Zürcher Brockenhaus

With weekends reserved for outings, we must carve out some weekday times for exploring Zürich. Long lunch hours mean time to try something or some place new. Yesterday, in unseasonably warm weather, we ran some errands and found our way to the Zürcher Brockenhaus – Zürich Thrift Store. Every time we leave town on the train, we pass this building near the train station.


I had read these yelp reviews about it and decided we just had to go take a look-see. As a thrift store, it ranks a $$$ rating, and that’s probably because it has some nice antiques as well as clothes, housewares, records, books, children’s stuff, and anything else you might find in an American thrift store.

I didn’t take too many pictures inside, feeling a little self-conscious in a foreign country, but here are a couple.


Notice the yellow book – Onkel Tom’s Hütte. Apparently not banned here.


We were looking for possibly a small travel bag and a hat. We found travel bags, but none that we had to have, and two men’s hats. One the wrong color and one too small. I noticed that there are some women’s winter coats, and if my fleece does not do the trick for me, I will probably head back there at some point.

There are other Brockis in Zürich, so maybe we will find one a week for a while.


The Swiss Diet

You can stop reading all those ads about how to lose weight, glampers, because I have discovered the REAL way. Move to Switzerland. No joke.

At my last physical before I left home, my doctor suggested that I might gain weight this year. He must have been thinking about the cheese and the chocolate. However, he did not take into consideration all these other factors.

1. Food is expensive. Buy less, eat less.

2. Junk food, fast food, processed food is even more expensive. Consume it once every two months or so.

3. Cars are expensive. Don’t own a car. Walk everywhere.

4. Live on a hill. Walk up that hill every day. Carry some of those groceries while you are at it.

5. Live on the top floor of a flat with no lift. Do laundry in the basement.

6. Enjoy cheese and chocolate. A little. Every. single. day. It makes you happy and not feel as though you are on a diet.

We do not have a scale, and I do not know how much I weigh in kilos, although I think I would enjoy that number better than pounds. So, how do I know that I have lost weight? I’ll tell you. I have been wearing the same two pairs of jeans, but when we went out to the raclette dinner (think I really enjoyed it? I keep reliving it! And there was cheese…..) I decided to pull out my nice, new dress pants for the occasion. When I bought them 3 months ago, they fit pretty well – a little loose. Well, I had to have H pin them in about an inch (or 2.5 cm) in the back, otherwise they would have fallen off! I did a little happy dance….

So why are my jeans still fitting? My theory is that because the dryer is really hot, they shrink a little bit each time I wash and dry them. Excuse me while I go grab a piece of dark chocolate….


I haven’t really been homesick these past two and a half months. I DO miss friends and family, but the magic of the internet helps quell that a bit. But on Sunday when we were out enjoying the sun (we do that whenever we can since the gray days approach), I remarked that I sort of wished that we could watch a football game on tv and eat chips and salsa. That remark went over poorly since I could tell that H felt a hankering for at least the chips and salsa. (How could we even think about such a thing after that fabulous raclette the night before?)

Then I remembered that someone, somewhere had told me that there are canned black beans at the SihlCity Coop. Of course, we have not yet splurged on the black beans we bought last month, but I accepted the challenge to find whatever SihlCity was and get there.

Turns out, it’s really easy. One 20-minute tram ride with no transfers. And the tram lets you off at the front door of this big, glitzy mall. Big, glitzy malls are NOT what I miss about home, but there you have it. Another thing I don’t miss about home is the introduction of Christmas merchandise in October. Without Halloween to get in the way here, you can already start buying advent calendars, Christmas chocolate, wrapping paper, etc. Oh, well.

Notice that this grocery store (think Swiss Super Target with Swiss prices) is on the second floor. Wait. Here they call it the first floor since you start with the ground floor.

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I think I tried all of the escalators in SihlCity. And I’m pretty sure I went down every food aisle in the Coop. It took me two times down the “Food from other lands” aisle to find the black beans, but I finally found them, in cans as well uncooked in a bag (for half the cost of the Mexican food store we went to last month).

As long as I was having an American experience in the mall, I thought I may as well buy some chips. They were on big Aktion (sale) with two small bags stuck together for $6.

And tomorrow I think I’ll write about the Swiss Diet Plan. But first, let me open a bag of chips….


Further Forays into the Raclette World

It’s all about the cheese, and we had been hearing about raclette before we ever stepped foot into Switzerland. We knew that it was melted cheese over potatoes and other good stuff. We knew that it involved a machine at the table. We knew we wanted some.

Even at the Alpabfahrt last month, with our first raclette, we knew there had to be more to it than a styrofoam plate of gooey cheese and some potatoes (as good as it was). Then the Two Small Potatoes wrote about their experiences with this Swiss dish. Excitement was mounting.

Then the ETH professor whose lab H is working in this year invited us for dinner last Saturday. He told us they would serve raclette. We were ready!

White wine goes with cheese, and there are some fine white wines produced here in this small country (which never get exported since the supply is limited), but I have no idea how to choose a bottle here. Enter Denner, the discount food store with a huge wine supply (from around the world) and weekly specials. If you go online and check out their wine specials, you can also read customer reviews. Even if you don’t read German or French, the 4-5 stars are easy to translate. Armed with two bottles, we headed over to D’s flat (just a 6-minute walk from ours).

Turns out this was a dinner party with D and his wife, two of their children (one is at the University of Chicago) and another American family where the husband and wife both teach chemistry at the ETH and their nearly-2-year-old son, Bosco, is learning Swiss German in daycare.

So, when you have a group of interesting people (including the daughter who is a student at the ETH and the son in high school who gave us some cultural and linguistic insights about Zürich), then eating raclette becomes the social event it should be.

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In the middle of the table sits the raclette machine. Each person gets a small wooden coaster and scraper as well as a little pan with a handle. Place one thickly sliced piece of cheese in your pan and put it into the machine. While you wait for it to become all bubbly, pass around various dishes, from potatoes and small pickles, to sautéed mushrooms, small onions, and thinly sliced meat. When your cheese is ready, scrape it off onto a portion of what’s on your plate, then ask for another piece of cheese to get it going.

Since the process takes a while, you get the opportunity to relax and share in great conversation and make sure that the wine compliments the food (it did). Plus we got to enjoy the incredibly cute toddler.

As the Two Small Potatoes say, Don’t eat out – it’s a waste of money and friends make better raclette.


We took the opportunity to accompany my parents to Basel where they started a river cruise down the Rhein which will end in Amsterdam. Basel sits at one corner where Switzerland, Germany and France meet. Ever since I had read this blog post on One Big Yodel, I have been wanting to get to Basel to eat at the Markthalle (which is conveniently located within a stone’s throw of the HB).

It was everything we had hoped for in an under-one-roof-cheap-ethnic-eatery. (I am sure that I could come up with a goodlongGermanword for that if I thought about it for a bit.) We had to wander past all the offerings before we ended up with a Pad Thai which was not only delicious, but only 10 CHF. We chose a Kurdish wrap on some kind of flatbread with spinach and feta cheese fried in something yummy for my folks. If a round-trip ticket to Basel didn’t run 32 CHF (per person), we would head there for lunch more often.

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After we tucked my parents into a Passat Wagon Taxi and sent them to the docks to meet their boat, we had some time, and though we had thought about visiting some Roman ruins 20 km outside of town (those Romans were everywhere!), we decided to spend our afternoon wandering the old town since we were already there.

The information booth at the HB had the perfect map to lead us first to one of the original gates to the city.

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A short walk through the gates led us to the Marktplatz (where the vendors were selling food and flowers) and the Rathaus (city hall). The building is red, and the Swiss German pronunciation of the structure is Roothuus which sounds a little like Red House, a pun.

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Included on our self-guided tour was the Basel Münster (Basel Cathedral) which also casts a reddish gothic hue. It sits up from the river bank and can be seen from many places. Right now there is a small fair with ferris wheel, carousel and other very unchurchlike attractions in the plaza directly in front of the main entrance.

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I liked this dragon-slayer which I suppose has something to do with the fact that the saints of this church, Georg and Martin, were saints of the knights. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dragon on a church before. I also didn’t know that dragons came that small…..


In my quest to visit as many of the 26 Swiss Cantons as we can this year, we have now added Basel-Stadt (Basel City). Basel is one of two cantons that have been split into two (the other being Appenzell). This brings our total to seven.

The Rhein River looking north from the Basel Münster


Our First Visitors

I could probably blog a few more days about Vienna, but I have hit the highlights. Now that we are back home (and it really is feeling more like home all the time), we’ve already had our first visitors, and I need to catch up with the visit from my parents.

Every sabbatical we’ve had (this is our fourth), my folks have come to visit us. 1993 in Boston, 1999 in Palo Alto, 2008 in Evanston, so this is the first international sabbatical visit.

October in Zürich has been especially warm this year. Until the day my parents arrived, of course. We’d been having temps in the upper 60s, but then the fallout from Hurricane Gonzalo covered Europe this week and the temps dropped into the upper 40s and 50s and the clouds loomed. That meant that it was a good time to explore museums in town.

Wednesday is still the free day at the Kunsthaus (Art Museum), so we took advantage of that. I had forgotten (already) what a great museum it is, and it was such a pleasure to revisit the space. Even though many of the Giacometti pieces are in Vienna right now, there are still plenty of them left here. Besides those pieces, there are also plenty of other great works to enjoy.

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We had been wanting to go to the Landesmuseum (the Swiss National Museum), so this was a perfect opportunity to go. We didn’t make it to the special exhibit of ties, but we were excited to see the globe from the mid-1500s. Back in August when we went to the famous library in St. Gallen, we saw the replica of this globe and learned of the tussle between Zürich and St. Gallen over this object.

The exterior of the museum which is in a castle next to the HB. The outside is undergoing some renovations, so you have to walk around all kinds of construction.


The original globe. If you put your hand too close, an alarm goes off. How did we know?


A diorama. I forget of what, but I like miniatures.


We managed to walk the “History of Switzerland” backwards since the elevator takes you up that way.

Churches and a Basement

My taste in church architecture runs towards the Gothic. Baroque is too much for me, so we opted to skip the Karlskirche in Vienna. (Sorry, Anne!) Of course we spent a good amount of time looking at St. Stephen’s in the center of the city where our podcast audio tour started. The first day we went, the skies were gray, but we returned on the last day with blue skies and retook photos of the glorious roof.

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While looking for this double-headed eagle, a lovely Austrian woman pointed us down a street and told us that the view was much better there, and she was right.


You might have to click on this photo and look on the left column, just below the middle in order to see the cannonball that is lodged in the buttress from the Second Turkish siege in 1683.


Not listed in many tour books, we went out of our way to find another gothic church, this one much smaller, called Maria am Gestade. The only reason I wanted to see it was that I wrote about it in my journal in 1980 as my favorite church. I think I was pretty enamored of the stained glass.

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Also because of my journal, I remembered a place that we ate called the Twelve Apostle Cellar (Zwölf Apostlekeller). We went down a flight of stairs into this centuries-old basement to enjoy some Viennese food, as well as some Sturm (the new wine in the fall which packs a punch).