Chronicles of a writer abroad

A few of my favourite things


Welcome to a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Zürich. It’s been exactly two weeks since we arrived, and during most of this time, the weather has felt more akin to spring than winter. Most days are sunny and mild — I always thought, living in Canada, that you had to choose a region that offered only one of these characteristics in wintertime. I’ve been told that this is unusually nice weather for Zürich in winter, though, so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Unfortunately, Stelian is stuck inside at work today. He will not normally be working weekends, but it just so happens that early January is crunch-time for people in his field, since there is a big conference whose paper submission date is mid-next week. So everyone in his office has been working extra hard, to the extent that last night, I was invited to an “Abandoned Wives” dinner organized by another DRZ employee’s wife. Four of us went out for fondue (more on this later — I shall do a full review of the semi-solids, I promise!) and then to a bar for some gluhwein (hot mulled wine). It was great to meet these other people in my same situation and have some company while Stelian worked on a Saturday. Plus, as the group’s newbie, I received a lot of useful information and tips. I look forward to meeting more of Stelian’s coworkers and their partners when we head out on a ski-trip next weekend (this will be a company-sponsored trip to celebrate the passing of the big deadline).

In Switzerland (providing you don’t work for an international corporation like Disney), Sunday is taken seriously as a day of rest and leisure. Shops are closed, and even domestic activities like laundry or vacuuming are frowned upon. It seems that people just stay home and enjoy the day with their families, as the streets are very quiet. I did see a fair number of people out strolling by the lake, too. I think I could get used to this do-nothing day.

I’ll leave you with a list of some of my favourite things about Zürich so far, before I go and continue my obligatory lounging.

Water Fountains. There are a whopping 1,200 of these spread around the city, spewing cold, delicious water from the Alps. In a city where eating out is so expensive, and a bottle of water will cost you at least a few francs, it’s nice to have these available — they are beautiful and decorative, and also highly functional. To a runner, they are a special treat, since they make carrying water unnecessary. I am now dreaming of owning a collapsible cup that might make the running-and-drinking experience even more convenient.

Exposure to multilingualism. I am extremely impressed with how the Swiss people I’ve met seem to be fluent in so many languages. Many of them say they speak “only a little” English, but it turns out to be much more than that. At one apartment we visited, Stelian and I had a very interesting mixed German-French-English conversation with the owner of the building, during which I think all important points were expressed using one of the three languages. With many languages swirling around me, I feel that my brain is always being challenged, usually in a good way.

A healthy lifestyle includes a trip to the chocolate aisle.  Weight-watchers everywhere might seethe in jealousy at this common supermarket sight: a slim Swiss woman, standing in the chocolate aisle (yes, there is a whole aisle!), selecting a stack of reasonably-priced Swiss chocolate bars. One of my current theories about why the Swiss are not obese, or even overweight, is that they eat satisfying foods. They don’t have guilt about eating chocolate and cheese, so they just eat it, instead of trying to deny themselves, or pretending they can live without it, and then bingeing on it. Of course, people also walk a lot, and Zürich can be a bit of a jungle gym, full as it is of slanted streets. And then there are the stairs — our current apartment is on the fourth floor, which to a North American is actually the fifth, since the ground floor is always “0” here. With no lift in the building, we’ve been doing a lot of unintentional Stairmastering. So pass the cheese!


4 thoughts on “A few of my favourite things

  1. Do nothing day. Ahhh!
    Water from the alps. Ahhh!
    Useful information and tips. Ahhh!
    Our current apartment is on the fourth floor. Whuttt?
    You’ve decided? I missed something? Was it apartment 5 after all? Congratulations!

    • Oh, by our “current” apartment I meant the temporary one that we are staying in for the month of January. We are still hoping to get Apartment 5, which will be on the 3rd floor (or 4th to us North Americans). That building has no lift either, so we will continue to hike home if we live there.

  2. Interesting that Zurich(ers/ites/oisses?) observe a day of rest and relaxation. It was so in Ontario when your Mum and her siblings were young, not so very long ago :).
    I entirely approve of a do-nothing day; it should be part of everyone’s life and I take advantage whenever I can!
    With all those stairs to climb, as well as slanting streets, you can eat as much chocolate as you wish and my mouth waters at the idea of all the cheeses you can try.

  3. what a great post, Kristen! I love the image of the slim Swiss woman juggling an armload of chocolate. While I heartily endorse do-nothing day (esp laundry and cleaning) I hope that things you like to do like a daily run are not frowned upon. Heather and I were out on the Bruce in -15 C weather today, it was lovely and calm in the forest and as long as we kept moving it was just fantastic. Tomorrow, snowshoeing and exploring more trails after we talk with you by skype!

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