Archive for the 'Switzerland' Category

More snowboarding

This is the third weekend in a row that I’ve been snowboarding. It is so awesome.

I’ve been frequenting Flumserberg; a resort about 2 hours from where I’m staying. It’s pretty accessible; just hop out of the train into the gondola and up the mountain. The end of the season draws near, but there is still plenty of snow due to the particularly cold and snowy winter we’ve had here in Switzerland.

Here are some photos I took today. I tried to write fairly interesting and descriptive descriptions, so don’t be scared to look a bit closer:

Also, I have to mention that my lovely wife sent me my favourite sweets from NZ: Pascall Eskimos. She is awesome and I miss her and she really needs to post on this blog!!

I know I still owe you some posts, too.

Basler Fasnacht

I have been excited about checking out Fasnacht for months now. So inspite of still being a wee bit sick, I took the boys on the train into Basel for the Basler Fasnacht Wednesday parade. We missed out on the local Aarau Fasnacht. If we had all been well, we would have loved to go to the opening 4am parade on Monday in Basel too.

Fasnacht is a pre-lenten festival held in parts of southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria.  I can`t figure out much more than that about the history of it. I have to say that Fasnacht is one of the strangest carnivals ever. Does anyone actually know where it came from and why people wear crazy and quite frankly, scary costumes?! All the websites I check out don’t seem to really know. They do say you have to be a Basler to understand the humour of it.  And their dialect too.  I guess I didn`t really understand.  Like, what was with the Santa Clause look-a-like riding a giraffe with a bunch of aviator head, tropical musicians?

And why do they throw fruit? An elderly man standing next to me wasn’t so lucky, I guess his reflexes weren’t so quick and got and orange thrown at his nose. There were oranges and bananas being thrown in every direction. Along with garlic and leeks?! I know, random! Of course, HUGE amounts of confetti everywhere.

Noah wasn`t too excited about all the noise and fuss.  Well, he fell asleep, so I guess that kind of gave an impression of boredom even though there were always about 5 different bands and flute groups playing around him. The noise was defeaning!  Have to give the musicians credit for being able to wear the heavy costumes, maneuver around town and play instruments (trying concentrating on the song you are playing while 3 other groups are playing something else right next to you!)

It was one of the weirdest events I have even attended, but I am still very impressed. It was pretty cool to be part of this festival, even if  just for an afternoon, and even though I didn`t get it. The costumes were incredible and must have taken lots of work and imagination. And the music was cool. Loved all the piccolo playing gnomes and colourful drummers. I love that people get into character and have no shame in wearing any costume and acting the part. Lots of the crowd were dressed up too, even wee one year olds.   Would love to the see the New Zealand crowd actually get dressed up for real. I have been to heaps of ‘costume parties’ where no one has bothered to get dressed up. SAD! Us New Zealanders have a lot to learn when it comes to tradition, costumes and throwing party parades!

Swiss trains – so mobile!

I have wondered many times whether the Swiss are technologically challenged, considering the amount of paperwork and phone calls and letters and trips to government agencies I have had to do (nothing seems to be done online… or by email).  But the Swiss Railway definitely do not have any technology shortcomings.   I love what SBB are doing…  Now you can buy a ticket for the train using your mobile phone!   And when the train conductor comes around to check your ticket, you show them the code given to you on your mobile phone and the conductor has a bar code scanner / reader to check it.  How cool!  How easy.

I am not looking forward to going back to Auckland trains where they run half an hour late, break down, catch fire, the conductor never has change for a $20 and no machines to buy tickets in advance.  Ah well.

Trying Taxes

Ah the Swiss and their love for paper documents and form filling…

Last week, I received the annual tax form, I mean BOOK!  It is pages and pages of forms to fill out.  I had a headache earlier on in 2008 just filling out one page for provisional tax (which, by the way, I had to fill out again after we moved to Aarau – why they couldn’t just transfer our tax details from one town to another puzzles me!).  Along with this booklet of forms comes an ‘easy tax’ CD – which is a wee bit helpful but really just adds so much more information than I can handle and all in proper high freakin’ formal German.

Anyway, I have spent the last 4 hours doing lots of searching in the German / English Dictionary and think I am on my way to having it all sorted! I have definitely increased my knowledge of the German language with wonderful words like:

Wertschriftenverzeichnis, Liegenschaftsverzeichnis, Steuererklärungsformular, Erwerbsausfallentschadigungen, Steuerveranlagungsverfahren, Vermögensbestandteile, Gehaltsnebenleistungen, Quellensteuerverfahren, Kontokorrentabrechnungen, selbstsständiger Nebenerwerbstätigkeit, Ergänzungsleistungen

Gotta love the Germans and their compound words!

Anyway, came across this article today from 2006… So it seems that some Swiss are looking for a way to reduce the stress and paperwork involved in tax forms.  And the saving on administration costs would come as a tax benefit to citizens!  How cool!  I wonder if it ever came into action – doesn’t seem that way in Aargau!

Ok, really tired and have a sore head and eyes so am off to bed now.

Sport Ferien

The Swiss schools have two weeks ‘Sport Ferien’ in February where most kids seem to go skiing or do something sporty in the mountains with their families.  Pretty cool huh?! Since we have done our skiing /snow / sporty thing in the mountains already, we had two weeks hanging close to home with no Spielgruppe or Muki Treff or much else on.  It has been pretty fun but I am glad everything is back to ‘normal’ this week.

Here are a few photos of what the boys and I have been up to.  Including a lot of train riding, sliding down slides, a trip to Zurich zoo, a trip to children’s playland called ‘Trampolino‘ (thanks for the tip, Cornelia!).  You wouldn’t believe that there were probably a hundred or more kids there by the photos, it was CRAZY fun.  We also made homemade pizza – Italian styles with the thin base and, man, it was the best pizza ever! At the zoo we saw a brand new baby hippo and a rhinosaur (Toby was sure it was a rhinosaur and not a rhinoceros!).  Toby was really keen to meet a chameleon and we found one at the rainforest enclosure at the zoo.  We didn’t manage a photo though, cos my camera fogged up in the damp air.  The rainforest reminded me much of what the Neuseeland summer is like – sticky and humid!  And with all the beautiful fern trees and palms – I felt right at home!

Lindt Hot Chocolate

Ok, have you seen how all the chocolate brands seem to have a ‘chilli’ chocolate one in there somewhere?  I have tried the Frey Dark Chocolate & Chilli and wasn’t too excited about it, in spite of my love of spicy foods.

Daniel saw Lindt advertising their latest addition to their chocolate range – Grenadine & Chilli – and mentioned he reckoned it sounded nice.  The other day, when I was in Coop, I bought it for him (CHF $3.75).   When he opened it up the other night, I hadn’t intended to try some but he convinced me.  And man, am I glad.  It is so so good.  This baby has fruity liquid grenadine on chocolate mousse and somewhere in there is a bit of chilliness.  And of course dark chocolate with 70% cocoa.  I am a HUGE dark chocolate fan.

The chilli is just enough to tickle your tongue but not too much to make your eyes water.  And it isn’t too sweet so easy to eat the entire block (yip, thats what we did and now I need to go and update our chocolate index).

They have some other interesting flavours in this HOT range including Mango & Cayenne which is next on our list to try.  On the Lindt Germany website there are some weird flavours I haven’t seen here – Maracuja & Jalapeno, Papaya & Chilli.  Also Blueberry & Lavender, Lime & Green Pepper.

I used to swear by Frey chocolate (Migro brand) perhaps because my Dad always ate their stuff, cos he used to work for them (as taste tester / quality control!) and so I felt loyal somehow.  But after trying all the different Swiss brands I am thinking Lindt is definitely one of the best.

Zermatt in Winter

On our way home from Bettmeralp we did a we detour via Zermatt to see how our friend, the Matterhorn, was holding out in the cold winter.  We had seen the Matterhorn each day from the distance on Bettmeralp.  Miriam’s parents had been to Zermatt and had loved it so Miriam was keen to check it out too.

It wasn’t too different to summer time except all the skiiers and snow and it was pretty chilly!  The tourist shops were lacking all the cool summer t-shirts I remember too.  The ride up in the train is pretty slow but worth it for the views.  The frozen waterfalls were incredible!  We had to take a winter time picture to compare with the summer time photos when we were there with Missie and Simon in July.

Here are two photos, taken one in winter and one in summer from the same bridge in Zermatt – so you can compare for yourself!

Snowboarding

So we recently spent a week in Bettmeralp (Google Maps shows it in summer, which is not cool. Zoom out to get an idea of where is is. The resort also has it’s own website.), as you may know, and I tried my hand at a bit of snowboarding.

There’s limited photographic evidence due to a) me going by myself most of the time, and b) I don’t have a nice long telephoto to stick on the front of my Canon.

We arrived on the Saturday and I went across the road to the ski school and booked a 1-hour private lesson for the next morning. My colleague Alain lent me his board and boots, which was totally awesome, and thanks to some decent sports shop sales, I was kitted out.

I met Patrick, my instructor, at the learner’s slope the next morning and got cracking. Had a wee muck around at the bottom, and I quickly got back the feel from the day-and-half I did on Ruapehu about 18 months ago.
We hopped on the T-bar and made it to the top. I had been told that the T-bar was the worst part of snowboarding (only a chair-lift and a platter (platters suck) on Happy Valley at Whakapapa), but if you know what you’re doing and relax, it’s sweet as. The next hour went fast, as I learned the toe-side and heel-side positions for traversing, and the turns. Took a few tumbles, but got the hang of it fairly quickly.

After my lesson I did a few more runs by myself without bailing and had pretty much mastered the learning slope.

I managed to get back on the slopes a few times throughout the remainder of the week and found that as I gained confidence I started to crash more, but that was cool; it’s all part of the fun! I got in a full day’s boarding on the Friday, and managed to get down most of the blue slopes on the mountain and thoroughly enjoyed it.

And here’s the sole item of evidence for your verification:

I’m really keen to get back on the board, so I’ve been looking at some rail and snow deals (Jessica writes about these) and there are some massive resorts around; St Moritz has over 350km of pisten with 56 lifts. Crazy! So I’ll have to disappear for a couple of long weekends sometime soon :)

Walk from Bettmeralp-Moosfluh-Riederfurka-Riederalp

This has to be one of the most amazing walks I have done.  I have skied this track a few years ago and this time Daniel, my friend Miriam and I decided to walk it with the kids and sledge in tow.  The views are spectacular – with endless snowcapped mountains and the Matterhorn in the distance.

We walked from Bettmeralp to Riederalp and then took the gondala up to Moosfluh.  Then we walked along the ridge from Moosfluh to Riederfurka. We followed the mighty Aletsch glacier which the photos do no justice to show its vastness!  We stopped for a beer and pommes frites at the outdoor cafe in Riederfurka and soaked in some of the sun.  There was a random ‘castle’ to admire, kind of looks somewhat out of place but beautiful none-the-less.  Then we continued down the sometimes steep and icy path to Riederalp stopping only for some sledging and photos on the way!  Daniel and I no longer laugh at the Swiss going everywhere with their two ‘sticks’ or hiking poles.  It would have been quite handy to have some when walking over some icy bits in the track.  Although, I am not sure if these ‘sticks’ are really needed in central Zurich (yes, I have seen them in action on Bahnhofstrasse!)

Toby spent the first part of the 3+ hour walk being pulled along on the sledge but then found that walking by himself through snow (up to his waist!) and breaking all the icicles on the way was much more fun.  Noah spent most of his time riding on my back in the wonderful ergo but enjoying sliding down the hills on the sledge.

A week in Bettmeralp

We spent last week in Bettmeralp.  It was incredible.  We had seven days of perfect weather and although the slopes were a bit low on snow and getting icy in places, it didn’t stop us from getting busy sledging, snowboarding and skiing and many other things (that all seem to begin with the letter ‘s’).

It took us just under 3 hours to get from Aarau to Bettmeralp by train (Bettmeralp is in the Swiss Alps – in Canton Wallis).  We had organised tageskarte so it was cheap and easy.  We packed light and managed to get our large suitcase, backpack and two kids on and off 4 train changes and then up the gondala to the nearly 2000m high Bettmeralp.

We booked an apartment through myswitzerland.com – which works out way way cheaper than a hotel and there are like 900 apartments and 7 hotels on Bettmeralp so it seemed hiring an apartment was the better and more popular option.  We found our apartment was on the main stretch – slap bang in the middle of the village and absolutely perfect.  With views of the mountains from our window it was a dream.  It was quiet too, in spite of being in the middle of ‘town’, I guess people get pretty exhausted from skiing and breathing in the mountain air that they are in knocked out in bed by 10pm (yip – we were!).  Plus we were there before the busy ski holidays – ‘sport ferien’ so there weren’t many people.

Here are a few photos to get you started – more Willis adventures in Bettmeralp and photos to follow soon!