Friday, February 29, 2008

Another day at the zoo

We spend the day at the zoo on Monday by ourselves, and also on Thursday with Elsbeth and Lena, and Elias who was mainly asleep. After we got home, Martin and Tinu joined us and for once we treated Elsbeth+Tinu+Lena to a dinner. We still owe them a lot of food though.

Some pictures from the day:

We always have to go see the Turtles first, according to Sonja:

Then, very often, the orangutans and the gorilla next, just up the hill from the turtles. The little gorilla is about a month older than Emilie.

The peacock treated us to a wonderful display:

One of the toys on the playground at the zoo, where we will likely spend a lot of time in the future. Especially once the weather is warm enough for them to turn on the water - here is a water sculpture of sorts for the kids to play in.

They have a huge hall filled with plants and animals from the Madagascar rainforest. Sonja doesn't care about the rainforest, but she sure likes the small house in it, which if a bit more her size than others. Here, she and Lena try out the binoculars, to which Sonja refers as the camera that she wil take pictures with.

At our apartment in the evening: Lena+Sonja, Elias+Emily, and Martin goofing off with the kids on the play mattress in our living room. That is a great thing - got a second-hand mattress to put on the floor, and that is our play space. It gets used a lot.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Summer-y day at the river (with Hil and Ryan and Sophie)

Sunday morning Martin got back from his latest hectic travel, and after he took a nap, we wanted to head out to the lake, but instead headed to the river when we called Ryan and Hilary and found out they were there.

Since most people who read this blog know them, below are pictures of Sophie, Ryan, Hilary, and us. First picture: several places along the river are full of (legal, presumably) graffiti: some were even being painted that Sunday as people strolled by.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Spring is in the air

The first flowers are popping up everywhere. Last week we saw some through a chainlink fence:

Today was another nice and sunny day, and it seemed that everyone in Zurich went to the lake. What a contrast with the nearly deserted lakeside when we went to feed the birds with old bread last time:

The whole time we were downtown we heard a lot of car horns and shouts. Unlike last Sunday, when the people were waving the black eagle on red background flag (Kosovo), this must have been a counterdemonstration of serbs against the independence of Kosovo.

Some more flowers at the university, no longer in sunshine because we were so long at the lake:

Can't tell a toddler not to pick flowers.

A piece of garbage. I see a piece of garbage next to that flower. Is that possible? In Switzerland? (The truth is, nearly every single day we go out of the house we see street cleaners somewhere. It is a pretty darn clean place. Good thing too, since Emily wants to put all of it into her mouth.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ice skating with a stroller

Sunday night Elsbeth called to say that while the beautiful sunny weather was holding, she was going to stay around Einsiedeln and do things around there. In particular, she was going to go ice skating on the lake the next day. With Elias in the stroller, and Lena on the baby board attached to the stroller.

That sounded enough interesting that I decided to go visit her, even though we have travelled quite a bit in the previous five days.

Elsbeth helping Lena on the baby skates:

Ice skating with two kids on a stroller:

No problem at all:

First time I saw windsurfing on some sort of ski (didn't get a good look):

At Elsbeth and Tinu's home, the girls sitting on a cold stove:

Lena chatting with her dad:

The girls were doing "jumping" into the bed over and over again:

Finally, the only reason I got these pictures is because someone found the backpack I left in the train on the way home and turned it in to the Lost+Found...including the camera. That was a really nice surprise, to get absolutely everything back, including the camera.

Flying over the Alps

Martin's friend Murphy borrowed a plane last Sunday for a few hours over lunch, and took Martin and Lex flying. In the meanwhile, the wives hung out and took care of the kids. One of them even baked a cake so that the boys had some fresh apple tart when they got home. They had fabulous weather, and overall, they probably couldn't have imagined a nicer way to spend a Sunday. Here are some of the pictures from their flight:

Murphy the pilot:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Puttanesca sauce for polenta or spaghetti

Here in Zurich I started making polenta regularly. Because polenta does not have much texture, it is good with a sauce that is chunky. This is what I often make:

Puttanesca: tomato sauce with olives

1 can chopped tomatoes
some olives, pitted and halved (I use kalamata)
some onion, chopped
some garlic, chopped
bouillon powder to taste
1 Tablespoon or so (olive) oil

Fry the onions and garlic in the oil. Add the tomatoes and the olives, rinsing the tomato can with a bit of water and adding that to the sauce if you wish. If the tomatoes are not salted, add enough vegetable or other bouillon to get the sauce to the saltiness you like. Let the sauce simmer slowly. At least half an hour, though an hour is probably better to get the flavors blended. Serve over polenta or pasta.

Hmmm, I just went to wikipedia to check the spelling, and learned that: pasta alla Puttanesca mean[s] "Pasta in the way a whore would make it". Never too late to learn something new....

Visit to Czech Republic

We didn't do much in the czech republic, mainly visiting my relatives. So there won't be too many pictures that are of interesting things... though I might still post pictures with people.

I did manage to stop by a haircutting place to get my hair under control, though. The price, without a shampoo, just plain old haircut, was 72 czech crowns. That's 4.6 swiss franks, or 4.20 USD, accorging to The Economist.
Compare that with the almost 100 swiss franks that I, being female, would have to pay here in Zurich for a haircut, or the 20 bucks in Fairbanks. Not bad.

What is bad though is the smoke from wood or coal rising from many a chimney in the countryside, a reminder of other problems. People who don't have stoves just put their thermostats lower, like my cousin. The reason for all that smoke is that the cheap haircut etc leads to low wages; and with diesel/gasoline/natural gas prices barely cheaper than western Europe, people do whatever it takes to keep warm without going bankrupt. Overall, heating and transportation must be a disproportionately larger part of their wages than in the west.

People are still pretty pessimistic about the future (may be just a typical czech thing to do), distrusting government officials and foreigners who buy local businesses only to either shut them down or get all the money they can out of them. Some foreign companies do apparently do a reasonable job of keeping the business open and paying a decent wage, which is still low compared to the west but higher than a typical czech wage, but those are few and far in between.

Still, nearly two decades after communism fell, things are looking better. There are new homes being built, old ones are being renovated. Roads are getting fixed. People own businesses, even if many of these are small ones. And the Czech Republic joined the EU a year or two ago, so that should help also. It will be interesting how history will look back on this era.

Talking of history, I talked a bit with my grandfather, or rather he was telling me stories. I will try to write some of those down.

My aunt walking past a reminder of communism's farming techniques, with my cousins Marketka (center) and Jana (left) and Jana's husband and daughter. Martin with Sonja are on the right side.

The girls' great grandfather.

My five dollar haircut.

The weather was sunny, except for the two days we drove back. Typical scenery in Germany.

Emilie in the fancy schmancy car we had borrowed for the trip (who knows how many free upgrades they gave us) - an Alpha Romeo. In the Czech Republic we felt like the rich relatives from the west. Everyone was checking the car out. I was worried someone was gonna steal it. For future rentals: got the best rate by calling the company directly (in the States); in Europe, the rentals tend to be much more, and all websites use that higher European rate.

The only thing we brought back form the czech republic. On the right is the one and true Budweiser.

Guide to fish

For the people who care about sustainable fisheries etc (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't): Saw this at if you're in the grocery store thinking of buying a fish, and have a cell phone (here in Zurich we got one, and it is convenient), text FISH and the name of the fish to 30644 in order to get info on whether that fish is from a sustainable fishery or not. The article also links to a wallet-sized PDF guide to stick into your wallet, here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A visit to Munich

On our road trip, we stopped in Munich both on the way to Czech Republic and on the way back, thanks to the wonderful generosity of Veronika and her family. They came with us to visit the center of the town Friday a week ago. We took a train into town and arrived downtown at Marienplatz just a couple minutes short of noon. Just as many other tourists on that sunny February day, we stopped to watch the "show" (figures moving) on the New Town Hall. (Googling it, it looks like the show only happens three times a day, so indeed we were lucky, according to here.) I even got our camcorder out, thinking it was going to start right at noon. For five minutes, the bells rang and rang, and the figures did not move one bit. Since I had Emily in the sling, I was getting tired of holding both her and the camcorder. So I stopped it. Shortly thereafter, things started happening. So I started the camcorder again. They should have a big disclaimer for tourists "no need to start recording until ten minutes after the top of the hour".

Then we climbed the St Peter's tower nearby, which afforded us wonderful views of the police cars full of policemen (and women) for the extra security needed for the Munich Security Conference, as well as the new town hall and the square in front of it, now mainly deserted.

Veronika and Lisa looking down over their home town:

Afterwards, trying to figure out what to do next: Andrei and Veronika with Lisa and Leo, and Sonja in the stroller.

We ended up going for lunch of bratwurst and beer in the Hofbrauhaus am Platzl. (Martin was laughing that in Bavaria, they add an "l" to everything, such as Platz becoming Platzl in that name. Of course it should be pointed out that in many parts of Switzerland, it would be Platzli instead :).) Unlike the men at the adjacent table sporting 1 liter mugs, we only had 0.5 liter ones at our table. Veronika remarked that since the smoking ban in restaurants took effect as of Jan 1 in Germany, the atmosphere is rather different...

After lunch, it was a trip to the fishmarket for some fish, form which Andrei created some amazing sushi. He is an excellent chef. Because of him, Martin spent yesterday some money at on a knife and a book about sharpening knives, with more money likely to head their way in a not too distant future...

Sonja, Lisa and Leo in front of the shop:

Resulting sushi:

Veronika playing with the kids (I hope I won't get killed for these pictures :)

Thanks, Veronika, for a wonderful visit!