Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 1, 2009

Switz-aly, Daze 1 und 2 (The Budding Terrorista)

WHEW! Finally found a hotel with computer access (but a slightly odd German keyboard). At least for now, I can stop fighting Sue’s Blackberry, which dislikes both WordPress and facebook. Facebook readers will have seen part one of this travelogue, but not the second day.

Started my first day in Europe out right by almost causing an international incident at the airport’s passport gate.

Our plane landed, and we were checking through security/immigration. I had seen a sign over one of the lines with the letters “EU” on it, and I stupidly thought that stood for either Estados Unidos (Spanish) or Etats Unis (French). Bear in mind: I was fuzzy-brained after only one hour’s sleep on the plane ride. Then the gatekeeper told me no, it was European Union (Duh!), but then I went the wrong way around the rope barricade in moving back to Sue’s line. So at that point the security woman at the next gate thought I had been on the Exit side, and was trying to sneak into the line or into the secured airport. She called me to come back, and it took a minute before Gatekeeper #1 –and about half the waiting passengers– helped her understand I had only line-jumped, not passed through from the city side of the gate.

When I got to her window a few minutes later, apologies and explanations tumbled clumsily out of my mouth, and she mercifully said “Now you know for next time.” Though I’m sure next time I’ll do something else to embarrass myself.

On the plus side, Lyle Lovett was singing over the P.A. in the airport terminal, so at least a few nice aspects of American culture have made it over here.

Sue and I gutted it out through most of the day (and a nice restaurant with a mountain overlook) on no sleep. But by the time of our late lunch with Aunt Barbara, Sue was toast. She only nibbled, then napped an hour at Barbara’s nearby condo, while Barbara and I talked about Switzerland, Egypt, food, Toni Morrison, and other points of common interest.

At night we overpaid for a simple meal, searched unsuccessfully for a grocer, and continued our amateur architecture tour (which had begun in the morning at the 1200-year-old Fraumunster church, complete with spirit-filled Mark Chagall windows dated 1971. Awe-inspiring, inside and out.)

After supper, we split up, as Sue needed a bed again but I still wanted to go hear a brass band we’d seen setting up in a public square earlier. Except when I got there, they were done already. So I looked around the “old city” section, took photos, saw a poster saying Springsteen is playing here tomorrow, and eventually landed in an “American” piano bar I’d seen earlier in the day.

Except in this Swiss/American piano bar, the bartender was from Kosovo, and the musician was Bulgarian. We talked American and world music some, after which this Bulgarian Billy Joel proceeded to butcher the lyrics of song after song– good songs, too! Al Jarreau, Fats Domino, Chicago’s Saturday in the Park, John Denver’s Country Roads, Steely Dan’s Do It Again.

Eventually I had to leave to preserve my dignity and sanity. You can’t sing along with a mumbling Bulgarian when he is replacing the words in your favorite songs, and what’s worse is that he’s oblivious to his problem. So what’s a piano bar for, if not sing-alongs?

Tomorrow, a more substantial tour of Lake Zurich, the church with the largest clock face in Europe, and other historic sites. It’s a lovely city, flowers and art everywhere, and it ought to be a great day. But now –FINALLY, at 12:06am –I need eight hours of sleep!



Holy crap, was ist die date? June 30th. Today would have been my late father’s 70th birthday. Happy Geburtstag, Dad! Wish you were here.

Sitting in hotel lobby waiting fur Aunt Barbara. BBC World News channel was chosen over CNN in the hotel room while getting ready fur the day. Train crash in northern Italy. 10 dead. Better now than when we’re on OUR train in northern Italy. On the other hand, reports of superfraud Bernie Medoff’s 150-year prison sentence cheered us considerably.

Another great “cheese and chocolate” free breakfast in the hotel this morning. (The chocolate is that Nutella chocolate and nut spread for bread and fruit. I’ve had it in the U.S only once, but here in the home of fine chocolate, it somehow seems right on target. Kid food, but who cares?)

‘Swonderful. Then I pop over to the Jung bakery for a sesame baguette for later (these €25 veal sausage meals are fine, but pricy). I tried English, and bad German, but the counter girl at Jung apologized, saying “Swedish. Sorry.” But I still remembered just enough college German to get my sesame-seeded bread (so good and crusty here!) and three navel oranges (eins, zwei, drei ! oh, and maybe they are not navels, but true Valencia oranges, from Spain!)

Later Tuesday morning, Barbara takes us around the Old City area, including the spot where a number of Teuters (Mennonites) were intentionally drowned by the followers of Zwingli (a Zuricher and a reformer of a more bloody variety than Bern’s intellectual, John Calvin, in that same era). Then on to the site of the original Roman garrison, near Big Clock St. Peter’s (largest clock face in Europe on its tower). Then ‘cross the Limmat River and up the hill to Zwingli’s Grossmunster kirche (church), the first Swiss Reformed church, with its beautiful pipe organ and its subterranean crypt honoring Charlemagne (and also the martyrs/monastics Felix and Rugalo… or something close to that spelling…) True confessions: knowing what I already knew about that bullyboy Zwingli, I felt justified in opening the heavy brass door of the sacristy next to the altar area, to peek inside. (It was empty, but I still stole its 400 years of secrets and its residual holiness. See, even peaceful Mennonites can still be sneaky and agressive when we want to be… or was that the naughty Catholic schoolboy coming out to make mischief?)

Good light Italian lunch (insalati Caprese) and tiramisu rustica for dessert after that (no peasant cannolis available on the menu at Dialog). Then strolling back to our hotel at a leisurely pace. Barbara only has about three good hours of tour-guiding in her at a time at this age (late-70s), which is fine. So we’ll discover Zurich for ourselves tonight.


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