29 March 2015

Chocolate vs. Olive Oil

In a Swiss grocery store, about this much shelf space is taken up with dozens of kinds of chocolate. In Athens, well, as you see, it's all about the olive oil.

26 March 2015

Athens Alive

Sorry, Athens, but I'm going to say out loud what we both know -- you are not a handsome city overall. The 5-year economic crisis has taken its toll in chipped concrete and dirty sidewalks. Though yes, it's true your metro system is spotless, the stations and the trains, which run right on time. Bravo to whomever decided the metro is a priority in rebuilding this 3000-year-old city. And your taxis -- cheap and always just a hand-wave away. 

Bravo most of all to the brave Athenians, who remain welcoming and charming, rejuvenated by their new handsome young prime minister, who refuses to wear a tie even when locking horns with Frau Merkel. How could she resist him? In Greece, one minute you're strangers, the next it's like this. 

During lunch in the Monastiraki neighborhood these people saw me admiring their choices and immediately insisted we taste their pork in tomato sauce and their fava bean purée. They also shared their tsipouro, a clear Greek spirit like grappa, and we likewise shared ours. We can't wait to taste the olive oil they make at Hellenic Food.

Monastiraki's narrow lanes are a modern-day souk selling everything from tourist schlock to authentic antique treasures.

With great places to eat and drink everywhere. 

 And provocative galleries.

After lunch we crossed Ermou St. and rediscovered our fave little quarter in Athens -- Psirri.

Some stunning graffiti here; these artworks all next to each other on one block

Now we're home, all too soon. But you never leave Athens behind entirely.

18 March 2015

Cernier Sculpture Garden

To buy wood pellets to heat our house I usually take the winding two-lane through the beautiful Val de Ruz valley to the big discount homewares store in little Cernier.

To be honest, Cernier is not a memorable town. Except for one thing. The school there -- l'Ecole des Métiers de la Terre et de la Nature de Cernier -- contains a rather amazing sculpture and plant garden.

06 January 2015

Trying Not to End Up Like Irving Dunn

In March I will finally obtain my long-coveted C Permit, allowing me to stay in Switzerland indefinitely -- if I don't screw up. I'm especially skittish now about committing any cultural faux pas because of what recently happened to poor Irving Dunn. You can read his sad story and how I'm attempting to behave myself in my latest piece for Newly Swissed.

15 December 2014

A hymn from our 12th-century church

In our town of Neuchâtel, this is where, for a thousand years, knights and ladies have come to praise their Lord. I was lucky last week to find the organist practicing. Here's a little video.

03 December 2014

What Makes a City Great?

The first time I visited Zürich, I walked out of the train station beneath a gargantuan guardian angel, strolled across the Limmat River, and wandered aimlessly into Old Town, where I was shot through the heart with an arrow.

This has happened to me before in other great cities: Paris. San Francisco. Prague. Florence. Barcelona. Within minutes of arriving the first time, I was in love. And the more I explored the city, the more smitten I became.

What makes a city great? A lively street life full of friendly people? A dramatic history that still echoes as you walk through its churches and squares? Intriguing architecture and art? Delicious food? Efficient public services? Colorful seasons? 

Welcome to Zürich.

But a great city has something more, some ... what? ... some frisson that electrifies visitors and grows deeper within those who decide to make that city home.

Again, yes, welcome to Zürich.

What is it about this city? You can add up the elements: The Gothic steeples above the cobblestone. That fun, quirky modern design hotel in the hip quarter of town. The boutiques selling vintage furniture and tomorrow's fashions, and the ateliers offering odd housewares you suddenly must have even though you're not sure what they are. The antique ships cruising the sparkling lake. The welcoming people, many of whom speak English.

Sure, all this and more, including a vibrant café life, a progressive music scene, and countless restaurants serving food from Switzerland and around the world.

Not to mention a great tram and bus system, bringing you to the front doors of all the city's offerings.

Locals call their city "Züri," which, to me, sounds like an incantation. No surprise. Züri is one of those alchemical cities that turns its myriad amazing elements into something even more golden. But what catalyzes this alchemy?

I still do not know. Do you?

09 October 2014

A Glass with a Swiss Winemaker in his Vineyard

My idea of a wonderful morning: sharing a glass (or three) of superb Chasselas wine with the winemaker right in the sunny vineyard where the grapes were grown. You can read about this fine gentleman in my piece for Newly Swissed.