Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 65 Foot Tiny Christmas Tree!

Shaquille O'Neal is tall at 7 Feet.  Yao Ming towers at 7 Feet, 6 Inches. But when you see a 65' Christmas tree as something tiny, "something just ain't right!"

Our trip to Sankt Gallen was exceptional.  Then again, everything in Switzerland is exceptional.  We started the day in a very dreary cold rain that just would not stop.  Driving is fun in Switzerland admittedly, the stress level was a bit high when you're driving on unfamiliar roads, with unfamiliar rules and Kilometers instead of miles.  Add to that experience, rain, cold weather and snow and your heart definitely is going a "pitter-patter."

As we approached Sankt Gallen, the skies however opened up to a glorious and very cold day.  Even cold for the Swiss!

Säntis (2,502 m/6,732 ft)
As we approached Sankt Gallen, we were treated to a breathtaking view of the Swiss Alps as the sun broke through the clouds.  The Säntis (2,502 m), part of the Appenzell Alps, broke through and announced that we had arrived in Sankt Gallen.

Parking is a big issue in Switzerland and it was the case in Sankt Gallen.  After searching for parking at the Zentrum (The Shopping Center), we began to walk. Remember, walking is a big thing here and walking we did. Our goal?  Find that 65 foot Christmas tree.

As we came around the corner, we were completely befuddled.  The tree was large, but it didn't look that big.  That's it?  Is this what we came for?  Surely, this must not be the famous tree.

But if look closely (especially at the first picture at the top of this post),  you will see Marcela and her sister standing next to that Tree.

Even Shaq and Yao Ming would be dwarfed by the tree.  It's huge.  No wonder they fly this gigantic tree by helicopter.

Admittedly, however, something was dwarfing even this tree.

Entering the church courtyard gives you a very clear picture of why the 65 Foot Christmas tree was "TINY!"

By the way, the locals just pass the Christmas tree like it's just the norm.  The norm!  A 65' tree, the norm!

The Abby of Sankt Gall

The Abby of Sankt Gall was built around 720.  Not the tree!  The Church!  It's huge and it dwarfs the Christmas Tree.  The Abby is also famous for the "Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Gallen" or the Library.  It is beautiful!  It contains some of the oldest manuscripts around and you can't take pictures.  You have to where special shoe coverings to walk within the Library.  Here's a link if you want to check out the library (Stiftsbibliothek).

Here are more pictures for you to see of our day in Sankt Gallen:

Enjoy the Day!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Swarovski's Christmas Tree! Now that's a Tree!

The Swarovski's 2010 Crystal Christmas Tree at the Zürich Hauptbahnhof
Every year, Zurich holds a Christkindli-Market (Christmas Market) at the Hauptbahnhof (Train Station). It is the largest covered Christmas market in Europe with over 160 decorated market stalls.  While pictures present some of the beauty we experienced, the impact of the wonderful smells emanating from the market can barely be described.

Heidelbeer-Glühwein (Mulled Wine) was being warmed everywhere.  Chestnuts were roasting at many of the stalls.  Gruyère (cheese) along with so many other cheese was being served here and there.  The combination of each of the smells was intoxicating.

Tradition has it that if you visit Zurich and you get lost, make your way to the Train Station and go under the enormous clock.  It's the meeting place where if you can't find your folks, that's where you go.  And there were quite a number of people waiting for others that Sunday evening.

Swarovski's Christmas Tree was spectacular.  Adorned with over 7,000 crystals, the tree is prominently viewed from anywhere in the station.  It is huge.  I believe over 50 feet tall.  Because the crystals are so expensive, it is enclosed in a glass case.

Here's a slide show of the Swarovski's 2010 Christmas Tree!

Enjoy the Day!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Zürich Schweiz - A Storybook City

Fraumünster Church (Left),St. Peterskirche (Center), Grossmünster (Right) Taken from the Quaibrücke Bridge

Sunday can only be described as a Storybook Experience!  We knew Zurich was beautiful.  We knew it was the land of banks!  We knew there be gold in these parts!  But I was not even closed to prepared for the beauty we encountered throughout the entire city.  How can you say "Awesome" so many different ways?

Zürich Hauptbahnhof
We first arrived in the city around 14:30 (2:30 PM for us Americans) Sunday at the Zürich Hauptbahnhof or the Main Train station.  Yep!  We came by train because everyone travels by train.  It is the largest train station in Zurich as well as all of Switzerland.  We saw trains from Italy, Germany, France and the sort.  Want to go to Paris for a few days?  Round trip via train is around $280 U.S. Dollars.  (Guesstimation!)  How about Italy?  By train to Rome in about 9 - 10 hours.  Of course, you can also catch the regional trains to go around Switzerland or the local trains to get back home.  Rule of thumb in Zurich is that you are no more than 10 minutes from either a train or bus to get you to another part of town. And get this!!  First Class Service exists on the local trains.  Of course, we are always in the Second Section.  We know our station in life!

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire!  It's for real.  One of the first things we saw was Chestnuts roasting on an Open Fire!  Really!  And it's quite a popular snack in these areas!  Never had it before!  It was pretty good!  Ok!  It's an acquired taste but we enjoyed it immensely.

And when you buy a bag of Chestnuts, you get two bags glued together.  One full of chestnuts and the other for your chestnut shells.  All we needed was Nat King Cole to start singing for us!  Maybe next year!

University of Zurich as seen from Bahnhofstrasse
We continued away from the Hauptbahnhof and walked down Bahnhofstrasse (Train Station Street).  Ok!  Big warning here!  There are hundreds and hundreds of people on the street, on the sidewalk, in the stores, in the restaurants.  Everywhere. Ok!  Maybe even thousands. Remember!  Everyone walks!  And amazingly when the trolleys come around, the streets clear momentarily for an orderly exit and / or entry to the trolley of your choice.  Remember, this is Sunday and if you look at the sidewalks, there is still snow!  And it was cold. In fact, more snow flurries as we walked eating our chestnuts.  Did I mention it was cold?

The University of Zurich was founded 177 Years ago.  It actually started in 1833 as part of the "Universitas Turicensis" with 16 theology students, 26 law students, 98 medicine students and 21 arts students enroll. A few things to remember about those days!  Firstly, everything was in German or Latin.  Secondly, no internet!

It was still daylight so were yet to see Zurich lit up at night but that was coming.  The shops are amazingly beautiful.  Because it's the week before Christmas, the shops were open on Sonntag (Sunday).  Normally what you see on the left is an empty street on a Sunday.  But not this past Sunday.  There are cars on the street.  BMW's, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo's, Renault's.... you know... the common man's car!  My Honda CR-V 2009 won't hold a candle to these cars.  Excuse me!  Anyway!  Everyone was shopping.  And everyone was getting in there last minute shopping.  Just like we do in the States!  I like it!  Hopefully, the stores might be open on the 24th for me to get in my Christmas Shopping this year!  Why rush things!

Hungry???  Kein Problem.  (No Problemo for us Amerikaner.)  How else do you describe "Restaurant Zunfthaus Zur Waag" as you come around a corner to see this amazing sight.  Located at Münsterhof 8, CH-8001 Zurich, this historic building was constructed by in 1315.  No Lucille, we didn't eat there.  The Kalbs-Cordonbleu only cost CHF 43.00.  Slightly out of our McDonald's Budget.  The Ice Cream Parfait (CHF 15.50).  The place however was packed even at 4 PM on a Sunday! 

Back to Shopping! The shops are amazing.  As we wove through the streets of Zurich we saw some amazing shops. Most shops are open Monday to Friday 9 AM to 6:30 PM.  Saturdays from 9:30 AM and close at either 4 PM or 5 PM.  Many of the stores close for lunch.  By law, shops cannot stay open longer than 8 PM on weekdays and 5 PM on Saturday.  They are definitely closed on Sunday.  Except this past Sunday.  Since Christmas falls on a Saturday, they were opened this Sunday.  What would we do if stores closed on us at 6:30 PM everyday?  Me thinks my credit card would breath a bit easier.  As such, everything was opened Sunday.

As night fell (by the way Sunrise is around 8:10 AM and Sunset around 4:38 PM.)  Can we say short days?  So when I say night fell, it was only around 4:45 PM and it was dark.  And the lights came on!  And wow oh wow oh wow!

We made our way to the Quaibrücke where we took pictures of the Fraumünster, St. Peterskirche and  Grossmünster churches.  First time I took night pictures.  Not that bad eh!???  The Fraumünster has the biggest organ in the canton with its 5793 pipes. The St. Peterskirche - built in the 9th century - boasts the largest clock face in Europe.  The Grossmünster was built in the 12th Century and is a Romanesque ex-cathedral.

The University of Zurich and Limmat River

To finish the evening, Andy (our brother-in-law) took us to a higher point in the city were we were blown away by the sight you see above. This is the Universität Zürich as seem from the Limmat River. Andy had Heidelbeer-Glühwein which is a mulled wine made from Blueberries.  It is a red wine mixed with species and served very warm.  It's the traditional Christmas drink in these parts.  Marcela, Isabel (Marcela's Sister), Andy (Isabel's husband) and me toasted the night and the season and hugged each other enjoying the moment, the day and this view.

Here's a slide show of the day with some of the pictures I took.

Enjoy the Day!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Konstanz, Germany

Saturday afternoon, we traveled to Konstanz, Germany which borders with Switzerland.  Not that far away, it took us about 55 minutes to get there on some very beautiful highways.

Konstanz is pretty much surrounded by Switzerland and because of it's location, the Germans fooled the Allies during World War II by leaving the lights on at night.  This fooled the Allied Bombers into thinking that it was part of Switzerland.  It was spared any bombing.

Konstanz is also the birthplace of Count Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, the inventor of the Zeppelin and founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company.

Traveling on Highway 1 to Konstanz, Germany
 It was still very cold at -3 Degrees Celsius (26.6 Degrees Fahrenheit).  As we got closer to Germany, it dropped to -6 Degrees (21.2 Degrees Fahrenheit). There were snow flurries while we were in Konstanz.  When we returned Saturday Night, it was -11 Degrees (12.2 Degrees Fahrenheit).  Brrrrr!

At some point this week, I hope to convince my Brother-in-Law (Andreas) to take us to Sankt Gallen where there is a Pine Christmas Tree over 65 Feet Tall.  It is flown in by helicopter for the Christmas Season.  And here I was complaining about decorating a Seven Foot Tree.  I'd hate to be the person that has to put the last ornament on the top of that tree.

Walking Toward Germany
We arrived in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland (right at the border) and parked our car and walked over to Germany.  We could have driven into Germany but parking was terrible there and it was easier to walk.  One thing you do in Europe is walk.  And the moment you put your foot in the street at a cross walk, cars come to a screeching halt to let you walk on through.  Andy would tease me and ask me why was I waiting.  The cars will stop.  And they did.

We were not stopped at the border to check our passports but I could tell that we were carefully checked out.  Some people were stopped.  Others were not.

 To say the least, it was colder in Germany.   There was a lot more snow in Germany and it was colder.  I'd hate to be the owner of this bike.  Unless he delivers snow.  By the time we got to the lake, we were quite cold.  Did I mention it was cold?

Pizza was also out the question.  At least outside.  Sitting at these tables would definitely be chilling!

Konzilgebäude - The Council Building in Konstan

Konstanz was beautiful.  We even met Sankt Nikolaus.   We went to the Lago Shopping Center.  Check out the beautiful Castle Models that were constructed.  Wow!  Here is a slide show for you to see at least some of the sights we saw in Konstanz.

We finished the night by eating at a lovely restaurant in Regensdorf.  I even drank Panaché (known as Shandy in the U.K. and Radler in Germany).  It's a mixture of Seven-Up and lager beer.  Rumor has it that a German bar owner was running out of beer during a bicycle race.  He cut what he had left with some lemonade and served it to the cyclists, telling them that it would help them to finish the race.  Radler means Cyclist.

Enjoy the Day!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Going to the Veterinarian in Höngg After an Impressive Snow Storm

Friday was quite an eventful day with lots of snow. Friday morning found at least 48 car accidents with several injured. We knew it was to be a day for us to stay at home.

Looking down the street where we are staying (Rebrainstrasse 6) in Adlikon b. Regensdorf (just outside of Zurich). (Click on the Picture to see a larger version!)

Saturday, however, the skies cleared and it was off to the Vet with my Sister-in-Law's two cats. (I'll take pictures of the cats another day!) They needed their shots and a general check up. Amazingly, these cats understand both German and Spanish! Bi-lingual Cats! Who'd a thought.

We drove to Höngg (pronounced something like Haang) which is about 20 minutes from where we are staying to see Dr. Angela Beltracchi on Brunnwiesenstrasse 78, 8049 Zürich.

Switzerland has trains everywhere! These are the local trains that travel around the city. They travel like they are on air. Extremely smooth. Extremely on Time! And the train always has the right-of-way!

Here's some pictures from a trip to the Vet's Office: