilly, and welcomed the cups of hot, sweet tea they gave out! My friend’s husband and son followed us by road the whole time and took some great pics (in the slideshow) and my husband and kids waited near the end to wave us on (you have to be 12+ to participate in the Limmatschwim). I was on such a high afterwards, I just kept looking at all the photos and couldn’t get to sleep until nearly midnight!

Doing an event like this, such a Swiss/Zurich thing, really makes me feel anchored to this place. I have to take a moment to reflect how far I’ve come from my miserable, lonely first-year in Zurich to rounding off this wonderful third summer here by floating through town on a simply stunning afternoon with friends and family in attendance.

This summer in Zuri has been pretty wonderful in general. We’ve had loads of visitors; from random people passing through town and meeting up for just a few hours to a whole week of my brother and sister-in-law staying right around the corner. We’ve done some great things, which I’d like to note, just to remind myself when I read this back in the months/years to come:

MOUNTAINS CLIMBED: Rigi and Pilatus

FESTIVALS and EVENTS: The once-every-three-years Züri Fäscht, Zurich Street Parade (well sort of, we were in town early in the day swimming at Mythenquai so we caught some of the vibe), August 1/Swiss National Day fireworks (just a local celebration setting of a few poppers with friends), our 5yo’s Indianerfest to celebrate the end of the school year, the Dolder Classic vintage car show and, of course, Limmatschwimmen 2016

SWAM IN: Lake Zurich, Lake Geneva, Evian pool, Thonon-le-Bains pool, the River Töss, the Oeschinensee, Limmat River, Thermalbad Zurich, Novum spa Baden, Baden Freibad, Freibad Allenmoos (our local). I love all the swimming here!

With September fast approaching and the kids back at school /starting nursery, it feels like summer’s just about over now, but it’s certainly finished on a high!

Swimming in the Oeschinensee

Swimming in the Oeschinensee – have you seen enough pics of me in bathers yet?

A funny thing happened on the way down Bahnhofstrasse…

Ok so it's not Bahnhofstrasse...

Ok so it’s not Bahnhofstrasse…

I’ve lived in Switzerland for 2.5 years now. Things have got easier.

I had this feeling a while ago when I had a random hour or two to spend along Bahnhofstrasse and I ended up chatting to a stylish shop assistant in one of the fancier places for 10 minutes – we had a basic conversation mostly auf Deutsch just about our kids and that my eldest is almost perfect in Schweizerdeutsch and how when she lived in Lausanne for a few years, she wasn’t much good on the French but her kids were experts etc. I didn’t buy anything (it was all Moschino-level stuff, eek) but I left feeling like I’d gained an extra layer of confidence.

Today I overheard a conversation in a hotel where the lady asked for a black tea and the maître d’ said it was available at the breakfast buffet. Small, basic exchanges but I am understanding them.

My own German is still pretty bad – I lack confidence so I say things quietly and tend to mutter, which doesn’t help me OR the person I’m talking to. Then there’s pronunciation problems – I requested Ibuprofen in a pharmacy yesterday, saying it in my Australian way: “Eye-buprofen”. The assistant looked puzzled, until my friend chimed in with “Ih-buprofen” – A-ha! Then telling the same friend (who is Swiss-French) about a feature I’m writing that mentions Crans-Montana there was a moment…. “oh Crhuns-Montana!” (put on your best French). I will amend my pronunciation of this one from now on. Although there’s a certain appeal to Craaaans maaayte!

Anyway, here’s 11 things I am loving about my life in Switzerland right now

  1. More German conversations. Despite the fact I’m still pretty crap at German, more people seem to continue speaking to me in the language now (rather than switching to English), which must mean I’m improving.
  2. I’ve often theorised that the Swiss are the goths of Europe – rebels who like rules, smart, stylish (in their own way), intellectually arrogant, frugal but willing to spend where they see value, difficult and snobby-seeming (which can be basic shyness) but generally worth it when you get to know them. In this respect, I am not intimidated (mostly!) and I kinda “get” Switzerland/the Swiss
  3. My mum and my best friend who visited recently both said as an aside – “You should stay.” Women whose opinions I value.
  4. Wellness – a revelation. I used to think the whole idea was a bit wack but I’m a total convert.Wellness is a big thing - there's even a permanent sign directing you to the wellness hotel district in Baden.
  5. Frühstück / Brunch. They bring coffee then you go help yourself at the buffet. Ticks so many boxes.
  6. Swimming. There’s sooo much swimming here, and there’s water everywhere! Lakes, rivers, fountains. I love it. Although I do miss the ocean…
  7. Mountains. Also a recent conversion. So pretty and picturesque. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. I’m living in a postcard.
    picture-postcard views
  8. Church bells and shopping hours. After you get used to the bells ringing every quarter hour and the shops being shut on Sundays, it’s more a case of why doesn’t this happen everywhere? Shopping as a leisure activity is kind of horrible (although I do enjoy it and miss it). I like the enforced family time of Sundays and the bells… well… you do get used to them and I appreciate quaint old-fashionedy things.
  9. The sky. There’s these beautiful skies in Switzerland… after the grey of London, the skies here are wonderful.
    mountain
  10. We’re mostly happy here – the kids like their school and daycare, Himself is getting into hiking and cycling, the politics are OK (not that we have any influence), the pace of life is less hectic than London or Sydney.
  11. On a similar note, it feels like there’s time to explore some creative pursuits. I really want to see where this poetry thing might lead and I think I have the space to do it here.

 

I really hope we can stay.

Me diving into the Zurichsee. Photo: Katy Albany

Me diving into the Zurichsee. Photo: Katy Albany

More postcard views...

More postcard views…

20160525_155046

… and pretty skies

Räbeliechti

image

Yesterday was our first participation in Räbeliechti. This Swiss Halloween-ish tradition involving turnips (Räben) seems kind of like what *Halloween should be, or maybe was back in the good old days before crazy over-Americanisation and ridiculous amounts of sweets and horror-masks and people dressing as the victims or perps of gruesome crimes because that’s so funny! (Er, OK so I have a bit of a problem with some of this stuff – but I guess that’s a blog post for another time).

But I digress – Räbeliechti- involves children carving turnip lanterns and then going on a procession with them through the streets in the Räbeliechtiumzug, while singing songs. It’s mostly for kids but of course the adults troop along too and belt out the choons (assuming they know the words!) The biggest Räbeliechtiumzug in Switzerland happens in the town of Richterswil about halfway down Lake Zurich at Richterswil Raben Chibli with up to 20,000 visitors attending and 30,000kg turnips used! We had our local version last night.

It started with the Räben schnitzen (turnip carving) at my son’s Kindergarten. Parents, grandparents or a family friend were invited to come along for an hour in the morning and given instructions on how to do it. We were told to BYO spitziges Messer (sharp knife), Ausstechförmli (cookie cutter shapes) and Aushöler (melon baller to scoop out the turnip flesh).

Turnips for carving at the Kindergarten

I went along and slightly messed up the carving due to realising too late that you’re not meant to carve all the way through the turnip, like with a jack-o-lantern, but rather carve the shapes and leave a thin film of turnip flesh on those sections so the light shines through prettily but is protected from wind etc. Oh well – I paid close attention to the Schweizer Grossvater (Swiss grandad) at our table doing a very profesh job and will nail it next year! Anyway, our Räbe didn’t look half bad, if I do say so myself.

Our carved turnip

Our carved turnip

Now, for the Räbeliechtiumzug – the parade. This was really sweet. The kids (and parents) met at the Kindergarten at 6.15pm to light the candles in their turnips. Then the Kindergarten teacher led the procession (kids in pairs, holding their Räbeliechti) to the local school ground where we met up with about a dozen other groups of kids from all the Kindergartens nearby.

Räbeliechtiumzug

Räbeliechtiumzug

Once the groups had gathered, we all paraded en masse to the area’s forest park, singing the Räbeliechti songs all the way. I have literally never seen our local streets so packed with people! It was so lovely to see all the differently carved Räbeli lighting up the darkness with the kids so serious about holding them and singing away. Once we got to the park, there was a huge bonfire (they love making fires outdoors in Switzerland, big time). Everybody gathered around and sang the songs again (there were 3 or 4 official ones).

The bonfire in the woods

The bonfire in the woods

Finally, Kürbissuppe (pumpkin soup) was served (BYO mug) and everyone stood around chatting and/or playing in the heaps of autumn leaves on the ground, then we headed for home (around 8pm). Not sure why it was pumpkin soup rather than turnip – although I guess turnip soup is pretty gak.  So there you have it: sweet songs**, community spirit, home-made turnip candle holders with pretty, flickering lights, and not a scary mask in sight. I love this Swiss tradition!

Love Räbeliechti!

Love Räbeliechti!

 

*In fact, we also enjoyed Halloween last week because, as a sad old goth, I love making costumes and dressing up (and probably should enjoy the dark stuff a bit more and yet, and yet… it’s often done in such a non-thinking way… anyway, leave it).

**I should also add that I get that Halloween / Samhain (and probably Räbeliechti) is not really meant to be sweet. As a celebration embracing (or warding off) the impending winter and the time of year when the gap between the world of the living and that of the dead is narrowest, this occasion reminds us of our mere mortality and is about bringing our feeble human light to the darkness and feasting against the cold and hunger that possibly lies ahead.  But also: abundant food, heaters and penicillin Mofos so… yeah enough with the lollies already!