On returns

We had our first Covid 19 vaccination about a week and a half ago. We had been on a waiting list since January (I think; these last 15 odd months have become something of a very unexciting blur). Tim, being Tim, saw the notification on Twitter via the Luzern Stadt that one could register for the vaccine. We promptly did, after which we promptly heard nothing further about it. Because we’re in something of a bubble here – we don’t follow local news much and nor do we know many people in the high risk groups – there was little visibility about how Switzerland was managing the roll out of the vaccines. But then, about two and a half weeks ago, we received simultaneous texts with our appointments lined up. We were ready to go.

It feels like a return of sorts, even though this is admittedly optimistic. Other than the obvious health impact, there’s no immediate benefits: we remain in home office, travel – especially to Australia – still frequently requires lengthy quarantine, many venues remain closed or at least restricted. Nonetheless, there’s a definite shift in outlook. We’re all hopeful for the summer and for the new new normal: life post Covid.

May is peak public holiday time in Switzerland. Of the last four weeks, we’ve only had to work one in full. There have been two four-day weekends and one three-day, and to be frank none of us are prepared for this five days of honest toiling nonsense any more. Back in December, not knowing what the year would hold, we planned two lots of trips over this May extravaganza. The first set – the one we hoped for – included three trips outside of Switzerland (Austria, France and another part of France, to be precise(ish)). As time ticked on and the travel status remained unclear, it became increasingly obvious that we would not be able to leave the country. We cancelled the first round of trips and hit the back up options.

Which meant doing something I generally cannot stand: going back to the same place for the second time.

Last year, after three months of solid lockdown (no school, no office, no restaurants, nobody outside our bubble) some places were slowly permitted to reopen. One of these was Odro, an organic goat farm high in the Ticiniese hills. It was given an early opening exception due in part to its accessibility. To get there, you have to walk uphill, carrying whatever you need for your stay, for several hours. Once there the accommodation is basic – no hot water, old traditional stone huts – but (due no doubt in part to Corona requirements) exceptionally clean and private. We had a fab time, so when it came to choosing our local holidays for this year, everyone (other than me and my do-over-aversion) was keen to revisit.

To be fair, you can see why.

To get there, we have to drive several hours from Luzern, past the Val Verzasca dam, and up into the tiny, windy, terrifying streets of the town of Vogorno in Italian-speaking Switzerland (Italy is actually just the other side of the lake in the snap above, the closest we’ve been to crossing any borders in some time). After parking the car and donning our packs, we ascend on foot. The track winds through chestnut forests – Teddy was in heaven as he pocketed ‘malloni’ (marroni to the rest of us; little dude can’t say his rs particularly well) – over creeks and past forgotten stone huts. At one point – our lunch spot – it flattens out with glorious views across the valley where we picnic it up before commencing the final leg to the Odro huts.

Arriving is not perhaps as exciting as stepping foot in a new country for the first time: all senses assaulted with the unexpected, unfamiliar, enticing. But the relief, after hiking uphill for many hours, of setting eyes on the lovingly maintained stone village is its own pleasure. The children were excited to be back in ‘our’ hut, with its loft-style bedroom they climb into by ladder and Tim and I were pretty pleased to take off the enormous packs and tuck into a drink. And, of course, ogle the view.

There is not loads to do there, if you’re talking about big exciting events and sights to see. But if your idea of fun includes trekking to see waterfalls, exploring higher up the mountain and being stopped only by a terrifying spring snowdrift, playing countless card games, cooking lunch and s’mores over an open fire, collecting wildflowers, climbing on rocks, feeding goats and chickens*, playing bocce in the sun, and reading to your heart’s content, then I’d wager it’s your kind of place too.

We were the only guests for the majority of the four days we spent there which added to the brats’ impression that they had the run of the place. On our final night, the tolerant hosts, who had called them every morning and evening for herding and feeding duties, encouraged the kids to hold a concert. Ads performed a spröchli (a spoken rhyme) which she lisped through the gap of her first-ever lost tooth. It was – I think – about a seafood buffet for afternoon tea (an interpretation largely confirmed by our Swiss German speaking hosts). Teddy, not to be outdone, started his song about trains shyly, but by the time he got to the end his ‘tschipfu tschipfu choo choo!’ was nothing short of jubilant.

We’ve long since returned from Odro – we’re actually just back from a subsequent trip for Tim’s 40th which was almost the polar opposite to this one in terms of luxury – and our next vaccination is just around the corner. It looks like our summer holiday (another optimistically planned trip abroad last winter) may not actually have to be cancelled and my love of new places can be fed once more. But for once, I’m not ruling out returning to this part of the world. As we were walking up the hill, on our very first day, Teddy asked if we would be able to come back. At the time I laughed at him as we weren’t even there yet, but I guess the boy was onto something. Turns out Odro is the kind of place I don’t mind seeing year in, year out, rain (it bucketed on us on the walk back to the car on our final day) or shine, day or night.

* This is, most definitely, not my idea of fun. Ads and Teddy, however, loved it the most.

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