Raclette Party

IMG_0894So, yeah. We knew we were going to have to buy a raclette machine for our house, and we ordered one with Christmas money (thanks Mom and Dad!), and it arrived last week. We didn’t buy one in Switzerland for several reasons. Mainly because it is very heavy. Also mainly because the European ones work on 240 volts. Also mainly because they are probably more expensive there.

With friends coming over for dinner, it seemed the perfect time to try it out. I waited too long to buy raclette cheese at Trader Joe’s. I learned that it is a seasonal item, out around Thanksgiving and gone by now. No worries, the Cheese Cave in Claremont carries it, and they will slice it for you. That’s a good thing since I don’t have that kind of slicer in my kitchen.

It’s fun to share our new traditions with friends, and we plan to have more raclette parties.




This weekend has brought me a wave of Heimweh and nostalgia for Switzerland. I was never homesick for California during our sabbatical, but I suppose that is because I knew I would be back within the year. At this point, I don’t know when we will see Zürich again. We will, I am sure, but I don’t know when.

IMG_6302Then this blog post from Newly Swissed popped up: 17 Nostalgic Signs of #GrowingUpSwiss. While most of the signs were foreign to me (although they have American counterparts), I smiled at the Migros Chocolate Popcicles which we ate during this past hot, hot summer. They were just like the ones I ate as a kid, but smaller.


If you scroll down the list there is picture of a boy holding a cow bell, and that is from a story called A Bell for Ursli. One of my friends gave me a mini copy of this book when we left as a small remembrance. The author is a popular classic Swiss children’s writer.



Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 2.25.45 PMIt wouldn’t be a true blog about Switzerland without a post about müesli.  We knew about this Swiss breakfast food before moving to Zürich, and once there quickly found our favorite brand of the stuff. Of course our favorite brand was not at our local grocery store, so every time I went down into town and was near a Migros at one of the train stations, I would be sure to pop in and pick up two packages.

If you get müesli at a Swiss restaurant or take away, it is drowning in strawberry yogurt, which tastes pretty good, but also runs the price up. So we always soaked ours overnight in the refrigerator in milk.

A welcome home gift from Lynn was a glass jar full of her homemade müesli which we ate through in the first week. She insisted that it was very easy to make, so I looked online at some recipes and decided that the best bet would be to go to the bulk food bins at Sprouts and start filling bags of rolled oats, nuts and fruit. I also decided to add flax seed and H decided to throw in some shredded coconut.


Here is what it looks like, and after having our own brand for two mornings so far, we think we will continue with this version. We will probably change it up a little every time we create a new batch.

A little Switzerland in our breakfast bowl. (We’re waiting for Lynn to claim her glass jar….)

Repatriation Begins

Here is what repatriation on Day OneIMG_7273 looked like. One the one hand, it all seemed so natural to us. Claremont has been our home for 29 years, and it was so easy to come back and jump right in. I thought it would be more startling.

And yet, we got to look at our life here through new lenses. I felt myself saying “That’s not very Swiss” or “That would never happen in Switzerland.”

For example, I noticed right away how casual (read sloppy) most Americans dress to go out into public. This seems to mirror the casual (though not sloppy) attitude of public interactions. It took me no time to turn into my chatty self with the people at the check-out who I don’t know. The Swiss would say that Americans are very shallow and “fake nice” with strangers, but I don’t think that’s quite right. As one of those Americans, I feel as though I am having a connection with another person, and it doesn’t matter that I may never see them again. I rarely had a casual interaction in Switzerland with a complete stranger.

IMG_6374The first thing on our agenda was to pick up our new car (all ready to go!) in order to run errands. We could absolutely not do this in California without a car, but we never really needed a car in Switzerland.

We went out to lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant where the waiter wondered why he hadn’t seen us in awhile. He welcomed us back with a handshake and a big smile. Neither of these would happen in Switzerland, especially two full meals for $13. (The cheese enchiladas in green sauce tasted, oh, so delicious!) We also noticed that people were not sitting for a long time to enjoy their meals, and the tables turned over quickly, an American thing.


Target beckoned. We had quite a list for items here that we didn’t need when living in a small Swiss apartment. We were reminded that owning a house requires more effort and capital than renting. The vast majority of Swiss live in rental flats.


We would never see a shopping cart this big in Switzerland! (We probably could not carry that amount of stuff in our arms after leaving the store.) Nor would we have had free food samples. However, we never stood in lines as long as at a Costco on a Saturday in Zürich.


So, my philosophy of enjoying where you live and appreciating life in other cultures is helping me adjust to changing countries.

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.

Colmar, France

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 5.10.26 PMSwitzerland snuggles right into the middle France’s east side, making a trip from Zürich to Colmar (near Strasbourg) an easy 2-hour train ride. When our brother-in-law told us that he was going to be in Frankfurt for a conference and had a few days to meet us somewhere after the conference, a quick look at the map suggested Colmar and the Alsace region of France as a terrific mid-point. He booked a rental car, we booked an AirBnB and bought train tickets for a 2-day rendezvous.

The Alsace region, known for its wine (dry Rieslings and Gewürtztraminers), is a mélange of German and French culture, having been claimed by both empires at various times throughout European history. What a pleasant experience to wander the Old Town as well as Petit Venice (a canal runs through this section) and just enjoy the half-timber houses with unique tile roofs.

We were happy to hear German spoken by many (and with such a clear accent) and to read signs in German as well as French.


You can hardly get through town without seeing stork nests on top of tall buildings, stork souvenirs, paintings on walls featuring storks, etc. Nearly 30 years ago the iconic storks of this region had dwindled to about 9 nesting pairs, but have since made a comeback.

Colmar is also known as the hometown of Bartholdi, the man who created the Statue of Liberty.


For our first meal, I ordered the traditional sauerkraut (which tastes much less pungent than what we think of with fermented cabbage) which comes with five meats. Throw in a few boiled potatoes, and I had plenty to share with H and M.


Appenzell: Inner and Outer

Time is getting away from us, and ourIMG_1722 must-see list in Switzerland is longer than we have days. However, we are getting very, very close to our goal of visiting every one of the 26 cantons.

I’m sure we would have gone to Appenzell sooner than July, but when we had time, the weather was often rainy. The other issue is that Appenzell is divided into two cantons – Inner and Outer, the split coming about during the Reformation when it was divided between Reformed and Catholic.

All the tourist stuff is in Inner Appenzell (the town itself with all the cute cheese and traditional museums), but with the weather so nice, we chose to take probably the most popular hike in the area.

Appenzell is considered the country bumpkin region and the butt of jokes, maybe because women did not get to vote on local issues until the 1990s.

The fun begins with the cable car lift up to Ebenalp, the highest peak in Appenzellerland. As you near the top, you can see the cave that the hike goes through, and suddenly, you are at the top.

A steep, but not too difficult hike down leads to the cave in about 10 minutes. After walking through the cave, you emerge on the other side at a hut and the Wildkirchli (little wild church) where hermit monks lived from 1658 to 1853.

IMG_1705After 5 minutes of looking and picture-taking, round the corner to this view of the Berggasthaus Aescher. This 170-year-old guesthouse has primitive rooms to rent and traditional Swiss fare in the restaurant. As you can imagine on a perfect Saturday in July, there were few places available to sit, so we chose the last two seats inside. I had a view through the windows of the mountains. H had a view of the side of the mountain which doubled as the restaurant wall.

Refueled for the rest of the afternoon, we headed towards Seealpsee (Lake Alp-sea?) by heading down, down, down. The switchbacks proved challenging as they were extremely rocky and uneven and quite steep. Thankfully we were headed downhill and not up (we passed many hikers, though, sturdier than me) and we were mostly in the shade.

If you have small kids, you are advised to put them on a leash….


For the very first time this year, I used the hiking pole that I purchased especially for this year. I had not used it yet, partly because it seems that one must have TWO hiking poles in Switzerland. However, I was very glad to have my one pole with me for this tricky descent.


A common site in Switzerland.

A good 45-50 minutes of this, and we reached the paved road that led to the lake past many cows. On the side of the mountain, by the road, and even in the lake.

One can walk around the entire lake in about 45-minutes, listening to more cowbells, seeing little restaurants and places to buy cheese and milk, and seeing more beautiful scenery and people building fires for picnics.

The remainder of the hike, though paved, is a quite steep descent, and even downhill presented its challenges. By the time we reached the train station, we had come 7.4 km (about 4.6 miles) at a 2500 ft. elevation loss. My quads were sore for several days.

For specific details about the this hike, please see this post on Moms : Tots : Zürich which is a fabulous blog about places to go in Switzerland (good information for kids of all ages).

What about Outer Appenzell, I hear you asking. On the way home we got off the train in the main city of that canton, Herisau, knowing that the next train would be by in about 30 minutes. We stepped into the convenience store and bought Mövenpick ice cream bars, enjoying our moment in the canton.

Only Canton Uri remains!