Up in the Swiss Alps

On this beautiful Saturday morning, a colleague and I headed to one of the nearby mountains in the Swiss Alps. With the warm weather just starting to kick in, it turned out to be the perfect day for a hike up the picturesque mountain.

Flumserberg, which serves as a popular ski resort during the winter, is preparing for the Summer season. Snow is still visible across the mountain, but with the weather warming up, much of it is melting, setting small streams of clear, fresh water flowing down all over the mountainside. In some places, the water rushes under thick layers of snow and ice, giving us reason to tread cautiously as we hiked up the mountain.

It took us about an hour to get to the top, and it was quite the workout! But the view from the top was well worth it.

Searching for the “Ultimate” Swiss Chocolate

In my quest to find the “ultimate” Swiss chocolate, learning that there was a Lindt factory less than 15 minutes away from where I’m staying was like the moment Charlie finds the golden ticket in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Of course, another aspect of Switzerland that captivates our imagination is Swiss chocolate. Sure, we’ve all had Swiss chocolate before, but how much awesomer would it be to have Swiss chocolate in Switzerland?!  To go right to the source and drink straight from the maw of the gushing rivers of chocolate that flow through these lands?! So that’s what I decided to do. But which chocolate to choose? Go to the local Migros (Swiss grocery store), and there are shelves full of various Swiss brands. After trying a couple — all quite delicious — I still felt I needed to find the “one.” And so began by quest to track down the “ultimate” Swiss chocolate.

The first place I started was with my colleagues. Being Swiss or having lived here for a number of years, they, I was sure, would quickly resolve my predicament. So at lunch one day, I popped the question: Which Swiss chocolate is best? Their answer? Lindt. Seriously…? Lindt?! The very same balls of chocolate (the more technical term would be “Lindor truffles”) I can grab at a Ross discount store checkout aisle back home? Surely, they didn’t mean that Lindt? But they did. I didn’t travel halfway around the world on this quest only to go down on the first punch. I pressed on.

I turned next to Google. Surely this all-knowing, omnipotent algorithm would pierce through the “alternative facts” and “posers” and tell me who the real ultimate Swiss chocolate is?

Lo and behold, Google’s answer turned out be Lindt as well!

The Best Swiss Chocolates (as Googled)

Source: Ranker

Fair enough. It may not be the exotic answer I was hoping for, but let’s be honest, Lindt chocolates are pretty darn good. To sweeten the deal, I learned that there’s actually a Lindt factory less than 15 minutes away from where I’m staying! So, feeling the way Charlie felt when he came across the golden ticket in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I went to see for myself.

It turned out that the factory itself was not open for visitors, but that didn’t stop me from having a blast in the factory chocolate shop.

He turned and reached behind him for the chocolate bar, then he turned back again and handed it to Charlie. Charlie grabbed it and quickly tore off the wrapper and took an enormous bite. Then he took another…and another…and oh, the joy of being able to cram large pieces of something sweet and solid into one’s mouth! The sheer blissful joy of being able to fill one’s mouth with rich solid food!
‘You look like you wanted that one, sonny,’ the shopkeeper said pleasantly.
Charlie nodded, his mouth bulging with chocolate.

― Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Across the English Countryside

On a recent work trip I had the opportunity to travel across the beautiful English countryside and hear a number of different perspectives on life in the UK.

On a recent work trip I had the opportunity to travel across the English countryside. I flew into Manchester on a Saturday, took a train to Nottingham (of Robin Hood fame), and after the weekend, took another train down to London. Then after some customer meetings I drove back up to the Manchester / Yorkshire area with two of my British colleagues.

Previously, the only part of the UK I had visited was London, and that was almost 10 years ago! So it was nice to not only revisit London but to also see a much broader swathe of the country.

The English countryside is truly beautiful. One of my favorite sights is of the sheep and cows grazing in the vast, green fields. Since it’s “lambing” season right now, there are multitudes of frisky lambs meandering around with their mothers. It reminds me of my childhood growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania. It also reminds me of Shaun the Sheep, the British animated series.

Along my journey, I had the chance to connect with various people. One was a guy named Marcus, a diehard United of Manchester football (soccer) fan, who was on his way to support his team in their match in Alfreton. Another was an Australian named Dan who was backpacking across England. I also met up with my cousin, Kamran, and spent some time with his beautiful family. Additionally, a Kellogg classmate, Nene, contacted me on Facebook, and we got together for dinner at fish! in London. These meetings gave me an opportunity to hear various perspectives on life in the UK. There were some common themes. The ongoing Champions League tournament is a hot topic, especially because an English team, Liverpool – starring the global, Egyptian phenomenon Mohamed “Mo” Salah – is in the running. I even caught the Liverpool-Roma match, and wow, what a game! Liverpool decimated Roma with a 5-2 win. Mo Salah, who led the goal scoring, is truly an extraordinary player. And it’s remarkable how his success has had such a positive spillover effect for Muslims worldwide, who are enduring a period of intense Islamophobia.

The birth of the third child, a son, to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) is another hot topic. As I write this, the public still does not know the name of the young prince. Bookies are taking bets, apparently, and last I heard, “Alexander” might be in the running.

It is also a time of great uncertainty and anxiety in Britain (not unlike the US). Political scandals are splashing across the headlines and screens everyday (e.g., Windrush, charges of anti-Semitism against the Labour Party, etc.). Preparations for Brexit are underway. It’s fascinating to hear the different sides of the debate on this deeply controversial topic. There are many who are fiercely opposed to separating from the EU. They believe Brexit will be a huge mistake, and as proof, they point out that the value of the British pound dropped to a 31-year low following the Brexit vote. This severely impacted the buying power of Britons. Property prices in London have also dropped, as investor confidence has deflated. Many in this camp believe that the referendum that decided Brexit was fundamentally flawed. They believe that it was more a vote against David Cameron, the unpopular Prime Minister at the time, than an actual vote on whether to stay in the EU or not. Of course, there are those who support it as well. In this latter camp, many believe that the UK gave up too much as a member of the EU and can do far better on its own.

There’s also an element of anti-immigration involved, something that we are confronting in the US as well. Interestingly, this latter camp includes some immigrant groups as well. These are generally non-EU immigrants (i.e., immigrants from countries other than the European Union) who feel that their economic opportunities have been compromised due to an institutional preference for EU immigrants. They worry that this has affected not only their own futures but their children’s as well who will not enjoy the same access and benefits as their EU counterparts.

Lots of questions remain unanswered. Will Brexit actually happen? If so, will it be a “soft” Brexit or a “hard” Brexit? The former would mean little to no changes whereas the latter could upend everything. What will happen to EU citizens living in the UK? What will happen to British citizens living in the EU countries? Will Scotland use Brexit as an opportunity to secede from the UK? Will Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have to create a customs border (a very sensitive topic, given Ireland’s violent past)? Can the UK separate from the EU but still remain within a “Customs Union?” Many more questions abound, contributing to the prevailing uncertainty.

Guten Tag from Switzerland!

It’s been said before, and it’ll be said again, but wow, is Switzerland beautiful! Granted, I’ve only seen a limited area, mainly the Zurich canton area on this trip, but so far, Switzerland is living up to the hype.

It’s been said before, and it’ll be said again, but wow, is Switzerland beautiful! Granted, I’ve only seen a limited area, mainly the Zurich canton area on this trip, but so far, Switzerland is living up to the hype. What continues to strike me is how clean the place is. Prior to coming here, a colleague of mine had remarked that when you’re in Switzerland it feels like that every night, while you’re asleep, somebody goes through all the streets and vacuums up all the tidbits of trash. By the time you wake up in the morning, everything is astoundingly clean. I can see what he meant, and I’m half-expecting to catch some elves scurrying around at night tidying things up (yes, that’s a reference to the Harry Potter books, which, in my defense, we’re reading to the kids these days).

Another striking feature of this area are the snowcapped mountains ever present on the horizon. It is a breathtaking site, truly postcard-perfect (more photos below). While I think most people, whether they’ve actually been to Switzerland or not, have an appreciation for the fairy tail-like beauty of Switzerland, I don’t think anyone can match the fascination that “desis” (people of South Asian origin including Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) have with the place. The credit for this, I believe, goes largely to Bollywood, which has been operating practically as an unofficial marketing agency for Switzerland for as long as I can remember. Of course, Hollywood has also contributed to marketing the Swiss brand, but I doubt it has matched Bollywood. An 80s’ or even 90’s kid of desi origin who’s watched even a handful of Bollywood movies can attest to this: Bollywood loves frolicking on the Swiss mountains. Be it a snowcapped mountain (where a heroine performs some seriously remarkable dance moves, considering she’s wrapped in a sari) or a lush green slope (down which the heroine inevitably rolls to her waiting love interest), it certainly seems like at least one musical interlude (of the many) had to be shot in the Swiss mountains. This has resulted in fantastic images of Switzerland being imprinted in many a desi mind. Who, after all, can forget the visual of Sri Devi (RIP) dancing on these very mountains with Rishi Kapoor in the cult classic, Chandni?

From the Bollywood hit, Chandni

As a child of the 80s who watched more than his fair share of Indian movies despite growing up in America, I can’t help but feel a certain giddiness in being here. These are the iconic images I saw in the movies growing up, and now, I’m actually here! I’m half-tempted to go running around these hills singing at the top of my lungs 😉

Not actually me. Shown for illustration purposes only.