5: A Few Photos

A sign of homesickness: Buying a McDonalds hamburger and taking it back to the hotel to top with fresh tomato, avocado, dijon and a whack of fresh pepper. It’s not as good as our cottage BBQ burgers with real Canadian cheddar (not available here) and sauteed onions, but it will do for a few more days.

This is Switzerland’s “Italian” tarte flambe. This traditional dish is made up of a flatbread (white-flour tortilla) base, topped with thick cream, raw onions, green-stuff, tomatoes, and cured meat. The basic tarte flambe is a tortilla base, cream and raw onions, scorched briefly over a flame.

Over a year in, and I’m still discovering little hidden cobblestone lanes in Biel/Bienne. This one leads to a private courtyard garden.

Wherever you look up in Swiss cities, you will see signs of life. Pockets of rooftop patios and gardens appear all over our town, even atop retail and business buildings.

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57: Stats-urday

Our Swiss town is in bloom from the ground all the way up to the treetops. The air is delicious.

Everyone complains about McDonalds food, but does anyone appreciate its value as an economic indicator?

Believe it or not, the price of a Big Mac tops the list of economic indicators at an international statistics website, which makes perfect sense to us because at some point, we all have to rely on a Big MacAttack to raise our blood sugar levels when overseas and surrounded by local cuisine aka unidentifiable food.

NationMaster.com reports that in Canada a Big Mac costs $3.01 while in Switzerland it costs $4.93. I don’t want to cast aspersions on NationMaster.com, but hamburgers here cost more than that. Dave estimates we pay $6 (Cdn) for a Big Mac, or $12.50 if we decide to live it up and order the Big Mac Meal. To be fair, NationMaster sources this particular piece of data back to 2006.

Nonetheless, Canadians will be thrilled to know that according to IMB International, while the Swiss are renowned for their fidelity to modelling to the world how to stay on-time and fiscally sound, Canada still ranks higher for business efficiency at 5th place. Switzerland was 8th. This data is seven years old, but it makes my homeland look good so I’m not going to search for more recent figures.

Our GDP per capita is six per cent higher, too. That’s another figure I’m not going to update.  And our gross national income is a whopping 146% higher – take that Switzerland! Canada rules.

On a more personal financial note: Dave’s Swiss salary is on par with his Canadian salary, but our cost-of-living is significantly higher here. I should emphasize significantly (the triple-threat of emphasis – bolded, italicized and underlined!), all the more so because we are living a very green, pared-back lifestyle here compared to our lives in Canada.

In Canada, we have a 2400-square-foot four-bedroom house; here we have a 400-square-foot single room bachelor suite. There, we have two cars in our garage. Here, we walk everywhere we go and rely on trains for out-of-town trips. There, we eat restaurant food probably once a week, more when we were both working. Here, we dine out about once every three months (this excludes sandwich and hamburger joints where we fill up while touring). By all counts, we should be spending less money here, but we actually spend more. A lot more.

And now for less painful statistics …

BlogBits

This week on Hobonotes stats page:

  • Top three countries: Canada, U.S. and Switzerland. Oddly for some reason, Canada pounds out everyone else with over 200 hits while the U.S. logged only 60. I know Americans will not take this sitting down.
  • Bottom three countries: Greece, Denmark and Austria
  • Readers from Japan: Two.
  • Oddest search term: “Loads of people riding elephants in India.” As this blog covers neither crowd issues, pachyderms or India, I am at a loss to explain how Google brought this reader to this site.
  • Blogoddity: This week is the first when the topic of Paris food did not make it to the top ten of most read posts. I know the French will not take this sitting down.

93: Biel’s Alstadt – Worth Another Look

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Biel/Bienne, our small town in the heart of Switzerland’s watchmaking district, home to Rolex, Swatch, Swiss Timing and a bunch of other timepieces I can’t afford, has a lovely old-town, unique in Europe for this one fact: It has not succumbed to franchise retailers.

The street-level storefronts in many European medieval districts are jammed with H & M clothing, Bata shoes and Ochsner sporting  shops. It makes for a lively people-packed tourist quarter, but it does take something away. Biel has tiny little shops with not a single franchise name in sight, which I find more charming than I would have expected, being a such a devotee of the expected and ordinary as that I am.

The downside is that this part of town is really most vibrant on Saturdays when a huge farmers market takes up the main courtyard and the little chocolatiers, butchers and flea-market stores are open. The upside is it feels more real than the brand-name endowed and much-populated avenues of Lucerne and Zürich – although both those cities are amazing and must-see stops here. I’m not trying to deride any urban council’s attempts at revitalization, just making an observation.

Take a look in the slideshow above. See if you can find a McDonalds.

 

 

100: So long to hats

Hats lined up across the bed

Hats no more to top my head

Red hat, grey hat, white hat, blue

Farewell hats, every one of you.

I’ve never been much of a hat person, and yet I found eight in my closet this week. My non-hattitude is evident in the photo – I find something I like, and then stick with it. Staring at the photo now, I wonder: Whatever made me copycat Ringo Starr circa 1964 in eight different colours? How did this hatten?

“People do really stupid things in foreign countries,” said Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly in “You’ve Got Mail.” 

Yes, they do, and that includes me. I bought hats as I’ve never bought them before and I can only blame the cultural pressure that comes with living in a country where four-year-old boys know how to knot crinkle-silk scarves around their necks (yes, b o y s) and eight-year-old girls tote chic leather bags on their arms, routinely wear pumps and coordinate their designer skirts to anchor their saffron-coloured double-breasted pea coats. Seriously.

Three hours ago, in a nearby McDonalds restaurant, two mothers drafted in with five children aged two months to 12 years and any one of them was ready to take over the catwalk or at least model for a Gap catalogue. They all looked fabulous. In my day, a mother overseeing that many children on a fast-food excursion wore her husband’s grey sweatpants, a pablum-splattered t-shirt and a ball cap. She felt pretty good about herself if her socks matched. The only catwalk in her future might be the one vacuuming up furballs when she got home.

I can only explain this Euro-fashion-phenomenon on our proximity to Milan and Paris, each only a few hours away. Couture oozes over the borders.

Hats, as it happens, are about as far as I could go towards blending in with the population. I don’t have skilletos, ie. the ability to tread over cobblestone in stilettos, as so many here do, so I gave up early in the game. I’ve reverted back to my Saucony court shoes, yoga pants, jogging jacket, golf visor, and socks that match. At least, most of the time they do.

As for those hats, they’re gone. In celebration of the fact today is the last three-digit number on our countdown to home, all but one of them came to a horrible end. 100 more days to go.