What I Will Miss, Part Nine: Just Being Here

Last sabbatical in Chicago, daughter C IMG_9988
came for a visit, and in a very cold day with the wind whipping off the lake, standing in front of the Art Institute waiting for a bus, I asked her what she thought of the city. She said that she really liked it. I pressed further, “What about it do you like?” Shrugging her shoulders she said, “Just the feel of the city.” I knew just what she meant. I love Chicago, too.

Both daughters had a similar answer to a similar question the time we went to Hawai’i as a family. “What’s your favorite part of Maui?” “Just being here.”

And so it is with Zürich. I love “just being here.” I will miss the routes I’ve walked all year, wandering in the old town during the various seasons (although tourist season is not quite as lovely as the rest of year), looking at the Limmat River as I cross the bridges, walking into the Hauptbahnhof, feeling the breezes and listening to the thunderstorms.

This year I read Book of Clouds by Chloe Aridjis and was struck by this paragraph. These past few weeks I’ve thought about “the last time” as I say good-bye to friends and do things for the final time.


I am cheered by the thought that perhaps we might choose to return here for another sabbatical. Whether we do or not, it makes leaving just a little easier, knowing that it is a possibility.

And so, we are just about to take off for home, in a few hours. We will land in the US and see our home with new eyes and see where life takes us.

I will continue to blog here for a bit. Probably not every day, but at least a few times a week. Just because our feet won’t be on Swiss ground, we will have packed in our hearts a piece of this country as our most precious souvenir.

Bis später Schweiz, und Auf Wiedersehen, Zürich


Secret Place for Coffee, No Longer Secret!

IMG_6350It’s a good thing that packing to leave here doesn’t take as long as it took when we came. We have fewer decisions about what goes in the luggage. If we didn’t use it here, out it goes. If we are tired of it, out it goes. The rest goes in.

That gives us some time for final good-byes with friends – drinks, coffee, dinners, one a day. It’s all we ask.

I met with two orchestra friends on Monday for coffee. Neither said they had any particular place in mind, so I suggested we meet in a sort-of central location, in Paradeplatz. This is a square with many banks along the Bahnhofstrasse – probably the most expensive real estate in Switzerland.

As we stood there contemplating whether we should go into Sprüngli (such a typical place), Robin pointed to the store Grieder and said that she’d heard there was a lovely café within (a secret tip!), so we decided to try it out. After a few false doors, we found our way to an upper floor and discovered a delightful garden setting with many tables. It was a perfect place to have a chat and a cappuccino. I’m sure there were no tourists there. So, there are probably many such hidden delights throughout the city.

Rigi: The Queen of the Mountains

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.18.39 PMOn a clear day in Zürich, here on the Swiss Plateau, we can see the northern end of the Pre-Alps. (Before we moved here I had assumed that the entire country was Alpine. Now I know better). I’d thought about going up to Mt. Rigi on many occasions, but it helps to have good weather at the right time, and those two things came together on Sunday. It also helps to have an impending deadline, like moving away.

One can reach Rigi Kulm (the high pointIMG_1954 with the tv tower), from two sides. We chose the Classic Round Trip from Luzern which starts on a boat. We had gotten up early enough to take the first trip starting at 8:15 (leaving Zürich at 7:00) when lines aren’t quite as long. From the Viznau port, we jumped on the Vitznau-Rigi Bahn, the highest standard gauge railroad in Europe, built in the late 1800s.

IMG_1999Soon we were standing almost at 5900 ft. with magnificent views over Lake Lucerne (known here at the Four Forest States Lake – Vierwaldstättersee) and Lake Zug. Clouds were swirling around a bit, but soon cleared for a complete view. We could also see Mt. Pilatus, another place on our to-see list.

After a stop for coffee (of course there’s a hotel and restaurant at the top, this IS Switzerland!) overlooking the Swiss Plateau and towards the Alps, we took a short hike down to the next train station, enjoying more views and seeing more cows.

The train took us down to Rigi Kaltbad which is a resort area. Despite its name as Cold Bath, it appears to have hot tubs. From Kaltbad we caught the Cable Car (Luft Seilbahn) down to Weggis where we caught another boat back to Luzern. Along the lake were many steam ships, and our captain took the time to tell us about each one we passed.

I will go back to Rigi some day and do more hiking since there are 120 km of trails.

Uri and Wilhelm Tell

IMG_1948You know that William Tell (known as Wilhelm in German-speaking land) shot the apple off of his son’s head. You know the theme song to the Lone Ranger which is the William Tell Overture to Rossini’s opera.

Apparently I did not go to school in Switzerland because that is all I knew about him. More well-known than even beloved Roger Federer, Wilhelm Tell symbolizes the essence and identity of the Swiss people.

Legend in a nutshell – Tell would not take off his hat to the Habsburg duke as an act of defiance against the encroaching authority. As a punishment, he was made to use his crossbow to shoot an apple off of his son’s head. After successfully saving his own life by hitting his mark, he made an additional comment to the bailiff (Gessler) that he had a second arrow to kill him had he missed. Gessler did not take kindly to that remark, so he had Tell taken in a boat across Lake Lucerne to be put in a dungeon. During a violent storm on the lake, Tell was released from his chains to save the boat, but saved himself instead and jumped safely to shore. He guessed where Gessler would come through the woods and waited in ambush and killed him with that second arrow. Then Tell went to the Rütli meadow for the famous pact that is now considered the founding document of the Confederatio Helvetica (Switzerland). I wrote about our visit to that museum here.

Just a few problems with this story include the fact that most historians doubt the actual existence of Herr Tell, including the fact that the dates for the pact in the Rütli meadow and the apple-shooting incident are off by around 15 years. The Smithsonian has a very interesting article about this.

What IS true about Wilhelm is that he embodies the spirit and sense of identity of the Swiss people, especially in regards to remaining independent of outside rule.

Therefore, it seemed fitting that we visit our final canton, Uri, to pay our respects to the legend. First stop was the town of Altdorf, the place of the apple-shooting incident and to see the statue of Tell and son. We noticed a man taking a photo of his son at the monument, then the son taking a photo of the dad, and finally we were asked to take a photo of them together.


After a 10-minute bus ride to Bürglen, IMG_6323Tell’s hometown, we entered the Wilhelm Tell Museum. The best part was the film (in English) which was a 20-minute spiel on the history of Switzerland’s founding. We were the only people in the museum, and after the film we looked at various artifacts.

On the way out, another couple had come in. They obviously spoke English, the lady at the ticket counter spoke no English, we played a little translation game for the couple, explaining about the film.

She told me that my English was very good, and I replied that it was because I was an American. Nodding, she said, I knew that. H said that I had better get back to the States to retrieve my sense of humor….. This couple is from Sacramento and were on a Wilhelm Tell pilgrimage since he said he is descended from the Tell family. Hmmm….. We told him that was very interesting.

All cantons now accounted for!

Making Things Come out Even and Clean

Well, glampers, we are starting our last week here, trying to have fun between packing and cleaning. I have no idea how we accumulated anything. I was SURE that we were not bringing anything new into our flat. And yet, we have been finding creative ways to get rid of those things that have escaped our notice. I’ve taken some kitchen items to the American Women’s Club. I have given some things to friends. I have tried not to throw anything into the trash that can continue to live a happy life somewhere else. I’m trying to figure out how to recycle paper and cardboard since they won’t pick up again until August.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 6.59.21 PMI’ve done pretty well with some things, making them “come out even” as Frances the badger does in Bread and Jam for Frances. I like the part of this picture book where Frances has a goodly number of items in her lunch and eats each of them a little at a time so that it comes out even in the end. Her friend, Albert, does it, too. We will run out of certain consumable items this week, just enough to last us during our final few days. We’ve done remarkably well with timing things like the toothpaste and toilet paper, garbage bags (we pay about 2.2 CHF per 35 liter bag) and have too much in the way of some food items like condiments, but I’m sure I can pawn those off on give them away to someone.

We have read the two pages of rules for leaving a clean Swiss apartment. Our landlords, the ETH, will charge us 50 CHF an hour for work that is not up to their standards, and they have kindly offered to have our last bed linens washed (at our expense) the day we leave. They need to turn over the apartment the next day, so we must be out by noon. Having heard that some people can spend from 1500-2000 CHF for a cleaning crew, I’m sure that whatever they need to do after we clean can’t be nearly as expensive as other rental experiences. We shall see. Look for another blog post in a few weeks about how that all pans out.

Ballenberg Freilichtmuseum

Nestled into 163 acres of Alp beauty, IMG_1835Ballenberg Freilichtsmuseum immerses visitors into an ultimate Swiss experience. If you love the chalets, mountains, cows (and their bells!), flower boxes, cheese, and history of this country, this is your place.

Each living history museum I’ve been to has a slightly different take on making their history come alive. Plimoth Plantation recreates an exact replica of the community with actors playing roles of specific historical characters. Ballenberg reminded me more of Old Sturbridge Village where historic buildings have been moved from their original locations to the museum for preservation and education. Ballenberg buildings are just a few hundred years older than the Massachusetts museum (and Ballenberg is also a few dollars less expensive and quite a bit less expensive than Plimoth).

This being the height of the summer tourist season, the trains towards Interlaken are filled with tourists (many from Asian countries), but once my friend Wendy and I arrived at this gem of a place, we heard mostly Swiss German from our fellow visitors. Since we had gotten our tickets online through yet another SBB deal, we thought we would not need to stop at the counter, and that someone would collect our tickets as we entered the museum, but we saw no such entrance place as we walked past the first building.


After about 15 minutes, we noticed that people were wearing stickers with the date on them, and at first we thought they were with a tour group. But no, we saw that everyone was wearing a sticker. Even though no one had stopped us, we thought it best to return to the front desk and show our tickets. With our stickers now in place, we felt legal.

We arrived just after opening at 10:15 (at the East entrance) and spent a happy five hours wandering, watching demonstrations, eating lunch and tasting cheese, peeking in buildings, and admiring the scenery.

We watched weaving and rope-making demonstrations and wandered through the pottery shop.

The cheese-making demo helped us choose the Alp Macaroni (with potatoes and onions with a side dish of applesauce) for lunch. Many of the houses had tables set in a traditional way.

The basket weaver was my favorite guy (loved his mustache!) and the hat maker was on break, as was the wood carver and the lace maker.

No one was at the bone crushers place, and we didn’t linger too long there….

The water wheel powered the huge saw which was cutting planks and was very impressive. I’m sure the silk ribbon machine was also amazing in action.

Lovely Swiss animals.

Bells and horns

And just stunning scenery that I have not yet taken for granted.


The time has come to deregister, IMG_6306letting the city of Zürich and the country of Switzerland know that we will soon be moving back to our Heimat. In August we registered with our Gemeinde (community), and this week we deregistered at the Stadthaus.

Working our way through all the tourists taking photos in front of the Fraumünster, we walked into the Stadthaus (which is open during lunch hours) and right up to an open window.

The nice lady was very helpful, taking our ID cards and typing in the computer and having us fill out a form. Because we have an “L” permit (good for only one year), she did not have to take it from us, but said we could keep them as a souvenir. Then she directed us to another room to make sure that our taxes were squared away with the country.


We waited for 1 minute in this room before we were called into a private office.

More tip-tip typing on the computer, a printed page with an official stamp and signature, and we were sent back to the original window where we had the privilege of paying 30 CHF per person for an official letter that we must send to our health insurance to prove that we will no longer need to pay them. We had paid 324 CHF to register, so it is nice that leaving isn’t as expensive.

Official stamp

Official stamp

When we arrived last August, we spoke English when we registered, but this time, we spoke only German.