Spring snow

A dusting of snow, after spring had already arrived.

A snowy morning on Zurichberg.After hiking in a t-shirt on Saturday – a balmy day (close to 20ºC) – I was surprised to wake this morning to see snow covering Uetliberg – the hill on the opposite side of the city.  As I climbed my usual route to Zürichberg I soon passed through above the snowline and, where just two days earlier I saw families out preparing their tiny garden plots for the new growing season, the daffodils were covered in a dusting of snow.

Spring snowfalls are nothing new to me.  But what surprises me is that this is only the fourth snowfall I’ve seen in Zürich this year, and none of them have dropped more than one or two cm of snow, even in the higher terrain.  So I’m wondering: when is it ever winter, anyway?

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A long walk from Zurichberg

An eleven-mile walk down the ridgeline from Zurichberg and down to the lake.

It was a beautiful spring day, one of those early warm days that draw you outdoors.  With the prospect of alpine hikes unlikely for the coming months, due to safety issues involving avalanches or coronavirus (or both), I decided to walk closer to home.

I climb straight up to the top of Zurichberg every morning, with its lovely view of the distant alps.  From that viewpoint I’ve often wondered whether it’s possible to walk down that ridgeline, parallel to the lake.  After lunch, I headed up my usual route to Zurichberg.  Unlike in the early morning, it was bustling with people… older couples out for a stroll, young families with toddlers in tow, hipsters running with their headphones, and hardcore mountain bikers zipping by.  I picked a less-traveled route, but soon discovered that these hills above Zürich are covered with a web of gravel paths, all well maintained, well signed, and well mapped… and today, well populated.

I walked through hardwood forests, with stacks of impressive logs, recently cut, demonstrating how they thin these forests for both the health of the forest and the revenue and raw materials it can produce.  I passed small family groups building campfires, or setting out a picnic lunch on a table. I passed couples enjoying a couple glasses of wine on a shared bench.  I walked through meadows with wildflowers blooming.  And when I decided to head downhill, toward the lake, I wandered the small lanes of suburban towns where people were out preparing their gardens for spring.  A lovely scene.2020-03-28-82109.jpg

At Tiefenbrunnen I hopped the S6 back to Zürich, paying an extra two bucks for 1st class and I had a train car all to myself for the 15 minute ride.

Most people were careful about social distancing, keeping to the opposite side of the path so I could pass them with the recommended 2m separation.  But some were not so careful, and sometimes it was too narrow or too crowded to be truly separated.  In retrospect, after passing several hundred people on the trails today, I would have been better off spending 2-3 hours on an empty train to reach a distant trailhead for an empty trail.

I took few photos and have no gallery, but I include a few interesting scenes below the map.

Stats: 11 miles, 3.5 hours.

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My route is shown in blue, starting at top center and ending bottom center. I forgot to start the track at home, so it actually starts on Zürichberg just before I left my usual turf and headed into the great unknown to its southeast.

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Braunwald to Schwanden

A lovely solo hike from Braunwald, across the high country and down to the valley village of Schwanden.

Sometimes I just need to get in a few miles of post-holing.  And when the view is this good, why not?  After completing a major deadline yesterday, I really needed to get away from the computer and out into the Real World for a while.  Given the rapid onset of spring in Zürich, I wanted one last taste of winter.  Switzerland closed all the ski areas (early) on Monday, so none of those facilities was an option.  But our walk in Braunwald, two weeks ago, left me wishing to go back.  I found a longer walk, from the same starting point, and so I jumped a train back to Braunwald.*  Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

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Bösbächibach brook and the peaks (L to R) of Eggstock, Gassenstock, and Bösbächistock.

Continue reading “Braunwald to Schwanden”

Uetliberg walk

A lovely walk above Zurich today.

My plan for the weekend had been to get out skiing, one more time… but work kept me indoors despite beautiful weather. Sadly, Switzerland just ordered all ski areas to close today, so I guess that’s the end of the season for me.  I needed to get out, so I took a tram across town and hiked up Uetliberg, the big hill dominating Zurich’s west side.  It was sunny and warm, and a few green leaves and flowers poked up among the leaf litter.  The birds sang, and the views of the Alps were spectacular.  I decided to take a less-direct route down, starting on the Schlittelweg – a trail designed specifically for people who want to sled from the top of the mountain to the bottom.  Very cool – except that it never snowed more than a dusting this winter, so the trail likely never saw use this year.

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As I followed this trail, I came to a lovely picnic area. I love how the Swiss maintain truly functional firepits, and tables, and even a custom water fountain.  (All the public fountains run constantly, with city water, and are thus cold and tasty and clean year-round.)

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As I left this little park, a man was practicing his Alphorn – the long tubular horn that rests on the ground and into which a standing musician blows.  His tunes resonated across the valley as I descended, spanning a repertoire from Christmas music to the Star Spangled Banner.

I soon came to a sign advertising the ruins of a castle, and decided to investigate.  Burg Friesenberg turned out to be the jumbled walls of a tiny structure, smaller than most modern homes.  It was surrounded by construction fencing, with signs indicating its condition had deteriorated (no doubt, because previously people had climbed all over it and held campfire outings inside).

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On the way down, I passed another lovely picnic area with another nifty fountain.

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On the way home I stopped into the store for some essentials.  The COVID-19 situation has been getting more serious, every day, and everyone expects Switzerland may soon lock down the country.  So we stocked up on the four Swiss food groups: cheese, wurst, chocolate, and beer.

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Sure enough, this evening the federal government announced that they were closing the borders to most non-residents, closing all “shops, markets, restaurants, bars, entertainment and leisure establishments such as museums, libraries, cinemas, concert halls, theatres, sports centres, swimming pools and ski areas….”

Difficult times ahead.  I’m glad I got out to enjoy a bit of nature today.

Braunwald to Nussbüel

A beautiful walk from Braunwald to Nussbüel for lunch at an alpine restaurant.

Although it certainly feels like spring in Zürich – what with the daffodils blooming everywhere and tulips soon to come – it’s still early March and I’m still eager for some more winter.  So Andy and I hopped the S25 out of Zürich this morning and headed for the Glarusalps, hoping to get a little time in the snow.  Ninety minutes later we boarded a funicular train for the village of Braunwald, high above the Glarus valley, and soon left behind the green valley for a winter wonderland.  Read on, and check the photo gallery.

2020-03-08-81783.jpg Continue reading “Braunwald to Nussbüel”

Fasnacht Zurich

The annual Fasnacht celebration in Zurich, with dueling bands in wild costumes.

Many Swiss and German cultures celebrate Fasnacht, an event with a fascinating centuries-old history.  I had hoped to attend the legendary celebration in Basel this week, but it was cancelled due to concerns about coronavirus and large crowds.  Zurich cancelled its big parade, but proceeded with the rest of its  a three-day weekend celebration of street music by informal bands dressed in wild costumes. In this “ZüriCarneval,” nearly every square in old town had a band and food trucks, making for a festive atmosphere.  As the city website notes, the core event is “various ‘Guggen’ bands – mostly brass ensembles – playing well-known melodies very loudly and intentionally out of tune.”  I enjoyed strolling the streets and capturing some of the scenes and faces.  Check out the gallery!

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Basel

A short visit to Basel for a lecture at the oldest university in Switzerland.

I took a daytrip to Basel today, to give a lecture at the university.  The University of Basel is the oldest university in Switzerland (founded in 1460), and yet the computer science department is in a nondescript modern building in the center of the city.  I had many fascinating discussions with the faculty and students about their cutting-edge research.

My host professor is a native of Basel and kindly gave me a brief tour of the central city, which straddles the Rhine River.  Despite the gloomy weather, it was fascinating to stroll the narrow streets of this ancient city and to hear the story behind the various buildings – from the 11th-century cathedral to the 21st-century headquarters of pharma giants like Novartis and Hoffmann-La Roche.  This small city, nestled in a corner of Switzerland adjacent to both France and Germany, is the third-largest city in the country and is a major economic engine for the region and for the country.  This role dates back centuries to 1225 when the city built the first, and for a long time the only, bridge across the Rhine.2020-02-25-81206.jpg

We took a ride across the Rhine on a tiny ferry boat, big enough to seat perhaps a dozen passengers, which required no power at all – a cable on its bow is fixed to a pulley on a cable crossing the river, and by angling the bow against the current, the current pushes the boat across the river.2020-02-25-81178.jpg

At the end of the day he dropped me off at the Swiss Museum for Paper, Writing, and Printing (founded by his grandfather), which was absolutely fascinating.  Its water wheel still turns the machinery indoors, converting rags into paper; upstairs, restored printing machines spanning many centuries still run and demonstrate, often hands-on, how the printing process works.  They even have the first Macintosh ever used in Switzerland, and the notebook used by the designer of Helvetica, the most successful font ever. My 40-minute visit was far too short.2020-02-25-81199.jpg

Basel has a fascinating history and is well worth a read – and a visit!  See the photo gallery for a few more pictures.  It was not the most photogenic day, but I hope to visit again!