Switzerland has always had a special place in my heart since living there for 6 months in 1973/4. In 1972 when my Dad first brought the idea, I remember thinking “Could this be real.. I thought Switzerland was only a place from Fairy Tales!” I was 10. Ever since, I still think Switzerland is a place made of magic. Of course the “Real Switzerland” is all about Cheese, Chocolate and Mountains… That is of course if you leave out the mundane like clean and efficient and smart.
An opportunity appeared
So when I had an opportunity to go to Switzerland in September to support a company called ABB (headquartered in Zurich) I jumped at it.
In August IBM had a huge reorganization and changed the whole inner workings of our team. When the group became a lot smaller, we had to scramble a bit to hit solid ground and while communicating with the new team was when we got connected, with me being an underutilized available resource, and the ABB contract needing support. We had the conversation on a Friday, they wanted me in Zurich on Monday!
At first they wanted me to come over for 8 weeks. Typically I travel for a max of 2 weeks at a time. I had some personal commitments in the middle of that 8 week window that prevented me from even considering it. We settled on my coming over for a week and a half, then coming home for about a month, during which I would work nights so that I was working the same hours as the team, and then returning to Zurich for a 3 week stay. So all told I was in Switzerland for about a month.
The first week and a half I worked long, long hours, and barely got out of the hotel room. But one evening the Project Manager, Mario, took me out for a traditional Swiss Raclette dinner (melted Raclette cheese on potatoes), my favorite meal in the world! I quickly realized that I would be in Zurich on my birthday in another month and a half, so we made a date right then to go out for Raclette again.
The second time we went out for Raclette, Mario took me to a more trendy Raclette restaurant. At this restaurant you had a choice of different cheeses, all Raclette, but with different flavors mixed in (garlic, Red Pepper, etc.) Traditionally Raclette is served with whole new potatoes, but at this restaurant they served whole potatoes, mashed potatoes, even bread that you could pour the melted cheese over… Interesting to see this development. I think I in general tend to like the more traditional. Both places were all you could eat, and both nights, we definitely ate all we could!
Back to the first dinner, after dinner we walked around Zurich. Mario gave me the lay of the land in this beautiful older part of the city.
That weekend I was able to wander around Zurich a bit on my own. That first trip went pretty fast, so glad I was coming back again soon.
Food in general
I honestly had a lot of trouble with food in Switzerland. As you my recall from previous posts (most notably the Montreal trip) my diet is pretty strict, and I was in the strict part of my plan again. Without time to plan for food on the first trip and with the second trip being too long to take food, I decided to wing it. I was shocked to find it so difficult to eat! Specifically to try to maintain anything close to the plan. In general the food was NOT a highlight and this really surprised me.
There was a lot of Italian influence, but being gluten free, Italian is usually my last choice for an option. Meat was at a premium, nearly EVERYTHING had cheese… And Chocolate was everywhere. I guess this makes sense for Switzerland, but disappointing not to enjoy the food more. I’m sure the travel experts would disagree with me, because I still cannot believe I had so much trouble. Maybe it was because my hotel and the IBM office were in the industrial part of town, and I didn’t have a car for most of the trip. Regardless, I struggled. Most of my lunches were at the IBM Cafeteria, which was decently healthy, but not particularly great.
There was a bakery right outside my hotel door, so most mornings found me catching a train with a chocolate croissant in hand and a cup of coffee…. yeah, not on the plan. Anyhow you get the idea.
..and food poisoning
I did get food poisoning squarely in the center of the second trip and spent a Monday night vomiting every hour, so Tuesday I slept all day. Wednesday thought I was better but I was exhausted and zombie at work all day, and Thursday bound to my hotel room and the toilet all day… So pleasant. TMI. But that characterized that week.
Focus on the weekends
The work continued full on for the entire time I was contracted to that job. I was working with Polish counterparts in Krakow and the India team, so none local to Switzerland. For the most part I was in a room by myself, made me question again why I needed to be in Europe, but ABB felt more comfortable with me in the same timezone….ok. I focused on the weekends.
The first weekend of the second trip I went to Venice. I blogged about that here. The second weekend I rented a car to get a little ways out of Zurich, see some of the countryside of Switzerland. And let’s be honest… I noticed how close I was to Liechtenstein, and thought that would be a cool place to geocache (I also wrote about geocaching in the Venice post.)
My colleagues in Switzerland thought I was crazy to want to go to Liechtenstein. They campaigned hard for me to go 2 hours in the other direction to Colmar, France.
I opted to travel North to Colmar on Saturday, and poked into Germany on the way back getting geocaches in Switzerland, Germany, and France. And Sunday I went south to Liechtenstein, driving the full 25 mile length of the country, and poked into Austria. So I picked up geocaches in Switzerland, Austria and Liechenstein… 5 countries in 2 days, a personal best!
Fall was in full bloom, so the trip North through farming communities was beautiful. Colmar is a quaint town with a lot of character, but also OVERFLOWING with tourists. Parking was horrendous, once parked I didn’t move the car, just walked the cobblestone streets of town, and out to a nice French dinner. Nice day, but not my scene.
The trip South took me high up into tiny mountain villages in the Alps.. This was breathtaking. The Switzerland I remember from my youth. Close your eyes… can you hear the cowbells?
Liechtenstein and Austria were nothing worth noting, except that it was cool to be there (and they have mountains too). The accessible places in Liechtenstein are all in the one main valley floor. The other “side” of Liechtenstein is high mountains, with no access at all.
On the way home I drove past the Walensee. A lake at the bottom of a very steep valley. The road started at lake level and climbed and climbed to WAY up over the lake to a couple of tiny mountain towns! If I could go back to Switzerland I’d try to spend some quality time here! GORGEOUS! Take your breath away type of stuff.
Also on the drive home I drove through Zug, a town I wrote a paper on in the 6th grade when I lived in Geneva, Switzerland, but I had never been to. Another really nice town and beautiful lake with waking paths, etc. Much more a city though than I realized.
I had dinner at a mountain Gasthouse, Schnizel.. which was great. Definately a weekend to remember.
By the last week of my trip, I had not gotten to the Uetliberg, one attraction I was hoping to see in Zurich. This is a mountain overlook offers a panoramic view over Zurich and the lake. So, my last day in town I took off a couple hours early and get up there for sunset. You can get up there by railroad round the back or by cablecar on the front. I opted for train. At the top there is a small hike to the overlook (and geocache). As mentioned before, the trees were all turning in Switzerland and so the walk was beautiful! I am glad that I got in this last attraction.
Finishing the job
As I headed home for Thanksgiving, the team was having to get creative on budget on the job. I had put in place a process the guys in India could follow and finish the loading of all the data on their own, and at a much cheaper rate than me, so I’m now rolled off that job and come January 1, I’ll be seeking the next adventure. I will always be thankful for my opportunity to visit the magical country of Switzerland.