Thursday, February 22, 2007

Carnival in the Black Forest

We headed up north to the Black Forest last weekend to catch up with the in-laws and see how this Catholic corner of Germany celebrates Carnival. The little town of Bonndorf has the most elaborate Carnival parade in the region, symbolized by the Pflumeschlucker, or plum gobblers. Legend has it that when the people of Bonndorf were introduced to the plum, they swallowed the fruit whole, pit and all.

Along with the troupe of Pflumeschlucker, there were bands of witches, pirates, and cute forest creatures like bears, frogs and snails. It all seemed very traditional and quaint as they threw candy out to all the kiddies.

Then some wild elements came out. A biker gang ran around pouring shots of Jack Daniels for adult on-lookers. My in-laws enjoyed shots of Eierliquor, a sort of German egg nog, served in mini, chocolate-covered ice cream cones. A fearsome group of Scots grabbed girls out of the crowd, flung them over their shoulders and stuffed them in a giant spinning barrel full of sawdust, which was mounted on their float. My husband was grabbed from behind by a wily witch who shoved confetti down his shirt. She just wanted to get her hands on him!

Overall, it was a big hoot. I loved all the interaction with the crowd. There was a lot of fun, mischievous energy, and you didn't know what to expect next. The town of Bonndorf was cute, clean and picture-perfect.

Black Forest travel tip: If you're ever in the area, for Carnival or any other time of year, I highly recommend a restaurant called TannenmΓΌhle. It's basically a trout farm and smoke house that served the best smoked trout you will ever eat. It really is to die for.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A very good day

Do you ever have a day where everything just clicks? Things look up? Nothing could dampen your mood? I just had one of those. These were the high points:

1) It was gloriously sunny all day, and I spent a good part of it strolling about town, soaking it in
2) I met a sweet, old man named Hans at the park and held up my end of a one-hour conversation in German with him. I understood 75-80 percent of what he said. Woo-hoo! We covered a lot of subjects - the many merits of living in Switzerland, American politics and bad, bad Mr. Bush, staying healthy in old age, our families and our careers.
3) I filed an invoice for my first published article since I quit my job one year ago. Back in the saddle, baby!
4) We're leaving tomorrow for a weekend in the Black Forest with the in-laws. We'll be there for Fasnacht (Carnival), and I'm told they go all out for it there.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Global warming bites

I'm sad to report that global warming put a real damper on our ski week in Grindelwald last week. The slopes of Grindelwald, a resort town in the heart of the Swiss Alps, offered three kinds of skiing terrain while we were there: ice, muddy ice and grassy mud. Not too appealing, which is why we cut the week short and returned home two days early.

We were hopeful that a snow storm the previous week would improve conditions, but the new snow either melted under all the sunshine or never reached Grindelwald. I felt especially sorry for the skiiers who travelled from Asia, Canada and other far off places to be there. I found myself dreaming of the vast slopes of Lake Tahoe and the view of sparkling blue water from its run. Ahhh, California.

The week was not a total loss though. In addition to a day or two of skiing, I discovered the thrills and spills of sledding. I'd never been sledding before. It was fantastic once I learned, well semi-learned, to steer and brake. I only flew off my sled a couple times! The Swiss take sledding more seriously than we do in the US. There are sled runs as long as ski runs, and you can take the lifts to get to the top. There's still a bit of trekking required, but all in all a very good time.

The other thing that saved the week was the company. Lots of good times playing cards, Uno and Set, watching MTV and cooking up a storm.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Photos from snowy Zurich

Just back from my walk around town. The snow is still coming down. It must be putting everyone in Zurich is a good mood today. An older, distinguished-looking Swiss man saw me taking pictures and stopped to tell me about the church I was shooting. He was all smiles and questions. This never happens here!

In other exciting news, our swiss drivers licenses came in the mail today and a new lease agreement for our apartment arrived yesterday. (We're currently subleasing.) Looks like we're becoming real locals. It only took 11 months!


Woke up this morning to discover the neighborhood is blanketed in snow. I feel giddy. Must be about 3 or 4 inches on the ground. It's funny how you never outgrow that burst of joy you feel as a kid seeing snow in your backyard. Always the possibility of school being cancelled (at least in Oregon). This is the first real snow fall of the winter in Zurich, and it's long overdue. It's also just in time for our ski trip to Grindelwald next week. Can't wait to go take a walk. More pics to come....

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bloggers in Basel

We ventured to Basel yesterday to meet some fellow expat bloggers living in Switzerland. It was a great group of people and a lot of fun to make some new connections. We must have been close to 30 people. After a tastey lunch, Basel local The Big Finn led us on a walking tour of the city. Looking forward to the next meet-up in Zurich.

Further reading:
The Canadianswiss blog
Life is nicht si mal
Global Librarian
The Risse's in Switzerland
The Swiss Job
This Non-American Life

Sunday, January 14, 2007

drinking + skating = bad idea

I think I've sprained my wrist. It happened on Thursday at the skating rink. I was tryinng to teach myself to skate backwards. A Britney Spears song came on and I got a little too frisky. I fell over backwards and landed on my hand - owweee! All that ice makes for a really hard landing. I suppose I shouldn't have been drinking Apfelwein (hard cider) while skating.

I'll try to see a doctor tomorrow. In the meantime, there's no time for mopping over my lame wrist (at least it's the left one.) The hubby and I are off to Basel today to meet about 20 fellow expat bloggers. It's in honor of this occassion that I've been posting so much this week.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Good times in Newcastle

One of the highlights of our busy holiday itinerary was a trip to Newcastle (aka Newcastle-upon-Tyne). The occasion for the visit was a wedding (the bride is from there). I really didn't know what to expect of the place, so I was pleasantly surprised by its charms.

Newcastle is in Northeast England, near the border with Scotland. It's of course famous for its brown ale and its musical talents (Sting and Dire Straits' Mark & David Knopfler).

What I really liked about it though, was an interesting blend of ancient, industrial-age and modern flavors. It reminded me a little of my hometown, Portland, Ore., in this way. Both are working-class industrial towns that have recently developed a more cosmopolitan side. They also have in common a river and an abundance of bridges and gray skies.

The pubs of course are not to be missed. They are the perfect antidote to winter, so cozy and convivial. I was never a huge fan of Newcastle Brown Ale, but it actually tasted better there. Sadly, many locals prefer exports, namely Miller and Heineken, according to the bride's brother-in-law. At any rate, there's a lot of drinking going on.

Along with the pubs, another fixture of Newcastle are packs of sparsley-clad women roving the streets en route to the pubs. Apparently coats, hats, pants, sleeves or anything actually designed to warm the body are a fashion faux-pas, even in mid-winter. I think my mother-in-law would pass out if she witnessed it.

Another enchanting aspect of Newcastle is its dialect, known as Geordie. I gather it sounds a lot like Scottish. The bride and groom provided us with a guide to Geordie English. I'll leave you with a few jems I especially like:
beastie - small animal
booza - pub
gobby - talkative
hoo- how (hoo ye bin the day?)
manny - young man
netty - toilet
peel off - get rid of
scabby - shabby
tatie - potato

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