Trash Stickers

I feel really guilty. We didn’t recycle hardly ever before we moved to Switzerland because they don’t do it in our neighborhood. We still don’t have it here, but the problem is, people are tightwads in our neighborhood, and apparently adding recycling would add something like $5 a month to everyone’s trash bill. They’d probably have a fit about it. Plus, there are quite a few retired/fixed income folks here.

When we lived in Switzerland, we recycled everything for several reasons. First, they charge your trash by how much you throw away. The system where we lived is that you buy these stickers. A sheet of 10 stickers cost about $13. For very large bags of trash (65 L, I think) you used two stickers. For your average bags (35 L), just one sticker, and for smaller bags, half a sticker. Next to the trashbins at our apartment complex was a bin for compost material. On designated days of the month, you could leave your paper (carefully bundled in strict regulated size piles) in the trash area.

Here’s what one sticker looks like, though the picture is a bit fuzzy probably to keep people from copying it. You would get a whole sheet of these, same size as a piece of paper that you get from your printer. They are as wide as the page, and yes, they are wavy on the edges.

If you didn’t have a sticker on your trash (on rare occasions, folks would try to pry off a sticker and put it on their own trash, or people just didn’t put a sticker on it for whatever reason), there is a sort of garbage police. Some poor sucker is paid to go through your trash and find out who they are so you can fine you. First, though, they usually put an orange sticker on the offending trash and leave it outside the bin, giving you the chance to put a sticker on it and make amends. Continue reading


Altstadt Market in Winterthur

One of my favorite things about Switzerland is all the local food. I’m a big advocate, whenever possible, to eat locally and try to reduce our carbon footprint by regularly eating goods that are transported hundreds or thousands of miles. The Swiss are very proud of their local foods, and all foods are required to have the country of origin located somewhere on the packaging (or in the case of the grocery store, on the sign). Sometimes you pay a bit more for Swiss goods, but I think it is worth it.

Every Tuesday and Friday in the Winterthur altstadt (old town), there is a farmers market. I’m not sure what time the shops set up, but at 10:45 AM every one of them begins packing up goods (but a please and a smile will get you a few last-minute goods). Usually all of the food is local, with perhaps cherries from France or olives from Greece, but usually no further than that. There are copious amounts of small farms with stands packed with the season’s best and tons of florists. (The Swiss are keen to keep fresh flowers on the graves and in their window boxes. I’ve seen some truly outstanding gardens as well.) There are also two fish stands, a number of cheese and bread stands, some selling fresh homemade pasta, and a tiny spot for a lady that only sells fresh organically grown herbs.

I love going there whenever I can. The folks are always incredibly nice and helpful. I often get free samples offered to me, and sometimes they’ll toss something extra in my bag when I buy stuff. I’ve gotten free mushrooms, a bag of fresh egg noodles, extra Japanese Lantern shells, and even extra apples. Unless there is an event in the altstadt, pretty much each shop is in the same spot every week. It is nice when I want to say, just get some fish and some bread, or I’m craving a slice of lemon chocolate chip cake from a baked goods stand that is all the way at one end of the market line.

The market is year-round, but there are fewer stalls in the early spring, when there’s not much produce to sell other than stored apples and potatoes and eggs. During the month of December the Christmas Market competes for space in the altstadt. Practically each town in Switzerland has a farmers market once or twice a week – there’s even one in the middle of the busy Zurich hauptbahnhof (main train station)!

Here’s a few pictures of my cherished Winterthur market, mostly taken earlier in the summer.

Continue reading

Schloss Hegi

In the town of Winterthur, there are two castles. The more well-known is Schloss Kybourg. It is a bit confusing to get there by public transportation, so while it is on our list of places to check out, we’ve not exactly been there yet. A fun little castle that is very easy to get to is Schloss Hegi. It is on the north-east finger of the city of Winterthur, and I can walk there from our flat pretty easily. I first noticed it while taking a hike along the overlook above Oberwinterthur. In the picture below, it is that cluster of very old-looking buildings on the edge of the town.

Once I figured out what the buildings were, I was determined to check it out. I mean, come on, as an American, when will you ever live within a 15 minute walk of a castle? I went there twice this summer (once with my visiting friend and former boss, Sharon, and once with a group of our local friends), and it is really a unique castle and museum. It was only opened to the public very recently. Schloss Hegi was first built in the 1200’s with later additions in the 15th and 18th centuries. This odd clash of time periods makes for a fascinating set of buildings. From what little information I’ve dug up, it seems that the main tower was built first, with the rest of the buildings added on later.

Schloss Hegi

What makes a castle unique? They are a dime a dozen here in Europe, right? Well, this castle is more like an estate house or a very tiny palace. Perhaps in the 12th century it was meant to be a fortification, but the additions from the 15th and 18th century show a more pastoral lifestyle. When the castle was made into a museum, it wasn’t extremely well-thought out. The only way in most areas or floors is the way you came out. Narrow cramped staircases (in some cases ladders!) lead you between floors. If you aren’t careful, you’ll miss a whole section of the castle or a room. There’s dead-ends and locked doors. It sounds completely nuts, but really that’s part of its charm.

Old firewagon

The objects in the museum are completely random as well. On the first floor and in the basement you can find a collection of small cannons, ancient fire-fighting wagons and buckets, and a hearse (the kind which would be drawn by a horse). More fire buckets line the first set of stairs. Interesting tidbit about the buckets: each family in the area had their own. When a fire was discovered, each family would fill their own bucket(s) and come running. Each of the buckets in Schloss Hegi has a different family crest or symbol on it. The buckets are all made of leather, too, and kind of an odd elongated narrow shape.

Fire Buckets

We also encountered a tiny landing full of odds and ends leftover from the kitchen: copper pans, and utensils and a big cast-iron pot. It looked like a mish-mash of things left behind for the past few centuries. There are several large sitting rooms or possibly dining rooms, cozy little bedrooms, and tiny maid’s quarters. There were rooms with no obvious original purpose, each filled with things like armory, antique children’s toys (which, in my eyes were very creepy), and even farming tools. Every room had something new and interesting to look at. Kids will like it, too, but very young ones like ours had to be watched at every second. Still, everyone had fun.

Kiddos share a windowsill in one of the tower rooms.

While possibly not the gem of Winterthur, if you are in the area, Hegi Castle is worth a visit. The caretaker that was there both times I visited was extremely nice and helpful, making sure we didn’t miss any parts of the castle, and even helping us take a group picture in front of it. The first time I visited, he was popping out of random windows as we were leaving the castle, like some sort of bizarre Monty Python character. Hegi Castle (aka Schloss Hegi) is only open March through October, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 2PM to 5PM and Sundays from 10AM to noon, and in the afternoon from 2PM to 5PM. You can find out more about visiting Schloss Hegi here.

More pictures of our adventures in Schloss Hegi can be found here.


World Blog Surf Day/Holidays and Celebrations/Fasnacht!


So, this is my first post in a ring of this type, and I hope the organizers can forgive me for it being a bit late – having a toddler makes me pretty brain addled sometimes. World Blog Surf Day is an opportunity to learn something new about a different culture, especially through the eyes of a non-native.

The topic for this year’s World Blog Surf Day is Holidays and Celebrations – what is your new favorite as an expat living in a foreign country? My husband and I had a chat about this today. We’ve encountered so many fascinating cultural things unique to Switzerland. We narrowed it down to three: Fasnacht, the Zurich Limmatswimmen, and of course the cow parade when they are moved between the winter and summer pastures.

I think the wildest festival, and the one that is completely local to northern Switzerland where we live is Fasnacht. World Blog Surf Day is a perfect time to introduce the world to this crazy Swiss tradition. Fasnacht is like a mashup of Halloween, Groundhog’s Day, Mardi Gras, and a trade show all wrapped up together. Each town that celebrates it has a huge parade of participants wearing incredible costumes and masks that rival anything we’ve ever seen before. Members of various guilds dress in matching costumes, and often have a band. Confetti is everywhere, and even the parade-viewers dress up.

The festival is based on the idea of frighting away the winter and welcoming the spring. It is usually celebrated close to Mardi Gras, which is Lent, the beginning of the Christian period leading up to Easter. The festivities are run by the city and by the guilds of that city. In the middle ages, guilds were very popular, and the membership in them passed from family to family. Most guilds were originally based on a particular trade, such as bakers, carpenters and wine merchants. You can read more about the Zurich Guilds here.

Our home city, Winterthur, has a huge celebration. While not as famous as the one in Basel, the Wintherthur Fasnacht festivities go on for several days (and nights) culminating in an over-the-top parade. Each guild has their own matching set of costumes and/or masks, and nothing I can say can properly explain the excitement and chaos of the Winterthur Fasnacht.

On the day of the parade, my husband, son and I caught a bus into town very early into the altstadt (old town area). We scouted out a spot on the parade route, and waited. By the time the parade started, we were packed in. Our son fell asleep as soon as it started, so my husband pulled the stroller out of the crowd, and watched from further out. I braved the crowds right on the front line of the parade route (it was, at times, up to five people thick) and was stepped on, shoved, and drowned in confetti, but I got some great pictures out of it, and a great view. It was incredibly loud, and there were tons of bands all playing very good music.

One of the things I found most fascinating was all the masks. For each guild they are similar, as if made by the same person, but are often slightly different for each member. Most look like they are made of wood, but I assume that might be a bit too heavy. Regardless, I couldn’t help gasping each time I saw a new group go by.

Occasionally parade members would grab older children and carry them off partway down the parade route. They would usually try to grab children who were throwing confetti or acting even more wild than the rest of the crowd.

We held in until nearly the very end of the parade – about two and a half hours – but snuck out to catch a bus home, grinning and covered in confetti. We shook out our coats and the stroller (child removed, of course), and were still finding confetti for months afterwards.

If you are visiting or living in Switzerland, I would highly recommend checking out one of the major Fasnacht festivals. Here’s a few links to learn more:

So that’s about it! Please go on to read another great World Blog Surf Day, by visiting the next blog, BBE’s Video Snapshots and his post about All Saints Day in Belgium from the eyes of a UK expat. If you are reading through the ring, and find the chain broken, here the link to the master list of participants of the third WBSD.

Also, many thanks to Karen, who is helping in today’s events for World Blog Surf Day. Karen is an American expat blogger last seen in Prague. The Wall Street Journal said, “Her blog makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing–and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic.” You can check out her blog here: Empty Nest Expat.

Walk in the Woods

Our city of Winterthur spreads out like a six-fingered hand into the valleys between wooded hilltops. The city and its people own all the wooded areas, and protect them from being developed. To maintain them, they periodically do selective cut logging of the woods, and sell the firewood. It is a really good system, and they are careful not to over-cull the trees. Each section of the forest has clearly marked trails and the occasional bench or fountain.

In these trails there are three vitaparcours, which are trails that have little stops along the way containing tools for exercising, and a sign explaining how to do the particular exercise. I remember seeing a similar trail in the suburbs of Dallas, too, so I know it isn’t all that uncommon in the US. The one nearest us is the Winterthur Lindberg. I’ve not had the chance yet to try all of it, but we generally try the exercise if we come across one. There are over 500 of these types of trails in Switzerland.

In addition to the vitaparcours, there are trails marked for jogging, bike-riding, and horseback-riding. Most trails are only for jogging, though.

We’ve mainly explored the Lindberg, which is the large area north of the city. The trails are really popular. On weekends we see lots of people on the ones that are an easy jog from the parking lot or the trails that are closest to the line where the city meets the forest. Even during the week day you’ll see lots of folks on their lunch, taking a break. Sundays brings families and slow walkers drifting down the wider trails, especially along a scenic route that takes you to a gorgeous overlook of the whole city. The name of the park where the overlook is located is the Bäumli.

Heath and Eddie relaxing in the small park called the Baumli overlooking Winterthur

Heath and Eddie relaxing in the small park called the Baumli overlooking Winterthur

Near the Bäumli, there is a restaurant, which we’ve yet to visit. And there’s also a pretty large vineyard on one side of the hill, with lots of trails zig-zagging through the steep slope. There’s also apple orchards, and private gardens that you can skip around. Basically, the rules are, if there isn’t a gate across it, you can go up, down, or through it. Continue reading

Albanifest 2009

We went to see what the buzz was about Albanifest here in Switzerland. It is the largest annual festival in a historic town in Switzerland, is named after St Alban, one of the city’s four saints. Mostly, it is an excuse for all the area restaurants to showcase their menus and to have fun on the carnival rides. Don’t get me wrong – the food was great – hundreds of booths. But it got a little old after a bit. It was pretty hot and crowded, so we took a short break in a city park behind the festival area, and Heath took a bunch of pictures of Edward and I.

Here’s some chicks from the Swiss Lotto.

And a cute picture of Edward in the park.

A few more pictures can be found here.

Fasnacht Parade in Winterthur 2009

I know I’ve been really terrible in keeping up with this blog. You should see the list of drafts that I have lined up in my WordPress Dashboard! Anywho, as a follow up to the Opening Ceremonies of Fasnacht, there was also a parade a few days later, which is the highlight of the whole festival.

We went into the altstadt early in the day to get a good spot for the parade, as we heard it can get quite crowded. That was an understatement. It seemed like the entire 100,000 population of Winterthur turned out!

But first, as the crowds gathered, we wandered around, getting lunch and a bag of confetti, and I took tons of pictures of the different guilds gathering.

Children and adults not participating in the parade dressed up too.

And then the parade started! Continue reading