Barcelona, Spain

On our last sabbatical when we lived in Chicago, we made a plan to visit a warm place in March, far away from the frigid temperatures. It was a good plan, and we spent 11 lovely days in Belize. Although Zürich is not nearly as cold as Chicago, it IS colder than our usual home in Claremont, and we thought about warmer weather and some sunshine, as well. A little searching under “Europe in January” helped create plans to head to Barcelona. This city had not even been on our radar before we left home, but friends had said that either they had enjoyed it, or they anticipated enjoying it, and that was enough to get us going. It’s on the Mediterranean, after all.

Here are the weather forecasts for the last week of January in both places. A good 20 degrees (F) warmer and sun peeking from behind a cloud made us happy that we chose Spain. As we left Zürich, the snow was coming down, and even though Spain wasn’t nearly as tropical as we had dreamed, and some clouds did roll most days, that did not diminish our enjoyment in the least. I did not have to wear my winter coat or gloves.

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This was our first trip this sabbatical where we flew rather than riding the train. This ended up saving time, but I was reminded how much I appreciate the simplicity of train travel. It’s so easy for us to get to the train station from our flat – just 15 minutes of walking, and then you jump on your train and go. It took 40 minutes by tram to get to the airport, and, of course we had to get there early and go through security, etc.

Several things were different for us by flying in the Schengen region of Europe. First of all, no one asked for our id at the airport. Anywhere. We had our boarding passes on our phones and just scanned those. Second of all, we did not have to take off our shoes at security. You have to remove boots, but not shoes. However, we had to take our iPads out of the backpack. Once we landed in Barcelona, we did not have to go through customs. In that respect, flying was just as good as riding the train.

Barcelona is in northwest Spain, or in the region of Catalan (Catalunya) where both Castillian Spanish and Catalan are spoken. People who believe that Catalan is independent of Spain fly one of the Estelada flags to show their support. We saw many of these flags on balconies.


I brushed up on my very best jr. high Spanish, taking a crack at Duolingo before we left, and I surprised myself at how many words I actually did remember from Señora Gonzalez’s classes from 7th-9th grade. Our first little outing into a bakery for coffee and croissant I was good about remembering to say dos instead of zwei when ordering dos café con leches and dos (point to the chocolate-covered croissants in the case) and pleased to be able to answer the question “for here or to go” with a para aqui.

I made an executive decision to make Barcelona a sister city to Los Angeles because of the similarities I found there. Both are large, sprawling cities next to the sea with large flat sections and hills in others. Both have many Spanish speakers. Both have palm trees and other similar plants.


This view, especially, reminded me of the Los Angeles hills.

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Immer Mehr Spaß mit Deutsch

Learning a language requires so many different elements, and I am finding out that reading German is probably the easiest thing for me to do. Writing is next easiest because I have time to figure out what I want to say, and then I can correct myself. Next is listening to the spoken language, although that really depends upon who is speaking. Some people are so clear, and some are not. Of course, speaking is the hardest part since I must create sentences quickly. Often I find myself saying a sentence twice. The first time is my rough draft, the second is the edited version which is more correct. To work on my listening skills,

I have occasionally taken to watching television shows that have been dubbed in German. At first I watched Unsere kleine Farm (Little House on the Prairie, although it translates directly as Our Small Farm).

Then I discovered Star Trek: Das nächste Jahrhundert (Star Trek: The Next Century). I had watched both of these shows in English, so I at least know what should be going on. I find that the spoken word is usually clear enough for me to get at least the gist of the meaning. IMG_4523 If you look at the schedule of shows here, you can see that shows may not start exactly on the hour or half hour. There are ads, but I think fewer ads than in the US, so each show may last more or less than 60 minutes. Star Trek starts at 14.15 and goes until 15.17. I also find it interesting which American shows have been imported. I haven’t seen many (if any) current shows.

Selfie Sticks

I don’t usually rant here, but really, folks, the selfie stick just has to go. Maybe I saw one or two back in the States, (and maybe there are more there now) but as a tourist here, it is hard to escape them. Here you are, walking around a perfectly lovely European city, trying to enjoy the architecture, and there they are, the tourists clogging up the path and sticking their sticks out trying to get ANOTHER picture of themselves.



Just ask Paula Poundstone – heard here.

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled posts on all the good things about Europe.

Glockenspiel on Bahnhofstrasse

The other day as I was wandering home, passing through downtown, I heard some bells playing, so I made a slight detour down Bahnhofstrasse. This street is in the high rent district with the most expensive shopping in the city. The sound led me to Kurz Jewelers. (Kurz Schmuck und Uhren – Schmuck means jewelry which is one of the funnier words in German, I think, and Uhren are timepieces – watches and clocks.)

People were watching as the glockenspiel played and little figurines in traditional dress appeared and danced. I had not known about this, so of course, I had to come home and look it up. This youtube video shows the carillon in action and explains that it plays every day at 11:00 and 16:00. It’s only been around since 1982.


Buying Produce in the Coop or Migros

When we moved here, I saved myself some embarrassment in the grocery check-out thanks to my daughter. We had visited her in Italy while she was in college, and she taught us that you must weigh your own produce before you pay for it. Our first day here we noticed the scale with the numbers on it and I knew exactly what to do.

First you select your items, put them in a bag, note the number on the bin and put it on the scale. Press the corresponding number and a little sticky price tag comes out, and you put it on the bag. Since sometimes I forget to take bag a little plastic bag to reuse (otherwise they accumulate too quickly), and I buy only one item (one onion, one pepper), I just stick the tag right on to the food. I tend to buy onions one at a time, and the trick is to keep the tag on the outside without it sticking to something else in the basket.


You can see here that one red pepper costs the same as two apples.


Music Verein

Thanks to Jennifer, I found this orchestra to join. She knew that in Germany people are very active in clubs for whatever interest you may have. I would never have found this orchestra in a Google search in English since the website is in German and I did not know to use the word Verein (Club).

I had emailed the contact from the website before we even moved here, and they said they would be happy to have me join. This small string orchestra has about 20 members right now and has been a club since 1924. Ages range from late 20s to 70s (?). Although most members are Swiss, there are also a few from other countries.

The last few conductors have been young and on their way to a more professional career. That benefits the orchestra, as well, working with different talents and gaining new music ideas. Our current conductor is in his first year with the Orchesterverein Wiedikon. He also conducts a choir in his hometown just outside of Zürich. It has been great working with him.

After our concert on Saturday, about half of us with our spouses and friends went out to dinner at a local restaurant. H and I sat across from the first chair cellist and her boyfriend. She is working on her PhD in biochemistry at the University of Zürich, and her English, I think, is excellent, especially since she has to use it at school. Her boyfriend also speaks English, but is too shy to use it, and they were kind enough to put up with our German, although they told us it was very good.

This was one of our most enjoyable conversations this year because I felt as though it helped us integrate a little more into the Swiss culture. We talked about a variety of things, and I asked questions about cultural things, like when to use the formal and informal you, and after a long talk about it, we decided that it is still sometimes quite unclear and complicated. What if your boss is younger than you? They said that when you are a member of a Verein, you are automatically informal with the other members. I said that sometimes when I am unclear as which to use, I tend not to say anything. I know that I should err on the formal side, and wait to be corrected, but I don’t always do that.

Another thing I learned (or had confirmed) was that the Swiss are not very forthcoming with compliments. One of H’s Swiss colleagues heard me practicing a particularly difficult word in Swiss German and told me that my rendition “wasn’t bad.” Apparently that is a compliment.

He also said that in public he is normally very reserved (züruckhalten) just as most people are, but we found him in this setting to be very charming and kind. We also learned that he is a Swiss Watch Maker. Wow! They really exist, and one can actually meet one! He works in Schaffhausen, so I think he must work for IWC. He showed us his watch, and it was pretty stunning with a number of dials.

This was probably our first meal / party with a group of locals, so we were glad that we knew of at least two traditions. First, when everyone got their drinks, we toasted each person in our vicinity with a Zum Wohl (to your fulfillment) and the all-important looking the other person directly in the eye as you clink glasses. Then, as people leave the party, you must be sure to say good-bye to everyone before you leave, even if they were at the other table, or at the other end of the table. This also involves shaking hands with everyone. We were near the middle of people leaving, so many had already bid us adieu, which reminded us of this custom. Theoretically you are supposed to say everyone’s name to them, but I didn’t hear that. I’m not sure that everyone knows everyone else’s name, and certainly not their guests. However, everyone seemed happy as the party slowed down.

In short, I am so glad to be part of this Verein. Not only does it give me a reason to play music this year, but it is the only way during this short period of time to integrate into the society, even if it is only just a little.

Concert in the Bühlkirche

Last night the Orchesterverein Wiedikon gave our winter concert in the Bühlkirche. Here is what we played.


The Bühlkirche, a Reformed Church, built in 1895-6 in the Neo-Gothic style, was renovated in 1984. Bühl means hill, so it is literally a church on the hill.

We played to a full house. People were also sitting in the balcony.


Getting set up in front of the organ.


Some of the side windows.


Here is a picture from the internet from the outside. I did not have a chance to take one of these in the daylight.

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Before we took our places to perform, our conductor gave us a few encouraging words, then said, “Toi toi toi!” which, apparently, is what one says before a performance, like “break a leg!”

The acoustics were bright as they often are in churches with high ceilings and lots of hard surfaces. The audience was enthusiastic, and we had already planned on playing an encore which was one movement from the Holst that we playing first. I think we definitely played it better as the encore since we were warmed up.