Zurich Walks

Despite the (almost constant) threat of rain during my most recent visit to Zurich, we managed to get a decent amount of walking time around the city and saw some lovely sights along the way.

There's more street art in Zurich than I was expecting, and not just usual spray can graffiti. This was my favourite.

There’s more street art in Zurich than I was expecting, and not just usual spray can graffiti. This was my favourite.

Although they are not my favourite things to walk up, the hills in Zurich mean views up and down streets are more interesting and varied.

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There are also green spaces to be found; the weather was nice to enough to allow me to enjoy them in sunshine.

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At one point, I walked alongside the river and saw someone taking a picture of what seemed to be ordinary pavement, but then I looked closer and saw lizards all along the concrete, warming themselves in the sun.

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These ‘dam days

Spring is still fighting to make itself heard here in Holland. The weather is overwhelmingly underwhelming and days of decent sunshine without wind are few and far between. There are the odd breakthroughs, though:

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The babies were very sweet, but the mum/dad duck was bloody loud and annoying. (David Attenborough’s job is safe, clearly.)

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Some lovely early* morning sunshine…….. *In my world, ‘early’ = 10:00

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These flowers clearly think it’s spring, and who am I to argue with them?

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This is my favourite of the 4. I had to twist upside down by my bedroom window to get the angle right, and I think it works.

 

 

 

Royal Artis Zoo – again

If you’re a loyal reader of this blog then you may remember that we covered the Royal Artis Zoo in Amsterdam quite a few months ago. However, as we all know, animals never give the same show twice and as my mum was over for a visit (her first!) we decided to spend a very sunny afternoon at the zoo.

I’d heard a story from someone else about the lions killing and eating a heron that dared to enter their enclosure. And this visit, I experienced it first hand.

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As we approached the lion enclosure we heard a loud squawk and then saw a female lion pouncing on something and roar the other lions away. A quick bite and shake later, and it was bye-bye birdy. As you can see from the picture above, the lion got stuck in straight away. Sadly, the bird’s mate stayed around afterwards, watching the scene out of reach on the top of some trees.

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One of the many other, surviving herons which stalk the zoo. I expect the keepers don’t mind when the lions take a swipe at them – population control and all that. (Note: this heron isn’t the one who kept watch from the tree tops.)

The other herons had their own feeding time and continued the work of the food chain. Here they are hanging around, waiting to pounce while the penguins were fed:

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Here are some other good shots from the day, including two of the elephants – my favourites. The baby is called Mumba. So adorable.

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The gardens there are still in bloom, making it a beautiful place to simply sit and relax.

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Lastly, another of my favourites – the prairie dog. So funny, especially when they make their high-pitched squeak, as it sets the others off. As you can see in the photo below, they’re not really dogs, they’re rodents.

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I want one.

This weekend I ‘ave been mostly eating…

…pancakes. Although I didn’t take a picture of this morning’s pancakes topped with banana and syrup, I do have a shot from a few weeks ago when Callum made me a bitchin’ breakfast:

Super healthy way to start the day. Maple syrup counts as a vegetable, right? It comes from trees, trees are a plant, therefore a vegetable. Excellent - 4 of my 5 a day!

I’ve also been smiling a whole lot; the sun has actually made a significant appearance this weekend.

This morning's view. I very nearly sang 'Oh What A Beautiful Morning' when I saw this. Luckily for my neighbours, I restrained myself.

You may have noted the ugly, amateurish graffiti on the bridge. It was an unfortunate by-product of the canals being frozen over and has ruined the view from our house. *shakes head in disgust*

Flowers are also appearing through out the city; these tulips have sprung up in my house over the past couple of days…

Tulips in Amsterdam

I’d love to say that I grew them myself but I didn’t even buy them, they were a present 🙂

I’m very excited about the prospect of spring/summer: warmer weather, longer days, drinking beer outside (the Dutch LOVE a beer outside) and just down the road one of the best ice cream shops is open again (post to follow soon). Only downside is that sunshine makes the tourists multiply like backpack-wearing, map-reading, sign-squinting rabbits who like nothing more than standing still in the middle of the pavements.

I also started a new book this weekend: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. I’ve only read 90-odd pages so I’ll withhold judgement until I finish it but I will say that I seem to have read the word ‘cedars’ 384 times already. Fingers crossed the rate of reference slows down a little, but seeing as it’s also included in the title, I’m not holding out too much hope.

Back to the food: I also whipped up a tasty dish of meatballs with vegetables..

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And there goes the sun. Please let it come back tomorrow. Pretty please…

LM

Tulips from Amsterdam

Ok, so before you look at the first picture and fail to spot any tulips and think I’ve lost my flower-identifying marbles, I haven’t. I know they’re not tulips but the title opportunity was too good to pass up.

Upon receiving the excellent news I have a new job, one of the families I tutor for were very kind to give me a bunch of flowers to say ‘gefeliciteerd’. You may accuse me of being a ‘typical woman’ when I admit that I like flowers, but I just prefer to think I’m living in the right country.

Fresh flowers are a regular part of Dutch shopping lists, just as ketchup is in the UK. (I know which looks better in a vase….) The floral industry in the Netherlands is big business; in 1995 Dutch growers produced over 8 billion flowers (why I can’t find a more recent statistic, I don’t know) and every year the average Dutch person spends €60 a year on flowers.

When we moved into our new house, there was a bunch of tulips waiting on the table and we were given a complimentary bottle of wine. (Although you could look at it as a very expensive bottle of wine, seeing as we had to fork out a fair amount in agency fees.)

Tulips from the estate agent - not quite as catchy, is it?

One of the most common sights in Amsterdam is a Dutch person with a bunch of flowers: old, young, men, women. They carry them strapped on bikes, wedged in buggies, taking up seats on trains. I have to admit I did this last one on Saturday when I was taking my flowers home but the train carriage was largely empty so it wasn’t as selfish as it sounds.

No doubt you’re aware of the Dutch association with tulips, but it goes further than just a recognisable symbol on tourist tat. If you haven’t before seen any pictures of the psychedelic tulip fields, they’re pretty specular.

Just doesn't seem real, does it?

(The above picture is courtesy of the modestly titled http://www.buzzfeed.com/daves4/25-amazing-pictures-of-dutch-flower-fields.)

Carolus Clusius, Director of the Leiden Botanical Garden, planted the first tulip bulb in the 16th century and since then flowers’ve become more and more ingrained in Dutch culture. They’re one of the country’s main export products, both the Tulip Museum (Callum: “Popular”?! Well, there certainly is one, that much I can’t dispute) and floating flower market are popular Amsterdam tourist attractions.

The floating flower market

(Above picture is from http://www.planetware.com/picture/amsterdam-flower-market-of-amsterdam-nl-nl097.htm)

The love of flowers has permeated the world of football; during the 1980s and 90s famous Dutch football players Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard were known in Italy as ‘the tulipani’, aka ‘the tulips’.

Even the Pope recognises the Dutch abilities to grow beautiful blooms; every year Dutch growers contribute flowers to the Easter Mass decorations at Vatican City and the Pope says “Bedankt voor de bloemen”.

When I say 'hey', you say 'ho'... When I say 'condoms', you say 'no'

Ultimately, I think the best example of how Dutch culture and flowers have become synonymous is a piece from a downbeat post-impressionist: Van Gogh’s ‘Zonnebloemen’.

Sunflowers

LM