Men In Speedos


Last year, I wrote about men in spandex.  Well, with the warm temperatures, people are showing more skin.  You gents are no exception.  I’ve seen a fair bit of y’all.

DSC_0201_2 DSC_0202_2

You’ve seen men in spandex.   With the approach of summer, I bring you another cultural difference, men in Speedos.  This swimwear is rather foreign to us.  Unless you are a competitive swimmer, you just don’t see this in the US, where most guys wear boardshorts or some other type of swimsuit short.


Michael PhelpsRyan LochteCullen Jones, and Jason Lezak all wear them, but then again they are also wearing goggles and swim caps.  Sometimes, they don’t even wear them, opting instead for those fancy new super fast getups.  I think they are called the Speedo Endurance Jammer.


Anyway, in the US, non-competition swimmers just generally don’t wear Speedos.  You don’t see them at the beach.  Department stores don’t usually even stock them.  As you can see from the above photo, in France you have many options.



The only thing to say is “wow,” this style is definitely another cultural difference.



Sprungli, A Zurich Must


When traveling, it is great to find a wonderful local place to eat.  Sprungli is just such a place.  A Zurich institution, it opened in its current form in 1939, but before the restaurant/café opened a chocolatier was there.  The Sprungli family started that in 1859.  It’s still family owned although the chocolate making is a separate business (Lindt & Sprüngli).


Traditionally a favorite of Zurich’s upper crust ladies who lunch (not usually a recommendation that gets me to my kind of place) these ladies know what they are talking about and it’s now a favorite of this girl.  Him too.  The café serves the best hot chocolate and deserts in town, but they have more substantial fare as well.  Plus, when the dining room has cute details like the copper baking tins on the walls, how can you not?



Sprungli is famous for their specialty products Luxemburgerli macaroons and Grand Crus (chocolate truffles from wild cocoa beans).  They are made by hand with fresh ingredients.  Drooling yet?


They have several other satellite shops in other towns and at airports (including Geneva’s).  While nothing beats that original location, they are a great place to get a quick Sprungli fix or pickup a stellar present.



Tschäggättä Masks

It’s Tschäggättä time again!  Last year, we went to see the Tschäggättä parade in Switzerland’s Lötschental Valley during Carnival/Fasnacht.  The costumes and the masks amazed us in particular.

Until the 1900’s, only the valley’s inhabitants knew Lötschental’s masks.  Over the next four decades, Tschäggättä masks gained recognition as works of art and a unique cultural heritage.  After WWII, with recognition, the Lötschental Valley’s increased contact with the world, and greater demand, there was a golden age of Tschäggättä masks.

Tschäggättä masks are instantly recognizable.  Their distinguishing features include:

  • Large, smiling mouths, either with carved wooden teeth, or toothless (sometimes they have animal teeth
  • The mouth is either s-shaped, curved up or rectangular
  • They usually feature bulging, uneven eyes


How Exactly Did You Plan On Ensuring Staff Wear Appropriate Underwear?


ubs (Photo credit: twicepix)

When we were preparing for our move, we tried to learn as much as we could about Switzerland.  We heard that they are pretty conservative and rule based.  We’d also heard that the way of doing business and the work environment would probably be different than we were used to in the US.  Nevertheless, we were surprised to hear UBS, a large Swiss bank, issued a banking giant UBS a 44-page dress code (a couple of years ago).  At 44 pages, it is (not surprisingly) quite detailed.  Staff was expected to:

  • Wear suits in dark grey, black or navy blue
  • Keep their jacket buttons closed.  When seated, they must always be open.  While on the subject of jackets, they were also required to completely cover employee’s rear (not a good look for a shorty like me).
  • Black knee-high socks were preferred.
  • Female staff’s skirts should reach the middle of the knee…
  • Underwear was supposed to be of good quality, easily washable and undetectable.  How exactly did they plan on ensuring this?
  • Trendy spectacles were forbidden.  While at it, the color of the metal on your glasses should match the color of your jewelry.
  • Men were not to wear bracelets or earrings, since this is Switzerland wearing wristwatches was encouraged… as long as it didn’t threaten safety.
  • Women were not to wear black nail polish or nail art… it has only become more popular since the probation was issued.
  • Men were not to have stubble or excessive facial hair
  • Men were from covering their grey with hair color

It also had other advice on a variety of subjects including”

  • Don’t eat garlic or onions to avoid bad breath
  • How to wear your scarf
  • When to apply perfume
  • The importance of well-trimmed and filed toenails.
  • Skin-colored underwear is recommended
  • Do not put much of anything in your jacket pockets to avoid deforming them
  • My favorite  advises employees to neother wash, nor iron their shirts themselves.

UBS may sound familiar because it has been in the news when it was bailed out in 2008 (after losing around 21 billion Swiss Francs) and for its long running battle with US tax authorities.  Perhaps the tomeic dress code was an attempt to improve its image.  It has since been somewhat revised.  Although when I go into a UBS, I don’t see much color…

Our Balade In Bellinzona


Bellinzona would be epic (and possibly ruined) if it were located on a lake.  Instead, it is strategically located at the confluence mountain passes and near others (NufenenSt. GotthardLukmanierSan Bernardino and the Poebene).  At one time, it was the capital of the region.

Bellinzona’s Old Town is graceful and enchanting.  It has beautiful, ornate merchants’ houses, stone gateways, wrought iron balconies and peaceful courtyards.  It is car free.  If you ignore the other tourists strolling the alleyways, it is easy to transport yourself to a bygone era.

It’s not glitzy, but its richly decorated patrician houses, beautiful churches and charming streets are relaxing and seductive.  You can literally feel your blood pressure drop.  Walking the streets, you want to stop, enjoy the atmosphere and take in all the colorful details.

This peacefulness is ironic.  Bellinzona doesn’t derive its name from its beauty (Belle or Bella), but from “zone bellica” which translates into “war zone.”   The main evidence of the city’s turbulent past are its castles and fortifications which are just outside the old town.


Buon Appetito! Eating Our Way Through Milan

Although we saw some cool stuff in Milan, one of the main reasons to go to Italy is for the food and drink.  They are an attraction in and of themselves and did not disappoint.

We had at least two cappuccino for breakfast every day.  Italians only order cappuchinos until 10:00.  Although italians only drink cappuccino until 10:00 a.m., they pop in for expressos all day long.  If you run into a friend in the street, it is customary to pop into a café for a quick espresso at the bar while you catch up.  Ten minutes later, you’re back on your way.  Perfect for caffeine addicts like us who don’t always like to linger at a table.

Before dinner, Italian tradition is to have an aperitivo.  It is a pre-meal drink meant to stimulate appetite, but seems to be an excuse to go out for a drink, relax and chat with friends.   When in Rome, or Milan…

I loved the Antipasti, the appetizer course, because I usually hadn’t gorged myself yet so I could eat while I was actually hungry.  The food was so good that I did a good amount of eating when I wasn’t actually hungry.  It was so tasty that I just had to eat it.   Who knows when I’d have another chance to taste something like that?

One of his favorites was a cheese plate that included burrata, a fresh artisanal cheese made from mozzarella and cream.  Although people eat cheeses that are older than some of our nieces and nephews, you are supposed to eat burrata within 24 hours after it is made.  Ours came on a plate with fresh buffalo mozzarella and ricotta.  De-lish-us!

In Italy, pasta is usually the next course, known as Primo Patti.  Although they sometimes serve soup, rice,  polenta, etc., it’s usually a rich pasta dish.  Carbalicious.

Secondo, the main course, usually consists of chicken, meat, or fish.  With so many courses, thankfully the portions aren’t too large.  Most Italians don’t eat an antipastoprimosecondo and dolce at every meal, but the selections are always on the menu.  Just because we pigged out doesn’t mean you are required to.

The dolce (Italian for sweet), dessert, ends the meal.  People often order an espresso to help digestion and to finish off a meal.  Plus it gives them more time to sit and talk over food and drink.

Sorry, we couldn’t wait to take a picture before taking a bite out of our daily gelato.  We weren’t the only ones who liked gelato, just check out this cute little guy.  He was going to town on his gelato.  Notice how he is inside the restaurant.

Remember, friends don’t let friends serve each other packaged food.  Viva l’Italia.

Les Incompetents Vol. 12 – Don’t Forget Your Train Pass

He left for work and forgot his wallet (with his public transport pass inside).  Wouldn’t you know it, that was the day the TPG (Geneva Public Transport) decided to check passengers for their passes.  In Geneva, you don’t have to show a ticket to get on a tram or bus.  Periodically, TPG officers will board busses and trams to check tickets.  They issue steep fines to riders without tickets.  Riders without any form of identification (to properly issue the fine) are taken into custody!

He had enough identification on him to allow them to check and see he had a TPG pass.  He received a fine that he will not have to pay if he brings his pass to the TPG office.  Of course, this being Switzerland, you still have to pay a small fee.

On a side note, I heard a hilarious story about one of the TPG checks.  It seems to be some sort of urban legend here.  Who knows whether or not it is true?  A woman took the only available seat on the tram next to an immigrant.  She began complaining loudly about immigrants, how they should go back home, and how generally horrible they were.   TPG officials boarded that tram and began checking tickets.  Immediately before the officials came to check their tickets, the man about whom she had been complaining grabbed her small paper ticket out of her hand, popped it in his mouth, quickly chewed and swallowed it.  When the officials came, she was without a ticket.  Proclaiming her innocence and claiming the man next to her ate her ticket was not enough to prevent her from being issued a fine.  Everyone who witnessed the incident remained silent, having been so offended by her behavior and remarks.

Gnome Sweet Gnome, We’re Living In The Land Of Gnomes

Gnome lawn ornaments are considered a bit kitschy in the US.  In Switzerland, garden gnomes are everywhere.  Known as “Zwergli” in German, they seem practically mandatory.  I’m exaggerating, but only just a bit.

Plastic or cement, big or little, these  have seen these gnome statues come in all shapes and sizes.    They are usually in yards or gardens, but we have also seen them on porches, railings, stoops, on stumps and even on pedestals.

We see them out all year long.   It’s a wonder that they don’t disappear.  It’s Switzerland, so there isn’t too much crime, but they look tempting.  Wouldn’t it be so much fun to take the gnome and photograph it in crazy places just like in the movie Amalie.   In 2000, the International Association for the Protection of Garden Gnomes was founded in Switzerland (GGLF) was formed in Switzerland to combat gnome kidnapping and try to make it a criminal offense.  Apparently, a few people have even been prosecuted for theft.  I’m not kidding.

Plotting a breakout?

Instead of kidnapping them, The Garden Gnome Liberation Front advocates  freeing the gnomes.  If you don’t believe me, just check out  I couldn’t make this stuff up.

It would be great to dress them up in special outfits for different events, kind od like Mannekin Pis in Brussels.  Who doesn’t want to dress their gnome up in a team uniform for game day?  On second thought, the Garden Gnome Liberation Front might think it was exploiting them and protest.

The bankers who toil away in Zurich are also referred to as gnomes.

Switzerland has a trail with gnome trail markers in Gänsbrunnen.  Children who complete it receive a very child receives a “Nature and Gnomes Certificate.”  Do big children count?

I’m pretty sure this guy escaped from a Travelocity commercial. He wants to roam.

Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

He declared Euguisheim, France the cutest town in the world.  We’ve seen a lot of cute towns recently (we even have two cute towns categories on the blog).  He made a bold statement and declared Euguisheim the cutest.  While I wasn’t ready to declare it the winner, I couldn’t name anything cuter.

France has 32,000 villages that dot its countryside.  The association “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (The Most Beautiful Villages of France), they are dedicated to sharing French history and culture.  Its 156 member towns try to make their towns as beautiful, charming and flower-filled as possible.  If you want to see stereotypical and picture perfect French towns on your vacation, check them out (you can search by name, region or on the map).

Euguisheim is one of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France.”  The words “picturesque” and “pleasant don’t begin to do it justice.  The cheery flowers decorate the colorful timber framed houses.  The cobblestoned streets add authenticity and its pedestrian center is peaceful.  Captivating storks nest on the church spires and soar overhead.

Euguisheim is easy to navigate.  Its streets form concentric circles around its central chateau.  It’s not that large.  You might want to get lost here, but you won’t.

If the enchanting atmosphere isn’t enough, you can always enjoy the wine.  Euguisheim is proud of its moniker “the cradle of Alsatian wine.”  People have grown grapes for wine around Euguisheim since Roman times.  Surrounded by vineyards, there are several tasting rooms in town.

Although Euguisheim is cute, I think this little guy might be cuter.   I spent almost as much time petting this four-month old Bernese Mountain Dog/Border Collie mix as I did taking pictures.  I fell in love.

His owner sold me one of these pretzels.  Le Yum!  What a great day!

Everything You Don’t Need And Can’t Live Without

In English, terms like into attic sales, flea markets, secondhand, garage sales, car boot sales, all mean cheap prices on used stuff.  In French, terms like brasserie, vides greniers, marche aux puces, brocantes, all mean about the same thing.

In 1754, Carouge, just beyond Geneva’s city limits, was granted to Victor Amideus, King of Sardinia.  It became a refuge for Catholics, less puritanical Protestants, and even Jews.  Its streets are laid on a grid pattern with lots of trees and planters.  The city has low Mediterranean style buildings and interior courtyard gardens.  We like to go for a stroll there and aren’t the only ones.  It’s become a trendy ‘hood.

Some people have a problem with buying or using people’s old stuff.  I have no such compunction and am a sucker for these sales.   This one didn’t have much furniture (which is fine because I don’t have much extra space), but had a lot of everything else including Mexican food (which is a rarity here).   It was great, but perhaps the least spicy Mexican food ever.  The Swiss don’t eat spicy food and so most foreign food is toned down for the Swiss market.   We didn’t care.  I have a supply of assorted hot sauces at the apartment.  If you come visit us, please bring more.

We don’t have children, but I wanted to buy some of the toys anyway.  When I was young I had one of the Fisher-Price castles like the one below and loved it.  It was hard to pass this puppy up.

I think these sales are great places to pick up unusual souvenirs.  We’ve had visitors pick up paintings, books, beer steins, cool glasses, tastevins, vintage t-shirts, Swiss army knives and other cool Swiss army gear at the flea market.

I got a couple of Swiss army knives, a couple of old champagne buckets (to use as planters on my balcony), a leather purse big enough to hold my giant camera (super cute for summer), and a Sherlock Holmes book (in French).    While I didn’t need any of it, apparently I could live without it.

I love these sales because you never know what you will see.  They are like a mini cultural time capsule.  Although you might be able to find an old wheel in the US, you probably won’t find some old spraying equipment or watch parts.