Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day, Swiss Style

I had a pretty good idea of why the helicopters had been hovering high over Kurfirstenstrasse, so I decided to grab my camera and go see if the head-knocking was underway. Instead, I found that May Day was still pretty peaceful in Zurich, with the feeling of a Mardi Gras morning when everyone is positioning themselves for the big event, milling about the streets, little rivers of people streaming through the backstreets, all heading in the same general direction.
I hopped off the tram at Paradeplatz and merged into the flow. The protesters were nothing more than school kids, really, and I snapped a few photos before heading off to search for the anarchists. The flow of people emerging from the sidestreets grew thicker and I tagged along. Police in riot gear were gathering on the corners in small groups, talking in little groups, notes in hand, plotting their response if things turned ugly.
After blocks and blocks of wandering through a part of town I didn't recognize, I turned a corner, walked through a small gate in a wrought iron fence and into a festival crowd of communists, socialists, assorted rabble, children in strollers and their parents who nibbled on pork cooked on a revolving spit. In true Swiss style, there was no shouting or loud music, just hundreds of people in line at booths to buy food and drinks. Flags and posters festooned the place, decorated with sickles and anvils and revolutionary slogans. There were signs in German decrying the "Fehler" of capitalism. Oddly, though, capitalism seemed to be thriving all around me. I couldn't figure out if the merchants were making fun of the socialists or were truly ignorant of the irony in what they were doing. My favorite booth had a picture of Che below barrels of wine and a container of Sangria. Hey, why behave like a socialist unless you can make a few bucks at it?
There was lots of drinking but nothing in the way of violence, so I left after a half hour and walked dozens of blocks to the Hauptbahnhof. From there, it was back home on the tram.
The helicopters are still there, buzzing above the gathering crowds. As late afternoon sets in and the drinking carries on, I'm guessing that the fun is going to start soon, and I'll have to make another pass to find out. I may be wrong, though, as this is Switzerland after all. The festival merchants may just fold their tents and go home to count all the money they made off the socialists.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Chuy Slice of Swiss Cycling

It's hard to complain when you live in a place like Switzerland, but, let's face it, the weather has really sucked until lately. Today, though, was a good one; bright sunshine and clear skies. We took the train to Wadenswil to pick up our tandem from Bernie, our old friend and always-affable owner of Bikeway, and, after buying various geegaws, sunglasses and shoes before his half-price sale ended, hit the road for the horse farm.
It felt really odd, in a good way, to be cranking up the steep hills that led to the farmland. The last time we were here, it was the last time, or so we thought. We never expected to have the good fortune to be riding again in this beautiful part of the world, in the shadow of the alps and high above Lake Zurich.
We rolled past an old man on a bench who shouted loudly in Swiss German, encouraging us to keep going, until we reached the flat part that runs for a mile or so with the deep green hills rolling away to our left. We stopped for a couple of quick pictures so that our friends back in Grapevine, Texas could see that we're spreading the gospel of Team Chuy throughout Europe, then turned and bombed our way downhill until we hit the flat Seestrasse along the lake.
From there, it was a fast and steady pace back to the city. We picked up a couple of loafers who liked sitting in the draft of a big bike and surprised a few hotshots who dared to pass and were forced to wonder how two riders with a combined age of well over 100 could hold their wheel.
We rode hard through Horgen and Thalwil, cruised through Kilchberg and slowed for a noodle along the lake as we neared Enge. A quick stop by the lake to tempt a swan with granola crumbs, and we saddled up for the last mile to Kirfurstenstrasse.
Spring is nearly here and Switzerland is coming into bloom. Bright bikes and multicolored jerseys are springing up all over. The riding season, finally, has arrived.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Two-Wheel Deal: Yes, We've Done It Again

We may not have a place to live, but we do have a new bike. In a moment of bike-sale induced insanity, brought on partly by rare pre-spring blue skies and brilliant sunshine, we bought a tandem from our pal and newly sanguine bike shop owner Bernie, who has marked all his machines at half-price as he clears out inventory to begin again with new stock. A half-off sale on bicycles, particularly in Switzerland, is a deal far too good to pass up. We caved quickly, after a brief spin around the block, and left it parked at the shop until we secure permanent lodgings in the world's tightest housing market. Who needs lodging, though, when you've got a new bike?
We left there to drive up the winding road to Etzel, where there is a sort of fake winter in play, with plenty of snow in a smooth rolling blanket over the hillsides. It's too warm, though, for that sort of scenery, and we sat in the sunshine to eat bread and cheese beside an old church and talk about how the spring flowers and well-groomed Swiss cows will be out soon.
Winter tries again next week, according to the forecast, but it looks to be an empty threat, with rain and snow in the forecast before the sun comes back for the weekend. We'll go see Bernie when it calms down, and take the new bike around the lake, or maybe over to the horse farm, or the roller coaster, or one of the dozens of other routes we haven't been back to yet. But we know they're waiting. And so are we.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas in High Places

The way the blizzard was howling outside the window of our Austrian hideaway the night before, the calm on Christmas was a bit surreal. There was not so much as a whisper of wind, and the sky was a deep cloudless blue, hawks grazing the treetops on a day so quiet we could hear the flutter of their wings.
After a breakfast fit for a team of lumberjacks, we strapped on snowshoes and made our way up the mountainside, sinking into ankle-deep powder at times, poling the snow to make sure that we didn't step into a hidden cave.
There was drama, to be sure, when I stopped on a high point to take in the sweeping view of the mountains and T, eager to keep moving, began the walk back. I'm right behind you, I told her, and don't get lost. She promptly walked past the turnoff for the trail and the last I saw was her black coat disappearing around a distant curve in the mountain. I shouted, but she didn't hear, so I made my way back down the trail, figuring I would signal her from the lower slope and point her back to the turn.
Meanwhile, to hear her account, things quickly turned ugly. Stopped by a wall of snow after her slog in the wrong direction, she began to consider survival strategies, briefly considering gnawing her arm off until she realized she was beside a farm with a cow that she could slaughter if things got truly desperate.
Luckily, she looked down to see me waving my poles, and retraced her steps to the turn. She arrived with both arms intact, but I noticed a small patch missing from a corner of her hat.
We managed a turn in the gym in late afternoon. While T paced the treadmill, I spun the Bike to Nowhere, the view of the snowy peaks and a tiny distant church on the mountainside to keep us occupied. It was a long, long way from the Dallas suburbs.
There was time for the sauna before dinner, and if you're not careful in a place like this, you will find that your appetite can suffer some serious hurt. Let's just say there are people who should keep their clothes on at all times, particularly during pre-dinner hours. It's not the way you want to see the people who will dine a few tables away from you later in the evening. And, really, how safe is a sauna for a woman eight months pregnant and the old codger in the corner who's liable to keel over from a heart attack if the naked supermodel he's waiting to ogle actually shows up?
That night, we left open the curtains along the 15-foot wall of glass that faced our bed, and watched the night sky become a dome of diamonds, the little dipper among a scattering of Christmas jewels.
The next morning there was a jolt of back-home reality, a report on German TV about the murder of seven people in our old neighborhood back in Texas. We've been gone just a couple of weeks, but it seems like a very long time ago.
Another day of snowshoeing, some hiking and a few glasses of Christmas wine, and, suddenly, we are back in Zurich. We walked along Bahnhofstrasse on the way home, and felt the thriving spirit of the city in the post-Christmas shopping crowds.
At home on Kurfirstenstrasse, we found ourselves a little antsy in the early evening. No blanket of stars tonight, but a last glass of Christmas wine sounded like a fine idea.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's Beginnng to Look a Lot Like Switzerland

With exquisite timing, we managed to arrive in Zurich just before the city's first snow of the season began to fall in flakes the size of cotton bales. Coated white after a long walk in the early night to a warm pizzeria, we fed ourselves until becoming sluggish, then trudged home to our temporary flat that is the size of walk-in closet back in Texas.
It has been an interesting few days, to say the least.
We have been bombarded by winds so fierce that we find ourselves spending most of our time lining up to buy new umbrellas. After a long walk to the UBS on Bahnhofstrasse (the only location that is allowed to open accounts for Americans, thank you U.S. tax authorities), we arrived wind-blasted to meet with a banker so knowledgeable about finance that it was hard to believe he was only 12 years old. Actually, he was a bit older, but still young enough that he had not yet begun his university studies. We advised him to loosen up a little, enjoy his time at school and worry about career later, knowing full well that he would not take our advice on such an American approach to higher education.
Lest it seem as though we have touched down in a land of gloom and grey skies, let me be clear that Bahnhofstrasse is one of the world's most beautiful Christmas streets. There is a gigantic Christmas tree that sings and strands of lights blaze from the shopfronts. Music from carolers drifts around corners and men huddle inside wooden stands that sell roasted chestnuts. A woman dressed as Santa hands out bags of oranges. It is supposed to be cold and snowy for Christmas in Switzerland.
Our neighborhood is situated just behind Rietpark, a sprawling greenspace with a stately museum on the grounds. We cut through it when we walk to the grocery with our duffle to buy supplies, and along the way we talk about how nice it would be if the weather was warm and dry and we were tooling along on the tandem with a couple of sandwiches in the daypack. Winter takes patience and understanding in Switzerland, especially if you're from the southern part of the United States.
The heat in our flat comes through the floor and the thermostat is on the outside of the building. As the outside temperature changes, the sensors click on and our floorboards become warmer or cooler. We have been warned by the landlord to keep our frozen mitts off the thermostat. We have complied til now, but if the snow continues, well, we'll see.
The mountains are spectacular when the sun bursts through the grey and we get a glimpse of the bluish peaks beyond the lake. The forests on the hillsides are flocked with Christmas white. At dinner, with the wet flakes billowing just outside the window, T said it feels like we're inside a snow globe.
We manuever through the cold and think about our cycling buddies back in Texas, stripping off their arm warmers halfway through the Saturday morning ride. Good for them. When it's 110 degrees and the pavement is buckling back in Texas, we'll think of them again as we're soaring down the hillside from Hirzel on a bright 70-degree day.
That will come later. For now, it's Christmastime in Switzerland.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Awake in Paradise

I had this really weird dream. I woke up in a sweat and it took a moment to shake off the horror. In my dream, there was traffic and freeways and shopping centers. All the homes were identical and they were filled with people who wore sparkling jewelry and attended parties so that they could say they were there. Sometimes, oddly, people shot each other for no reason. And it never rained.
The dream seemed to last forever.
I sat up in bed and said a quick prayer. Thank you, God, that I am in Switzerland, where I can rise from my nightmare, pull on my shorts and ride into a countryside that you have waved into existence especially for people who ride bikes and walk and sometimes just sit stunned by the beauty.
So that's what I did. I pulled on my shorts and I rode my bicycle in Switzerland.
I picked up speed down a hill towards the lake - like I always did before the nightmare - curved through little towns and burst into the unseasonably bright and warm November sunshine along the flat straightaway towards Rapperswil.
I cruised along the lakeside, picking up speed as I left the city, the lake on my right, sparkling on a sunny mid-afternoon that felt like springtime instead of late fall. At Stafa, I hooked left into the hillsides and climbed and climbed until I had to stop for the cows that were crossing the road. When they were past, I realized, happily, that I was lost. I pedaled for miles through hills and towns I didn't recognize. The lake, my only landmark, was far below. I just rode, feeling my way, eventually bombing back down to the shore, curving towards Zurich and, finally, recognizing the street names until I could find my way.
A 40-mile ride in early November in Switzerland. The nightmare is over.