Zürich sits at the end of a beautiful lake, aptly named Lake Zürich (Zürichsee).  On this pleasant sunny Saturday evening, the lakeshore promenade is full of strolling families, wandering tourists, and romantic couples sharing a bottle of wine.  Ducks and white swans paddle the clear water to see whom might toss in a breadcrumb or two.  Cafés serve wurst to those who want to linger over a beer.  All in all, a lovely scene.  More photos at the top of the Zürich album.    2019-09-07-71164.jpg

Bells, bells, bells

Zürich is home to dozens of churches and its skyline is full of steeples.  Some of them chime on the hour, or even on the quarter-hour, but what I find most curious is that some steeple bells peal at unexpected times and for extended periods.  I do not yet understand when or why, but I always imagine it is celebrating something cheerful like a wedding or birth of a new baby.   The bell tower prominent in the view from our open windows belongs to Liebfrauenkirche, and has a particularly large set of bells.  They ring through loud and clear despite the ETH office building in the foreground.


Zurich International School

During this year in Zurich, Andy is attending the Zurich International School, a lovely school spread over three campuses providing pre-K through 12th-grade education to hundreds of children from around the world.  Last night we attended a parent-teacher night, rotating through each of Andy’s classrooms to meet his teachers and to hear from the guidance counselors about their work supporting the college-admissions process.  Three things were particularly striking:

  • The families come from all over the world.  Fascinating mix!
  • Most of the teachers had ten or twenty years of experience, each having spent 3-5 years in a variety of countries and continents.  There seems to be a particular sort of person who thrives on the multi-cultural experience and international lifestyle, migrating every few years (like most of their pupils) to a new place and a new experience.
  • The guidance counselors work with children who apply to a wide range of colleges and universities across the US, UK, Europe, and beyond.  The range of application requirements and procedures seems enormously complex, yet they seem cheerfully ready to engage with any student’s destination.

The school has beautiful facilities on the outskirts of Zurich.  The drab industrial exterior belies a more inviting interior.

ZIS frontZIS entry

Zurich flat

We’ve moved into our new flat, which is a quiet four-story, 3-apartment building nestled within the old ETH campus, and just two blocks from my office.  It is spacious and reasonably comfortable, and looks out over some ETH buildings across central Zürich to the lake and hills beyond.  On this clear late-summer evening, we can see the peaks of the Alps glimmering in the sunset glow beyond the hills.

I’ve added these and a few other photos to the Zürich gallery.



The little things…

Some of the little things I’ve noticed during my first week living in Switzerland.

Some of the little things I’ve noticed during my first week living in Switzerland, in no particular order:

  • Efficient.  The public transportation system is fantastic – trams, trains, buses, and ships are pervasive, efficient, integrated, clean, timely, and understandable.  I sold my car before we left the US, and don’t miss it!
  • Clean and walkable. The city streets and sidewalks are spotless, and the air unpolluted.  Genuinely pleasant place to walk.  but:
  • Smokers.  Lots of smokers.  Living in Hanover and the Upper Valley I forget how prevalent cigarettes are in Europe.  I enjoy sitting in an outdoor café or biergarten, but have now learned to check the wind direction and the location of smokers before I choose a seat.
  • Friendly.  Everyone here has been super kind and helpful.
  • Expensive.  And just try keeping an 18-year-old growing boy fed in this place!  (We will need to double our budget.)
  • Beautiful.  Zurich is a beautiful city on a beautiful lake.  It helps that the weather this week has been downright perfect – sunny, warm, not too hot, not humid; perfect for an evening glass of bier at the sidewalk café below our flat.
  • Historic. Everywhere I turn, as I stroll the old streets between our flat and the university office, are centuries-old buildings just dripping with history. Seven chemists received Nobel prizes from their work in this building.  Brahms played music in that house. Einstein was a student here at ETH around 1900.
  • Bread. Fresh croissants every morning!  Enough said.
  • Delectable food: so far I’ve had Thai, Japanese, and Indian food.  I suppose one of these days I need to find some Swiss food.
  • Green.  Many tree-lined streets and microparks make for a pleasant walk through the back streets to my office.  Still need to explore the many larger parks.
  • Sundays.  All shops close on Sundays.  It leads to a very relaxed feeling in town.
  • No bugs.  With all this warm weather, we leave open the windows (really skylights, because our temporary flat is at the attic level).   No screens!  because there are, amazingly, no bugs.  I note all windows in the neighborhood are the same.
Bakery in Zurich.
Le Pain Quotidien, bakery in Zurich.
Zurich Hautbahnhof, with connections to ... everywhere.
Zurich Hautbahnhof, with rail connections to … everywhere.



Today we took the boat from Zurich a couple of hours up-lake to the quaint town of Rapperswil.  It was a beautiful sunny day, warm and dry with a cool breeze; perfect for sitting on a passenger ferry and enjoying the scenery roll by.  It’s cool that the ZSG boats are part of the same Zurich transportation system as the trains, so our all-zone passes allowed us to take the boat up the lake and just jump on a train back to Zurich later.

The other people on the boat seemed out for the same purpose – a pleasant Saturday morning on the lake, with tea and croissants in the on-board restaurant.  The boat stopped every 10-20 minutes at one of the small villages along the lake, eventually reaching the old town Rapperswil at the foot of its 13th-century castle.  We and the other tourists spilled off the boat to stroll the cobblestone streets of old-town Rapperswil, passing the many cafes and swanky shops that lure tourists.

Unlike those tourists, though, we picked a quiet Indian restaurant in the modern section of town.  The only customers – the Sri Lankan owner explained to us that most of his customers are locals who come for dinner or on weekdays, not like us odd American tourists with a hankering for Indian food.

A delightful outing.   More photos in the gallery.



This evening at sunset we walked a couple of blocks and hopped on the Dolderbahn, a cute electric cog railcar that takes passengers on a 5-minute ride up to the hilltop on the east side of Zurich.  It lets you off adjacent the Dolder Grand hotel, an immensely posh and beautiful place.  All I could afford was this photo from the driveway.


Switzerland sabbatical

We’ve arrived in Zürich, where I have the good fortune to spend a year-long sabbatical at the Center for Digital Health Interventions at ETH Zürich.   Andy is attending the Zürich International School and Pam is planning many explorations.

I arrived a few days ago, to splendid late-summer weather.  Although I’ve not yet had time to explore the city, I have thoroughly enjoyed my daily walk to the office from our temporary flat.  It follows quiet streets at the edge of the old center of Zürich, passing schools and childcare centers bubbling with children in the morning, and sidewalk cafes burbling with adults enjoying an evening Bier in the late-afternoon sunlight.  It passes by a home where Johannes Brahms once made music, and the university hospital.  It passes homes dating to the 17th century, far older than Dartmouth or Hanover.   It passes buildings where a student named Einstein once took classes and a chemistry building that wrought seven Nobel Laureates before it was repurposed for the department of Computer Science.  It passes busy students bicycling to class and aromatic bakeries tempting me with their wares.  It passes an overlook where the university cafeteria looks out across the church spires of the city center to the lake and hills beyond.  [Gallery]

I can tell I’m going to really like this place…

Alpine hike in Switzerland

I was in Zurich for meetings and managed to set aside a day for hiking in the high country to the east. Fresh snow and low clouds made for an eerily quite day in the mountains.

I was in Zurich for a day of meetings and decided it would be a great opportunity to go hiking in the beautiful mountains of Switzerland.  So, despite earlier stops in Dallas (for ACM CCS) and Delft (for ACM SenSys) I brought along my backpack, boots, and full winter hiking gear.  On Wednesday morning, after lots of helpful advice from my ETH colleagues, I boarded an eastbound train from Zurich.  Read on for the full story, and check out the photos. Continue reading “Alpine hike in Switzerland”