When are the cows coming back?

Posted on April 3, 2010


Original Post, March 8 2010

‘When are the cows coming back?’ I ask Ferenc as we get out of the car in a near-empty parking lot on the first sunny Saturday in months and head to check out the ruins of an ancient castle.

‘Soon,’ he answers. In summer, I lay awake many times when the bells of the cows in the pasture nearby kept ringing as they grazed well into the night. But I must admit that their soft outline against a sea of grass was always comforting to me during the day when there was very little else to distract me from my worries.

‘They’re nothing special’, Ferenc warns me about the ruins.

‘That’s ok,’ I answer, because secretly, I am simply grateful to be out of the house and stretching my legs. As we approach the ruins, which are perched on a small hill, a flock of chickens scampers expectantly towards us hoping to be fed. We find a half-full packet of walnuts in Ferenc’s backpack left over from our trip to London, crush a few in our hands and throw them on the over-excited animals. Their heads hammer onto the soil at a startling speed for a few seconds, then, as if they had suddenly run out of fuel, calm down and continue their monotonous pecking in a speed far more suited to these laid-back creatures.


When we walk up the line of steps and reach the castle, it is, as Ferenc had anticipated, no more than a neat series of old weathered stones. Signs of vandalism lie everywhere, as do someone’s half-hearted attempts at scrubbing graffiti off the ancient walls. We take a look around, and I wobble unstably on the mossy, rounded stones while Ferenc laughs and assures me that I won’t slip. We soon head back down, look one last time at the heart-warming flock of chickens and head over to our next stop; the so called ‘Cat Lake’.

A donkey along the way gets a higher cuteness score than the chickens and so gets more food. We are able to coax him into coming closer with an offer of walnuts which he happily accepts. His soft, rubbery lips, like those of a woman’s after a trip to the plastic surgeon, brush lightly against the open palm of my hand. He even lets us scratch the space between his eyes, and follows us until the edge of its enclosure when we walk away, in the hope that more walnuts would magically appear. But while I would have happily spent the rest of the afternoon stuffing him, the packet is small, he is famished and so we quickly run out.


I have been to the Cat lake before, but it remains one of my favourite places here in Switzerland. It is small but beautiful, calm and quiet, and does not ask for an entrance fee to be appreciated. Today, the surface of the lake lies sprinkles with irregularly shaped pieces of ice, remnants of when, a few days ago, the whole surface was frozen solid. We don’t do anything much except sit on a log, watched some children play and look at the rippled reflections in the water. Soon it’s time to go.



By the time we meet a group of goats on our way back to the parking lot we start wondering why we didn’t bring a whole backpack of animal feed, but after all, we didn’t expect encountering so many famished creatures along the way. The only thing we have to fool them into approaching us is Ferenc’s breath mints, which, funnily enough, they do try and chew on. But they do not amuse them or tempt them to linger for stroking. A train whizzes past as we look at the goats walk away and start munching a stack of hay. There is nothing around them, no farm. In fact, they are in a tiny fenced plot of land along a railway track.


Switzerland often seems to me like an enormous farm. Everyone who has even the tiniest patch of garden will make sure that it is immaculately kept with pretty shrubs and various shades of flowers in bloom. Vegetable patches and animal enclosures are to be found in the most unlikely of places. I’ve seen many along unwanted stretched of railroads, and was particularly amused by a space of maybe 50 metres squared squeezed between three high-rise buildings and a railway track with a group of tiny sheds and their respective spit of land. The home of these goats is therefore not an exception to the rule, but a manifestation of the rule itself. And it seems natural that in a country where it is the cities which look out of place in their context rather than the nature around them, everyone should fancy himself a bit of a farmer.

In my case, for today, I am simply grateful that we found something to do without having to empty our pockets.

– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

Posted in: Zurich