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

 

The Magic of Mövenpick

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We have developed a few favorite Swiss brands.  Visitors favorite is always Mövenpick.  After tasting Mövenpick ice cream, we had a visitor come back to the apartment and spend several hours doing a search to find out where she could get it in the US.  Unfortunately, it’s not available there (another reason to visit Switzerland).  They do export and you can find it in 30 countries around the world including Russia, Finland, Australia and Singapore.

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Mövenpick has an astounding number of unique flavors with exotic ingredients like handcrafted Swiss caramel, fine French Cognac VSOP and vanilla seeds from Madagascar.  They introduce new “Limited Editions” flavors for each season.  Think cinnamon in the winter, exotic fruits in the summer…   It’s not just the amazing flavors that make it exceptional.  All products are made without artificial additives, flavours or colors.  The quality of the dairy is phenomenal.  Describing it as incredibly creamy doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

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While the Swiss Chocolate flavor is good, the best flavors are the creamy ones.  Our favorite is Creme de Gruyères (heavenly sweet Swiss cream with crunch bits of real Meringue inside).  It’s so good that you are in real danger of sounding like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally when you taste it.  Other top flavors are Crème Brulée and Tiramisú.

They have over 30 varieties, other flavors include:

  • Pistashio (another one of my favorites)
  • Cocoa & Orange
  • Pink rhubarb,
  • Cognac VSOP,
  • Caramelita (Caramel is a favorite of his),
  • Mousse Aux Poires (pear mousse),
  • Scottish Single Malt Whiskey,
  • Absinthe & Amaretto,
  • Swiss Apple, Edelweiss,
  • Almond & Vanilla,
  • Stracciatella (very yummy),
  • Mirabelle,
  • Apricot,
  • Panna Cotta with Raspberry,
  • White Peach, and
  • Raspberry.

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You can find Mövenpick in Europe at roadside kiosks (highly recommended for lakeside strolls), Mövenpick restaurants (worth going just to check out the insanely large and fancy menu of ice cream), other fine establishments and Co-op Swiss grocery stores (yep, we’re stocking the freezer if you come visit).

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Mövenpick was originally produced in the kitchens of high-end Swiss restaurants.  Eventually, they built factory in Bursins, then moved to a larger facility in Rorschach.   In 2003, Nestlé (in Vevey) acquired the brand rights for the Ice Cream category, but keeps it as an independent unit (classifying it as Super Premium) in their in order to maintain the brand’s knowledge, innovation and quality.

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Mövenpick doesn’t just make ice cream.  In Switzerland, they make yoghurt, chocolate and coffee.  We’ve heard from German friends that they sell wonderful jams and salad dressings there.  I’ve heard they also do wines.  They also have hotels ?!?  Yes, you read that correctly.  In case you’re wondering, they are high-end too.  As you might have guessed, they also serve a phenomenal breakfast.

 

St Bernards, A Whole Lotta Love

I love dogs, but I especially love big dogs.   The St. Bernard (also known as St. Barnhardshund, Alpine Mastiff and Bernhardiner) is one of the world’s largest.    They range from 25.5-27.5 inches ( 61-70 cm) and weigh 110-200 pounds (50-91 kg).   The are most likely a cross between Tibetan Mastiffs with Great DanesGreater Swiss Mountain Dog and Great Pyrenees. Initially, they had short hair; long hair coats collect icicles.

Augustinian Monks living in the treacherous St. Bernard Pass (the western route through the alps between Italy and Switzerland) bread the dogs.  8,000 feet above sea level, the pass is 49-miles long and is notorious for its changeable weather and high winds.

The St. Bernard pass was well travelled before St. Bernard de Menthon founded the famous hospice in the Swiss Alps as a refuge for travelers crossing the treacherous passes between Switzerland and Italy around 1050.  There are even remains of a Roman road there.  If you were a pilgrim headed to Rome, this is a likely route you would have taken.  You wouldn’t have been the only one.  Napoleon famously used the pass to cross the alps to invade Italy in 1800.

Image from Stories About Animals on http://www.zookingdoms.com

In the 17th century, St. Bernards were used to rescue people from avalanches and other dangers in snowy alpine passes.    Saint Bernards have many features that make them well adapted to this task.   They can smell a person under many feet of snow.  They can hear low-frequency sounds humans cannot, possibly alerting people to avalanches.   Their broad chests helped clear paths through the snow.  Their large paws helped spread out the weight and worked like snowshoes to keep them on top of the snow.  Their large paws helped them dig through the snow.  Upon finding someone, they lie on top them to provide warmth.

The most famous rescuer was Barry (1800-1812).  He is credited with saving the lives of more than 40 people.  Today, Foundation Barry (named after the famous pooch) works to educate people about and preserve the breed.  They also do alpine hikes with the pups!  Both Foundation Barry and the St. Bernard Museum are located in in Martingy, a village down the mountain from the pass.  Both have the adorable pups on site.

A Hot Topic (Literally), Hot Drinks To Warm You Up

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Whether it is hot cider, toddy, coffee, tea, atole, wedang jahevin chaud, mulled wine, or hot chocolate, when it’s cold outside people warm themselves up with a hot drink.  For some, après-ski is a big part of skiing.  It refers to socializing and having drinks after swooshing down the slopes.   On the slopes and après-ski (which translates to after skiing), people sometimes drink something with a little kick.   As you can see below, not all après-ski beverages are hot.  Nevertheless, in the cold of winter, there’s nothing like a hot beverage to warm you up.  Here, we’ve seen things other than your normal piping hot tea… and they’re dangerously delicious.

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Vin chaud (which translates as “hot wine”) is red wine mixed with a bit of sugar, cinnamon, and lemon.  Other countries call this mulled wine, Wassail,  Glühwein/glow-wine, Glögg/gløgg, bisschopswijn/bishop’s wine, greyano vino, cooked wine, quentão, vinho quente, boiled wine, vin brulé, karstvīns, hot wine, grzane wino  vin fiery, or Glintwein.  Clearly, it’s a popular beverage.  Just be careful, all that sugar can leave you feeling less than sweet if you are, ahem, over served.  Thankfully, it’s available everywhere.

Friends from the Nordics make it when they have people over.  They add almonds and raisins to their glass.  It adds a nice flavor and soaks up the liquid so they’re extra yummy.

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Hot spiced rum/hot buttered rum is a little more British than traditionally Swiss.  Then again, the Brits have been vacationing in Switzerland for centuries. Byron, Churchill, Prince William and Cate Middleton have all been, so maybe it’s not so unusual after all.

IMG_0563Yum!  Hot cider.  With all the whipped cream and, um, additives, it may not be as healthy as pure apple cider but it feels cozy and helps fight off the winter chill.  It’s not widely available here.  In fact, I’ve only seen it a couple of places.
IMG_0636Hot coffee is my favorite beverage.  I freely admit it.  I’m an addict and drink coffee every morning.  Sometimes, adults like to add more than just cream or sugar to their coffee.  Popular additions include: Bailey’s, KahluaGrand MarnierAmaretto, brandy, Irish whiskey, Amaretto and Cointreau.   On the slopes, I don’t want anything alcoholic, so I love a good cup of strong coffee with some cream.  Here, it’s usually real cream or milk and not the inferior (but great in a pinch) creamer cups you get in the US.

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Warning:  In researching this, I found at least one article about insurers rejecting claims from drunk skiers.

Mrs.? Ms.? Miss? Just Call Me Madame

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One of the hardest parts of French is getting the genders straight.  French nouns are either masculine or feminine.  There’s no logical way to discern whether the noun is masculine or feline, you just have to memorize it.   Adjectives change to agree with the gender and number of the nouns they modify.  This means that most of them have four forms!

Traditionally, when you saw the name of a profession, you would immediately know whether the professional referred to was a man or a woman from the form of the noun.  It’s comparable to using the term policeman or policewoman (instead of police officer) in English.  In Switzerland, French is changing to make professions more gender neutral by standardizing the names.   The poster above reads “the times change the language changes too.”   It’s not the only way the French language is changing in Switzerland.

As a newcomer, you don’t want to make a faux pas or embarrass yourself.   Knowing the correct way to address people is part of this.  It is made a little easier by the Swiss custom of not using Miss.  That way, you don’t have to find out someone’s marital status refer to them appropriately.  All women, regardless of their marital status, use Mrs.   It’s a sign of respect…just call me Madame.

The Mystery Of The Anti-Personnel Mine In Geneva

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I was surprised when, on the way to the grocery store (it’s in the street between Migros and the Co-op at Eaux-Vives 2000 across the street), I saw this in the road.  It reads “Here laid an anti-personnel landmine.”  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  A land mine?  In Geneva?  Has anyone else noticed this?  Does anyone know anything about this?  I’d love to know who placed it there and why.

During the second world war, Geneva was virtually surrounded by nazi-occupied France.   Switzerland developed the National Redoubt plan to defend the country from the Nazis, but everyone knew that Geneva would have been left to occupying forces as it was not easily defended.  Landmines as we know them were developed during World War II (1939 – 1945).  They were widely used as anti-tank devices.  Smaller anti-personnel mines prevented the removal of anti-tank mines.   Even today, some land in France is not useable because of the mines on it.  Could it be from that period?

Since World War II the proliferation, production, sale and trade in landmines grew. Today, there an estimated 110 million anti-personnel mines in the ground around the world, another 100 million in stockpiles and 5-10 million more mines produced each year.   The Swiss Confederation signed and ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  It took effect on the 1st of January 2013.

Epiphany/Three Kings Day

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We Three Kings (Photo credit: pixieclipx)

Once again, I’m ashamed to say that I was in my late twenties before I ever even know this holiday existed (commemorating the day when the three kings presented their gifts to the baby Jesus).  Here’s how they celebrate it here.

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P1060042 (Photo credit: keepps)

You knew it. You knew there had to be one. You were right; they have a special pastry.   Every holiday here seems to have its own special pastry and this is not exception.  It is a ring of buns, one of which contains small plastic kings.  If you get that roll, you win a crown and the right to tell everyone what to do for the rest of the day.  Carolers dressed as three kings also roam the streets singing (known as Star Singing).

The bread ...

The bread … (Photo credit: pedro_cerqueira)

Who doesn’t love a great loaf of bread?  Before we moved, we would sometimes go to our neighborhood’s French bakery and buy a nice loaf of fresh bread.

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Swiss bread and chocolate (Photo credit: ellengwallace)

Since we moved, we have been buying great bread at local patisseries.  It is made fresh each morning and we buy a loaf to eat over the next 2-3 days while  while it is still fresh.  Ymmmm.  This is dangerous because you have to go there several times a week (only a block away).  When it’s no longer really fresh, we feed it to the ducks on Lake Geneva (except for when our niece visited when we bought loaves to feed to them).

The Giger Bar, One Cool (And Slightly Surreal) Joint

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Most people have seen Hans Rudolf “Ruedi” Giger‘s work, even if they don’t know who he is.  Giger is best known as the designer for Ridley Scott‘s Alien movies, for which he won an Oscar.   Incredibly creative, he paints and sculpts too.   Giger was way ahead of his time in foreseeing the increasingly close relationship between the human body and machines.

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The Château St. Germain in Gruyères (yep, like the cheese), Switzerland houses the H. R. Giger Museum, which is a permanent repository of his work.  The nearby Giger Bar is a stunning, slightly surreal bar designed by him.   Built in 2003, it was way ahead of its time, foreseeing the increasingly close relationship between the human body and machines.  There are two Giger Bars; the other is in his hometown of Chur in the  Graubünden Canton of Switzerland.

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Giger excels at represent human bodies and machines in a cold, but connected, intriguing way.  Sitting in the bar, you feel like you’re in the belly of the beast.  It is an incredibly imaginative and slightly surreal mixture of skeleton and fantasy.

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While it’s dark, structural and even biomechanical, it’s not cold.   We went early and at an off hour so that we could fully explore the place.   We oohed and aahed as we discovered details everywhere.  It definitely makes for an unforgettable drink.

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The ceiling has the skeletal structure of vertebrae, like a fantastic ossuary.

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Once upon a time (the 1980’s), there was another Giger Bar in Tokoyo.  Unfortunately Giger wasn’t as involved in that one.  Its design was constrained by earthquake codes.  Perhaps most damagingly, it became a hangout for the Yakuza.  Giger disowned it and never even entered.

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By the way, Giger is spelled with only one ‘e’.  Hans Geiger, known for his work on the radiation measuring known as the Geiger Counter, was German.

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But What Do I Know? My Favorite Posts Of 2012

I listed the top viewed posts of 2012, but thought I would post a list of my favorite posts of 2012 too.

  1. Duomo’s Rooftop, A Sculpture Garden In The Sky – I just like the pictures.
  2. Dubai’s River, It’s Other Waterfront – I liked how different Dubai was from Geneva and loved its mix of cultures.  While you can see cool skyscrapers lots of places, there aren’t many where you can see the old wood dhows and the people from all over the world who trade on Dubai’s waterfront.
  3. Millennium Trilogy Walking Tour Of Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm – Part Two – I loved The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Men Who Hate Women in Swedish).  When we went to Stockholm, I toured the sites mentioned in the books.  Most of them were in the super-cool Sodermalm neighborhood.
  4. Mohawks Welcome But Not Required At The Groezrock Festival– We love live music and a European Music Festival is something to experience.  This one had a great lineup and was well worth the resulting fatigue (better described as exhaustion).
  5. The Toblerone Line, One Sweet Barrier– We looked all over Switzerland for this puppy.  Once we found it, we couldn’t stop seeing it places (Reichenbach Falls, near Thun, etc.).
  6. Why I Love Running– One of my favorite things.
  7. Weingut Otto Laubsenstein – Fantastic people + fantastic wine = unforgettable time.
  8. It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye – A reader suggestion and one of the best views in Switzerland.  If you’re not up for hours of hiking straight uphill, you can always take the train there.
  9. The Shock Of Your Life – Culture Shock – I tried to keep it real.
  10. Les Contamines – Although we’ve done a lot of skiing, this was one of our favorite days because we spent it with wonderful fr

Schwingen In Switzerland’s Top 10 Posts Of 2012

Since everyone seems to come out with a Best of 2012 list at the end of the year, I thought I would list my top 10 most viewed posts this year.

  1. Everything You Don’t Need And Can’t Live Without – I don’t like to sit still, don’t nap and hate to be bored.  I realize that it doesn’t always make me the most relaxing person to be around, but it’s generally pretty entertaining.  When we had a free Sunday, I decided to go check out a little shindig they had going on in the cool Carouge neighborhood.  Unexpectedly, this post was selected for Freshly Pressed.
  2. Tschäggättä Parade To Celebrate Carnival In The Lötschental Valley – One of the best things about Switzerland is its festivals.  This one was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  This was my first post to be Freshly Pressed.
  3. More Pictures of the Versoix, Switzerland Ice Storm – Remember the picture of the frozen car?  Well, since it was taken in a suburb of Geneva, I couldn’t help myself.  I went to get the shot.  On a side note, it would have been smart of me not to wear high heals when doing so.  A couple of nice Swiss gentlemen helped me off the ice.  Yep, I’m an idiot, but the pictures are great.
  4. Our Basement Bomb Shelter, Otherwise Known As Our Storage Unit – I’m glad other people are as intrigued by this phenomenon as I am.
  5. Mt. Blanc, The Tallest Mountain In The Alps – I am profoundly grateful to have seen such beauty.
  6. The Spaghetti Tree Hoax, Aka Happy April Fool’s Day From Switzerland – Hilarious.  Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.
  7. My Introduction to French Cinema, A List of Great, Entertaining and Fun French Films – While I posted this before Jean Dujardin won the Oscar, some of his comedies made the list.
  8. Why Didn’t Hitler Invade Switzerland? – This was a hard one to write as it’s a difficult question.  I hope I didn’t screw it up too badly.
  9. Another Cultural Difference…Men In Spandex – Sometimes, it’s the little things…
  10. What The Heck Is A Bidet? – Please feel free to comment with any additional uses you can think up for a bidet.