Five things about San Francisco I missed while in Zürich
  1. Morning bathrobe, coffee, newspaper
  2. Speaking English without guilt
  3. Seedless grapes
  4. Campy salesmen at Nordstroms
  5. The smell of urine in the streets
With apologies to Merlin
  2005-11-21 14:04 Z
Ken made a nice American style meal for us last night. A big delicious US corn-fed filet mignon (from Geiser, a local butcher) And a nearly US-style baked potato. Not a russet, more like a yellow potato, wrapped in gold foil like it was something precious.

The bacon was too thinly sliced and we could only find crème fraîche, no sour cream. But it tasted just like home. You don't see US style beef here; Swiss beef is chewier, more beefy. Probably grass fed. Our imported steak was a beautiful cut of meat. About 1.5x more expensive than you'd pay in the US.

  2005-10-27 10:44 Z
Printing SBB tickets online is convenient, but the tickets you get are quite restricted. They're only good for one day, they are only good for one person, and there's no refund or exchange. By contrast normal tickets are good for three months and are quite liberally refundable.

I think the reason online tickets are so restricted is they have no way to mark a ticket as used! Normally the conductor punches your ticket when it's used so you can't use it again another day. But with online tickets punching doesn't do any good; you could just print another one and use it the next day. In other words, online tickets are not printed on counterfeit-proof ticket stock. So to limit exposure the ticket is only good for one day.

They could have built an online system where the conductor's computer validates your ticket against a central database that's updated with what tickets are used, but that's awfully complicated. Limiting tickets works, too. There's still one way to game the system; you could travel twice in one day on the same route with the same ticket. But that's not terribly useful, so they probably don't worry about it.

We had order #398666 on 2005-09-02 and order #467833 on 2005-10-14. Assuming order numbers are serial, that's about 1650 tickets sold online a day.

  2005-10-14 13:09 Z
Zürich has a complicated solution to garbage management. You pay by the bag. Garbage can only be thrown out in special Züri-Säcken, which at $2 / kitchen size bag is expensive enough that you think twice before throwing things away. (And apparently make garbage bags a shoplifting target, because every store keeps them behind the cashier's counter).

You'd think the expense per bag would mean you would recycle more, but the recycling rules are complex enough we can never figure out what to take where. But they're serious about garbage here. As they say

The white "Züri-Sack" symbolizes more than ever the image of clean Zürich "für e suubers Züri". Depositing of other garbage bags, or of Züri-Sacks at an inappropriate time, is an offence which will be reported to the police and fined.
David McQuillen thinks this is a bit silly, too.
  2005-09-28 09:02 Z
I'm a little intimidated by buying train tickets in a foreign country. Find the right place to go, wait in line, negotiate the right ticket without quite understanding fare options or the local language, ... So I like that the Swiss train company lets you buy and print tickets online. Just pick your journey online, press the "print" button, and voila, you get a PDF file.
Every conductor I've given one of these to looks at me funny; I guess they aren't common yet. The ticket has an interesting security feature, a grey box of random pixels (as seen above). I thought at first it was some spread spectrum encoding of a bunch of data, but I think it's really just a simple visual mask hiding a few letters. Cool that it works through PDF and crappy home printers.
  2005-09-24 08:30 Z
One of the interesting things about Switzerland is how international it is. The country has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansch. And at least three cultural heritages: Germanic, Italian, and French. (Of course, all of Switzerland is echte Schwiezer, but forgive an ignorant American for simplifying). Tomorrow we're going to sample a bit of the French side, spending the weekend in Lausanne.

Most everyone here speaks English, which helps me when I'm lazy and trying to negotate with my neighbours about when to do the washing. All the food and product packaging is trilingual; German, French, and Italian. But no English, since that's not an official language. Seems somewhat perverse to me, but I guess it makes sense.

  2005-09-15 18:45 Z
The Swiss love their church bells. In Zürich they ring constantly. Every quarter hour to mark the time, and for 10 minutes at a stretch to call the faithful to church. Nothing quite as exotic as change ringing, but the random rhythm is pretty interesting sounding.

Mark Twain, on his visit to Switzerland, didn't care for the bells so much.

We did not oversleep at St. Nicholas. The church-bell began to ring at four-thirty in the morning, and from the length of time it continued to ring I judged that it takes the Swiss sinner a good while to get the invitation through his head. Most church-bells in the world are of poor quality, and have a harsh and rasping sound which upsets the temper and produces much sin, but the St. Nicholas bell is a good deal the worst one that has been contrived yet, and is peculiarly maddening in its operation.
  2005-09-11 08:27 Z
I continue to be astonished at how many people in Switzerland smoke. 34% of adults here smoke, one of the highest rates in a developed nation. Compare to 18% in the US.

The Swiss don't seem to have reached the point of intolerance of second hand smoke. By law restaurants have to have non-smoking rooms, but many don't. The restaurant I went to last night had the entire upstairs dedicated to non-smoking, but as soon as the downstairs filled up they seated smokers upstairs and brought the ashtrays. No one seemed to mind. Yuck.

  2005-09-10 07:23 Z
Boy, travelling on the train in Europe is nice. I just had a little weekend trip to Zermatt. The main train was comfortable and quiet, and the side line that went up the Alpine valley was charming and somewhat improbable, what with the cogwheels and narrow valleys and dramatic bridges. Reasonably inexpensive (thanks to the Halbtaxe) and a pleasant ride.

Compared to planes, trains offer a human scale of transport. You're close to the ground with big windows. You can get up and walk around, stretch out. No checking in two hours in advance, no humiliation from security, no half hour cab ride to get anywhere. It's a shame the US is so big, it'd be nice if train travel would work better there.

  2005-09-05 16:03 Z
Everyone takes the trams in Zürich. Fast, convenient, reasonably comfortable. Today's ride showed me several grandmas on their shopping outing, a few late-looking worker types, and a Swiss soldier in full fatigues carrying his submachine gun and a large tourist suitcase. Going home for the weekend, I guess.
  2005-09-02 09:46 Z