Bumper Spaghetti Harvest In Southern (Italian) Switzerland

This year has been a great year for spaghetti.   The success of the this year’s crop was attributed to a strong freeze followed by a mild winter south of the Alps and to the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil.

Courtesy of BBC

In Ticino, on the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the slopes overlooking Lake Lugano have already burst into flower at least a fortnight earlier than usual.

Courtesy of BBC

But what, you may ask, has the early and welcome arrival of bees and blossom to do with food? Well, it is simply that the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory, has had its effect in other ways as well. Most important of all, it’s resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop.

The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining the crop, generally impairs the flavour and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets. But now these dangers are over and the spaghetti harvest goes forward.

Courtesy of BBC

Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry. Many of you, I am sure, will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley. For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair.

Courtesy of BBC

Another reason why this may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, the tiny creature whose depradations have caused much concern in the past.

After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm Alpine air. Many people are very puzzled by the fact that spaghetti is produced in such uniform lengths. This is the result of many years of patient endeavour by plant breeders who suceeded in producing the perfect spaghetti.

Courtesy of BBC

Now the harvest is marked by a traditional meal. Toasts to the new crop are drunk in these boccalinos, then the waiters enter bearing the ceremonial dish. This is, of course, spaghetti — picked early in the day, dried in the sun, and so brought fresh from garden to table at the very peak of condition. For those who love this dish, there is nothing like real home-grown spaghetti.

This story is verbatim from the BBC.  Thanks. BBC.

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As Addicts, We Loved Fika, The Swedish Tradition Of Coffee Time

I am an addict.  Recognizing your addiction is the first step, but I don’t want to quit.  I love my coffee and am not about to give it up.  Sweden might feel the same way.

Coffee shops are everywhere in Stockholm and the quality is quite good.  It frought with danger for the calorie conscious.  The Swedish tradition of fika  (coffee time) is untranslatable, it seems to mean to meet up for seems to involve a coffee, conversation and a tasty treat.   We saw dessert tables piled with tasty treats everywhere.  From pastries to sweetbreads to cinnamon rolls to cakes and pies, they have it all.  Apparently, it is bad form to offer less than three different types of pastries to your guests.

Rather than just getting my caffeine fix, I took advantage of our time in Stockholm to treat myself to some fancy coffees.  Regular coffee is available, but I had cappuchinos, lattes, expressos and other fancy coffees.   We also partook of the baked goods.  I know, I live on the edge.

Ice Ice Baby, Stockholm’s Ice Bar

English: Absolut Ice Bar in Stockholm

English: Absolut Ice Bar in Stockholm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If you travel enough, sooner or later, you will be in a city with an ice bar.  You don’t go to these for the slightly overpriced drinks.  You go for the unique experience.  Stockholm’s Icebar in the Nordic Sea Hotel (guests get discounts) is the second oldest behind the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden.

 

 

In the bar, everything, from the glasses to the bar itself to the tip jar are made of ice.  The ice is shipped from the Torne River in northern Sweden.   Obviously, it has to remain below freezing inside the bar so that the ice doesn’t melt.  The thermostat is set at -5 Celsius (23 Farenheit) When you sit on chair made of ice and hold a drink made from ice, you could get a little cold.    Before entering, you are given a coat with a hood and mittens.  It looks like the uniform of some sort of cult.  It’s a metallic blue blanket with a fleece lined hood.  They keep you warm, prevent your body heat from melting the ice and provide a neat photo opportunity.

 

 

 

Don’t stress over what you’ll get to drink.  In the Absolut Ice Bar, your options are vodka, and, um, vodka.

 

 

 

Being from Michigan, we appreciate ice carving.  In addition to the glass, made from a hollowed-out block of ice there were stools, tables, the bar, the tip jar and sculptures.  It was to see the ingenious ways in which they made everyday items from ice.

 

 

The Ice Bar is small, holding only 35 people. If you are interested, book ahead or you will have to wait.  Although the wait can be more than a half an hour, I hear that it’s easier to get in around 10:00.  The maximum time in the bar without buying another round of drinks is 40 minutes.  Don’t worry.  You’re there for the novelty of it all and likely won’t want to stay longer than that anyway.

 

 

Alcohol is expensive in Sweden (explaining their enthusiasm for an open bar), but the Ice Bar is still more expensive than a regular bar.  It’s something you do for the experience, and a touristy one at that.  I doubt that you will encounter any Stockholm residents there.  Regardless, it’s a unique experience and something you won’t forget.

 

Yes, the little girl is licking the ice like the kid from “A Christmas Story.”

 

 

 

How Do You Know When Spring Has Arrived In Geneva? Check The Chestnut In Old Town

How do you know spring has arrived?  Flowers, spring showers, sundresses or swimming in the lake?  In Geneva’s old town, there is a tree, a chestnut, that is the official harbinger of spring.  Well, maybe it’s only the quasi-official harbinger, but it’s good enough.  In Geneva’s Old Town, on the Promenade de la Treille, is a tree whose first bud marks the official arrival of spring (Marronnier Officiel).  It’s known as “l’eclosion” which translates as “the hatching” or “the blooming” but in this case means “the budding.”

The first bud was charted since 1808!  It has always come sometime between January and the beginning of April, varying considerably (but generally getting progressively earlier).  This year, it arrived on March 13!  It’s official, spring is here.

Since observations began, several trees have been used.  The original from 1818  to 1905, the second from until 1928,  and the current since 1929.  The current tree is so bent over that it has to be propped up with a pole.

In 1808, Marc-Louis Rigaud-Martin began recording the tree’s first bud, likely out of a kind of scientific curiosity.  Since 1818, all the dates have been recorded on a parchment-roll in a special place in Geneva’s State Council chamber.

Workers of the city stroll past the tree over periodically during the key months and even use binoculars to examine the tree in greater detail.  Once, an employee hastily returned from vacation during exceptionally warm weather to avoid missing it!  They know exactly where on the tree to look as the first buds always appear on the eastern side.

Millennium Trilogy Walking Tour Of Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm – Part Two

Yesterday, I posted Millennium Trilogy Walking Tour of Stieg Larssons Stockhom – Part One.  It told about visiting the Sodermalm area of Stockholm, Lisbeth Salander‘s apartments, Mikael Blomkvist‘s apartment, Monteliusvagen and the Lunda Bridge.  Sodermalm  contains many other places named in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.

Södermalmstorg – Milton Security Offices

Lisbeth Salander worked as a freelancer for Milton Security.  Her first guardian, Holger Palmgren, recommended her to Dragan Armanskij, the Executive Director and chief operating officer of Milton Security.  They form a stable working relationship and build a degree of trust.  Most of their interactions take place at the Milton Security offices, located at the entrance to the Södermalm district from the old town of Gamla Stan.

The concrete, glass and steel buildings of Slussen are the offices of Milton Security, the company worked for as a freelancer.

Stockholm’s City Museum, which provides Millennium tours in several languages  and sells self-guided tour maps is located nearby.

Transit Stop: Slussen T-bana

Hornsgatan 78 – Mellqvist Kaffebar

Located near Lundagaten (where he set Lisbeth Salander’s first apartment), this was one Stieg Larsson’s favorite places.

In the 1990’s, Stieg Larsson was a director at Expo magazine, which had its offices above the coffee shop.  He sometimes had breakfast and hung out there.  He wrote several pages of the Millennium Trilogy there.  It is a perfect place to stop for coffee or a quick-lunch.

This tiny neighborhood coffee shop and a setting for several scenes with the name Kaffebar.  It is a favorite haunt of Mikael Blomqvist. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo he meets Salander there and she asks him for a loan so she can go to Zurich.  He also meets Erica Berger there.

Transit Stop: Karlberg station

Götgatan 17A (the corner of Götgatan and Hökens Gata) – Millennium Magazine Offices

In the books, Mikael Blomkvist and Erika Berger run Millennium Magazine.  Their fictional offices were located in an L-shaped office on the third floor of this building.  In reality, it houses apartments, above the real-life Greenpeace offices.

In the Swedish film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, number 11 Götgatan street stands in as the entrance to the Millennium offices.

Transit Stop: Slussen T-bana

Götgatan 25 – 7-Eleven

This is a 7-Eleven where Lisbeth Salander often shops for large packages of frozen pizzas (Billy’s Pan Pizza, flavor unknown) and Marlboro Lights.

7-Eleven is surprisingly popular in the nordic countries.  While it was too cold for a Slurpee (darn), you can take advantage of this stop to refuel.  You could even pick up some Ramlösa sparkling (the mineral water, the preferred brand Mikael Blomkvist).  It’s Swedish and comes from near Helsingborg.

Transit Stop: Slussen T-bana

Tjärhovsgatan, 4 – Kvarnen

The members of the heavy metal band Evil Fingers are some of the few people with whom Lisabeth Salander is able to forge a relationship.  They play at Kvarnen every Tuesday night.  Salander goes regularly.  Mikael Blomkvist and Millennium employees also come here.

Kvarnen is a legendary 100 year-old beer hall that is full of character with a massive wooden bar.  Its restaurant serves traditional Swedish dishes like Swedish hash, fried herring, reindeer, and meatballs.

Several scenes from the books are set at Kvarnen.  In The Girl Who Played with Fire Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are both at Kvarnen.  Salander sees Blomkvist is having a beer with Dag Svensson and tries to attract his attention by kissing Miriam Wu.

Transit Stop: Medborgarplatsen T-bana

St. Paulsgatan 13 – Synagogue

This is home to the Adat Jisrael Synagogue.  Detective Inspector Jan Bublanski is a member.  He meets Dragan Armanskij (Salander’s boss at Milton Security) here.

Hornsgatan 20 – Java Cafe

In the books, the characters frequently visit Java Café, indulging in the Swede’s love of coffee.  It is currently located at Hornsgaten 20 and has a different name.

Transit Stop: Slussen T-bana

Tavastgatan 28 – Tabbouli (the inspiration and stand-in for Samirs Gryta)

Tabbouli is the inspiration for Samir’s, the Lebanese restaurant where Blomquist, his friends, and Millennium Magazine’s staff dine (lamb stew anyone?).  In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, it is the location of the shoot out with Nikolic brothers.

Subway Stop: Mariatorget T-bana

Mosebacke Square/Sodra Teatern

Mosebacke square, near Salander’s new apartment on Fiskargatan, features a statue of entwined sisters.  She is seen walking through here in the movies with her lawyer Annika Giannini.  At the end, they are shown at the Sodra Teatern, restaurant and summery terrace popular for having a drink and its wonderful views.

The Millenium Trilogy is set in other Stockholm’s neighborhoods.  Kungshlmen, an island across from Sodermalm where city hall is located, contains the courthouse and police station.

Scheelegatan 7 – Courthouse

Located in the Kungsholmen district on Rungsholmen, the Stockholm District Courthouse is easy to spot because of its tower with the green roof.  The Millennium Trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starts here, with Mikael Blomkvist’s conviction for slander. It is also the scene of the trial where Lisbeth Salander is declared legally competent.

Transit Stop: Rådhuset T-bana

Kungsholmsgatan 37 – Police Headquarters

This police station features in the books The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest as the workplace of  inspector Jan Bublanski leads the team of investigators, Sonja Modig, Hans Faste, Cut Svensson Jerker Holmberg.

Subway Stop: Rådhuset T-bana

Upplandsgatan – Substitute Guardian Erik Nills Bjurman’s Apartment

The the Vasastan area  on island of Kungsholm was the home of Astrid Lindgren (the author of the Kalle Blomkvist and Pippi Longstocking books).  It is not surprising that Larsson, who greatly admired Lindgren, used this as a setting for pivotal scenes in his books

Salander’s second guardian, Erik Nills Bjurman, has a four bedroom residence on Upplandsgatan street in Odenplan, near the Odenplan T-station.  It is not far from his office in Vasastaden district.

In his apartment, he violently assaults Salander and where she exacts her revenge.  It is also the site of his murder in The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Transit Station: Odenplan T-bana

  • Outside of Stockholm, the quaint village of Gnesta, doubles as the fictional village of Hedestad in the Swedish films.
  • Mikael Blomqvist has a cottage on the archipelago island of Sandhamn.
  • Kurgens Kurva is home to the world’s largest IKEA.  This is where Salander purchases the furniture for her new apartment.
  • Goran Martensson of the Personal Protection Division at Sapo and a member of “the section” lives in Vallingby.
  • Millennium employee Dag Svensson and Mia Bergman live in (and are murdered in) an apartment in Enskede.

Millennium Trilogy Walking Tour Of Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm – Part One

I read and loved Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (so did the rest of my book club in Charlotte, ladies this one is for you).   In Stockholm, you can take the Stockholm City Museum’s popular and award-winning Stieg Larsson Millennium Tour (available in several languages).  It is also possible to  do a self-guided tour with a Millennium Map sold the City Museum for 40 SEK ($5).

Transit Stop: Slussen T-bana

The City Museum (at the entry to Sodermalm)

Heading out in search of sites from the books and movies seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out Södermalm, a fantastic neighborhood in Stockholm where many of the book’s scenes are based.  Sodermalm has always been the working-class, even bohemian part of the city.  Although gentrified, it retains a unique character.  Old wooden cottages and 20th century stone houses line its narrow cobblestoned streets.  Steig Larsson lived there and he had his characters live there too, at least the heroes do.  The villains live elsewhere.

Fiskargatan 9 – New Apartment Home of Lisbeth Salander

With her ill-gotten gains, Lisbeth Salander purchased a 21-room suite on the top floor of the upscale building Fiskargatan, 9 for 25 million kronor ($3,850,00 or  2,808,000  Euros).  It is in an exclusive and discreet neighborhood.  She chose the apartment for its light and excellent views over Gamla Stan, Djurgården Island and the Bay of Saltsjön.   Built in 1910, its green metal roof, making it easy to spot.

In The Girl Who Played with Fire, Salander moves in to this apartment.  She went to IKEAfurnished only three of its rooms.

The name on the door to Salander’s apartment is a nod to Sweden’s famous children’s book character, Pippi Longstocking’s town “Villerkulla”.  The buzzer to her apartment was labeled “V. Kulla.”  Stieg Larsson was inspired by the idea of a grown up Pippi Langstrump (Pippi Longstocking) who gets things done on her own when creating the character of Lisbeth Salander.  This is clearly a nod to another famous Swedish author.

Transit Stop: Slussen T-bana

Lundagatan – First apartment of Lisbeth Salander

Unlike most of the locations in the books, the number of Lisbeth Salander’s flat on Lundagaten is never named.  She had a miserable upbringing in her mother’s public housing flat on Lundagatan.  At 18 Lisbeth Salander, aided by her guardian, Holger Palmgren, purchased it for her mother.  From the books, we know it is located on Lundagatan street near Högalid church and is close to the #66 bus stop.  Some have speculated that it is number 38.  In the Girl Who Played With Fire, Salander moves to her new apartment at Kargatan 9.  She allows Miriam Wu to use the flat. When Salander lived there, it was unorganized and not very clean.  Miriam Wu cleans it up and decorates.

Transit Stop: Zinkensdamm T-bana

The Lunda Bridge (Lundabron)

This a bridge that connects Lundagatan, where Lisbeth Salander’s first apartment is located, and Bellmansgatan, the street where Mikael Blomkvist’s apartment is located.  It is significant because it was the fastest way between them.

Monteliusvagen

From the Lundabron, you can walk via Monteliusvagen, a quarter-mile promenade overlooking Lake Malaren and the Old Town, to Mikael Blomquist’s apartment.   From the path you can also see the courthouse where Mikael stands on the steps after being found guilty of libel across the water.

Bellmansgatan 1 – Mikael Blomvist’s Apartment

It is located on Mariaberget Hill in the historic Söder district.  Many of the buildings in this area were built after a fire in 1759.   Blomkvist’s apartment is in a luxury building located in a desirable neighborhood.  You can recognize it by its gothic and neo-gothic spires, mid-air walkway and castle-like details.

It has views of Riddarfjärden bay, the Saltsjon bay and Stockholm’s old town Gamla Stan.  From the books, we know that Blomkvist bought the flat in the 1980s.  In the book the entrance to his apartment is the front door of the building. In reality, it is accessed directly from the elevated walkway.

Don’t expect an undiscovered spot; it may well be Stockholm’s most well-known address.  Fans from all over the world come see and photograph this building.

Subway Stop: Gamla Stan T-bana

More from Sodermalm tomorrow…

I Made The Queen Of Sweden Smile…And Met Camilla Parker-Bowles

We weren’t the only bigwigs in Sweden last week.  Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles (the Duchess of Cornwall) were also visiting.  I caught a glimpse of a fancy motorcade on the way to a museum.  A local told me that it was probably for Prince Charles who was in town visiting the King and Queen.

I was walking through Gamala Stan and saw him come out and sign a couple of autographs on the way from one palace building to another.

The next day, we were on the way to the Vasa Museum when a fancy motorcade sped past.   We were hoping that they weren’t headed to the same place because we didn’t want delays.  We were able to enter the museum when it opened and began touring it.  It is awesome!  So impressive.

We were asked to step back by some guards to make a path for King Carl of Sweden, Queen  Silvia of Sweden, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles to pass. We stepped back and I got the camera ready.  I was able to snap a couple of pics before they got too close (I didn’t want to blind them).  The King and Queen stood back, letting Charles and Camilla work the crowd.  I caught the Queen’s eye, smiled at her, gave her the thumbs up and whispered “great country.”  She cracked a smile.  We had a moment.

Camilla came up to me and asked me where I was from.  I told her that I was from the states, but lived in Geneva.  We chatted about the impressive ship and the well-curated museum.  She asked if I was enjoying my time in Stockholm.  I said “immensely, it’s a wonderful place, but you have a very nice country as well.  We had a fantastic time there.”  She smiled and wished me a nice trip.

Surprisingly, she did not invite me to tea later.  Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising…I’d just eaten smoked salmon and downed a couple of cups of coffee.

 

What You Can Learn From License Plates In Switzerland

In Switzerland, license plates are assigned based on experience, thus low number plates usually indicate someone who has been driving a long time (i.e., an old person). Larger cantons (GE, ZH, etc.) have more cars and so the numbers on the plates extend much higher.

Very low numbers (e.g., “GE 3”) usually are assigned to taxis. On government cars have a single letter (instead of the canton): “A” for administration, “M” for military. There are no personalized license plates.

Diplomatic plates are all over Geneva.  They have CD in a blue square on the left of the plate.

Each canton (like a state) has its own abbreviation.  When you are in the parking lot of a ski resort, you are easily able to tell where the other skiers live in Switzerland.  I find looking at them is helpful in learning the coat of arms for each canton.

The abbreviations for the cantons (listed in German, French Italian and English) are:

Often, you see EU (European Union) plates in Geneva.  It’s understandable given our proximity to France.  Sometimes, you even see foreign plates.

I once saw US plates while I was riding on the bus.  Sorry, I couldn’t get a photo.


 

The Winter Wonderland Of Les Mosses

We went to Les Mosses, near Aigle and Chateau d’Oex, in the Lake Geneva region, to watch a sled dog race.  This charming, picturesque, plateau is situated in a mountain pass.  As a result, it is surrounded by mountains. Covered in snow, it is a winter wonderland.  We almost expected music to fill the air and Santa’s elves to appear.

While it isn’t exactly extreme, and doesn’t have much nightlife this resort offers plenty of activities year-round.  It has a reputation as a good family resort.

Pimp my stroller, Les Mosses edition

In summer, it has nice pedestrian, hiking and mountain bike trailsLake Lioson is known for its fishing.  In winter, well, take your pick.

  • There are T-bars all over the surrounding mountains and beautifully uncrowded slopes.
  • It has almost 20 miles (32 km) of snowshoeing trails.
  • We saw cross-country skiers everywhere, enjoying the almost 27 miles (42 km) of scenic trails.
  • Believe it or not divers enter Lake Lioson in the winter for under-ice diving!
  • Les Mosses approaches learning how to ski from the viewpoint that it is also important to have fun, making it popular with families.  As a result, it has a park with a moving carpet, drag lift, short gentle slopes and enormous inflatable frog.  The park has obstacles, figurines and slaloms to encourage play.

 

Snowshoeing, It’s Like Hiking But More Awkward.

Last weekend, we went snowshoeing.  The snow here is melting…quickly.   We knew that we wouldn’t have too many more opportunities.  If you need confirmation that the season is over, just take a look at the snow above.

St. Cergue is in the Jura the lake, where there’s only a thin white band of snow at the top.

We strapped up our hiking boots, went to St. Cergue and rented snowshoes, having no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  Thankfully, some nice Swiss snowshoers helped us make sure they were on correctly.  They let us try their poles.  Not knowing much of anything about snowshoeing, we didn’t rent poles.  Ooops.  It was definitely easier with the poles, but we only went about four miles so we were fine without them.  The lack of snow near the parking lot was more problematic.

Luckily, this was the only area where the snow was sparse.

We encountered a few other Swiss on the trails and learned that the usually reserved Swiss are pleasantly chatty on the trails.  In Geneva, expats don’t always get the opportunity to have meaningful interactions and conversations with native Swiss.   We learned a lot about the area from them.  For example, these stone walls mark the borders of farms.  They aren’t relics.  In the Jura, they still build them!

When we weren’t chatting with other snowshoers, we enjoyed the peace and tranquility.  It was a gorgeous day.   It was a pleasure to be out in the woods and going “off piste” through the snow was a blast.

In this area summer farmhouses become winter restaurants that cater to the area’s snowshoers and cross-country skiers.  We got a recommendation from a nice Swiss lady on the trails and she did not steer us wrong.  The restaurant, Le Vermeilley, was fantastic.

It was a cozy room with wonderful traditional dishes and a nice proprietor.  After a nice lunch, we headed back.

We’d expected snowshoeing to be more difficult than it was.  I want to try it again  next year.   He wants to do some cross-country skiing more.   We have friends who snoeshoed at night under a full moon.  That sounds like a rocking’ good time so I’m pretty sure I can talk him into it.

Some trails around there are only for cross-country skiers, no snowshoers. I guess we’ll have to try that next year.