Switzerland

Crevasse

The way the clouds hang

light in a heavy sky

ragged fragments of white

at midday, bluegrey thunderhead

harsh mountains behind

stippled in snow and ice, 

unwelcoming

chimney smoke that will never be mine

I fit myself into a crevasse

thinking I’d weather a few more years

unexpected avalanche

tore at the façade

shattered fragments in mud, 

sharp so you cut yourself, 

cold

and I

will never forget the trails I ran alone

although fearful

it’s already a dream

of something left behind

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26Cantons52Weeks: Zürich

Beautiful Zurich

Canton: Zürich

Destination: Zurich (and beyond!)

Interesting thing: You’ll see it spelled Zürich, Zurich and Zuerich, all are correct. Zurich (without the umlaut) is the English/international spelling – easier for the internet and is commonly adopted since it’s a multicultural city with multinational companies as well as institutions such as ETH University that mostly deal in English. Zuerich is the German-non-umlaut way to write it and is often used in web addresses (ü is pronounced ‘ue’). Although a local friend recently mentioned on hearing Nick Cave’s “Hello Zurich” at a concert that I’ve been pronouncing my adopted city name wrong all this time… I guess you can take the girl out of Australia…

Special guests: practically everyone I know here?

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I’ve saved the best til last: it’s Zurich!*

What do I say about the canton and city I’ve called my home for nearly four years now? Four years is a long time. Thinking back, while I lived in the cities of Sydney and London for longer, our flat in Zurich is probably the longest house I’ve lived in continuously since becoming an adult. I feel pretty at home here, although various circumstances mean it’s still sometimes hard to feel settled.

Despite hitting an average of one Swiss canton every fortnight throughout the year for #26Cantons52Weeks, the bulk of my time has been spent in good old Zuri. We had a great summer with lovely weather, lots of swimming and what now feels like a regular influx of visitors from abroad – always a pleasure and a great excuse to explore further afield.

I have travelled a fair bit in the canton of Zurich too – discovering new things, visiting friends who live either side of the Zurisee (Lake Zurich) and in the hinterland of Winterthur, Dietlikon etc. But I guess my main focus has been on the canton’s capital city and my small corner of it.

I went in the Limmatschwimmen for the second year in a row. I wrote a Love letter to Zurich in a local publication. And, aside from #26Cantons52Weeks and other writing successes, perhaps my biggest, unexpected personal achievement this year has been that I started running in summer, which has been kind of a revelation and saver-of-my-sanity. For me, this culminated in participating in the annual Zurich Silvesterlauf winter 10km run. From the name, the Silvesterlauf should be today (New Year’s Eve is called ‘Silvester’ in German, lauf = run) but it was actually a few weeks ago, for reasons you can read about on their site.

It was my first-ever official run. The weather was utterly appalling – snow, sleet, rain and -5 through the day. I didn’t have a companion runner and by my start time of 17.30 it was already dark so I told my husband and kids to skip it and stay warm and dry at home. And, I guess maybe that’s what I’ve come to love about Zurich. I know it well enough that I can head into town after dark on a shitty day and run 10km by myself and feel like I’m ‘part’ of something.

Another lone-runner asked me to snap a finishing pic of her so I got her to return the favour. I wished I’d given her a hug, or at least a high-five. But that’s quite Zurich too – people aren’t all up in your shit. There was no participator medal given at the end, just the standard bottle of Swiss fizzy drink Rivella. I slushed home through the city, soaked to the skin and on a huge high.

So here’s to another big year of my life in Switzerland doing and seeing things that surprise and impress me all the time. Love Switzerland. Love Zurich. Roll on 2018!

Silvesterlauf – success!

*best-known anyway!

AND THAT’S A WRAP PEOPLE: I have achieved my self-imposed project of visiting every canton in Switzerland in 2017!! I must be insane. But I feel a huge sense of achievement.

Thanks again to all my Clairevetica readers, whether you came for the poetry or the travelogues (or whatever else) and especially those who commented, encouraged and made suggestions both on and off the blog.

I’m going to take a bit of time in January to take stock of where it all goes next so you’ll be hearing from me again very soon.

Happy new year! 🙂 🙂 🙂  Love, Claire x

 

Cantons visited in  2017’s #26Cantons52weeks

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

26Cantons52Weeks: Neuchâtel

Canton: Neuchâtel

Destination: Môtiers in the Val-de-Travers (birthplace of absinthe)

Interesting thing: Although the spirit was banned in Europe for most of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia, absinthe was never banned in Australia, which possibly explains why I’ve had a fair bit of it in my time. Loved the look, style and ritual, never enjoyed the taste… until now.

Special guests: A mate who was willing to do this last-minute trip with me!

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Oh Neuchâtel, I’m sorry. I should have visited you in summer, when the absinthe trails were green as the green fairy of legend. I could have wandered through the undergrowth, stopping to sip pure-spring-water-infused spirits as we soaked up the atmosphere. Perhaps we would have swum in lake Neuchatel,  the largest that’s entirely within Switzerland. Or done a tour of the prehistoric pile dwellings led by state-of-the-art app.

Or I could have visited “the Siberia of Switzerland” back in February – and attended the Fête du Froid (festival of cold). I’ve been to the real Siberia, you know, so it would have made an excellent comparison piece. Is Môtiers the Irkutsk of Switzerland? No ormul to be eaten but still. Even the famous landmark, Neuchâtel’s Tour des Prisons, is currently closed due to fire damage…

Instead, I visited between Xmas and New Years. Most things were closed: it was quiet, it was cold. Very pretty. Rather wet. I visited the tiny town of Môtiers where my friend and I were, I think, today’s sole visitors to the absinthe museum, Maison de L’Absinthe.

On a positive note, the train trip was lovely and I learnt a lot about the spirit of Neuchatel (geddit!) in no small thanks to the high-quality film about the history of absinthe the museum was showing. And, in the end, I also had to revise my opinion of La Fée Verte – it was not as disgusting as I remembered. In fact, not disgusting at all – although I do believe the clear absinthe, which we sampled, is a rather different, less-bitter mistress than her green cousin. Or maybe it’s my age, the moment, legality, who knows.

Back to the original theme: the local absinthe distilleries were also closed. As was the sparkling winery (until 3pm) And at 14.02pm, we missed a bang-up lunch at The Six Communes by 2 minutes and had to make do with a plate of Neuchâtelese saucissons (very tasty) before jumping on the 14.49 train to rescue one locked-out husband who miraculously found his keys 10 minutes later. Ahh! That fairy playing ticks on us again. Oh well, it meant we had a good excuse for a glass of Neuchâtel white wine overlooking the lake before heading back to Zurich.

DONE AND DONE! (Of course, stand by for my Zurich post!)

Additional photos: Shauna Japp

#26Cantons52Weeks: Vaud

Canton:  Vaud

Destination: Lausanne

Interesting thing: Lausanne is the capital of Vaud and also HQ of the International Olympic Committee. As someone who’s lived in two Olympic cities while Games are hosted (London 2012 and Sydney 2000) this still doesn’t impress me greatly!

Special guests: friends who live there

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Have you tried Lausanne’s famous Seagull icecream? Coasted down the hill in Switzerland’s skateboard capital? Heard the thunder cracking across Lac Léman?

Two of the above are real things about Lausanne*. However, according to my friends and Lausanne-residents, for a city with a reasonably high profile — it’s the fourth-largest in Switzerland, capital of Vaud and the Olympic HQ — Lausanne lacks a USP. It’s pretty, it’s pleasant, it’s of a size. But there’s nothing wildly exciting going on, they say.

Flon is spoken of as a funky shopping district but it’s kind of just a few interesting shops in old warehouses alongside some somewhat average chain stores and restaurants. The nightlife might be amazing but shh! we’re probably a bit too old to appreciate it anymore.

I’ve been to Vaud before. One of our first in-Switzerland trips a few years back was to Montreux, home of the eponymous Jazz Fest (which I’ve yet to attend!). We also checked out Chateau Chillon – Switzerland’s best-known medieval castle. I’ve enjoyed a fabulous summer holiday on the French side of the lake too, opposite Lausanne  at Evian, of bottled-water fame.

Anyway, I was overnighting en route to Geneva and hyped to be nearing the end of my #26Cantons52Weeks project. We enjoyed a bang-up breakkie at Blackbird Café , I bought myself a pink hat at a street market and enjoyed catching up with my Lausanne mate.

She did also mention the Caves Ouvertes event in summer where you get to wander through the countryside visiting wineries and sampling the wares, which sounds well worth doing. Maybe next year!

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

 

*Sadly, there is no Seagull icecream.

#26Cantons52Weeks: Geneva

Geneva’s Jet d’Eau

Canton: Geneva / Genève / Genf

Destination: Geneva

Interesting thing: the Jet d’Eau (above) is not just a cool, 140-metre water ejaculation, but actually served a purpose: to release pressure from the city’s hydraulic power network when it was first switched on in 1886. Nowadays, OK, it’s just a tourist attraction.

Special guests: all by myself!

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It took me three attempts to see the Jet d’Eau in Geneva, probably the city’s most recognisable landmark and, arguably, one of Switzerland’s most well-known person-made structures. (Some Swiss-based friends and I were trying to think of others since the country lacks an Eiffel Tower / Tower Bridge / Statue of Liberty / Sydney Opera House / Prado Museum…).

Anyway, I arrived in Geneva early afternoon Friday but had an appointment with the Aussie consulate that kept me busy until nearly sunset, after which time I wandered down to the lakefront to find the jet already off. Next morning, I got up before sunrise and went for a 12km run on the lakeshore. I was hoping I might see the ‘switch-on’ but discovered that wasn’t until 10am. So I hoofed back down to see it after breakfast and almost missed my train. It was worth it though. Très impressive.

Geneva is interesting because the city seems to garner the most varied reaction from other Swiss-dwelling people I spoke to. There’s those who find it lovely: the most cosmopolitan city in Switzerland, prettily situated and with a great atmosphere. Others say it’s dull and claustrophobic (there’s less open space than Zurich and the public lakefront areas give way to private property after only a few kilometres). Some don’t like the vibe of a city full of people dining out on ‘company money’, diplomat-rich-types who aren’t the sort you’d choose to hobknob with. I’ve also heard crime rates for bag snatching and break-ins are quite high, for Switzerland. Others think the home of the UN, League of Nations and CERN is the most ‘international’ city Switzerland has to offer and a global seat of peacekeeping and academia.

I didn’t experience any crime, thank goodness. I felt safe there on my own, even during my early-morning jog, when it was pretty deserted. I couldn’t help but notice the conspicuous displays of wealth though, from the gated Chateaux along the lakefront to all the luxury brands displayed in neon around the lakefront, and the fancy five-star hotels. The city actually reminded me a bit of Luzern, which I’ve visited more often – both are situated at the top of a stunning lake with the mountains just across the water. But the feeling in Geneva is much more money, money, money.

It’s hard to judge atmosphere when you’re on your own. It was Friday night and I wasn’t out late. There was a bit of a buzz but where I was near the lakefront and main station was fairly subdued. If there’s sides to be chosen in a Geneva-Zurich rivalry thing, I guess I prefer Zurich but that might just be because I know it better. Plus my bad German is less-bad than my year 7 French!

 

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 spent a night in Vaud en route to Geneva. Will write that up next!

#26Cantons52Weeks: Uri

Rutli Meadow in the snow – it’s the white patch down there. Photo: Iain Scott

Canton: Uri

Destination: Altdorf and Rütli Meadow – ‘the birthplace of Switzerland’

Interesting thing: Uri’s symbol is the bull and apparently the name derives from an old Germanic word for bull, ûr. (That’s way more fun than the other possible explanation that it comes from the Latin ora or uer –  ‘edge of the water’)

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The cantons keep surprising me. Uri is another smallish central-Switzerland canton on the shores of Lake Lucern (or the Vierwaldstättersee) like Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schwyz and Luzern itself. I guess I thought it would be a bit same-old, same-old. And yet, Uri felt quite different. Maybe it was due to the snow.

We headed to the canton capital Altdorf – a small town covering roughly 10 square kilometres with a population of about 10,000. Expansion would be tricky because the mountains are literally right behind the town, which gave it a rather dramatic feel. And with the season’s first dusting of snow, and Christmas lights coming on, it looked very pretty.

Uri canton has several claims to fame. First off, Swiss dude of legend and overtures, William Tell, was said to be from Uri and Altdorf is where he shot the arrow through the apple on his son’s head, then killed the baddie, Gessler. There’s a William Tell museum, monument and the Tellskappel (Tell chapel) nearby but the museum is closed for winter. So we made do with having our lunch next to the rather impressive William Tell fountain/monument.

Uri is also where you’ll find the Rütliwiese or Rütli meadow, the ‘birthplace of Switzerland’. This is a flat bit of land by the lakeshore where the founding oath of Switzerland was signed back in 1291 between three cantons – Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (since split into Nidwalden and Obwalden). Every year in midsummer on Switzerland’s national day, 1 August, there are celebrations and fireworks here. It’s also now the beginning of a 35km walking track called the Path of Switzerland, which takes you on a pleasant hike around Lake Uri via representations of the various cantons – and it would be a lovely thing to do on a warm sunny day. Of course, we visited mid-winter with 15-odd centimetres of snow on the ground.

Full disclosure: we did not actually set foot on the meadow itself. You can catch a boat there from Brunnen or Flüelen. But because it’s winter, there’s only two boats per day and we didn’t really fancy being out on the water in the cold! So we drove through a 9km mountain tunnel to Seelisberg and pulled up at a random spot beside the road to see what we could see in the snow.

Even the sign pointing out local attractions was iced over, luckily a passing local informed us we were in fact on “Rütliblick” (Rütli look-out) and indicated the various sights for us – Altdorf across the water, Schwyz down at the end of the lake and, right below us: the snow-covered Rütliwiese. With an hour’s steep walk down to the meadow, we decided we were content just having seen it. A Swiss friend remarked: “You’re the first person I know who’s been at Rütli in winter!”

Uri’s other famous claim is it’s where the Gotthard tunnel begins (or ends). The world’s longest train tunnel opened a year ago and we went through it in January for our Ticino visit.

So that’s a bunch of Swiss history – both ancient and modern – ticked off my list in one small, snow-covered canton!

 

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

#26Cantons52Weeks: Zug

Canton: Zug

Destination: Zug (cantonal capital)

Guests: immediate family minus one due to school!

Interesting thing: We caught the Zug (train) to Zug. But Wikipedia tells me the name comes from a fishing term, where in the middle ages, Zug referred to the right to pull up fishing nets and hence to the right to fish.

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I met a guy from Zug at a Scandinavian Midsommar party in Zurich (just to confuse the Switzerland/Sweden thing even further). This has little to do with my story, except that it amused me at the time to meet someone who was born in Zug, one of Switzerland’s smallest, richest and lowest-taxed cantons. It seemed a bit like meeting someone born in London – ie: a rarity – when most residents move there because reasons.

Anyway, we had a little jaunt to Zug today, it’s less than an hour by train from Zurich. And it couldn’t have felt less like mid-summer. In fact, I think it’s the first day I’ve seen snowfall this winter! Brr.

I was unexpectedly charmed by Zug’s altstadt (old town). Although it’s fairly similar to other well-preserved old towns around Switzerland such as Solothurn, Fribourg and even Zurich itself, with lots of cool old buildings, carved wood and moulded stone, gothicky images and script and lots of fountains featuring knights and jester-types, Zug has its own unique charm. Not least because Lake Zug is very pretty, especially today, with a light dusting of snow on the slopes of the mountains across the water.

We had a stroll, or should I say, a brisk, chilly walk by the lake and visited the local aviary. Said g’day to a couple of Kookaburras looking rather miserable! Some snowy owls were more in their element. But I was mainly lakeside to check out the Roman Signer “Seesicht” sculpture, which takes you down below the waterline. I found it underwhelming and a little public-toiletesque. It looks much better in the Zug tourist site pictures. Oh well.

With snow zinging through the Zug air, it was time for lunch. I had a few hot tips on spots to eat from fellow blogger and local resident, Tamara, the part-time working hockey mom (thankyou!) and we couldn’t resist buying a couple of the indulgent, adults-only Zugerli chocs for afters. Yum.

I have read that the lake is also positioned to provide spectacular sunsets but weather conditions were not conducive and we couldn’t hang around… I’ll simply have to return to Zug in mid-summer for that!

 

Do I look cold?

 

PS: Thanks to the encouragement of various people and my own sheer pig-headedness, I now think I will manage to achieve my goal of visiting every Swiss canton this year. Woo! 

 

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

#26Cantons52Weeks: Schwyz

View from Sattel-Hochstuckli and the cute cable cars

Destination: Sattel-Hochstuckli

Interesting thing: As well as nicking the name, Switzerland also took its flag from the Schwyz coat of arms. As my mate Mad Dog always says: I like Switzerland; the flag is a big plus.

Special guests: my parents – they’re doing me proud on the cantonal visits – that’s three so far!

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Perhaps the canton with the least vowels in its name: Schwyz! The canton is not to be confused with Schweiz – the German word for Switzerland – although it was one of the founding cantons of the country back in 1291 and is actually where the name comes from. From my quick scan of Wikipedia, it seems like Schwyz was calling the shots for a good long while there and hence the name kinda stuck.

Today we visited Sattel-Hochstuckli which, in keeping with the theme, is the beginning of the Alps. Plus it boasts Switzerland’s first revolving cable car that took us up from Sattel at 800m to Mostelberg at 1,191m in about eight minutes. (There are other revolving cable cars in CH now – I think I’ve been on two others – but this was the first one to be constructed and is a cute little thing).

At the top, there was zero sign of snow or the approaching winter, even though the “summer” season officially ends this Sunday. It’s basically a paradise for hikers and families. We didn’t do much walking – only over the 374-metre long suspension bridge and back – however, we did enjoy the kids’ stuff. My six-year-old loved the alpine toboggan (rodelbahn), downhill tube run and the giant jumping castle. OK, so dad and I also had fun on the rides as well!

Lunch was tasty at the Berggasthaus Mostelberg and then it was back for a few more rides before the drive home. Sattel is about an hour by car from Zurich.

We’ve been having absolutely glorious autumn weather during my parents’ visit and today was no exception. It was sun-drenched and 20 degrees up on the mountain. With the green of the grass and fir trees, the gold and russet of the turning leaves, and the shining silver of the rodelbahn, such a lovely day out. 10 points to Schwyz AND Der Schweiz!

 

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: Obwalden

Cogwheel railway

Canton: Obwalden

Destination: Mount Pilatus, Goldene Rundfahrt

Interesting thing: Canton Obwalden is the location for the geographical centre of Switzerland. The cogwheel railway up Pilatus is the steepest in the world and dates from 1889!

Special guests: my parents

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Pilatus is the ‘dragon mountain’ and its dragon symbol is rather a triumph of branding, with everything from the boat quay to the bus stop labelled with that same red swirly beast. To my mind, I can kind of see how the spine of the mountain looks a bit like a sleeping dragon and, where Rigi – “the queen of the mountains” is gently sloping and green, Pilatus seems to loom menacing and dark above Lake Lucerne. Except, as we made our way across the waters of the Vierwaldstättersee (as the lake’s called in German), I realised the mountain I’d been identifying as Pilatus actually wasn’t. So much for my theory anyway! Er… the real Pilatus looks like a dragon too, a bit! (Wikipedia tells me the dragon comes from a medieval legend about winged beasts with healing powers living on the mountain.)

Pilatus’ cogwheel railway is really something. It was constructed in 1889 and electrified in the 1930s. From lake level of 464m at Alpnachstad, the railway rises almost vertical in parts up the side of the mountain to just over 2,000 metres. The elevation gain is 1,635m in total and it has an incline of 48% at its steepest (this is the sharpest incline you can have – otherwise I think you’re actually vertical?). It’s steeper than the triangle of a Toblerone. It’s a longish journey too – about half an hour. Which is great if you’re excited about it, maybe not so great if you’re closing your eyes, blocking your ears and holding on for grim death due to a fear of heights, as my sister-in-law was the last time we went (sorry Laura!).

My parents are thankfully not much affected by vertigo and we had a lovely, clear early-autumn day for our ascent. So nice, in fact, that we even ate our lunch al fresco, with a panoramic view of the mountains from the terrace. Lovely. Afterwards dad and I climbed the “Esel” (donkey) peak to 2,118 metres for a top-of-the-top view. From here we watched a huge cloud roll up one side of the mountain, completely whiting-out the view for about 20 minutes, until it passed. Amazing how fast the weather can change at these altitudes.

To descend, we swooped down in the gondola and cable cars, then caught a bus back to Luzern to complete our “Goldene Rundfahrt” (golden round trip).

Full disclosure: the several peaks of Pilatus are actually on the border between two cantons – Nidwalden and Obwalden. However the cogwheel railway and Pilatus Kulm both fall on the Ob side (and I’ve already written up Nidwalden).

 

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!