I booked a room and table at Schloss Schauenstein as a present for my husband's 50th birthday. It is pricy. Its not an everyday kind of thing, but it was absolutely spectacular and the best meal experience we have had to date.
I use the words 'meal experience' because I really felt that from the moment we arrived to the moment we left the next morning we ate and drank such high quality delicious treats as well as an amazing meal that to simply describe it as 'dinner' somehow just isn't enough.
Andreas Caminada is the chef at Schloss Schauenstein and he has 3 Michelin Stars and 19 Gault Millau points. I'll be honest and tell you that I had never heard of him before a friend suggested this as a gift for my husband, but now I am firmly a fan.
Everything about Schloss Schauenstein was just perfect.
We were greeted warmly when we arrived and our car was parked for use whilst our bags were carried up to the 'Luft Suite' in the tower where we were staying. There was a lovely welcome note on the table for us with two beautiful chocolates.
Our suite was AMAZING. a great view of the local countryside and a bathroom stocked with Molton Brown toiletries, big towels and bathrobes. The hairdryer even had a diffuser...
After settling in (and eating the welcome chocolates) we decided to have a glass of champagne on the terrace. As a nice surprise this was complimentary as was a platter of delightful small snacks that arrived alongside it. The terrace was a lovely spot to wind down after the drive and to enjoy the beautiful sunshine that we were lucky enough to experience that day.
A lovely bubble bath followed the champagne before we descended the stairs to the bar for pre-dinner drinks.. and delicious amuse bouche from the kitchen.
Here are a few photos from the interior of the Schloss...
Dinner was 3, 4, 5 or 6 courses with the option to add 2 surprise courses... As it was a special occasion we opted for 6 courses and the 2 surprise courses.... and we couldn't think of a good reason not to...
From the moment we started eating the amuse bouche in the bar to the final plate of petits fours which were served with tea back in the bar EVERYTHING was delicious. In fact the word delicious doesn't really do justice to it.
At the table in the restaurant there was a little packet of cards with a description of each course printed on it. Anyone who has eaten in this type of fine dining restaurant will appreciate how much this really helps when actually eating the food ( and especially if you aren't giving the waiter 100% attention when he is describing each plate)
I have added lots of photos of the food as an album. I'm not going to bore you with descriptions of each dish, and I think the photos are enough to convince anyone how spectacular the food was...
At the end of the meal Chef Caminada came into the restaurant to greet the diners and spent several minutes talking to every table effortlessly switching between German, Italian and English. He is charming, friendly and deserves every bit of praise he gets. I can not say enough good things about Schloss Schauenstein.
The evening ended with fresh peppermint tea and petits fours in the bar..... which was just about as much as we could manage before we rolled up to bed......
The next morning we walked over to a small building alongside the castle for breakfast... which as I am sure you can guess was scrummy. We has champagne (we I did since I wasn't driving) a selection of juices, pastries, breads, cereals, cold meats, cheeses, and fresh fruit before being served perfectly cooked eggs. It was a truly perfect ending to what was an unforgettable experience.
If you get a chance to go to Schloss Schauenstein TAKE IT - you will not regret it!!
It is not easy to get a hotel booking as they are snapped up, but there are often cancellations so it is worth checking back on the website.
Schauenstein Schloss Restaurant Hotel
Spring is my favourite time in Switzerland. Its warm enough to enjoy a nice walk in the forest without the need to wear a hat and gloves, or worry too much about the possibility of rain, but not so hot that you look like you have spent an hour in a sauna when you return home.
Swiss people love being outdoors have of course got everything under control with their 'wanderweg' trails. There are trails for every ability. They are well signposted and there is even a website so you can plan your trip in advance. You jut have to watch out for the mountain bikers, and there are LOADS of those especially in the mountains and forest walking trails. They usually use the bell to alert you, but they are fast so you need to take care and be alert.
Spring is also the time when the flowers start to bloom and Switzerland has loads of places to 'PYO' or Pick Your Own flowers.
Of course the absolute best thing about spring is the longer days and the fact that summer is just around the corner......
What tends to happen is that there are 2-4 rows of tulips and daffodils, then when there are finished the lupin and Sweet William appear.
Later into the summer there are rows of Gladioli and Sunflowers.
There is a drum for the cash - its an honesty system, and usually a pair of scissors and some string to tie them together with.
I love it because you can choose which stage of flowering you pick your flowers, and can kind of arrange them as you cut to see what they will look like.
I had read so many things on the internet about how painful the process of applying for Swiss Citizenship could be, I know, I know, don't believe what you read on the Internet, but sometimes it is the only source of information. Anyway, those accounts of police turning up at 10pm to check if you really are married to who you say you are, and to question you about the number of cantons/lakes/political parties there are in CH, couldn't be further from the reality of my situation.
For me the whole process took under 6 months. Which is fairly speedy, according to what I have read about other peoples experience. And the criteria that you have to fulfill is quite vague in some areas.
I was however very organised and submitted everything that the Migration office could possibly ask for with the original application. We sent bank statements, marriage certificate, birth certificate and signed forms to give permission to view our police records and tax files.
One of the biggest areas people have problems with is proving strong ties to Switzerland. Also, these strong ties are dependent on what the person reviewing the application thinks 'strong ties' are.
I wrote a letter accompanying my application saying that although during our marriage we have lived mostly overseas we regularly visited family and friends in Switzerland they also came to visit us around the world. We joined the Swiss Association in Asia and the USA and attended events organised by them. I included about over 30 photos of my husband and I together at family parties in CH, family visiting us overseas and taking trips with us in Asia and the US and also photos at events such as Swiss Club Dragon Boat Race in Hong Kong, and Oktoberfest at the Swiss Club in Singapore. My husband also wrote a letter explaining that we were now settled in Switzerand and were planning to build our home here.
The interview process for me was a quick informal few questions about my work history and school qualifications. The rest was straightforward. This was because we know most of the people in our Geminde personally and socially. I see some of these people in the street, or in the local restaurant (where they have to suffer my painful German) so they know first hand that I am intergrating in the local community and working hard on being able to speak German. Our local Mayor even wrote a note on my application to say he knew us personally, we always see hm out and about in the local restaurants and bars.
Integrating in the local community is another vague area, in the application process. There isn't a clearly defined criteria or set of questions. Some people are asked about the political parties or asked to name the lakes to prove they 'know about' Switzerland, but in my experience, being an active part of the community and being a familiar face in the town made these questions unnecessary.
One of the other big questions that hangs over applicants for citizenship is 'is the marriage real?'. I have heard stories of police wanting to see the bedrooms of applicats to check if they sleep together, or turning up late at night to conduct the interview to make sure they live together. As there were a couple senior members of the local political party actually at our wedding and my husband went to school with a few people who work in the Geminde, there was no question that our marriage is real. We also asked the architect who is designing our house to be a sponsor on my citizenship application. He has witnessed my husband and I spend hours 'debating' every small detail involved in designing our home..... he can say with his hand on his heart that we are a 'real' marriage.
If we lived in the centre of Zurich or any other big city, then I'm sure the process wouldn't of been anywhere near this simple, I'm pretty sure we would of been asked to prove our marriage isn't a sham, would of been questioned about Swiss mountain ranges or historical figures, and probably given a much stricter test of my spoken German.
So for once I am glad we live in a quiet town where everybody knows exactly what you are up to......
The planning stage was the most important stage as this meant I could cook extra things in the weeks running up to the party and freeze them, and that meant that the day of the party everything was pretty relaxed and there was no rushing around....
The Menu was purely canapé sized so that there was little need for knives and forks eliminating all the washing up afterwards....
Beef Ragu in filo pastry baskets
Mini Quiche Lorraine in filo pastry baskets
Chicken Curry on popadoms
Chicken Caesar on endive leaves
Salami, dried German Ham and fresh bread
Mini Mille Feuille
Selection of French and Swiss Cheeses
nuts, mini pretzels and kettle chips.
This was a small party, only around 20 people, so there wasn't too much food to make.
I wanted the evening to be stress free so I could enjoy time with everyone but I didn't want to serve up frozen shop bought things.
Almost everything was made in advance. The Beef Ragu is something I make regularly and we have for dinner with fresh pasta. I made this a couple of weeks earlier but just made double the portion and froze a large Tupperware container. I did the same with the chicken curry.
The day before the party I brought the ragu, curry and macarons out of the freezer.
I made the Salmon Terrine which was easy. It is roasted salmon, creme cheese, butter and chives blended and then wrapped in smoked salmon. Here is a great Mary Berry recipe. I just didn't use the asparagus.
The Chicken Caesar was made the day before and a few hours before people arrived I simply spooned it onto endive leaves, grated parmesan over the top covered in them in cling film and left in them in the fridge.
Macarons had been made over the course of the last few weeks. I simply made double the mixture everytime and froze the shells and filling separately. When they came out of the freezer they just needed to be assembled.
The Mille Feuille were also made the day before as I only used Creme Patisserie and not fresh cream. They were the most time consuming of everything to make but they were a real hit and as I was going to be home preparing everything anyway, it didn't matter too much.
On the morning of the party all I had to do was to make some filo pastry baskets and deep fry the popadoms. The baskets were simply 3 small squares of filo layered with butter and shaped into mini muffin times with pie weights to weigh them down. Once cooked they could cool down and be put aside until needed.
I made the quiche filling and filled half of the baskets and left them until 15 mins before people were due to arrive. The house smelt delicious and the quiches were still warm when I served them.
I served the beef argue and chicken curry an hour apart at around 9pm and 10pm.
I heated the beef and chicken up spooned the ragu out into the baskets and chicken onto the popadoms and walked around the room a few times. They were eaten up very quickly, certainly way before they had time to cool down. It was nice to be able to serve some more food later on that was warm. Also, as people were drinking and started to get a little hungry I had something nice to tempt them with. The smell of the ragu and the curry heating up made everyone more hungry.
There was very little waste, and little food that was left over, mostly cheese and salami, we had for breakfast the next day. People stayed until 3am (unusual by Swiss standards) so I'm certain everyone enjoyed themselves. I'm already looking forward to the next time.....
In my years of being an expat I have been to many 'coffee morning' groups. These have ranged from the official ones hosted by The American Womens Association and the British Association in Hong Kong, to a discussion forum one in Singapore and a 'meet-up' group in Zurich.
They attract a group of (usually) women who have moved half way across the world for their husbands jobs and find themselves without jobs or friends. Going to a coffee morning for a lot of people is an easy way to meet others in a similar situation.
I have met some wonderful people at this type of event, several of whom I am still in contact with years later, however they also attract their share of people I fondly refer to as 'crazies'. The crazies always have issues with their new expat status and these coffee groups appear to be the ideal place for them to discuss these.
Their issues range from the obvious 'I feel so lonely as I have left my friends behind' and 'I don't have any identity now I don't work' to the absurd 'I hate Singapore because it is so hot' or 'I can't believe I can't find tinned pumpkin here in Hong Kong'. The first two are understandable but the second two, well, what can I say. I can only assume that people don't google where they are moving to and that they don't realise that different continents (or even countries for that matter) have different groceries and weather ??
Sadly what happens at this type of group is the everyone bonds over a mutual dislike of their new home country focusing on why its not like at home, and they get together regularly to make each other miserable. Its all very negative.
For someone like me where my new home is going to be home for a long time, this kind of negativity isn't something I want to be around and so I have been thinking about how to avoid this type of group and still meet new people....
After a bit of thought I understand why the coffee mornings can become so negative.... there is no group focus.
So in pursuit of a more positive experience, I joined a German speaking coffee group during the day time in Zurich run by InterNations. It was refreshing to discover that the attitude of (most) of the people who attend is completely different and much more positive.
Generally they have accepted that Switzerland is the new home and things here are different. Food is different, attitudes are different and of course the language is different. The focus of the group is to speak as much german as possible, thus slowly improving. No time to complain about Vegemite/Oreos or crumpets if you are concentrating on your nominatives and accusatives.
These people have committed themselves to learning German as they understand that they need to be able to communicate with the people around them. English isn't always an option here.
So my advice for any new expats is to join a group with a focus. Something you enjoy doing or something that will give you more positive experiences. A photography group will give you to opportunity to look at your new home differently, or a walking group to give you time to appreciate your new environment.
In 2015 I'm going to commit more time to playing at my golf club with the ladies group. Improve my handicap, get some exercise and speaking German all at the same time. No time to complain about not being able to buy back bacon in my local supermarket !!
Today I was talking to a woman in my Pilates class who said she was Irish American and that her Irish blood sometimes gets her into trouble. Her Grandparents were Irish, Her parents born in NY and she has never been to Ireland. In my eyes she is American, and no more Irish than I am (my grandparents were also Irish).
This isn't the first time I have heard this type of claim and this over emphasis on 'heritage' may not be exclusive to Americans but in the US certainly is where I have noticed it most. Perhaps it is because America is a huge melting pot of immigrant nations and so heritage is a point of difference, I have no idea. I really haven't quite worked out why there appears to be such a desire to be '______/American' and not simply 'American'. I can't imagine describing myself as Irish-English or if I get Swiss citizenship as English-Swiss.
I often get asked where I come from. In Switzerland it is clear from my appalling German (and some would say my colourful dress sense) that I am not Swiss. After I have answered by saying that I am from England then the conversation usually moves on quickly with a focus on my appalling German, the latest football disaster or my capacity to drink a large volume of alcohol whilst wearing stiletto sandals in the middle of the winter.
During my current stay in NYC I probably get asked where I come from at least 2 or 3 times a day. The minute I open my mouth to buy something, ask directions or simply say thank you it is clear I am not American. And so the question is asked. Again my usual answer is to simply say "I'm from England". Often this is sufficient and the follow-up can be anything from "I love your accent" to a story about how the person I am talking to was once in England or knows someone from England etc etc.
If the conversation develops then things get more complicated. Sure, I was born in England, but I haven't lived there for almost 10 years and 'home' is now Switzerland (I'm even going through the citizenship process). So when people are asking me if I know the restaurant they once went to in Manchester and I stop them to explain that I haven't lived there for 24 years I can tell by their faces they find it a bit confusing. Perhaps the same confused face I have when I meet someone from the Bronx who tells me they are Italian-American and that they can recommend a great restaurant that does Italian style deep pan pizza.
I discovered my local farm shop almost a year ago. It literally changed my everyday life as there are no more trips to Coop/Migros for fruit and vegetables for me. Whenever possible I buy everything straight from the local farmer. Freshly grown vegetables, herbs, eggs, milk, cheese and even salad dressings (they make this weekly from their own vegetables) all come from the little wooden hut next to my local farm house.
I have a standing order for the bread they make at weekends which is usually still warm at the breakfast table. I can arrange to get special cuts of meat (veal cheeks are my current favourite as they make an amazing ragu, but I often get oxtail, chicken and beef) also as an added bonus with every visit I get to practice my german!!
Food here is amazingly fresh, its not as expensive as the supermarket and it hasn't travelled hundreds of miles to be wrapped in a piece of cellophane.
What is not to like about Farmer's shops? One of the three farmers within a 30 min walk from my house is a bio farm, another produces their own wine and has a pumpkin festival every year and the third - my regular - is in the picture above.
If you haven't already discovered these gems of Switzerland then you don't know what you are missing.
There are literally hundreds of these small huts all over Switzerland - you just need to keep your eyes open when you go out for a walk. Farms and vineyards often have signs on their fence advertising where you can buy their produce. Also watch out for the 'Pick Yourself' signs for flowers, cherries and strawberries. I love being able to pick my own flowers so they are all the right height and colour for the vase I want to put them in (often for only 1-3 CHF per stem). I'm currently sitting in front of a bunch of sunflowers from nearly 2 weeks ago - so like the vegetables from the farmer they last that little bit longer too....
If you live in the centre of Zurich, Bern or Geneva you may not have a farm on your doorstep but as soon as you hit a 'wanderweg' I'm sure you will stumble across one (or at least a sign for one). If walking isn't your thing then I'd suggest the next best things which is visiting the weekly farmers markets that spring up in the city centres. Zurich has a great one in the Main Station BahnhofMarkt every Wednesday. You can buy cheese, bread, meat, flowers and all kinds of fruit and vegetables.
For me the day out in Einseideln was really all about two things...The monastery and the gingerbread bakery.
The 18th Century Baroque monastery is quite spectacular and sits on a small hill overlooking the rest of what is quite a sedate town. The monastery is one of the most important destinations for pilgrims in Europe and many old pilgrim hostels are still being used as hotels forZurich
The monastery is also home to a 'Black Madonna', a beautiful 15th Century statue that sits in an alcove in the church. The links at the bottom of this blog will give loads more info about the monastery and its history with great photos.
With its fabulous architecture the town is a destination for quite a few tour companies. Coaches of tourists arrive frequently throughout the day. Thankfully the monastery is big enough that they don't cause too much of an inconvenience to those seeking a quite moment, and they also tend to be on a tight schedule and so leave as quickly as they arrived.
The Gingerbread Bakery museum is my second 'must see' for visitors to the town. The museum itself is quite small but there are exhibits of old baking tools and wooden moulds used to make the Einsiedeln specialities. There are also lots of photos and details from the family history of the business.... What is more spectacular is the bakery shop. Filled with yummy treats from marzipan delicacies to chocolate truffles. You can sample things, buy a treat for the train journey home or presents for friends. Everything is yummy and you'll definitely wish you'd bought more...
On my day out there was a constant drizzle of rain which was a shame but it didn't spoil things. The town is very pretty to walk around, and I'm sure even better with some sunshine. Its small so not much danger of getting lost and there is a regular train journey. There is a lovely Italian restaurant opposite the Kloster where I had an amazing pizza for lunch. The trip got me out of the house, discovering and enjoying the country that is now home. Its just one of the ways I have found to stay positive, happy and sane.
As I've written before I think it's extremely important to use the time spent as An Expat Wife well and to take advantage of the situation you find yourself in. This could include taking part in a new activity anything from learning Tai Chi during a posting to Shanghai to learning to scuba dive in Australia.
If you often thought you would like to do something but never had the time, then there quite literally is no time like the present. Even if you don't have any specific goals then I think its still important to use your time wisely.
There are two things I have started doing recently instead of wasting my energy complaining that I am bored or sitting at my computer with Mr Google as my companion.
The first is that I came up with a list of places in Switzerland I wanted to visit. The second is to go for a walk for at least an hour on the days where my daily chores leave me mostly housebound.
The list of things to visit in Switzerland was as easy as buying a guidebook and putting post-it-notes on all the pages that interested me. In CH I can buy a reasonably priced train ticket for the entire network to use after 9am and pretty much get anywhere in Switzerland and be back in time for dinner if necessary. It has also enabled me to learn a lot about my new home country which will also benefit any visitors we get as I can give first hand recommendations.
Of course this is much more fun to do with friends however, its really is something you can easily do alone. The view from the train window is often quite spectacular and you can listen to music or even a spoken book at the same time (I'm currently listening to the Michel Thomas CD's in an attempt to improve my German !).
Of course not all countries have such good rail networks but creating a list of things to do can easily be a list of things within the city you live in. Many people who live in London never visit many of the cities museums and galleries. There are loads of events and pre-viewings during the day time. Also, for example the V&A Museum have a fabulous membership with a packed diary of events that can keep you busy and educated at the same time.
My second thing to do, going for a walk, was the easiest thing to do that has also had a positive effect in several ways. Besides the fact that being outside in the fresh air and getting some exercise is a good thing for anybody. I also feel the positive benefit of simply enjoying the environment I live in.
I notice different things going on the the village where I live. Signs for pick your own cherries and flowers or the start of the pumpkin season for example.
Going for a walk also gets me away from the drudgery of the laundry, ironing, bathroom cleaning and all the other necessary household chores. I listen to feel good music, turn the volume up and almost literally dance though the forest nearby my village. I arrive back home energised and often with my head full of ideas for anything from things I'd like to do do with my time to things I'd like to try to cook.
I have noticed a steady increase in my stamina and consequently my energy levels have increased too. Its a win win situation. Plus I get to see all of this .....
So my advice is get out there and enjoy what is often on your doorstep, learn new things about your country and new home.
Take a camera so you can share what you see with visitors or even your Facebook friends but most importantly get active.....
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