Happy Birthday, Switzerland!
In the USA, it’s the 4th of July. And in France, the fireworks go off on July 14th. It was just our turn to celebrate here in Switzerland, the national day being August 1st. Happy 719th Birthday, Switzerland!
I love birthdays. I really, really do. Birthdays, anniversaries, the planning of surprises, cake, candles, cards and presents. What’s not to love?
It’s no surprise then that the summer is a favorite time of year for me. Olivier and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary, as well as our anniversary with Zürich. The festivities continued with birthdays – Olivier’s and Switzerland’s (and mine is next!). It was as Swiss as a weekend could get. We spent Saturday in the mountains, biking over the Gotthardpass, one of the country’s most famous alpine passes, making our way into Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland. (That was his “birthday surprise!”) If you want a challenge, make sure to bike from Andermatt to Airolo and enjoy the 20 km of straight uphill, passing by horse carriages and cars sitting in traffic, people staring at you in amazement and cheering you on, “hopp hopp!” With that encouragement -and several PowerBars- we made it to the top. After a well-deserved break for a picnic to refuel and take in the spectacular views, the rest of the ride to Biasca was no less picturesque, and thankfully no more uphill. The next day was less strenuous; we enjoyed more typically gorgeous Swiss landscapes, and even more culture, history… and food.
Another series of trains and buses this time took us to Ballenberg, near Interlaken. Switzerland’s open-air museum is a way to discover what rural life was like for Swiss farmers and artisans centuries ago. It’s a place where everything is artisanal, every food item made from scratch: breads are baked there with flour you can watch being ground in the mill, meats are dried or smoked and cheese aged on the premises too. What better place to celebrate Swiss National Day than there?! A typically Swiss breakfast, Birchermüesli included of course, accompanied by speeches by local politicians, the singing of the national hymn, music played on accordion and the fabulously long Alphorn (I love those!), and a yodel or two thrown in, all set the scene. I’m still thinking about the pear walnut jam (above right), which was absolutely divine slathered on buttered bread, a croissant or paired with cheese.
Ballenberg is huge. Perhaps not a coincidence that the entrance resembles an amusement park. But the similarities end there. You walk around the grounds with a map, visiting houses and buildings grouped by Swiss region, so you can get a feel for the architectural landscape and lifestyle of each area, as well as the time period. It’s fascinating. “Switzerland as it used to be.” With the sound of the Alphorn in the distance, horses and buggies trotting by us and the diverse sounds of farm animals (over 250!), we were certainly convinced we were in another time. You can enter each and every building, learning more about the numerous crafts and activities: straw weaving, clock making, needlework, pottery, silk, wool… you can truly see it all – the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.
In and out and around houses we went, passing plots with impeccable rows of tall corn stalks, wheat or the bright green plants above left. Did you guess what they were? Tobacco in fact. At one point, we walked into a farmhouse and the overwhelming aroma of smoke stopped us in our tracks. A simple tilt back of our heads and we immediately understood why. That would be where they smoke the sausages! An impressive number of sausages were hanging, covering the entire ceiling. They are smoked according to an old, traditional practice and sold in Ballenberg’s sausage shop. Quite a sight to see… and smell.
Another smell memory was in the garden, where you can test your skills and see how many herbs or flowers you can identify. There was one I couldn’t quite place, yet wanted to eat right on the spot. I laughed out loud when I uncovered its name: Schokoladenblume, Berlandiera in English or fleur au chocolat in French. Anyone ever heard of it? Something else I wanted to take home was the furniture in the old apothecary, with its multiple rows of drawers that were just calling out to me to open and close, and fill with fun, little objects at home.
It was a great way to spend the day, and especially such an important day for Switzerland. I’d recommend a visit on any other day too. There are tons of hands-on exhibits and activities, and it’s certainly a great place for families with children. The true highlight of Ballenberg for me though, was our final stop of the day. Any guesses what is missing from this day of Swiss culture and celebration? (chocolate of course !)
Swiss Open-Air Museum
West Entrance CH-3858 Hofstetten
East Entrance CH-3856 Brienzwiler