Hotel Helvetia, a boutique hotel in Zurich

Like I said, I didn’t see much of Zurich during my work trip. What I did see a lot of was my room at the Hotel Helvetia. After days of waking up at 4am to reply to emails from my clients working on Singapore time zone, then working fast under high pressure on the day of the shoot itself, I just went back to my hotel room and crashed. I think I must have gone to bed before 9.

It’s a good thing the hotel room was nice, because I spent so much time in it. It was on a sunny corner overlooking the Sylt river and the hills of Zurich. OMG WOW HILLS! said the girl who lives in flat-as-a-pannekoek Holland.

Hotel Helvetia Zurich view from hotel room

A stylish hotel room is such a treat! To have it all to myself, even better.

Hotel Helvetia Zurich bedside

I didn’t make it to nearby Lake Zurich, but my closet doors gave me a tiny glimpse.

Hotel Helvetia Zurich interior

Kiehl’s toiletries in the pristine, white subway-tiled bathroom? Yes please! I was totally Pinoy and took them all home. These are my new favorite travel toiletries, and you can bet I’ll be refilling them for future trips.

Hotel Helvetia Zurich Kiehl's toiletries

I’ve come to appreciate a modern design hotel that doesn’t scream “MODERN DESIGN HOTEL!” The design details at the Hotel Helvetia were on the quiet side of modern, just the restful welcome I needed.

Hotel Helvetia Zurich design details

On the ground floor of the hotel is a bar and restaurant that seems popular with the nearby business crowd for lunch and evening drinks. On the morning I left, though, I enjoyed a quiet breakfast here all to myself.

Hotel Helvetia Zurich bar and restaurant

En route to Confiserie Sprungli for my chocolatey reward, I saw the first signs of spring as I crossed the Sylt. Spring came to Amsterdam much later, but I remember feeling reassured that it indeed was on its way.

Hotel Helvetia Zurich river view

And that’s how I zipped through Zurich in less than 36 hours. Next week, I’ll be back to share some news about the blog, plus some highlights from our week in New York (finally!). Till then, have a wonderful weekend!

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Work trip to Zurich

About a month ago, I traveled to Zurich for work. I spent most of the overnight trip at my hotel (which I’ll show you tomorrow) and at my work location, the palatial Dolder Grand Hotel overlooking the city.

Zurich Dolder Grand Hotel

Let me digress a bit. You might be wondering: what does she do for work, anyway? I rarely blog about work, so this might be a good time to talk a little about what I do.

I work in on-air promotions for television, a niche industry that’s always a bit hard to explain. On-air promotion is what you see on TV that isn’t a commercial or a TV show: trailers (called plugs in the Philippines, or promos everywhere else), branding, and other bits and bobs that tell you about a channel and its shows.

As a writer and producer, I come up with ideas for promos and promo campaigns, write them up into script form, and get them made. That means managing a host of other people and processes—from casting to location scouting, filming to graphics, editing to scheduling—until my 30- or 60-second promo gets aired on TV.

Still with me?

I worked for an agency in Singapore before going freelance. Since moving to Amsterdam, I still work for Singapore-based companies, but my role has evolved. These days, I mostly write promos to help my client (a large international media network based in Singapore) create branded content for companies that advertise on their channels—exclusive, customized promos that are tailor-fit to a brand.

I suppose I’m kind of a matchmaker between brands and audiences. I get to decide where and how they meet, and what kind of experience they’re going to have on their date—a date that takes place in 30, 60 or 90 seconds on television.

I write at home and send my work to Singapore, where it gets produced. But this time, a project involved a shoot in Zurich—all hush-hush, quick, and very last minute. When I got the call from my client asking me to fly in and be a producer for a day, I immediately said yes!

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Let’s do brunch in… Zurich

One of my most memorable conversations with my friends (the Glee Club “kiddies”) was back when we were starting out in our careers and excited for life to take us on vastly different paths. We fantasized about how, someday, we’d be living our dreams in different places around the world. When we wanted to meet up, we would pick a city, fly in for lunch (!), and fly back to our regular lives.

Yes, this was pure fantasy, but what a fun idea! That concept of picking a random city and meeting friends there has stayed with me ever since. Recently, it’s met a few other ideas: how much I enjoy a weekend brunch, how rare good brunch places are in Amsterdam, and the many fun, interesting people I’ve connected with through blogging (particularly at The Hive and Blogging Your Way).

So I thought: if a good brunch is hard to find in this city, who says we have to stay here? And why not ask friends (new and old) to take us there?

This is why I’m starting a brand new series on this blog called Let’s Do Brunch! 

The idea is to “travel” to a new city each month via a guest blogger, who takes us to his or her favorite brunch place in that city. On the last Sunday of each month, we all meet here and set out together to feed our wanderlust, indulge our appetite for brunch, and meet a new blogger in the process. Does that sound like fun?

So, it’s time to kick off our brunching around the world. Our first stop: Zurich, Switzerland!

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Say cheese!

Julien confessed that my lactose intolerance had thrown him for a loop. “No cheese? No cold cuts? What can we feed ‘er?” he’d admitted fretting to Eena before we arrived. His solution: “I know! We will eat ze raclette and ze fondue, and she will eat broccoli!”
Faced with his pronouncement, I had to laugh… and protest vehemently. When he was convinced that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about my lactose intolerance and wouldn’t die from it (“Your tummy gets big, that’s all?” he asked suspiciously), it was agreed: dinner would be that great Swiss treat known as raclette. 
I’ve only had raclette once, at a wine and cheese party at Robin’s house many pounds years ago. We had it melted in a ceramic baking dish, into which we dipped pearl onions and other odds and ends… more like a fondue really. But our Swiss host had the full setup in the chalet: half a wheel of raclette, and this fantastic tabletop contraption that would ensure that our raclette was the genuine article. 

This is how the Swiss roll: you clamp a wheel of raclette (or part of it, as we did) in place under a bar that heats up, melting the cheese. This to me is the most exciting part, something you never get with an oven and a ceramic dish: hearing the bubble and sizzle of the cheese, watching it soften and melt, and knowing that it’s your turn to get it. The bigger the wheel of cheese, the more often you get to savor those moments, over and over again.

Once the top layer is melted and sizzling, you swivel the cheese out and tip it over your waiting plate, using a knife to scrape off the top layer into a quivering puddle of cheesy goodness. 

When Julien had demonstrated the proper way to do it, naturally Marlon and I had to give it a try. My scraping technique wasn’t as smooth as the boys’, with my knife bumping and skidding a few times, but that doesn’t change how sinfully salty, gooey and rich the cheese tastes (thank goodness!).   
To accompany our cheese, we had pearl onions, potatoes, an onion and red wine vinaigrette, cold cuts, air-dried meat from the region, and gherkins, which I never liked before but suddenly found delicious.

Swimming in a sea of hot, salty cheese, I lost count of how many times Marlon and I stepped up to that glorious cheese-melting contraption. Six? Seven? I have no idea. “We’re just eating this to be polite,” Marlon joked on his nth turn at the raclette. “Of course you are,” agreed Julien. “And when you go back to Holland, zey will ask you: ‘How were ze Swiss?’ Zey were horrible! So cruel! you will say. Zey forced us eat oil and cheese! Zen zey will ask you, ‘did you tell them you were lactose intolerant?’ Yes! you will say. And ze Swiss did not give a shit!
Apparently this much cheese gives you nightmares, our hosts warned. Strangely enough, they were right. That night, Marlon dreamed about buying me a condo with dismembered bodies on every floor. And I dreamed of ghosts waking me up in the night. Currrr-eepy
Not that the cheesemares dissuaded us, because the next night, we were back for more. This time it was fondue at Julien and Eena’s apartment back in Geneva.

We bought bread and cold cuts on the highway as we drove back from the Alps.

As the only local in the group, it fell to Julien to mix the fondue, which he did moitie-moitie (half and half), equal parts Vacherin and Gruyere cheeses, with some white wine, flour and garlic rubbed on the bottom of a cast-iron pot. Judging from the speed at which we inhaled that wonderful mixture, I’d say his fondue was a whopping success.

As we neared the bottom of the pan, Julien remarked, “If you’re ‘ardcore, sometimes you crack a raw egg on the crust at ze bottom and make a cheese omelette.” Hearing the words hardcore and raw egg stirred something primeval in the deepest regions of Marlon’s manliest self. Naturally, he had to do it.

We women were aghast. Actually, more like eeew.

But as the lactose intolerant girl who had wheedled and pushed and begged for two cheesefests in a row, I could not even begin to claim moral ascendancy. So I had my cheese, Marlon had his egg, and we all agreed that our men were hardcore.

Wide and happy smiles all around. And we didn’t even have to say cheese.

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Art in the Alps

One of my best friends from high school moved to France, then Switzerland after years of working as a flight attendant with Emirates. Eena and I would chat often about the things we would do when we both moved to Europe, and we would get so excited to be together again in such an awesome location. One of the things she suggested was driving up to the Alps to spend a weekend at her father-in-law’s chalet. Eena said: “We can drive to Italy for lunch! Imagine that!” which of course made me kilig to the bones. 
Two weeks ago, our idle YM daydreams became a reality when Marlon and I flew to Geneva to visit Eena on the occasion of her 30th 26th birthday. Julien, Eena’s Swiss husband (who is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met) drove us from Geneva to the Valais, a region of southwestern, French-speaking Switzerland. “This part of Switzerland gets the most sun,” Julien narrated as he drove. “Thus here we grow all our exotic fruits. Like asparagus and tomatoes.” LOL!

En route to the town of Martigny, we could only gawk at the view: snowy white mountains towering over vineyards and fields of mustard flowers (Dijon, as in the mustard, is just over the mountains in France). We stopped for lunch at Veytaux, a small town on the banks of the Lac Leman, the biggest inland body of water in Western Europe, otherwise known to unsuspecting tourists as Lake Geneva. Glad I got the locals to give me the downlow.

The weather was freaking awesome, by the way. So awesome that by the time lunch was over, my back was sunburned with odd cutout patterns from my dress. “You ‘ave the No Fear logo on your back,” chortled Julien. No Fear! Retro!

We also poked around the old town looking for ingredients for our raclette dinner. Nothing much to see, although I was tempted to break into song. “Little town, full of little people, waking up to say… Bonjour! Bonjour! Bonjour!

Martigny is a small town with a big history. Hannibal, Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon all passed through to Italy via Martigny’s route to the Alps, known as the Great St Bernard Pass (Col. Grand-St Bernard in French). You guessed it: this is where those big, lovable St-Bernard dogs are from. So upon arriving at Martigny, we headed straight for the St Bernard Museum. Its upper floor is dedicated to chronicling these canines throughout history, but the ground floor out back is where you really want to be… with these adorable doggies!

Marlon has always been a big dog kind of guy, and he was in absolute heaven. Betraying my crazy cat lady instincts, I couldn’t resist squeeing myself. Especially when feeding time came.

This girl must have the best job in the town. As she called each of the nine joyously yapping, squirming pups by name and lifted each one over the fence to their feeding bowls, I could feel waves of jealousy radiating from my husband. “Sige nga, pati yung malaki buhatin mo,” Marlon murmured.

Cue wagging derrieres (wagging boddies actually), excited yips, a few fights over food bowls. *MELT* How can you not want one of these for Christmas?

Near the museum was the remains of a Roman amphitheater, where Marlon indulged his debating fantasies (he was a debater in high school and college) and pretended to be a great orator .

On the spur of the moment, we decided to visit the Fondation Pierre Gianadda, a museum that Julien’s dad had mentioned as being worth a look-see. In the late 70s, engineer (and obviously wealthy art patron) Leonard Gianadda found the ruins of an ancient Celtic temple on the plot of land he planned to build his house on. When his brother Pierre died in a car accident that same year, Leonard established a foundation and built a museum around the ruins to honor his beloved brother.

We came so close to not seeing it and I’m so glad we did. This small town’s museum can easily put museums in both the Philippines and Singapore to shame. Its collection of Roman artifacts and art by huge names such as Luce (my new favorite), Monet, Chagall, Degas, Picasso and more was simply amazing. There weren’t only huge names on the walls, but in the cultural calendar as well. Can you imagine one of the world’s greatest living divas performing in our National Museum or the Singapore Art Museum? I didn’t think so.

The antique car museum was equally impressive.

But what I loved most about the museum was the beautiful sculpture park out back.

We wandered around for nearly an hour, until closing time at six.

We were so lucky that day, to see these massive works displayed among trees, sunshine and blue skies.

Everywhere you look, you see the Alps. A breathtaking backdrop for such a collection.

The best came last: two of the most famous works by my favorite sculptor, Rodin: Meditation and The Kiss.

The entwined lovers of The Kiss seemed to belong perfectly in this setting.

I can’t fully explain how wonderful that park was. I know everyone in our group was amazed too. We were all quiet on the way back to the car.

We drove onward, deeper into the Alps, watching the scenery change with every tight curve in the road and every last shifting ray of light. Soon we reached Bourg-St Pierre, and night fell.

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