Thursday, April 21, 2011


From Zürich, I just kept heading south. This is partly because I felt the need to escape from the German language for a short time, but mostly because both Milan and Zürich have copious collections of Triassic marine fossils from quarries along the Italian-Swiss border (now a UNESCO world heritage site: I had never been to Italy before, so I had no intention of spending all my time hanging out in the museum basement.

Milan is an enormous city. Unlike Zürich, it is also extremely flat, which makes walking easy, but like Zürich it isn't a budget-friendly destination. Best known for fashion and design, the shopping is amazingly abundant, everything from modern designers to flea markets.
Old and new
 There is also a cathedral, which has a fairly stunning interior (a white and blood-red marble inlaid floor really sets it apart from the grey-on-grey German churches). I'm not an art historian, otherwise I might have more interesting things to say.

The Duomo (cathedral) in the centre of the city
There is also an enormous castle (Sforza), former home of the Duke of Milan but it looks a lot more like a maximum security prison. It has a garden supplied with many cats, which puzzled me until I noticed the many rats. I left quickly after that.
Sforza castle's good side

Friday, April 15, 2011

Zürich Part II

I didn't expect Zürich to be such a gorgeous city. Because the name really isn't melodic-sounding and because all I knew about Zürich were economic factoids, I thought it would be more utilitarian, like Stuttgart. In reality Zürich has a lot going for it, but being on a budget makes eating and sleeping  a challenge. Swiss-accented German? Also a challenge.
My first view of the Alps
There was even a double rainbow
Old city, with cathedral
Unusual statue on the cathedral: He sees you when you're sleeping . . .
The museum basement was obviously not the best venue for sightseeing, so I guess I'll just have to come back another time and see the rest of the city. Yay!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Zürich - Part I

Sometimes I am a very bad tourist. The kind most people disparagingly mock. The kind who shows up in a country just assuming that the power outlets are the same shape as the country next door. FYI, they aren't. Now I have my computer plugged into a daisy chain of adapters - North America - Germany - Switzerland, no direct conversion was possible. Zürich is a lovely city (pics next post). Not just for banks and expensive chocolate - the Swiss people are very unique.

It turns out I showed up on some kind of civic holiday, when the medieval guilds kick off the summer season. I didn't think anyone belonged to a guild anymore, but I could not have been more mistaken. Yesterday was the children's parade - essentially a multicultural festival where kids dress up in traditional costumes, but randomness abounded.
This small contingent of Roman legionaries was not actually part of the parade, and actually cut off the Armenian children by storming the parade route
As I later leaned, the children's parade was only the opener to the adult parade the next day. In the grown-up version, the male guild members walk along the route in guild costumes. There are also a lot of brass bands - Switzerland is next-door to Germany, after all. The finale of the grownup parade is - wait for it - the lighting on fire of a giant snowman effigy stuffed with explosives. Bet you didn't see that one coming. If he explodes fast, summer will be warm and dry. If it takes a while, it'll be a rainy year.

The man of the hour being towed along the parade route

You would think nothing would have distracted me from burning shrapnel flying from the giant exploding snowman on the other side of the street. That's when the men of the fisher's guild started pelting the crowd with whole raw fish (you know, like in normal parades when the marchers toss candy into the crowd?), and the burning debris became an afterthought. Nothing about this seemed like a good idea, until I learned that when the inferno had burned down a bit, people barbecued over Frosty's remains. Maybe then a raw fish becomes something more desirable to have on hand? After the main route, all the guilds split up and marched separately to the guild houses where riotous partying ensued. This is clearly one of those festivals which I can say with a high degree of confidence would never work in North America.