Category Archives: Switzerland

Weekend Report

This weekend I:

  • investigated a hot coffee shop tip: Bar Infinito, on Sihlstrasse. With no less than five grinders nestled together on the counter, I had high hopes: although the espressos were fresh and short, the flavour was pretty mild. I would have liked to choose which of those five I got, in addition to turning down the piped music before settling down to read. Still, a nice place and the first decent coffee place I know of opening late near the main station.
  • finally called into Record Warehouse, a large second-hand CD and vinyl store near Central which had heretofore been closed on the previous few occasions I passed by. It was worth calling in: a large jazz section offered two albums with tracks from a much-listened compilation album I picked up a few years ago. Just when you think you’ve explored every little nook and cranny, the city throws up another little nugget of interest.
  • hopped on the #6 tram bound for Fluntern Cemetery, to finally see James Joyce’s grave. Reminiscent of Sihlfeld cemetery in the city centre with its neat rows of ornate graves and gravel pathways, Fluntern is much smaller and less trafficked, despite its proximity to the zoo and well over a dozen famous graves. Joyce rests towards the back, a simple marble tomb embedded in the ground alongside a statue of the man himself. I had been under the impression that Joyce spent many happy years in Zurich, which was not quite right: although he did leave Dublin for Zurich in 1904 with the promise of a teaching position with Berlitz, the job offer was a fake and he ventured further to Trieste, settling there for almost a decade until retreating to Zurich for the First World War. Unhappy with the post-war Trieste, he settled in Paris for almost twenty years before retreating – again, finally, and for just a few weeks – to Zurich to escape the occupation of France.
  • spent a day skiing at Pizol, near the Austrian/Lichtenstein border at the far end of the Wallensee beside Sargans. It was a gloriously sunny day with a lovely group tackling some surprisingly challenging new blue slopes. Though the skiing was wonderful, the highlight of the day had to be the brass band celebrating Fasnacht at the summit. 30 musicians of the Pelzchappni Brass Band bedecked in traditional garb blasting out German pop and rock favourites for the patrons of the restaurant at the top of a mountain in the middle of the Alps. You might think the sound would dissipate in the thin bright 2200m open air…but no. I was rarely so happy.

Weekend Report

This weekend I:

  • attended a public PhD défense and subsequent party at the EPFL
  • took a Saturday morning wander around Lausanne – this is one Swiss city I could actually like: with its crazy hills and soaring bridges, Saturday morning vegetable market bringing crowds into the old town centre, lots of nice fun little shops and views of Lake Geneva, it’s really the San Francisco of Switzerland
  • got very distracted in a really nice comics shop – all the comics were in French but I got a little “Destination Moon” Tintin model and a weird comic book-inspired guide to Rome from Lonely Planet as a present
  • tasted some very nice local beer on the streets and bought a few bottles for afterwards
  • went to see “Toy Story 3″, in Geneva, in 2D and a small screen but – crucially – without any intermission; nothing less than a masterpiece
  • visited Yvoire, a popular little village in France just across the lake from Geneva, and marvelled at how the shops were open, service was even worse than in Switzerland, ate some nice ice cream and caused much amusement at a hat store trying to find anything at all that fitted me – Irish people have apparently not evolved heads suitable for hats (are 64cm hats even possible?)
  • sat on a lot of trains

Weekend Report

This weekend I/we:

  • Booked a flight and hotel for San Francisco. Barring volcanic ash, I leave Thursday.
  • Started building the wooden drummer model kit I picked up at the Science Museum in London. I like the idea of these and like having them in the house but can’t help feeling a little concerned that it means I’ve just got too much spare time on my hands.
  • Wandered into town on Saturday and discovered another crazy Zurich shop, dedicated coincidentally to modelling but paper modelling. Paper planes, paper model houses (entire model towns, in fact), paper theatres depicting well-known scenes from popular plays, even paper coffee pots. I was very tempted.
  • Watched a late-night showing of “Mulholland Falls”. I’d seen this before, one very very late night at someone’s house just after finishing a run of a musical, however I fell asleep towards the end and have never known what happened at the end. Having now seen the complete film, I’m none the wiser. Some wonderful scenes but overall it wasn’t a repeat of the “Magnolia” experience (also at Xenix – great cinema) I’d hoped for and walking home in the rain at 2am wasn’t much fun, either.
  • Enjoyed lunch with friends/colleagues at Bohemia.
  • Checked out the design and fashion weekend in and around Langstrasse. After a monster brunch we only had time to explore one small stretch of Josefstrasse but did uncover some very cool shops, like einzigart, that I might never have otherwise found. They’re the kind of places I’ve been visiting based on the Prime Zurich Guide but I reckon now there’s far more of them than I thought. Great for idling away a Saturday afternoon and with the prices it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever actually spend any money. Though I’m sure it means society will soon crumble (the seventh day in Switzerland is for church, family, quiet reflection and skiing), it was very nice having some shops open on a Sunday.
  • Visited the Rieterpark’s “Fiesta Mexicana”, an outdoor festival dedicated to everything Mexican. This was presumably scheduled to tie in with the Mexican exhibition at the museum that I visited last Sunday. Funnily enough, I did vow to return once the weather improved but, unfortunately, today the weather was even worse. We had one very nice cocktail before deciding the whole thing was a little ridiculous (tragi-comic, perhaps) and trudged home through the rain.

I still did not cut the grass, though I did finally find the lawnmower in the basement. With my upcoming trip to San Francisco, I now have a deadline (of sorts – maybe they’ll kick me out and I won’t have to worry).

May Day Weekend

This May Day (Labour Day) weekend,

  • I saw Dianne Reeves at the Tonhalle. If I had to sum her up in one word, it would be “energy”. A wide range of styles, from skat through gospel through standards. She sings her band introductions, she recounts (with great fondness) being directed by George Clooney in “Good Night and Good Luck” and recounts some of the odd things she’s seen in Zurich. The band was excellent, too, especially their opening number.
  • I enjoyed the “holiday”, which unfortunately fell on a Saturday this year; Switzerland is unique among civilised countries in not bumping holidays falling on a weekend onto the following Monday. 2010 is the worst year this decade as 2nd January, May Day, 1st August (Switzerland’s National Day), Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day are all lost to the weekend. 2011 won’t be much better.
  • Mostly stayed in because of the miserable weather. This meant I avoided the riots on Helvetiaplatz, which I was really curious to see. This subject sparked a few conversations at work; a co-worker mistook our chattering for concern and thought it funny that “a couple of Irish guys are afraid of a Zurich riot”. Maybe next year I’ll be more energetic but I can’t help feeling the most dangerous activity will be little more than somebody crossing the road at a red light.
  • Attended a friend’s housewarming party. This was very enjoyable. I was more than a little impressed by his interior decoration skills and vowed to (finally) hang up my pictures.
  • Installed Ubuntu 10. It’s black and purple but at this stage I’ve basically completely stopped following what’s changing beneath the desktop so I’m just happy that it installed without incident in 15 minutes flat and every piece of hardware works fine; beyond that, I don’t know what else to say.
  • I still did not cut the grass…because of the rain. It leapt about 50cm while I was away from Zurich and is now threatening to rise over the hedge, alerting the housing company to this rogue tenant. Perhaps it will continue to rain all summer and I won’t have to bother.
  • Against all expectations (that’s another story), I really enjoyed the “The Time of Angels” Doctor Who double episode. I like the new doctor and really like the new assistant but still thought the first few episodes were pretty dull; these two episodes, however, were excellent. I chanced upon this blog post from The Guardian which makes me want to chase down a couple of other episodes from the same writer.
  • Watched the remainder of the snooker world championships.
  • Visited the Mexican exhibition at the Rietberg Museum, along with some of the permanent exhibition. I felt the exhibits were very good but there was very little in the way of explanation, so I had a ton of questions. I really hate when audio guides cost extra (especially when you’ve already paid a 16 CHF entry fee) because I err on the side of caution and avoid, as I don’t like carrying them around and almost always lose interest with them anyway. I especially liked the Mexican fire god, a grumpy hapless character squatted with a coal bucket perched on his head, the Chinese ink drawings and some of the African statues and masks. I didn’t even see half of the permanent collection or the (fantastic looking) grounds, so will have to return.
  • Finally updated this blog.

Before I wrote this is it felt like just a long and uneventful weekend (which was fine, considering it’s been a few weeks since I was in Zurich) but I guess it wasn’t so bad.

Goldberg Variations

Man walks out onto stage, sits down at the keyboard, plays the entire Goldberg Variations from beginning to end, gets up and walks back in again.

At least, I imagine that’s what happened: I missed the first couple of variations and, being new here and all, opened the wrong door into the church in – of course – the noisiest manner possible. A lovely church, great playing, no asking price; a good night! Part of a little-advertised Bach season at the Bühlkirche that I only learnt about because I walk past it every morning and spotted the poster in the nick of time.

Swiss Gingerman

A little bundle of joy appeared on the doorstep this morning minutes before leaving the house for a weekend in Amsterdam. Sure, the management company charges 50 CHF for a few postbox and doorbell name tags but then they go and do this.

Weekend Diary

I hope to slowly work my way through my copy of “Prime Guide Zurich 2008/2009″, which I picked up at Pile of Books (#92) a few weeks back. This afternoon, thanks to an early furniture delivery – which unexpectedly included delivery – I had time to visit a couple more:

  • #1 – 1000 Objekte
    A nice shop to wander about for a little while admiring the design (both of the shop and the objects) but the prices are stereotypical Zurich “who on earth buys this stuff?” material. Of course, while I was there, somebody was actually buying this stuff.
  • #30 – Chocomotion
    A beautifully designed small chocolate shop with a central circular display of well chosen chocolates from around the world. There’s also a tiny café which I was devastated to discover serves only the “real chocolate melted in hot milk” variety rather than the true pure melted chocolate variety; albeit, the best I’ve ever tasted. When I ask for some chocolate with ginger in, I’m presented with at least four totally unrelated options: ginger pieces rolled in chocolate, ginger paste in chocolate bars, raw cocoa flakes mixed with ginger…

Again, I’m reminded that there are some beautiful streets here in the old part of town, such as Spiegelgasse, dotted in the guide with about a dozen markers for cute interesting little independent shops like the above pair. Of course, being interesting cute little independent shops like the above pair, they close at 4pm on Saturday. Next weeekend: get out earlier.

Detroit: Alternative Future, Now

If, like me, you grew up watching bad (albeit classic) 1980s genre movies like “Robocop”, Detroit was the ultimate dystopian city of the future: gangs of marauding vigilantes roamed the streets; ordinary people eking out an existence hoping to avoid the trouble around them for one more day; mega-corporations peopled by amoral executives in glassy offices get rich off the chaos.

Now, the future looks a lot different. Could there be a clearer example of how the energy-strapped 21st century will turn out than that swathes of vast industrial power-house Detroit is reverting to agricultural use? Transport yourself back to 1945 and compare Detroit with Hiroshima: one of America’s largest and richest cities behind much of the industrial might that won the second world war vs. a city literally lying in ruins. Jump forward 60 years to 2009 and Detroit is de-evolving to the agricultural era while Hiroshima is a thriving mini-metropolis with bullet trains arriving every 15 minutes from Tokyo, world’s largest city.

Richard Heinberg devotes a chapter in The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies” outlining a seemingly-prophetic future in which energy concerns precipitate a drastic fall in population levels: a self-correction mechanism providing a more realistic counterpoint to predictions of never-ending population growth.

Rather than the doomed combination of an inexorable rise in numbers and cultural vacuum depicted in the movies, perhaps Detroit as the biggest (138 square miles vs. San Francisco’s 47) and earliest is simply the first real-world example of the eventual, benign, fate of many large cities: smaller, compact, partly self-sufficient cities. A number of excellent articles have recently appeared to discuss this “shrinking cities” movement, with Detroit as the study – worth reading:

Furniture Shopping in Zurich Without a Car

Unfurnished apartment living is a new world for a Dubliner newly arrived in Switzerland: while you avoid the possibility of inheriting a hideous couch, you had better find your own couch fast (and consider how it will look in your next apartment and how easy it will be to move). I spent a little time investigating the furniture shops around Zurich and found a pretty good cluster of shops in Dubendorf, easily accessible by public transport.

These are all served well by the Dubendorf local transit. To begin, take the S3, S9 or S11 (or #7 tram) from Zurich Hauptbahnhof out to Bahnhof Stettbach. After that, we’re on the 787 bus – the furniture bus!:

  • At the first stop, Ringstrasse, you’ll find something called “Wohnland”, which has Toptip, Pfister and Mobitare all right beside one another. A couple of minutes walk away is Interio.
  • A couple of stops later at Altriet you’ll find Schubiger Mobel (the #9 tram stops here, too).
  • Next stop, Zentrum Glatt, has Conforama.
  • Finally, after a few more stops on the 787, you’ll find IKEA at Industriestrasses.

The 787 runs every 15 minutes and all these shops open until 8pm during the week and 6pm on Saturdays (IKEA 9pm and 8pm, respectively) so it’s pretty easy to shop around here.
View Furniture Shops: Dubendorf in a larger map

For what they’re worth, I have the following mini-reviews to offer:

  • Pfister
    Nice shop with some good quality stuff starting at affordable prices. Good service and I bought a bed (and some nice bed clothes) here and delivery was pretty quick.
  • Mobitare
    I didn’t spend much time here; seemed less affordable than Pfister.
  • Interio
    Good quality stuff, cheaper than Pfister – like Habitat back home. I bought cutlery here.
  • Schubiger Mobel
    Great selection if you have a ton of money to spend and want furniture to last several lifetimes. A lovely shop, though, worth seeing.
  • Conforama
    A slightly more upmarket version of IKEA, though cheaper for many things. Good selection of couches at decent prices. I bought a kitchen table with chairs and a coffee table here and though delivery was slightly pricey it arrived within a few days and included assembly. They also sell electronics.
  • Toptip
    Similar to Conforama but perhaps more expensive; I saw one couch here I really liked for a better price than Conforama and bought it.
  • IKEA
    This IKEA has the honour of being the very first branch ever setup outside of Sweden (not incidentally, IKEA’s owner is Switzerland’s richest resident). I don’t like much IKEA stuff apart from Expedit shelves but also bought a mattress here: delivery with the wahrentaxi was a disaster and expensive.

Also worth considering around Zurich is Micasa, Migros’ furniture department, although it’s more awkward to reach by public transport than any of the above, and the second-hand stores dotted around the city.

Weekend Diary

A new beginning: an apartment has been found. Well, a new beginning of sorts: now the shopping begins. There are a few interesting looking shops around the wonderfully named Schmiede Wiedikon, where I’m currently camped, so I take a slow walk into town:

  • Brockiland
    A number of people have recommended the second-hand stores dotted around town. There’s one practically next door and I pop in for a second but spend almost an hour here. Their website looks dodgy; it looks dodgy from the outside; it’s even a little dodgy inside but this is Swiss-German dodginess, which is a little like bad French or Italian food. Inside, a huge converted slowly descending underground parking garage forms a kind of down-market Guggenheim devoted entirely to the re-use of perfectly good household items. This place isn’t much good for furniture (which is what I was really after) but is great for just about everything else:

    • electrical goods: VCRs, toasters and even Gaggia coffee machines
    • kitchen: cutlery, plates and saucepans
    • living room: coffee tables and a vast array of glasses of every conceivable type
    • random knick knacks: unwanted souveneirs and table ornaments
    • a ginormous selection of paintings, adding to the Guggenheim effect
    • books, complete with English section
    • clothes and bedsheets that I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole
  • Pile of Books
    I get derailed by the sight of an English bookshop. In contrast with Orell Fussli’s vast offering on Bahnhofstrasse, this is a charming little independent English bookshop that seems completely lost in this rather practical part of town. It’s great, though: I pick up Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” and find something of a treasure in the second-hand section: a hardback edition of Violet and Geoffrey Brand’s “Brass Bands in the 20th Century”, with a whole chapter by Eric Ball on the music of brass bands. A real find, I think. The owner is friendly and, since the market for brass band literature is small in Zurich, lends me a hefty discount and welcomes me to this “strange little country”. He also hands me a copy of something called “Prime Zurich Guide” (the outgoing edition). I’ll be back.
  • Lederand
    Vast, gorgeous, hugely expensive leather couches. I won’t be back…
  • Pico Bello
    Lots of expensive looking old stuff that would look great in a really old-fashioned house…but also some really, really, cool almost-affordable tiffany glassware lamps that would look great almost anywhere. I might come back here and treat myself one day in the future (and, by doing so, create a packing nightmare for one day in the distant future).

So, Schmiede Wiedikon’s not so boring and practical after all.

That night, I browse through the “Prime Guide Zurich 2008/2009″. This is actually a great little book, which I’m not the first to write about, full of recommendations for independent stores large and small just like “Pile of Books” and “The Travel Bookshop”. There’s 166 places altogether, at least 30 or 40 of which I make a note to visit. If half of them turn out to be worth visiting, I’ll be happy.

So, it’s pretty encouraging for this new resident that a city so apparently small is packed with random shops normally only found in much larger cities: fine beads, wool, buttons and buckles shops (one each); retro hi-fi equipment; a chocolate shop and café; and some totally bizarre combination shops such as the book and wine shop, the home-made chilli sauces and mariachi records store and, lastly, the shoe café. It could be fun filling quiet weekends with visits to some of these places. First, though: furniture!