• goldnau nature park

    January 16th, 2018

    Until we find a way to restore this planet to its former glory, the ethics of animals in confinement will remain contentious. However, an appreciation of nature in all its many forms is something I’m completely behind. As a species inhabiting so many artificial environments which seem to cater to our needs we humans seem to forget that we are not separate from this Earth but of it. Contact with living, breathing animals other than ourselves might help us to appreciate all that we could gain by caring for our world rather than simply exploiting it as a stockpile of resources. At Goldnau, amid the rubble of he 1806 landslide tragedy, has risen a wildlife centre where you can take an up-close look at a variety of wildlife, from fierce and formidable predators including bears, wolves and lynxes and much more docile and approachable fauna such as deer and mountain sheep. Breathing in the fresh filtered air from the tree-clad slopes on a crisp winter day alone is a gift one should not miss.

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  • wintery wonder in poschiavo

    January 8th, 2018

    Southeast of St. Moritz is a remarkable little town called Poschiavo in the Graubünden canton. Accessible on the Bernina Express, which begins in Chur and terminates in Tirano, Italy is well worth the effort, especially if you kick your legs out on the train and watch the incredible landscape wash by your window. Craving a little change after the festivities of Christmas and New Year, we took a little journey to this Italian-speaking locale and soon saw ourselves in the grip of a snow heavy spell while Zürich became quite balmy as of New Year’s Eve.

    Surrounded by mountains, intersected by the Poschiavino River, there seems to be a disproportionate number of excellent eateries and organic labels – 87% of the Valposchiavo farmland products are certified by Bio-Suisse. During the heavy snowfall we were content to hunker down and be catered to by the staff of the Hotel Albrici, a palace dating back to 1682, and its neighbouring bodega, Hostaria del Borgo both in terms of local charm and delectables. The previous four photographs above were all taken at their unfussy but magnificently stocked delicatessen and cellar.

    My only complaint: we didn’t stay quite long enough. A few more days snowed in and forced to work our way through the cellars and storerooms of the local shops and take some more photographs, would have been most welcome. So for now, arrivederci, Poschiavo. I look forward to our next meeting, perhaps when your pastel coloured buildings and ornate doors are encroached upon by the vibrant green of spring and I can wander a little farther and work off more of the digestible insulation padding my belly.

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  • basel creators: hadi barkat

    December 19th, 2017

    One of the things that is always satisfying about the season ahead, and the memories I have of those behind, are some of the amazing books I have read and the joy of relaxing and playing a raucous game or two together with family and friends. Recently I sat down with a man who has made the pursuit of a good read and an entertaining challenge his business. While working in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a successful CEO coach in the field of venture vapital, Hadi Barkat was also studying to take his Swiss citizenship test. Already responsible for his company’s gatherings and offsite entertainment, he employed the services of a game designer, and decided to brainstorm a way to turn his study into a form of entertainment.

    Out of this was born Helvetiq, initially a trivia game based on Swiss knowledge, and two years on, a fully fledged Swiss publishing house, committed to the world of French, German, Italian and English games and books, when its inventor decided to turn his side project into a full-time business.

    Helvetiq is very much a print publishing house: “The death of print is very much overstated,” Mr Barkat tells me, shuffling a deck of ordinary playing cards as we chat in the coffee corner of their their loft studio located in the annex of the Stellwerk building in Basel.

    Helvetiq, like its CEO and owner, seems very fond of turning learning or effort into play or entertainment. While about 60% of its output is in the form of games, Helvetiq also has many great books too. Yet even its titles often seem caught up in a sense of playful travel in how they approach their subjects, as with Monika Saxer’s Beer Hiking, which pairs the challenge of hiking and walking trails with the goal of drinking a unique Swiss craft brew at the end of one’s journey. Diccon Bewes’ Around Switzerland In 80 Maps is another example of what Mr Barkat considers a timeless idea.

    Another thing that stands out with Helvetiq is its craft. There is sense of agency here, both in the design and execution of its titles. No one is waiting around for the next big manuscript to plop through the door and land on the slush pile.

    “Two things we don’t do here: a lot of market research, or money-grab. You won’t see a colouring book from Helvetiq,” says the CEO, who believes copycatting is more work and a lot less fun. “Publishing is an art of starting a concept and seeing it fly.” Creativity itself is a path of discovery for Mr Barkat: “You have to be humble. I like to see where things lead. Some people plan every detail, and that works for them, but we can’t control too many things … to see where an idea leads can create more authenticity.”

    At any moment Helvetiq has approximately 20 new games and book titles in development and appears to thrive on seeking out and sharing experiences. Simple-to-grasp concepts are key. Yet simplicity is no hindrance to a rich experience in a roster of books and games that require a high level of finesse in their execution. Everything however, does seem to start with a persuasive, easily stated idea. Their books and games also seem to have a consistent illustration accented aesthetic, which also helps many of their titles pop out on the shelves.

    Helvetiq is another example of how print and paper remain not only highly relevant, but profitable in a world saturated with often over-hyped digital experiences. It also demonstrates how creativity is all about exploring unexpected paths to find rewarding destinations. So this Christmas if you’re looking to escape screen time and reconnect with a real life, three-dimensional experience for you or your family, take a moment to peruse Helvetiq’s catalogue. They put in the work so that we can play.

  • swissmas at bellevue

    December 15th, 2017

    If you are one of the bah humbug set and in Zürich, avoid Bellevue’s Zürcher Wienachtsdorf at all costs. There is so much Christmas cheer it could quite possibly kill you. We experienced it for the first time last year before we moved and were duly impressed by the show put on by Zürich in general, but with special mention going to the organizers responsible for Bellevue. So at the risk of imperilling anyone who loves to cringe at Christmas, here are some shots of all the mania from this year and last year. And anyone who needs gift ideas for me can also check out the cool stands by Lekka, Circle Sustainable store and Freitag among the many stalls with some pretty good swag. Just saying. So perhaps I’ll see you around for some mulled wine and some hot smoked salmon … thinking perhaps this Christmas thing might just catch on.

  • masaola regenwald – another zürich hotspot

    December 6th, 2017

    Winter, when it arrives, can knock me sideways. This year, with the change in city, being farther north was a doozy. So for a dose of wellness and a mental escape from pervasive greyness, I sometimes like to visit Masaola Regenwald, a simulation of a Madagascar Rainforest at the Zürich zoo. This 11,000 m2 lush, oxygen-infused dome teems with life. Flora and fauna abound. Razor-edged ferns and soaring bamboo, trees and countless other species of plant provide a home to low swooping fruit bats and colourful birds to tiny geckos and multi-hued chameleons, tortoises and even tree-clambering lemurs. It’s more economic than a plane ticket, and yet still a transporting, mind-bending experience. The Treetop Walkway is particularly elevating, like a path to endless summer. And who doesn’t dream of that?

  • zürich creators: shem leupin

    November 27th, 2017

    At consumer-level, Zurich is not a trend-setting place. The Swiss have built a world class reputation perfecting products of enduring quality, not flash fads. In my opinion that’s a good thing. In such a culture, innovating profitable products, or commodities, especially those that already work so well and satisfy so many, without apparent reason, can hardly be seen as a worthwhile venture. Unlike hugely populated markets hungry for the next big thing – places where creating novelty is a relentless thirst, here in established Zurich it’s a difficult proposition. Yet Zurich doesn’t lack for creativity. In fact, the creativity that succeeds here might just be the kind that matters.

    For instance: coffee. An essential, mostly overlooked daily ritual, your cup of joe is what it is, and as long as it performs and tastes in the manner expected, who cares? A perfectly valid viewpoint. Food and beverage snobbery is often tiresome, borderline offensive, in a world where there isn’t currently enough nutrition, let alone quality, to go around.

    However, for creative people who work in F&B, something as mundane as a cup of java is also an unexplored opportunity for creativity. This isn’t simply about ego or one-upmanship, it’s about enhancing a daily experience and improving one’s handiwork. Also, responsible trade as well as individuality in the end product, created in partnership with growers, can better the good fortune of those undervalued but essential people who cultivate and collect our daily sustenance. Moreover, smaller outlets and producers offer an alternative to the massive bargaining power (hegemony) of corporations that can crush small growers and producers.

    To Shem Leupin, the affable, approachable, creative mind working with Swiss heritage brand, STOLL KAFFEE, coffee seems an opportunity for a welcome change. A conversation with Shem, whether it’s about your morning cup, finding the right brew for your customers, the supply chain, or developing yourself as a barista, is refreshing. His enthusiastic, unpretentious view of what goes into a daily habit, is as eye-opening as the strongest diner coffee, without the bitter aftertaste. There’s a transparency about Shem and Stoll demonstrated by the fact that you can walk right into the roastery to pick up your coffee. A visit I highly recommend. You can choose from a whole range of different coffees for both espresso and pour-over methods and see where the magic is made. Perhaps I’ll bump into you there.

    The Stoll roastery at Austrasse 38, 8045 Zürich, is open for walk-in sales from 08:00-17:00 Monday to Friday.  If you’re curious about coffee, it’s a great place to start. Shem is also responsible for an ace coffee shop, simply called COFFEE at Grüngasse 4, 8004 Zürich, open 08:00-18:00 Monday to Friday and 09:00-17:00 Saturdays.

  • candle-making at bürkliplatz

    November 22nd, 2017

    As a child I was always getting into trouble playing with candles. My name was regularly cursed after several tablecloths ended up coated with thick gobs of hardened wax. What fun it was to dip my fingertips into the melted goo and feel it harden into a seal. I couldn’t resist. If only I’d had a chance to make candles instead of mess them up at the dinner table I might be a different person today. Or not. Anyway, right now, underneath a tent enfolding the music pavilion at Bürkliplatz there is beeswax candle-making, a meditative pursuit where kids can put their little mitts to good use making candles rather than trashing them. For a reformed candle-vandal such as myself this is great development. Perhaps I can even repay my debt to society by helping my daughter to light the way with these all natural mini crafts. It’s also a great way to make gifts and keep your kids preoccupied with a time-consuming but calming pursuit which they can take pride in. The staff on hand are helpful and will assist you in the finishing touches required to make the handiwork shine. The candles are weighed to determined the price, so practicing your candle-making a bit on some smaller scale attempts can be wise before you choose to create your deluxe masterpiece.

    For more information you can visit the city website here. Sunday afternoon was somewhat crowded but a nevertheless pleasant experience. Apparently this is a yearly tradition since 1969 and runs daily now from 10 AM to 8 PM this year until December 22. It’s one way to light up the end of the year.

  • sukkulenten sammlung – a zürich winter hotspot

    November 14th, 2017

    In recent years succulents and cacti seem to have become resurgent in their popularity. Perhaps you even have some of your own. Before we moved we had to redistribute our modest collection that soaked up the sun and spilled over our windowsills in Istanbul. I remember loving them as a kid, and to this day still find their shapes and patterns hypnotic. The other day when I was craving some heat, I decided to drop into the Sukkulenten-Sammlung at Mythenquai in Zurich. Divided into geographic-specific arrangements the diverse selection is really satisfying. Also the warmer, drier, oxygen-replete air is a boon too. If you want to commence your own collection there’s even a self-service table with the right soil and some junior succulents and cacti to take home. It might take you a while to rival their heights, but there’s no time like the present to get started.

    If you’re thinking of warming yourself up or getting inspiration for some home gardening you should definitely visit and appreciate the natural beauty. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the quiet too. Open seven days a week from 09:00 – 16.30, admittance is free, which is something you can really appreciate in a pricey city like Zurich. So who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there?

     


  • ticino: switzerland’s mediterranean

    November 9th, 2017

    Hailing from a country as vast and underpopulated as Canada, the idea of escaping the dominant cultures surrounding you in a significant way without boarding an aircraft once seemed a serious undertaking. Massive expanses of incredible nature surround you, making the absence of human culture the best option to escape your daily reality. Living in Zurich, you can hop on a train and witness dramatic changes in both landscape and culture in the time it takes for some people to commute home in a big city. Which is why I recently caught the train to Ticino canton. Just over two hours from the main Bahnof, Ticino canton is hailed as Switzerland’s Mediterranean. Given the lack of seaside, it’s most likely the fact that the primary language here is Italian, which in and of itself delivers a refreshing jolt of energy. Italian, when it smacks me upside the head, still feels like the kiss of a beautifully deranged, yet greatly inspired, angel.

    My first experience of Ticino was many years ago when staying in Cannobio on Lago Maggiore and stealing across the border to take in the Swiss side, where some of the Italian residents I was acquainted with benefited from the superior wages and benefits that Switzerland accords. This lead me to choose to stay in Locarno given it sharing the same lake. While I was mostly in and greatly enjoyed Locarno, my next foray into the “Swiss Mediterranean” will probably see me staying in Lugano, or crossing the river into Ascona. Don’t get me wrong. Locarno and Orselina (just a funicular ride up the hill from Locarno) where I stayed, are well worth the time, full of grottoes, side streets and other possibilities such as peaceful morning jaunts along the river Maggia which washes down from the encircling slopes into Lago Maggiore, which I hope to retread. But somehow, Lugano, by virtue of being a bigger centre, has that slightly more grandiose Mediterranean vibe, which I now miss from that highly improbable, very crazy reality called Istanbul. Also, since I only took a day in Lugano, there was less time for me to form a full impression. Truth is I would relish the opportunity to explore both in much greater detail. And given the relative ease with which to travel to either by train from Zurich, that seems a very likely prospect.

    If you follow this blog at all, you know I love a good boat trip. Especially those that serve adult refreshments. So with only a day to experience Lugano, I chose to hop on the first boat I could to take in the lake with which it shares a name. Lake Lugano doesn’t disappoint for scenery — with the exception of the somewhat bizarre Italian enclave of Campione D’Italia and its prominently placed casino, which I won’t share here or linger upon any longer.

    Along the route I chose to hop off at Gandria but am now longing to experience Morcote (a glimpse of which I afford you in the photo immediately above), which has apparently been voted Most Beautiful Village in Switzerland, an impressive feat considering this small country’s prodigious number of villages with storybook-worthy scenery. Gandria (all photos below this paragraph)  where I stopped for lunch, however, has some very worthy vistas. I don’t use guidebooks or over-research things on my smart phone, but rather see what feels right in the moment. Chance and curiosity are almost always better guides, and I’d rather see what other people think after I have experienced a place for myself. So, after walking not far and heeding my gut instinct I came across Locanda Gandriese which looked enticing after a cursory glance. It turns out it’s a highly recommended place. I enjoyed one of the local specialties, a Porcini ragout with polenta, but was not particularly inspired by the minestrone soup which preceded it. One of the disadvantages of travelling solo is that I tend to sample less food and go for what seems reliable rather than exciting as food is best shared with good company. Also food is not especially cheap in Switzerland so dining out is also less appealing unless you plan to linger and savour the occasion with some worthy company. So I would like to go back and see what they and the rest of Lugano have to offer, including a vibrant art scene, which has enlivened in recent years as the city diversified its appeal.

    Now, back to Lago Maggiore. The walk south, along the lake from Locarno, and up and along the river Maggia, while not necessarily efficient, provides a healthy but low impact stroll which leads you to Ascona (pictured below) a town that brings you up close and personal with Lago Maggiore. With its plane-tree-lined waterfront, glass like stillness and colourful facades, it’s easy to zone out for several hours with a measure or two of the regionally produced merlot. Here’s another suggestion: don’t opt for pizza. There’s nothing wrong with the pizzas in Ascona or in Ticino in general, which are thin crust and perfectly good and offered on just about every corner. It’s simply that they’re not prepared with the kind of gusto you’d probably get in a place like Napoli. Instead ask what the local specialties are, as I get the sense that pizzas are a case of pandering to outsiders’ expectations. Again, this may be my fault for not sufficiently researching first, but I enjoy the pizza at the Bellcafe at the Bellevue Tram station in Zurich as much, if not more than, anything I sampled in Ticino.

    Unfortunately, I was only given a few days to amble about Ticino, but it left me wanting to experience more of its vibrant landscape, abundant sunshine, and hillside wonders. Ticino is both distinctly different from the rest of Switzerland and Italy which lays just across the border, making it somewhere worthy of repeat attention.


    Which is why I say: Grazie mille, Ticino!

  • hydra … our summer’s first and last port of call

    November 1st, 2017

    As stated before, I love islands. At their best they are little capsules of bliss. On an island you accept the fact that there is a disconnection from all that mainland hustle and bustle. You’re cut off. Which is a pleasure …  and while I am happy that there are more far islands left in this grand world to discover, my current favourite is Hydra. I am not alone. Far more distinguished company have resided or worked here – Leonard Cohen, Jurgen Teller, Sofia Loren among others. We had a celebrity sighting with a Game Of Thrones star. I’ve been twice and predict a return at the next earliest date.

    Although the amphitheatre arrangement style of the architecture of the port may be overshadowed by Santorini’s iconic and relentlessly photographed scene, Hydra doesn’t lack for charm. Strict codes preserve it from crass developments and ugly architecture. This is, for my money, exactly what I hope for on a Greek island. The fact that the port-side town lacks motor vehicles or even bicycles is a huge plus. Want to lug your bag up the hill, you have two options: shoulder the burden or hire a mule who line up, truculently, each morning to assist in the unloading of various goods at the port. They might not be the happiest islanders but their toils are greatly appreciated by a snap-happy generation of instagrammers as well as seven-year-olds who delight in being given a ride to the hotel along with overstuffed suitcases which don’t easily roll along on cobblestone streets.

    Given its proximity to Athens, (1.5 hours on the Flying Dolphin, 2.5 by Flying Cat) it’s a big favourite for casual weekenders as well as the elite traveller. The full spectrum of hospitality is available. We sampled two distinctly different properties. The rather grandiosely titled, Hydrea Exclusive Hospitality (at which the first four photos of this post were taken), located on the western edge of the harbour, is a magnificent perch, everything a romance seeker could expect style-wise from a design hotel. We also stayed at Miranda, an old captain’s mansion, which has its own old-world charm and much less “exclusive” prices, and where our welcome included another ubiquitous four-legged islander: a white and ginger street cat, we very creatively dubbed, Ginger. Hydra probably has the friendliest and most well cared for population of cats we have encountered so far, also much to the delight of the seven-year-old set.

    In terms of quality food and drink, you don’t have to wander far. Good, honest fare abounds. Side streets, in particular, offer a host of family owned and operated options. Eat whatever is featured on the daily menu. Fresh produce and other close-to-source ingredients make such dishes sing. Also sweet, sun-kissed tomato sauce with a hint of cloves make dishes such as rooster in sauce, or meat balls and sauce a daily craving. A side of fresh cut potatoes never hurts either.

    The most difficult question of the day is where to dip ourselves into the Aegean. There are fantastic places arrayed cliff-side to drink, take in the sun and plunge into Poseidon’s blessed pool. Yet some mornings the wind picks up and forebodes the need for a sheltered cove, in which case there are also beaches, usually requiring a 20-30 minute stroll, or a shuttle boat – if you don’t feel the need to exert yourself. When we wanted a beach our preferred choice was the Four Seasons (not the chain), which also comes highly recommended as a boutique hotel. It’s about 45 minutes on foot but the westerly walk features plenty of scenic places to stop and enjoy a refreshment or two. If speed is of the essence, there’s a regular shuttle boat every 30 minutes. While we can’t attest to the suites — having not stayed there — the food and the cheerful staff constantly deliver. Personally, I prefer to remain closer to the harbour, and so, from 10:00 AM most mornings, our favourite was the cliff-side, Spilia (pictured two frames above), where the super-friendly and talented bartender-barista, basketball aficionado Aggelos (pictured immediately above), hosted us with such natural good grace we almost felt like locals.

    As the sun moves westward, we almost always find ourselves at Hydronetta (shots 1, 3, 4 , 5 below) which means mermaid, for aperitifs. Just around the point from Spilia, the sunsets are a thing of legend. And despite some occasionally melodramatic playlists, we never felt the need to break with tradition. The sheltered cove was perfect for a dip on all but one evening where only yours truly felt comfortable venturing for a swim.

    After nightfall and a good dinner at somewhere like Kryfo Limani (Secret Port) or Pardosiako (Traditional) there’s always time for a digestif or two at Amalour, or you can head back to the port and enjoy a perennial favourite, Pirate Bar. But the music is really good at Amalour (immediately below) so don’t rush. In terms of atmosphere, the western portside Papagalos (Parrot), right below Hydrea E.H., is also good place to zone out next the gently bobbing yachts.

    While the season is now over for most of our preferred haunts, we’ll be kept warm with memories of a summer bookended by Hydra’s eternal magic. Thank Poseidon for the welcome tide that brings you ashore on Hydra. We now look forward to our return.

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