28 February 2009

'Petite' is French..

While reports indicate that mailboxes as phenomenon may be on the decline (we thank one of our readers for bringing this story to our attention), we continue our task in documenting their existence before it's too late.

On our trip last weekend we found this French mailbox where one probably shouldn't expect to mail too many (or too large) letters. It is emptied daily at half past nine in the morning, so it's not a good idea to be running late either.. we suspect that a mailman lives nearby and empties it on his way to work.

24 February 2009


Being determined not to fly anywhere in February (one could argue that the climate discourse is strengthening its grip on us but admittedly, we were just a little too much all over the place (i.e. Europe) in the months just prior to this one...) we decided to catch the bus to Annecy last Sunday.

So many people have spoken well of this French town just below the Mont-Blanc massive and it is indeed a beautiful place. Like most other important towns in this area, it is situated at one end of a lake, here Lac d'Annecy, and has a well-preserved medieval city centre, a castle (on a hill), numerous churches, and a lovely, busy - on Sunday morning, anyway - market. The Palais de l'Ile below is the best known image of Annecy but we guess that most people see it sans the snow flakes.

We spent a good deal of time walking in the snow along the lake, then made it up to the castle only to find the gate closed. We concluded it was time for lunch and had a spectacular meal at l'Atelier Gourmand de Jumeaux - which we stumbled on by chance, but we could hardly have made a better choice if we tried.

After being closed for lunch the gates of the castle were opened again, and we sneaked a peek in the courtyard (see below). Supposedly there is a great view from the tower of the castle, but considering the low visibility at that particular time, we declined on entering the castle.

It snowed quite a bit, and there was a fog for most of the day. Luckily we happened to be down by the lake, when some sort of hole in the clouds/fog passed by giving us a glimpse and an idea of the spectacular mountain views around the lake enjoyed from the city on clearer days.

16 February 2009

Kalundborg Radio

Hey, is that an old-fashioned radio (note that it is possible to tune in to Kalundborg Radio!) there in the middle of Plainpalais? Nope, that is just one of the many nicely painted electricity boxes around Geneva.

Since Geneva seems to be short on interesting additions to the mailbox theme, we will instead present a sample of the many painted electricity boxes that we have seen around the city:

Some of them bear a relation to their location; for instance the bumper car box is situate right next to the square where travelling fun fairs are set up, but this is more the exception than the rule. Although the giraffe below seems to be nibbling from one of the surrounding live trees there is no zoo in the area or even in Geneva.

A few has a more direct relation to Geneva, such as Jean Henry Dunant, the founder of Red Cross:

And of course the noble mountain goat that is gracefully reminding us of the Switzerland outside of the asphalt covered urban areas:

Although most of the unpainted boxes are covered in graffiti, rather few of the decorated ones have been 'tag' sprayed, so we wonder if all subcultures appreciate the ornamentation or if Geneva spends a lot of money on cleaning them. They are certainly fun to spot and a lot prettier than the boring grey ones.

14 February 2009

Baking day

For once we made home-baked buns today which led to considerations on desired ingredients. We wonder why, when we hear of Americans who miss particular American products. Well, not if it's particular ready-made products such as Dr. Pepper (well, maybe a little anyway...) that aren't widely available in Europe. But we've heard of people that bring shortening (which essentially is just a non-perishable version of margarine that can very well can be substituted by ... margarine!) and Clabbergirl Baking Powder (yes, baking powder that is easily replaced by European... baking powder!). We attribute the latter to people's lack of inclination to experiment with other products in their cooking/baking and this is probably also where the reason for the lugging of the huge amounts of semi-processed convenience foods such as cake mix, macaroni and cheese mix, taco mix, soup mixes, guacamole mix across the Atlantic is to be found.

While we personally think that these semi-processed products are silly since the food is just as easy to make from scratch (often with better taste, cheaper, and not least with less fat, additives, and colouring agents) we fully understand the need for products when it's not possible to find a proper substitute or when it's not feasible to make the product from scratch. We certainly missed a few Danish/European ingredients while we were in the States. These were primarily for baking since most other 'speciality' foods are possible to make at home (e.g. liver pate, "cold bowl", rusk, remoulade) albeit involving a bit of detective work from time to time. So we did our share of parallel import: mainly leaf gelatine (indispensable for the great unbaked cheesecake) and vanilla sugar (possible to make yourself but also very easy to mail from Denmark) + liquorice obviously - but that's a whole other story.

The need for fresh yeast was less easy to solve so here we had to change the recipes to procedures suitable for dry yeast. Great was our joy then when we saw fresh yeast stacked up in the supermarkets here in Geneva, and leaf gelatine and vanilla sugar were also just to be picked from the shelves (see photos) - luxury!

But here ten months later we can count on one hand how many times it has been necessary for us to buy said fresh yeast. When the bread in the supermarket is absolutely fantastic there just isn't the same need to make one's own as when we were in California and had a loooong way to bike to Trader Joes to buy the good (no, not fantastic as the Swiss bread but yes, good, and certainly much better than the boring bread in nearby supermarkets) bread.

12 February 2009

The albino spider

One of the first days in the new year we discovered this little (approximately the size of a dime, including the legs) creature on one of the chairs in our living room. It stood still long enough for us to take a picture, but afterwards it quickly disappeared. Some days later we saw it on the bookshelf, but by now it has been quite a while since we saw it last. It's the first time we've seen such a pale spider, but google of course swiftly brings up pictures of even paler paler spiders...

10 February 2009

Parc aux Animaux

After living here for about half a year we discovered that inside one of the nearby parks there's a small animal park with rabbits, little ponies, chickens, peacocks etc. After a couple of visits we even found the enclosure with mountain goats (one might opine that we are a bit slow on the uptake...) and by now our Sunday strolls sometimes passes by them. Apart from being some pretty remarkable animals in and off themselves, we also want to acknowledge them for being considerably more active than the wild boars we so far have only seen lying still and snoring very snug in their hay.

The mountain goats have a very nice area with lots of boulders, different levels and projections, and some heavily tested trees where they are hopping around. It seems to be an extended family with a couple of males, some females, and a couple of kids. All of them have horns, but they vary quite a bit in shape and size:

And that horns can be very usefl was demonstrated last Sunday by this goat - although we think that exquisite motor control is strictly required:

If the mountain goats weren't particularly delighted by exactly our visit, we felt very welcome when we met another acquiantance there - the apparently resident cat in the park, approached us meowing happily and was pleased to be scratched a little in his furry profusion:

08 February 2009

The referendum of today

The EU discussion has been raging here in Switzerland for many years, and the latest most tangible result was that the Schengen agreement came into force in December 2008. This was particularly to the joy of all holders of non-European passports who are now able to go to France, for instance, without applying for a visa.

Today the Swiss are once again voting on the bilateral mobility agreement with EU as a consequence of the EU expansion of January 2007 to include Romania and Bulgaria. A yes would mean that the common agreement with EU on the mobility of the workers would continue and thus also include Romania and Bulgaria while a no would mean that Switzerland would withdraw from the bilateral agreement with EU. The latter would have significant consequences for all the non-Swiss working here - both the resident non-Swiss and the cross-border commuters, e.g. all the French that commute daily from France to work in Geneva. Obviously Switzerland will most probably enter agreements with each country instead but it will be much more complicated than just keeping the bilateral agreement with EU.

The Yes-sayers argue that it is economically necessary to continue the bilateral agreement while the No-sayers claim that it would be economical suicide to open the Swiss borders to workers from Romania and Bulgaria.

These are the same arguments that other countries in Europe have struggled with but what has surprised us the most is the No-sayers' crude graphic expression and their explicitly phrased aversion to Romania and Bulgaria: The Yes-sayers use much more sophisticated arguments for their recommendation but they have also expressed their point-of-view in a very comprehensible illustration:

We're very excited about the result of today's referendum. Unfortunately the No-sayers have been gaining grounds in the last few years, so ...

We've just learned that 60% voted yes to keeping the bilateral agreement. Sanity prevails!

03 February 2009

Snow patrol

Even though the mountains have been covered in lots of snow for a while now (cf. the last post on sledding), we've had very little snow here in Geneva. Not even the icy cold days around New Year brought snow, and thus we've only had a couple of days with a bit of snow falling in the morning but only staying on the ground for about an hour.

So we were excited when we woke up to the most beautiful snowy weather this past Sunday. It continued to snow most of the day giving us plenty of time to get outside and enjoy it. By now all is melted away again and today's weather has resembled spring, so maybe Sunday was THE day of snow in Geneva this winter...

01 February 2009

Balloon festival in Château d'Oex

Last weekend we were delighted to have Troels visiting us; luckily he's always eager to visit us no matter where we decide to live, and since he's also a skiing enthusiast the mountains around Geneva attracted him quite a bit too. By coincidence we had seen a poster advertising a hot air balloon festival starting the exact weekend he was here, so it was the perfect opportunity for going into the mountains at the other end of Lake Geneva.

Shortly after beginning our ascent into the Alps by way of train from Montreux we were surprised to see just how much snow there was. Although it had been snowing in Geneva Saturday none of us suspected that a mere few hundred yards off of the level of the lake there would be trees covered in snow.

After arriving in Château d'Oex we were delighted to see how beautifully the little mountain village was located in the middle of all the snow, between the mountains and in bright sunshine.

But we didn't go there to admire the landscape itself. It was hot air balloons it was supposed to be about! We spotted the first couple already from the train on the way up, but when we were standing on the hill with the church we had a nice view of the entire valley as more and more balloons in all sorts of colours and patterns were starting to hover over it. In fact, it was a fairly surreal sight!

Aside from balloons in the classical shape the programme also had time reserved for "Balloons in alternative shapes" during which bag pipe players, turtles, and roosters (amongst other things) were launched.

After having stood still - fortunately in lovely sunshine; otherwise it would undoubtedly have been a very chilling experience - watching balloons taking off we took the aerial tramway higher into the mountains surrounding Château d'Oex. We had read that there should be a 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long luge track which we were eager to try, so we continued up the mountain by ski lift. At the top we rented three luges and down we went. It felt a little odd walking along with a luge after 20 years of not using such, but at the same time it did feel strangely familiar. The trip down felt quite long, was at places surprisingly steep and with lots of turns, but we thought it was dead funny - all three of us are definitely up for another run some other time.

Before taking the train back to Geneva, we ended the outing by eating cheese fondue. The Swiss version consists only of bread for dipping in the cheese mixture in the pot, so even though it was a nice way to end a cold and very Swiss day, Lisbeth isn't so sure she'll ever really feel like eating it again later. The dessert on the other hand - Meringues à la crème de chalet - was much more to her liking; although the double cream could also quickly become a tad too much...