A Peak into The Switzer Land

It’s been a while. The last time I laid eyes on real mountains. A long while actually, well over a year ago if you don’t count two or three short teasing ‘glimpses’. Yesterday I saw some real frikkin’ big ones. Up close. Made me feel small. Made me feel good.

explanatory mountain infographic

explanatory mountain infographic

The weather was … well it couldn’t have been any nicer … pure blue sky and sunshine. My face is red and the skin hurts to touch, a bit. I blame that on the sunshine and snow. Oh yeah … snow played a supporting role. The place was Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland, deep in the Switzer Land. No, it didn’t smell like cheese nor look like chocolate although on a side note the super delicious Lindt chocolate easter bunnies were on sale in one shop at 75% of the usual not super cheap price. Scored and enjoyed 🙂


Temptation … yummi

My personal way back machine contains memory data of my having visited the area in my early teen years. This being a few years later and my interest and curiosity in the area still going strong, wife and I decided to head down there on a day trip. This we accomplished without using our car. Instead we made use of a very practical rail pass that can be purchased in advance for a specific date and what makes it oh so über cool is that you can travel with depth and breadth of the Switzer Lands by rail, city transit, water and cable car for one very cheapo cost (note: most cable car rides will cost you half the normal price and are generally not included as ‘free’ on the day ticket). Cost 40Chf per person = 32Euros = 50Cdn$ approx. Not a bad deal considering that rail travel in Europe is not that cheap. Doing the exploring of smaller countries in this fashion saves you wear and tear on your own vehicle, the stresses of navigating to new places and the near insurmountable obstacle of finding reasonable parking when you get to where you go. We hoped on the bus right in front of our place (convenience +), hopped off at the Badischer Bahnhof in Basel and this is where the fun part of the early morning began. You see, while I’d looked up various departure times from there to where we wanted to go, I neglected to also take a careful look at the multiple rail connections the various options had, i.e. times and track numbers as well as something as silly as which cities that we would have to get on and off the train and connections, hmmm.

screenshot of departures, sans specifics ... oops

screenshot of departures, sans specifics … oops

My wife was not impressed that I’d neglected that simple yet important factoid in planning … well that I’d not planned well enough. Ok, so that added a bit of stress but we managed to make the three connections without any real issues and didn’t miss any trains either, and that averted further stress. We also discovered that we could ride the ICE train in the Switzer Land without additional costs, coolio that. Note: the higher speeds this train is known for slowed to nearly a crawl in many of the more winding sections on our three hour trip. The speeds were ok from Basel to Bern.

riding the rains towards the  jagged peaks

racing on rails towards the jagged peaks

Swiss Train at Interlaken Ost Bahnhof

Swiss Train at Interlaken Ost Bahnhof

In Interlaken, (567m above sea level)  the Thuner See to the north and the Brienzersee to the south, we switched to the regional train that took us up through Wilderswil and on to Zweilütschinen. Instead of continuing on up to the town of Grindelwald (1034m above sea level), we hoped onto a bus for that (20minute) stretch as work was being done on that section of the rail line.

on-board windowsill graphic/map

on-board windowsill graphic/map

It was not yet noon when we arrived at our destination. What struck me most of all as soon as I got off the bus and raised my eyes to the view was the immensity of the surrounding mountains that ranged just west of the small valley; not a narrow valley but not that large either.

the Eiger, the town and the yellow bus

the Eiger, the town and the yellow bus

It felt good. Really good. I always feel good when I am in the mountains, when I can see them … feel them. My wife also has a similar reaction and adds that she feels like she’s come home when she’s in the mountains. These fuckers however made me feel small. Real small. It was weird. I’m walking around, looking at this or that chalet and taking in how people live here and then I look up and am blown away, overpowered by the magnitude of the towering mountain peaks right above my head. Overwhelming in the best possible sense. And to see that residents of this town had such spectacular backdrops to their everyday lives … very cool indeed.

this is the view someone has out of their kitchen window, of a quaintly solid chalet home. It's the Eiger

this is the view someone has out of their kitchen window, of a quaintly solid chalet home. It’s only one of most famous mountains on earth – the Eiger

And to the left of the spectacle continues to impress. One could spend days, nay weeks absorbing the wonder of it all.

on foot


We decided to poke about a bit and set off on foot.

Wanderweg Sign

Wanderweg Signage. Eiger behind sign

we went left

we went left towards the Wetterhorn

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ferien wohnung rental accomodation

and hiked up narrow climbing paved roadways, past idylic chalet settings bedeked with small to large cow bells, and hillside pasture used by goats with jangling bells. We also saw several signs advertising ‘Alpen cheese’ for sale. This is where it gets silly. We packed a lunch, a good lunch because things are esspensivo in the Switzer Lands. Hell, we even packed a chunk of Gruyere cheese but then couldn’t resist the urge to buy more cheese at one of the local shops along with a Swiss air cured beef specialty to add to our packed lunch; of which we only ate the bread. On our meandering way back towards town and the gondola ride upwards to the First peak, we stopped and sat on a bench at a small old barn for a rustic lunch in the sunshine with a view on the Eiger.

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lunch spot

view towards Grindelwald from lunch spot

view towards Grindelwald

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more valley view

On our way back to town we heard some odd noise that clashed violently with the stillness of this alpine idyll, a loud reverberating roar that bounced out of the blue sky and off the mountainsides above and behind us.  Two Swiss airforce fighter jet aircraft were engaged in close  maneuvers, a tight circling airborne dance lest they fly or rocket out of bounds (Switzerland being smallish in size). The country has a strong and clear sense of defense. On our journey there we saw two individual soldiers in full gear including the rifle slung in front of the body with folded stock,a reminder that this folk is prepared, willing and ready to defend at a moments notice it seems. Actually we had wanted to hike up to the First peak (2168m above sea level) but were told that since the recent ski season had wrapped up not too long ago that conditions on the upper hiking trails were ‘difficult’ and for the most part closed. Ok, gondola time. With our special travel day pass we scored half price tickets and hopped into a small four person gondola for the (much to our uniformed surprise) half hour trip up to the peak from 1034m in Grindelwald.

gondoling up to the First from Grindelwald

gondoling up to the First from Grindelwald, Schreckhorn 4075m

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 23.00.16

Eiger 3970m center image

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 23.00.48

Finsteraarhorn 4274m above the valley floor

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 23.01.24

Schreckfeld gondola station, turns 90º and heads up the last little stretch to the First.

author way above sea level

author way above sea level

We hung out a bit up there, soaked up the brutal sunshine, ate a few of our packed goodies, ordered something to drink and headed back down to the Bort gondola station at 1570m from the First  From there we decided to hike back down the rest of the way to town because it was such a beautiful day and after all we’d wanted to hike in the first place.

hiking down towards Grindelwald

hiking down towards Grindelwald

alpine spectacle

alpine spectacle

idyllic scenery

idyllic scenery

Edelweiss flower info The day after: our legs are a bit sore, our exposed skin got burned, our spirits are lifted and the memories rock. Go visit off season, it’s less busy 😉

The Switzer Land, it might be small, but it's really big too.

The Switzer Land, it might be small, but it’s really big too.

Things to Get Used to or The Agonizing Process of Getting Used to New Things

Ok, so I’ve moved to an entirely new place and away from the old familiar surroundings. Germany is the new place, Canada was the old.

While I am settling into the new reality and feel quite comfortable adjusting there are a few things that don’t come quite so easy even if they are rather normal things like … oh, say coffee for instance. I can’t find a cup to my liking anywhere and am beginning to wonder what it is that I’m wanting.

Here is a freeform list of things I find interesting to get used to:

Garbage: The Germans take their Garbage seriously as they do most things and it is sorted at home. Plastics and metal cans in one clear yellow bag, regular kitchen waste in a green bag or a blue bag. If your garbage can is full up before pickup day you can purchase an expensive garbage bag at the local city hall for 3.90 Euros making those some of the most expensive plastic bags I’ve ever come across. Paper is also handled separately and you can either sign up and pay for a paper only garbage can that is emptied regularly or you can take your own paper waste to a recycling depot somewhere in a village near you. Glass is also dealt with by the customer either by returning bottles to the store and inserting them into a vending machine that accepts the bottles and then prints up a little ticket with your refund which you can use against new purchases at the store. I like the way plastic bottles are dealt with in some of these vending machines, in goes the bottle, it is scanned for acceptability and then when it is conveyed into the bowels of the machine you hear a crunching, shredding sound et voila … no space robbing storage issues.

Coffee: Seems most of the roasts available here are either light and mild or dark espresso with crema. No French roast, Verona, Komodo, or other roasts that I’ve been accustomed to in the coffee nerd centers of the North American west coast regions. To be fair, I have not yet succumbed to the lure of the lone single Starbucks I know of in the larger city of Basel to the south of me or in Freiburg to my right (wen I face west). I have also noted that much of the coffee making is done by machines with humans pushing buttons and using ‘pads’ instead of the drip method which I prefer. Ok, that is how I like my cafeine/water combination.

Store hours: Difficult when one is in a hurry. Most notable when in a rush around mid day when lots of shops close for an hour or more. Damn you 24 hour lifestyle of the North American continent. That said it goes without saying that pretty much everything (except restaurants) is closed up tight on Sundays. That also means that shopping on Saturday can be a mean feat what with everyone needing to stock up for the weekend.

Alcohol: Pleasant change in attitudes, cheaper prices, larger selection and well … it’s mind boggling at times.

Baked goods: Also pleasant and the selections are also dangerously appealing.

Cheese: Lets just say ‘cheeses’ … way too many to list, try or wrap my head living here were Germany, Switzerland and France touch each other. And Europe being so … small other selections from other countries round out the selection nightmare. I stick to my favorites and try the unknown from time to time.

Meats: Expensive pleasure when indulged if you like your big chunks of red protein for the grill. Sausages abound in nearly endless varieties and game is abundant as well, which is something I’ll try in the near future.

Vegetables: Come from local producers or from Spain instead of Mexico as I have been used to, haha. Much is to be said of the ‘Bio/organic’ movement afoot although it can be suspect in how much organic produce etc can be produced. The area I live in is rural patterned by farm fields and villages and vineyards and this or that organic farm with produce for sale. It is a food lovers paradise to be sure.

Village shop: Yes this village has one, just one. It is not always open but has a selection from magazines to cheese to alcoholic distractions to tide you over until you can get into the next town to do some real shopping.

Hair cutting: Don’t go to the cut and go place, even if you have no other choice. Unless you like having your hair barbered by what appears to be a 12  year old girl who thinks it normal when your hair looks weird after she’s done her thing. I’ve been wearing a hat for a week now and am saving up new hair for a decent cut. I need to find an established Italian or Turkish barber shop or go for the near bald look again.

Bird song:  Yup, different birds around these parts too. Ok so the sparrows and swallows and crows are familiar, as are the robins. But the Hawks, buzzards, storks and cranes/herons and pheasants, cookoos and other feathered flying fowl are new and pleasant discoveries.

Driving: Again, another serious engagement. Drive like you mean it. Accelerate rapidly and brake late. And don’t forget, right before left (someone arriving at an indicated intersection from the right always has the right of way, unless you are on a main thoroughfare. It’s ok if you don’t understand because I’m told that the Swiss and the French who frequent these roadways don’t get it either. Hence the ‘brake late and brake hard’ maneuver. Oh, and ATV’s are ok on the road … WTF?!

Look serious: It seems it’s the accepted mean around here. I try to turn that into a smile whenever I can, even if it means the person I smiled at turns after I’ve walked by with a WTF expression on their face, priceless.

Sunday: Is a quiet day, ‘Ruhe Tag’. Today is such a day and I won’t be drilling holes into the wall to hand stuff up. But I’m not sure that I’ve not broken some tabu by cranking up the dishwasher and washing machine before eight this morning …

Summary. When you visit a place everything is new and quaint and interesting and strange and eye opening. When you move to that place it takes a while to slip into the new reality and adapt ones manners to those of the prevailing social norms.

Einen guten Tag noch 🙂

Improv Recipe Modification

So, the last time I was in Germany; well the time before the last time too, I was turned on to a particularly delightful summery dish. Boiled potatoes with Ziger, a kind of ‘white cheese’ called Quark. It is creamy with a slightly sour flavor and here in Canada I have not yet found anything similar. Not enough Germans here perhaps? or I’ve possibly not yet found the place to buy it.

What delighted me so when I first tasted it was that simple garden herbs like chives, parsley and onions, a bit of garlic, salt and pepper to taste are mixed with this simple creamy white cheese and then served with lovely German boilded potatoes (perhaps you know what I mean) that are also dusted with sprinkles of parsley. A piece of potato on your fork, a generous dab of Ziger applied with your knife and pop that into your mouth. You won’t be sorry.

That is until you try to repeat that by making it yourself here on the North American side of the big Atlantic pond. Ok, you might be on of those smart asses who makes the stuff yourself. I’ve not attempted that yet, but I won’t shy away from it when the urge strikes next time.

Since my last trip to Germany I’ve recreated this dish improv style twice, the last time last night. My dinner guest and outspoken food critic (my daughter) blew my mind when she declared it to be the best tasting potato salad she’d ever tried. I was all smiles, and on to something good.

I had a craving for garden greens, potatoes and something cool on a warm summers evening and so I set to work. Knowing I couldn’t find Quark in my local shopping hangouts I decided to ‘make do’ with what I could find. That consisted of plain yogurt, cottage cheese and sour creme. I plopped those ingredients into a bowl and then got to chopping green onions, shallots, cilantro, a few basil leaves and a bunch of radishes, which I diced. I stopped short of throwing a cucumber into the mix although that mini Japanese variety would be a delightful adition. But enough with the evolving mutation.

Quickly blend all of the ingredients in a large enough bowl to hold the mass comfortably and let it chill in the fridge. I find that the flavor the next morning/day is much richer and enjoyable, so if you can let the mixture stand overnight.

Serve your potatoes warm arranged around the edge of a large plate with a generous dollop of the dairy/garden greens combination. It makes for a  simple, satisfying and lovely summery dish. Mine just happened to turn into a potato salad because I tossed them with the dairy/greens mixture. Soooo good and I can’t wait to do it again this summer some time.

Photo? No, so sorry I ate the subject/prop 😉 you’ll have to use your imaginations. Next time, hehe

Here are a few other recipes using Ziger: http://www.kaeserei-neudorf.ch/de/kaese/ziger/rezepte.html

From Wikipedia:

The cheese is also known simply as “white cheese” (Polish: ser biały, Lithuaninan: Baltas sūris, southern Germany: Weißkäse or weißer Käs, Hebrew: Gvina Levana גבינה לבנה, Serbian: beli sir), as opposed to any rennet-set “yellow cheese”.

The name comes from the Late Middle High Geman Quark, which in turn is derived through twarcquarczwarg from the Lower Sorbian Slavic tvarog, (Polish twaróg, Belarusian тварог, Russian творог, and Czech and Slovak tvaroh, which means “curd”. In Austria, the name Topfen (pot cheese) is used. In Flanders, it is called plattekaas (flat cheese), while the Dutch use the name kwark. In Norway, Denmark and Sweden, it is called kvark.

In Germany, quark is sold in small plastic tubs and usually comes in three different varieties, Magerquark (lean quark, virtually fat-free), “regular” quark (20% fat) and Sahnequark (creamy quark, 40% fat) with added cream. While Magerquark is often used for baking and as health food, e.g. as a breakfast spread, Sahnequark also forms the basis of a large number of quark desserts. Much like yoghurts in some parts of the world, these treats mostly come with fruit flavouring (Früchtequark, fruit quark), and are often also simply referred to as quark. As the large popularity of quark desserts is limited to mainly the German-speaking and central European countries, confusion might arise when talking about quark with people unfamiliar with cuisine from this area.

The name comes from the Late Middle High Geman Quark, which in turn is derived through twarcquarczwarg from the Lower Sorbian Slavic tvarog, (Polish twaróg, Belarusian тварог, Russian творог, and Czech and Slovak tvaroh, which means “curd”. In Austria, the name Topfen (pot cheese) is used. In Flanders, it is called plattekaas (flat cheese), while the Dutch use the name kwark. In Norway, Denmark and Sweden, it is called kvark.

In Finnish it is known as rahka, while in Estonian as kohupiim (foamy milk). In Latvian it is called biezpiens (thick milk). The French-language word for it is seré, but it is most commonly called fromage blanc.

Quark is possibly described by Tacitus in his book Germania as lac concretum (thick milk), eaten by Germanic peoples.

In the US quark is called simply farmer’s cheese in the midwest.

In southern Germany it is known as: Weißkäse or weißer Käs (White Cheese)

Canadiana 103

French fries … good; if not too often.

Cheese curds … good too; if you can find them near you, especially fresh. Every bite a silent squeaky sensation.

Gravy … also good; especially a rich and full flavored variety.

Ok, so these above food items can induce pleasurable  taste sensations in and of themselves. Two of those items can be eaten on their own and don’t really require any accompanying condiments except that who the hell eats french fries just like that, plain? I don’t know anyone who does that. The cheese thing on its own I totally get. No problem. Gravy on the other hand is understood to accompany a hearty meal of meat and potatoes or some juicy oven roasted fowl or some other favorite carnivorous victuals. But not on it’s own.

Now – combine the three first mentioned items. What dish do you get? I’ll give you a moment. No? No clue, no idea? You’re not Canadian are you. Poutine is the correct answer. Pronounced ‘Pooteen‘ and not like the Russian Presidents name Putin.

Google Screen Shot

Poutine is a French Canadien invention and it’s quite tasty if I may add; don’t try the Dairy Queen version. This dish comes from la belle province, Quebec. Yes yes, that also happens to be the place that makes this country Canada bilingual.

Imagine double fried french fries done Belgian frit style, but instead of slathering on catsup, mayonaise and or a spicy peanut sauce (as they do in Holland/Netherlands), imagine instead laying on a generous portion of those squeaky cheesy curds. Then ladling over that a tasty gravy et voila, lunch, dinner or snack time is complete.

I find its best eaten during the dull months of late fall and winter when the weight of the dreary weather demands thick sustenance.

There are two rivalling claims to its invention, the first from 1957 when a take-out customer asked restauranteur Fernand LaChance of Warwick to mix cheese with his order of fries. The other claim for its origination was made by restaurant owner Jean-Paul Roy of Roy le Jucep in Drummondville Quebec; dating his claim in 1964. It says so right on the website.

Either way, this is a dish enjoyed sparingly in my opinion, but one to be enjoyed. Bon appetite mon ami.

Cheesey Kind of Love or the Love of Cheeses

Do you like cheese? (If you are lactose intolerant, tune out now. This is not for you. Sorry)

I know, it is a broad question. In general though … do you have a particular “go to” favorite or are your tastes far ranging when it comes to the multitudinous delectable selections that are available on store shelves? Fairer consideration also, whether or not your local stores offer much in terms of real selections, rather than the tired same old where the only difference appear to be brand and packaging. Coming from the north American experience I can relate to the tired same old choices where most of the cheese peddled by your local super market is either Cheddar or Mozzarella with the occasional venture off that beaten path in their deli sections. And in cases like that I prefer to find a decent neighborhood deli run by Italians who know a thing or two about cheeses and are not afraid to let your nose find them; must say that it took me a while to get used to that particular smell of a few particular delis in my area.

From softly bluish far away Fetas,  beautiful bulbs of fresh buffalo milk bocconcini resting in liquids to all things Swiss, Dutch, French, Italian, English and Scandinavian with the invariably non imported “styled” selections that are produced on continent, ones head can spin and taste-buds excited by it all. The nose either offended or homing in on a particular scent, and then the argument between nose, brain and taste, when some slice, glob or dab of obviously foul smelling delights and dazzles the knowing mouth with flavors so different than the in your face vile aroma inhaled. Mix more than a handful of these odours in a cheese shop or cheese section of your local deli and wow … it can be enough to drive the weak and timid right back onto the sidewalk.

For some odd reason I enjoy a cheeses that smell like a teenagers sneaker. Not that I have an odd odour fetish, no. Nor would I suffer a shoe stink like that anywhere near me, but when it comes to cheeses and their various flavors and textures, I am a forgiving type and perhaps a bit adventurous also. How else to increase the knowledge, expand ones palette and embrace all that is cheese without a bit of daring do? Having said that I do not pretend or allude to being a cheese freak or someone with a text book knowledge of all there is to know. No. I just like cheese.

Google searech screen shot

Simple, complex, mild or stinky. Cheese is a food of wonder and at times I wonder why oh why it stinks to high heaven and what could possibly attract me to put something foul smelling into my own mouth. Compare this conundrum with say … that most foul smelling of fruits called the Durian (the edible fruit of a tree, Durio zibethinus,  of the bombax family, of southeastern Asia, having a hard, prickly rind, a highly flavored, pulpy flesh, and an unpleasant odor) and to its ardent worshippers of its flavor and my reaction is radically skeptic (I have seen pictures, read reports, and have tasted an artisan ice creme creation from the source fruit; yet have never actually dipped my spoon into the sofly golden mass and tasted for myself and in case you were wondering, no. I´ve not been to places where this fruit grows. I know via the grapevine that it is not allowed aboard aircraft; for good reasons).

For those same self good reasons, I am of the steadfast mind that airline passengers should not under any circumstances be allowed to bring their favorite stinky cheese on board and consume same. This dearly held conviction suddenly annexed after innocently observing an kindly older woman unzip a small plastic bag of some kind of cheese on her lap; the force of its odor so powerful in that confined a space, that it made my eyes water and I nearly gagged before she even got the piece of rudeness to her mouth, her expression pure bliss as she shared it with her husband.

Oxygen Mask Use On-board Aircraft

Their enjoyment of the moment in hot terrible contrast to what I and undoubtedly others inside that metal tube were suddenly assaulted with. Had I not been constrained by my seat-belt and hemmed in on both sides by travel companions, I might have considered kicking out a window in sheer panic, induced by that vile pungent stench emanating from that little plastic bag on that woman’s lap. Perhaps her seating companions had already passed out. Thankfully the bag was soon zipped up again, but the damage had been done and drama created. No, the oxygen masks remained out of site above, the rancid stench not enough to automatically deploy them from the overhead to offer welcome relief, bummer. I prayed then, that she and her mate would consume the entire contents of that bag and save the rest of us from further horrors. At that exact point, I would gladly have stuffed french roasted coffee beans up my nose.

The above is a very real and dramatic recounting of what the extremes of cheesiness can be. The other extreme is hardly worth mentioning. It is a white, soft, flavor-less spreadable kind of cheese … did I mention flavor less? Thought so. It probably doesn´t even deserve the name it is given.

I realize there are many other exciting and perhaps even dangerous cheeses and other equally boring examples of what has been done with milk product from various beasts but like I said, I am not expert in this field of flavor, just an intensely interested taster.

Last night for instance was a delight. I was invited to a Raclette dinner with friends (a Swiss dish, made by heating a piece of cheese, as over a hearth, and scraping off the melted part onto a plate: served with boiled potatoes). The dish is named for the cheese used in making same said dish and comes from either France or Switzerland. The heart bit is a Raclette grill set sitting center piece on the dinning table, plugged in and hot, ready to accept the little square or triangle shaped pans laden with pieces of the favored brand of cheese, festooned and garnished with other bits of foods such as onion slices, pickled onions, pickles or conrnichons, delicate slices of ham, sliced mushrooms, peppers or whatever tickles ones fancy. Also a popular spicing agent is ground black pepper mixed with ground nutmeg. And last night I discovered something I never would have combined with this cheese … banana. Or curry powder. But it was on the table and I did try it. It didn´t taste bad.

This dish is a wonderful table experience, each guest building and putting together their own creations and once melted together in their little pans safely tucked into their part of the grill, the pans are gently and eagerly emptied of their bubbling content over hot sliced small potatoes and then eaten with relish (no, I don´t think one actually adds relish). Conversation ebbs an flows, now and then every accompanying garnishment of the meal is passed round the table and everyone helps themselves to their hearts content. Too much of this good thing could disturb ones heart content and so it is best enjoyed in balance. A winters dish of my liking.

Not least but last in this cheesy rambling I would be remiss to forget the simple cheese sandwich. My favorite is a good hearty rye bread, decent butter and two pieces of whatever cheese I chose to use for the purpose. Open faced or closed style, this robust staple rocks. Every time.

I like cheeses and hope to add more discoveries to my palette of tastes that delight and satisfy. Note, an intense and full flavored Swiss Tilsiter in sandwiches in a satchel will turn heads from a few feet away. I turned heads last week.