Labor Day in Italy

May 1st is the labor day, at least in Switzerland and Italy. For me, this meant the day off work and I found myself in Bologna, Italy in the middle of an unexpected (to me) demonstration. First thing that was amiss – police vehicles blocking off the street and police in riot gear lined up.

Police in riot gear following up the protesters

Lagging at the end of the protest were Italian police officers in riot gear.

Despite the riot gear, the protest remained non-violent.

Chiuso! Close!

The Italian word for “close” was spray painted on a number of businesses. May 1 is supposed to be a global strike day and at least in Italy and Switzerland, the majority of businesses are closed.

The No People Mover signs win my “sign of the protest” award. They are protesting a free shuttle from Bologna to the airport that raised the price of bus tickets. For those who are interested, they have a blog (in Italian) aptly named No People Mover.

Chiuso Global Strike - McDonaldsMcDonalds was open despite the calls for a global strike closure spray painted on its windows. Most of the major chains in Bologna were open, as were restaurants, but smaller stores closed for the holiday. H&M was open but devoid of shoppers. McDonalds was not terribly busy at lunchtime with most of the people at the square for the protest.

The march started on a major street in Bologna and wound its way down to the main square in town. Signs were calling for the protesters to take the square. City officials seemed quite willing to give the square up without a fight.

Take the Square sign

Calling for a global strike

The ATM had a sign of protest taped across the screenThe banks took a lot of the protesters’ anger. ATMs had their displays covered with cartoons that called them crooks. Banks had their plate glass windows partially covered with impromptu brick walls. Europe has some anti-Euro sentiment, even in Switzerland which does not use the Euro.

A small group of marching drummers

A small group of marching drummers provided the music for the protest.

After the march to the square was over, most of the groups gathered and continued to wave signs or shout their slogans. I didn’t have much more time in Bologna so a quick trip through the church and old town later and I was on my way back to the train station.

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The Böögg predicts a moderate summer

The Böögg’s head exploded in 12 minutes and 7 seconds, slightly faster than average. According to legend, the faster the Böögg burns, the hotter the summer. The Böögg rests and waits in an open field near the Opera house and is lit at exactly 6 PM when the church bell rings. The Böögg is declared consumed when the head burns up.

Burning the Böögg

After the head explodes and most of the people head home, a few make their way down to the burning remnants and watch, or pose for photos like this random stranger.

Guy in front of burning Böögg

The event ends in a barbecue. Some people bring the Swiss national sausage – cervelat – on a large stick, and roast them the way Americans roast marshmallows. Official looking men with large shovels take ashes and distribute them to party goers sporting portable barbecues or small cleared areas in the muddy ground.

Coals for BBQing sausage

And with the Böögg officially burned and Sechseläuten officially over, spring is here.

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Kinder Fasnacht – Carnival for the Kids

Marching band from Winterthur

Switzerland is a Christian country and every year there are Carnival-like celebrations in major cities, traditionally called Fasnacht. The last year I went to Lucerne for the large Fasnacht parade, which was followed up by parties throughout the city. The Swiss people take Fasnacht very seriously and a large percentage of the parade-goers wear costumes and throw confetti.

My little fairyThis year, I decided to hit a local kinder fasnacht parade in a nearby small town. The kids parade is slightly different because instead of standing on the sidelines and watching, the kids are the parade.

The parade begins on the street next to the bahnhof. Families gather with costumed children and wait for the signal to start. There were all sorts of costumes. Pippi Longstocking is a popular choice but there were also angels, devils, a variety of animals, and my two were a fairy and Superman.

The marching band's elaborate costumesThe parade route follows the main street to the old part of town and stops just before the local castle. This year, the weather was pretty cold and I was envious of the warm looking costumes worn by the marching band. That, and I like red.

After reaching the square next to the castle, the parade broke up. There were tables with glühwein and punsch. Cakes were sold bake sale style. I am pretty sure I saw a few weinerli, the Swiss equivalent of hot dogs, on bread. Since it was so cold, most people went inside a town building where more cake was sold.

Upstairs in the town building, the kids gathered in the confetti covered room for songs, games, and skits performed by older children. After the marching bands ate, they gathered and played very loud music on the ground floor for the adults. All and all, it was a fun time.

Clown shooting confetti cannon

A clown shoots a confetti cannon off a Tintin themed float

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Ordering a Cosmo at THE Dada Bar

Maybe only I appreciated the irony of ordering a pedestrian drink at the bar where the Dada art movement was born. The bartender just looked at me and said no. Instead I found myself with plum wine and prosecco in a champagne flute and my visiting sister got a green absinth specialty of the house.

A green drink inside the Dada bar

The Dada art movement began in a second floor bar, Cabaret Voltaire, located on Neiderdorfstrasse in Zurich, Switzerland. The idea of Dadaism as anti-art began as a reaction to the bourgeoisie during World War I. The concept was anti-art. Sculptures were supposed to cause shock and discomfort with the viewer, a giant Mr. Yuck sticker in the mind of the audience. Probably the most famous piece of the Dada art movement is the urinal fountain but the Dada artists did not limit themselves to only visual arts.

Artist Tristan Tzara on using chance to write poetry.

“Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are–an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.”

The obvious question is, why would pulling words out of a hat make a good poem? I don’t really know. From what I read, Dadaists were interested in what the subconscious pulls out of the poem. It is interesting to see what people read into things given their own biases and experiences. Does this mean online message boards are the ultimate in Dada art?

Go to Cabaret Voltaire for the electric atmosphere and little bit of history. It is worth the visit. Just don’t bother trying to order a Cosmo. 😉

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A Rainy Day in Germany

A view of the lake Constance

Lake Constance on a Rainy Day

On a surprisingly less busy Saturday I took the opportunity for a girls day out in the German border town of Konstanz. I like going to Konstanz for a number of reasons, a big one being the price. Germany is just cheaper than Switzerland, even accounting for the value difference between Euros and Swiss Francs. Konstanz lies on the edge of Bodensee (Lake Constance in English) and has a beautiful old town filled with Swiss tourists.

Bodensee borders on three countries, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Next spring I hope to bike around the lake and through all three countries. For the day, I was just another tourist with an umbrella, enjoying the glühwein.

The month of December, many German and Swiss towns have Christmas markets and Konstanz is no different. Small wood huts were constructed in the street of Konstanz’s old town and all types of vendors came to sell their products. There are usually a number of wood workers who make advent candles to display on windowsills and other decorations for your house.

Wooden candles for advent

Wood nutcrackers and windmills

Gluhwein in a mugIn Zürich, the glühwein, or mulled wine, is sold in bad for the environment styrofoam cups. Not so in Konstanz. The glühwein stands charge a 2 Euro deposit and provides a festive mug with the name of the town and a wintery scene. Glühwein varies slightly from stand to stand depending on the brand of wine they use and what flavors are added but there is generally orange and cloves simmering or added to the cup.

A lit snowman on the top of the gluhwein standAt a Christmas market, glühwein stands are planted every few rows so the stands add decorations to draw customers. My favorite was a giant snowman on the roof of this stand.

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Zurich at night – a few photos

Grossmunster church lit upGrossmünster stands on the east side of the Limmat River, in the old part of the city. I usually find myself standing under Grossmünster, looking up, after walking the length of Neiderdorfstrasse. A statue of Charlemagne sits with a crown and sword, perhaps watching over the church. A larger statue of Charlemagne rests in the basement crypt.

Grossmünster switched religions around the year 1500, changing from a monestary to eliminating mass and other Catholic rituals in favor of the Swiss-German Reformation and a protestant denomination.

Turning away from Grossmünster and looking across the Limmat, there are two churches with visible clock towers. Several footbridges cross the Limmat connecting the old parts of Zürich on either side of the river.

St. Peters Church at night

A view of St. Peter and the Limmat River. The clock face on St. Peter is purported to be the largest in Europe.

Fraumünster from the other side of the Limmat River.

Not visible at night from the other side of the river, I would still be remiss if I didn’t mention the stained glass windows at Fraumünster on the west side of the Limmat. They were designed by Marc Chagall and installed in 1970. If you see them in person, a hint: the red stained glass panel does not contain images of dinosaurs. If you ask the church lady working at the gift shop about the dinosaurs, she will princeface you.

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Tour Swiss Highlights in 1 Hour

Before I had kids, I would get in a mood and hop on a train or get in the car and leave. I’d show up in a town or city, thumb through my guide book and pick a place to stay. Often I would have to check out a few places to find a clean place. Sadly, this plan doesn’t work so well with small children with short legs and shorter patience.

So if you should happen to pull into Ticino with two kids and no hotel reservation on a three day weekend, the helpful people at the Lugano visitor’s bureau might send you to this lovely hotel in nearby Melide. Although Hotel al Boccalino is a bit of a walk from the Melide train station, it is very close to Swissminiatur.

Hotel near Swissminiatur in Melide

Hotel near Swissminiatur in Melide

We dropped off our bags, changed into sandals, and headed down to see the Swiss sights in miniature form. Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons, similar to US states. The Swissminiatur landscape has 126 numbered exhibits, covering natural beauties such as the Matterhorn and human created structures – castles, farms, and airports. Anyone moving to Switzerland should make Swissminiatur their first stop, if only to plan a travel itinerary.

The hotel also has a bar and restaurant. They even had a high chair for the baby, an uncommon occurrence in Switzerland. The food was obviously Italian in style and pretty good. Breakfast is included at the hotel, which means bread, coffee, hot chocolate, and various other Swiss staples. It isn’t obvious to me why the hotels always have Nutella and bread for my kid. The last thing I need before a day of sight seeing is a hyped up kid on sugar and chocolate. No matter, my kids like it.

Miniature ski lodge, Matterhorn

No, Switzerland does not have mutant-size zombie trees, this is a miniature replica of a ski lodge. The white slide is a working replica of a bob sled track. The white mountain in the back is the snow-covered Matterhorn.

Miniature building at Swissminiatur

Swiss buildings and castles have quite a bit of fine detail and it shows up as scaled down art in each building. The artists who crafted each exhibit paid attention to the small things.

Restaurant overlooking Lake Lugano

Restaurant overlooking Lake Lugano in Melide

Melide rests on Lake Lugano. It is possible to take a boat from Melide to the city of Lugano but the boats do not run too often and we didn’t manage to catch one. Instead we took the local train, the S-bahn, at the end of our stay. Off to Lugano followed by Bellinzona.

Swissminiatur is an outdoor attraction so during the winter it is not open every day.

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