Zürich Street Parade 2015

While we wIMG_5883ould have liked to have been in Switzerland for the National Swiss Day celebrations, we are rather glad we missed the Street Parade. Last year the parade was at the beginning of August, but this year it was the last Saturday of the month. I wonder if that is because one of the main transportation hubs was completely torn up.

Anyway, reports say that a million people (from all over Europe) crammed the city streets (can that really be possible?). Loud music from 26 “love mobiles”, six stages with more loud music, people dressed up like Halloween at a strip club.

The worst part was probably the amount of trash that gets strewn about. But since this happened on Saturday, and today is Monday, there is probably no evidence that the mega party even happened.

You can see photos at the NZZ site. Whether you can read German or not, the pictures give much of the story.

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Why We MUST Return to Switzerland

One always thinks there will be IMG_4024time for things, and in the end, there is not quite enough time. I feel as though we did not squander time this year and saw an amazing amount of sights and cities and natural beauty, but as we went along, our list of must-sees kept growing. Like Sisyphys with that rock.

If we do come back to Zürich for our next sabbatical, I think I would like to spend more time in the German-speaking parts of Europe and explore them in more depth. We hardly touched Austria, and I would love to spend much more time there. We only really saw Munich, Berlin and a bit of the Black Forest in Germany (and we can’t forget Wuppertal!).

Here is the beginning of my list for what I would like to see in Switzerland that we did not get to this year. This list is not exhaustive!

In Zürich

Helmhaus and Wasserkirche

The rubber duck race on the Limmat River

Thermal Baths

More museums (after we’ve recovered from this year of museums)

Other museums outside of Zürich

Tinguely in Basel

Technorama in Wintertur

Transportation Museum in Luzern

Rozengart Collection in Luzern

Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern


The Schilthorn and the Jungfraujoch. I am embarrassed to say we did not see these this year. We saw them from below, but we MUST get to the top!

The Glacier Express, or other classic train travel.


Aletsch Glacier. Read about the adventures of the Two Small Potatoes there.

Lugano and Locarno in Ticino

Klangweg – a hiking trail with musical instruments along the way

Klöntal Valley

Mt. Pilatus

That seems a good start to a list, no?

National Swiss Day

IMG_6322Many happy wishes to all my Swiss friends today for the Swiss National Day. I only wish that I were in Zürich with you today to celebrate. Would we have gone to brunch on a farm? I might have bought streamers with the Swiss flags or Swiss cantons to decorate. I’m sure we would have watched fireworks somewhere since I understand they are everywhere. Which of these traditional foods would I have enjoyed? What parade would I want to see?

Although Switzerland traces its founding back to 1291, celebrating the country on August first only became a national holiday in 1994. The date was chosen as the early charter was thought to have been signed in “early August.”

I have recently discovered that a mere 25 miles from my home, in the city of Whittier, the Swiss expat community celebrates Swiss National Day on the Sunday closest to August 1, which should be tomorrow. However, with serious jetlag and a long list of things which must get done, I think we will wait until next year to make some new Swiss friends.

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!

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.

Le Corbusier in Zürich

One Trip Advisor review gives theIMG_4465 Heidi Weber Museum – Center Le Corbusier a bad review because it was closed when they went. A quick click on the internet would have helped them out….

We’d been waiting for this building, the last work of Swiss/French architect and artist Le Corbusier, to open since we learned about it. Apparently it is open only from July – October.

Swiss art collector and patron Heidi Weber commissioned Le Corbusier to design a building for public exhibition. In 1961 the architect started drawing up the plans for a concrete building which was then changed to a steel construction. Le Corbusier died in 1965 before the building was completed.

The small museum houses the artist’s sculptures, paintings, writings and furniture designs throughout the various stories of the building.

Most interesting is the roof which sits at various angles as protection from the sun as well as rain. The views from the roof look over green spaces towards Lake Zürich as well as the Chinese Garden and provide for the movement of air, especially welcome on a summer day.

I heard a story that this building in Zürich was considered by Le Corbusier to be the most interesting building in this city. Hmmm.


Zaanse Schans and Windmills

IMG_0658In northern Holland tourists have several options for seeing a quintessential Dutch landmark. My folks ended their Rhein cruise with a visit to the Kinderdijk windmills. Because it was closer to Amsterdam, we chose to visit the Zaanse Schans, rather like an open-air museum built piece by piece starting in 1961 of windmills and buildings moved from other places.

In the 17th and 18th centuries over 600 windmills worked in this area, pumping water, milling grain, grinding spices, and sawing wood. In the early Industrial Revolution the town of Zaandam (next to the museum) was important for whaling and shipbuilding, clock-making, work with pewter and copper, and now producing cocoa. We could smell the cocoa on our walk from the train station to the museum as we passed the factory.

Each windmill and each museum or craft house runs its own hours with its own admission policy. Unlike any other living history outdoor museum I’ve been to, people actually live in the Zaanse Schans, so they open their site on their own conditions. One can be happy wandering through the landscape and not pay a cent (and I discovered that in the Netherlands they don’t take the 1 or 2 cent Euro coins…).

We went into some of the free buildings which mostly tended to be shelves of old things, and not particularly curated, and not air-conditioned, so we spent most of our time outdoors.