Panorama

Brexit is over. Nobody is more disappointed about this than I am. Every morning for the last six months or so – and the occasional noon and evening, due to a bit of meal confusion – our Laideybird would jump out of bed and run to the kitchen, announcing that she was ready for Brexit. Even on the more challenging mornings – interrupted nights, my coffee maker being out of town, general wintery malaise – it never failed to bring a chuckle. Sadly, she has recently learned to correctly pronounce her ‘f’s and with it has toppled one of the more controversial European political decisions of recent times.

The last few months of this year are thick with travel for Tim; he’s currently on a whirlwind trip to New Zealand and Australia but has also been flitting around the continent for the last few weeks. Nestled in the midst of this, on an unexpectedly bright and beautiful Wednesday, was a Swiss public holiday for which he happened to be at home. There was only one thing for it: The Alps.

Rotenflue-006We went to a neighbouring canton, Schwyz, for a short walk through the Mythenregion. The walk promised panoramic views, and it totally delivered. But then – where here doesn’t?

The Mythen peak stands at 1898m – a trifle lower than our Pilatus, but equally impressive, particularly on a clear day. We caught a cable car to the neighbouring Rotenflue where we enjoyed a grill – possibly the last of the season – and a surprisingly steep circular walk. Equally surprising was the tiny red hut you see in the snap below: a little cheese shop for your mid hike snacks.

Our little Brexit eater did us proud: she managed to walk the whole hilly way and just as I thought she was completely tuckered out, we found ourselves in Addie heaven. Rock climbing and soaring above the Alps ensued. (Please note the blue thing slumped on my back is my sleeping son, not some of weird stuffed mascot).

The days after this trip have started to usher in winter, making it feel a little like a last hurrah. Gone are the crystal clear blue skies – Luzern has been frosty, cloud covered and grey (and, worst of all, wet wet wet) for the last week or so. On the occasions the cloud clears, the nearby hills have been hit with snow, and we’re excepting some of our own in a few days. Despite the murk I am feeling excited about snow season, but this is possibly because we’ll be the other side of the world in the sun for about six weeks of it.

Hopp! Hopp! Hopp!

I am not a lot of things. Politically aware (slash particularly interested). A German speaker (unlike my little miss, who is currently singing herself to sleep with Schweizer Deutsch nursery rhymes). Abstentious from social media (particularly circa 4pm after a long day with the brats). Elegant under pressure (elegant full stop). A hater of cheese and wine. A regular exerciser.

Despite the latter, or more likely because of it, I’ve long needed the motivation of fear to get me moving. Mere common sense and immediate feel-good rewards apparently do not cut it: I need a looming, terrifying goal if I am going to actually don running shoes and get going. Knowing this about myself, and that I needed a solid kick up the butt, I signed on to the Swiss City Marathon.

It needs to be clarified immediately that ‘Swiss City Marathon’ is the name of the running festival that takes place in Luzern annually, as opposed to the distance I ran. It includes a marathon and a half mara, as well as the far less salubrious 10km run and the kiddy 195m dash. You may wish to hedge a bet on which event I entered (clue: the kiddy race was for participants strictly under the age of 6). Incidentally, though, over here ‘marathon’ seems to refer to any longish run, not necessarily the 42.2km slog that I am never likely to even think about completing. There was a recent run through town – a measly 7.2kms – that entrants kept referring to as ‘the marathon’. I was infuriated about this until I had the opportunity to refer to my own measly 10k as ‘the marathon’, and now I am obviously all about it. Sorry, genuine marathon runners. THUNDER STOLEN.

At any rate, I signed up, did my training, and ran said race. It started in Horw and snaked its way back into Luzern proper, passing through hobby farms, the local stadium, temptingly close to my house, bizarrely – it was kind of like a seedy night club – through the KKL (a concert hall and gallery), and then looped through the old town to finish inside the Transport Museum. Despite having lived in the city for a few years now, the race was an entirely novel way to experience it. The streets were lined with musicians – oompahpah bands this corner, alphorn choirs the next. Perhaps the best part was the enthusiastic spectators. Nearly the entire trail was populated with well wishers yelling ‘Hopp! Hopp! Hopp!’ as we ran past. And because our names were on our running patches, every now and then ‘Hopp, Wendy, hopp!’ (Or, ‘Go on Wendy, take that selfie!’ over the loudspeaker as I pulled my phone out upon entering the stadium. Selfie taken, thankyouverymuch.)

Aside from viewing a new side of my home, committing to and completing the run felt like a significant personal achievement. I’ve (slowly) run this distance and greater before, but since my little terrors have arrived I’ve felt I have little control of my time or my body. A lot of this is choice, but prioritising exercise doesn’t come naturally to me. The fear of the impending run forced me to rethink that, and the payoff was far beyond the completion of the race. I had four training sessions a week to myself. I learned to listen to podcasts, starting off with educational-ish ones which were quickly shunned in favour of the dulcet whiskey tones of Alec Baldwin’s celebrity interviews. I missed at least one bedtime a week, a happy coincidence which inspired several evening runs when I ordinarily would not have gone. I was frequently in so much pain that I was unable to dwell on the niggling nonsense of my everyday, thinking only about my next breath. I forgot, at times, that I was a mother and a hausfrau and felt like…just me, something I didn’t realise I’d not felt in a while. I felt strong, and strong in a way I’d not felt before the kids: aware of my body and its capacity and thresholds. Plus, I can tell people I ran a ‘marathon’, so there’s that.

I’d like to say that a corner has been turned and I am now embracing my new-found running freedom. I’m continuing with it, but to be honest without a target it’s hard to find the necessary momentum to force me out into the sleety night (it’s dark in the fours this time of year. Every day, around 3pm, Adsy exclaims in delight ‘Gosh! I’m staying up late tonight!’). I’d like to think the increased movement has been contagious: within a day or so of finishing the race, our little bear took his first few Frankenstein-esque steps, and he’s quickly progressing to be a right little speedster. If he keeps it up, perhaps next year he and his big sister can enter their very own 195m ‘marathon’.

The dam(n) weekend

As exciting as it is to cross the border into another country, the nature of Switzerland is such that it’s not always necessary to do so to experience a new language and culture. We are firmly planted in the Deutsch canton of Lucerne, but just over an hour away (through the longest tunnel in the world, the Gotthard, which stretches for a numbing 17km) is the Italian canton of Ticino. Lured by an easy getaway towards Italian deliciousness, we hit the road – and the traffic associated with said tunnel – on Friday afternoon.

When we travel, we prefer to stay in apartments (well, actually I prefer to stay in a five star suite with full housekeeping service and a butler and free flowing fizz, but that ain’t happening any time soon) so that there’s a seperate sleeping space for the kids and the capacity to chill after they’ve gone to bed. We’ve done hotel rooms where we’ve had to sit silently drinking wine in the bathroom and one horrible stay in a teeny tiny room where we had to text each other as we sat in bed so as not to wake the finally sleeping Addie a few centimetres away. We’ve had some great apartments, and we’ve had a few doozies. Unfortunately this weekend fell into the latter category. A traditional style Swiss house in a tiny village, the place itself was cluttered, musty and decidedly odd. The town was a single stretch of highway with very little going on, other than an ice hockey game on Friday night which nearly prohibited us from being allowed access the house (which in hindsight may not have been the worst outcome ever).  I’m prepared to take a miss every now and then but it felt like this set an unpleasant and difficult-to-kick tone for the weekend.Ticino with Ann, Doru, Sebi-017The plus side of shoddy lodgings (other than being able to stay up with our friends like actual normal adults after all the brats had gone to bed, of course) was being motivated to leave it as much as possible. We hit the road first thing (well, as first thing as you can get with three brats underfoot) to Contra Dam in Vogorno.

The dam was built in the early 1960s and uses water from the nearby Lake Maggiore to support a hydroelectric power plant (which somewhat blights the view, but such is the price one pays for electricity I suppose). It was used in the opening scene of GoldenEye after which it has become a popular and terrifying bungee jumping location (although it should be noted that James Bond did nowhere near the amount of screaming that was echoing around the dam last Saturday). Ticino with Ann, Doru, Sebi-021We then made our way to Ticino’s capital, Bellinzona. A stunning city with no discernible ice hockey games, we explored one of the several castles perched above the town.

Our kids worked on their levitating skills.

Castillo de Montebello dates back to the 15th century, and is complete with all the castle frills: moat, drawbridges, archer’s holes. Not only was the castle remarkably well kept and an important archaeological site, it also had excellent hills on which to refine rolling.

Hill rolling works up an appetite, which was sated in the town square with my favourite all time food: pizza. (Addie spied on her all time favourite: cake.)

I’ve often remarked on the ease with which we can access The Natures here, and on Sunday we decided to get the hell away from leave our lodgings and head up the mountain we could see out the somewhat grimy windows. A funicular (or ‘funny cable car’, according to Ads) took us to the top where we strolled through light rain, finding at the peak…another dam.

Despite the rain, the day was lovely. We enjoyed the walk through Autumnal forests with the kids strapped to our backs, feasting on sweeping views.

And Alpkäse (serviced with local polenta, which was a total winner.)

Funny-cable-car-049All the kids fell asleep on the stroll back to the funny cable car, at the base of which was the best excuse of all to avoid going home: a park. Once the kids had slippery dipped to their hearts’ content (little Ted also gaining his first blood nose due to a slipperier-than-expected dip) we made our way back and numbed bad house pain with raclette and wine. Which, as it turns out, did the job just fine.

Bring it

It may surprise you to know that I am quite a sentimental kind of person. I can’t let a festive season pass without viewing (preferably on multiple occasions) ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ and there’s a Dire Straits album that was oddly slotted into my teens that will reduce me to tears if heard unexpectedly. There’s a ridiculously large box of child-related paraphernalia that I cannot bring myself to cull and I live in genuine fear that Posh and Becks will break up. But nothing brings on self indulgent melancholy like good ol’ Autumn. I’ve been wandering around for the last few weeks fairly misty eyed over the turning leaves, the chill in the air, the darker nights and the mellowing of the light (although this morning, against my better judgement and for reasons I am unable to articulate, I tried a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I was almost cured of Autumn Love right there and then. Yikes).

Earlier this month was the two year annualversay of our move to Switzerland, further impetus for reflection. This year I celebrated by making good on my FOMO. A few months ago, at the start of summer, Tim had climbed Mt Pilatus with some colleagues. I was hideously (cough childishly) jealous and, on Motsy’s urging, decided to give it a go myself. Despite having nowhere near the level of fitness required to scale the 2,128m mountain, it turns out I’ll do anything to get a morning away from the brats. A friend and I took it on, and after almost four hours of solid upwards hit the peak. Although the nicest day of a bad bunch, the mountain was still covered in heavy fog as we climbed. It made for poor visibility but given the scrambley nature of the path we took and my fear of heights, it was possibly for the best. Tim and said brats met us afterwards for a grill, where we cheersed to two years well spent (and it’s lucky arms are used for cheers-ing, as lord knows my legs were not up for anything much after that hike).

The last two years have gone swiftly. Theodore – who of course wasn’t even remotely on our agenda at the time – is now the age that Addie was when we moved here. In those early days, we looked around at childcare options and found that a lot of the playgroups were only accessible for ‘older’ kids – starting at about three years. I didn’t think too much more of it until it hit me a few weeks ago that, completely obviously but also somehow impossibly, my little daughter is now almost three. The horror of this discovery was counterbalanced somewhat by the parallel realisation: I can offload her to spielgruppe! And to spielgruppe she went: Swiss style.

Waldspielgruppe is forest playgroup, where the kids toddle off to the woods for the afternoon. They forage for wood, build a fire and play with knives, cook and eat cervelat (a sausage that Tim and I liken to vegemite: divine if you grow up eating it but absolutely vile if introduced to it later in life), and generally have a fabulous mucky time. Addie had her induction last week so Teddles and went along for the ride, but she starts solo this Friday and could not be more excited. It’s both thrilling and heartbreaking to see how grown up she is, and to watch her chatting to the leader and the other children in a language I can barely understand made me grateful once again for the opportunity we’re getting here.

To capitalise on her new skills – and to marvel at the newly fallen snow and the gradually changing foliage – we took a wee family hike yesterday. We went to Elm, about an hour and a half from Luzern, took a quick cable car up the mountain and did the Giant’s Playground walk. Our surly looking little bear has RBF, like his sister before him, but was actually very happy to be out on his papa’s back.

It is ludicrously easy to get outdoors here. Swiss efficiency is astounding. Cable cars take you to seemingly inaccessible peaks, where there are nearly always comfortable places to sit and rest, family friendly walking tracks to follow, and fireplaces – stocked with fire wood – to grill your lunch. This walk was only just over 2ks, a perfect distance for the littlest walker, and had an activity site every few hundred metres which was just enough to bribe inspire little Addie along.

We stopped for lunch where Addie abandoned all waldspielgruppe learnings, leaving the fire-building duties to the lads in the family, instead joining her mama in a far superior pastime: salami and cheese consumption.

Lunch consumed, we continued the loop trail along – marvelling at mushrooms (and someone’s Sporty Suit) and as always the ridiculous view. We get out and hike a fair bit, but this was the first trip that we felt was well executed. Planning and timing went without a hitch, the walk was perfect for our family, and our grill game was strong. As we made our way back to the cable car (and the massive outdoor trampoline area that was a sure fire Addie approved activity) we were, I confess, fairly self congratulatory.

Although Tim’s contract here is permanent and has no formal end date, we’d always had in our heads that two years was the time we’d commit to staying. Almost as soon as we’d jumped off the plane we figured we’d be staying longer than that, given how much exploring there was to be done. We have a long and lovely trip to Australia planned over Christmas, so we’ll see how much good food, coffee and weather influences us, but it’s hard to imagine leaving here any time soon. I mean:

Besides, if we’ve only started to nail our hiking game after two years, imagine how we’ll bring it next summer.

Eat all the cheese

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, one of the main reasons we don’t feel terribly homesick here is the number of visitors – family, old friends, and sometimes friends-of-friends and acquaintances – that swing by to visit us (it could also be related to the import level quantities of vegemite I have stashed in the cupboard for daily consumption). One of Tim’s oldest friends is currently with us. They go back close to two decades: Jimmy was the first housemate Tim ever had after leaving home, and part of the link to how we met. The few summer days we’ve been able to spend together have been a (beery and cheesy) treat. Tim, Jimmy and our girl hit the mountains yesterday to get some Alpen views, find some farm cheese (so many different types! all so delicious!) and, bizarrely, eat soup with a rock placed proudly in the centre of the bowl, for reasons unknown.

I took the next shift, sipping sunset wines on the lake as Jimmy purchased his cigarettes at the casino. Much to his amusement, he (dressed in casual tourist attire) was offered the cigarettes on a silver platter, opened and ready to smoke, by a fully tuxedoed butler who also offered him the choice of four languages in which to discuss the lighting of said durry.

Today is Swiss National Day, the day on which the foundation of the Swiss Confederacy is celebrated. Three Cantons originally swore the oath of confederation, and at the rough point where this occurred one can spend the day listening to speeches and celebrating. Given our Swiss German remains not up to scratch, and my love of breakfast is deep, we opted for another Swiss National Day tradition: the Farm Brunch.

An increasingly popular tradition, the brunches were an initiative to support local smallholdings and encourage people from towns to better understand what farmers do. We took a short bus ride out of town, after which we followed the signs (and fellow brunchers) under the watchful eye of Mount Pilatus to our farm.

A gorgeous morning for a walk, we followed the country path up the side of the hill (the very mild hill in the snaps, not the massive ol’ mountain), working up our appetites.

Our hosts farmed Angus beef and grew an apple orchard. Brunch was a huge spread of local cheeses and meats, Bircher muesli, to-die-for apple juice freshly pressed from their own orchard, and rösti with bacon and egg. (While I had no complaints, I had promised the little Swiss Miss that she could have ‘sausases’, her third favourite food after cake and ice-cream. Happily the abundance of small, sweet bread rolls adorned with the Swiss flag distracted her from otherwise certain sausage related meltdown).

There were over one hundred of us in attendance, and while we opted not to stay to sample the local wine it felt like there was quite a party in the making. We wandered home along the lake, past the local-wine-producing vineyards, and through lovely farmland (in a vain attempt to get two hot and bothered littles to sleep. I assumed my constant dull narrative of ‘look! cows! ooh, a tractor!’ would have been enough to send them off, but apparently not).

The festivities continue this evening, with an abundance of fireworks due to be deployed later tonight. We have our eye on ‘The Big Swiss’, a mean looking rocket type cracker available in a tent that has popped up around the corner from our house purely for the sale of all things pyrotechnical. But of course, the number one priority is to continue on Operation Eat All The Cheese, which I reckon is a totally appropriate celebration of this wonderful country.

They don’t have kangaroos in Austria

After our Black Forest adventure, our troops headed to Konstanz where in a shared custody style arrangement I swapped one Purtell (Tim) for another (Dom), and three of the four siblings got to hang out together for about three hours before Tim hit the road again for work. We lunched by the lake, swapped tales and fuelled the kids with nice cream for the road trip ahead: to Austria.

Moody's-016Years previously I travelled briefly to Vienna, memorable primarily for schnitzel, some stealthy mini-bar theft and postcards emphatically attempting to differentiate the European nation from its similar sounding antipodean counterpart. This time, we stayed in the alpen Tirol area, not far from the German border.

It was hideous.

Once again, we tried to manage the littles with keeping them as active as possible. Close to our digs (a 427 year old farm house, traditional in style and quirky in design) was a waterfall hike, which after a day of settling in (and attending to Arlo’s adventurous nature by a trip to the hospital…after he’d already managed to acquire a stitch in his noggin from playing too hard) we bribed convinced the kids to tackle.

The walk was just shy of 3kms, which turned out to be perfect for our three little walkers (and one sleeping baby).

It was even better for me, as I convinced Fake Tim aka Auntie Dom to take both my children for a spell. Sadly I wasn’t quick enough to leg it back to the car and cross the border while I had the chance. Moody's-051I’m not sure what I expected, but I loved Austria. Dommie compared it to New Zealand or Canada (with no offence meant at all to either nation) – associated with and similar to a larger country (Australia and America) but wonderful in its own right and somehow more chilled and adventurous. (And of course, with the starchy Germanic food I know and love). And she was bang on – it was amazing.

The cousins enjoyed splashing in the creek that flowed from the waterfall for which the walk was named and apparently watered the local town (and sorry, town, that my daughter appears to be washing her hands in your drink).

The following day we went back across the border into Germany to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. Built by Ludwig II of Bavaria – the last of the Bavarian monarchs – it was an homage to Wagner (whose Swiss home is perched just over the hill from our place in Luzern) and later the inspiration behind the Disney castle. As Tim was not with us, I was on photographic duty and failed spectacularly in getting the money shot of the castle (‘why do you keep using portrait mode for landscapes?’ he moaned when he saw my pathetic attempts), but you get the picture.

The kids did remarkably well during the short tour of the castle. When wandering through the King’s bedroom, Addie was delighted to note on seeing his desk that Ludwig shared similar interests to herself: ‘Oh! The King has a craft table!’.

The castle was not finished prior to the King’s (fairly suspicious, apparently) death, and as such there were only a few Romanesque-style rooms to view. All were ornate and fairly trippy – Ludwig had hoped to live out his medieval dream far away from the pesky eyes of Munich (and close to the chef’s apprentices, allegedly, which is where he spent a lot of his nightly visiting hours). All photography was banned inside, which is possibly a good thing given how much I butchered the castle’s exterior.

A highlight for the cousins was a horse and carriage ride up and down the hill to the castle (and a highlight for Finn was the horse stopping to drop a load halfway down the hill). Moody's-141As always on holidays, we ate like kings, enjoyed a few glasses of gin / vino / whatever to wash the day away and shot the breeze like champs. Even after almost two weeks together, it felt that there were still many conversations left half finished, but surely that’s the point of family. Despite their two year old woes, Addie has been asking after Arlo (and his much less maligned brother Finn) almost hourly since we arrived home and seems quite disgruntled that they have continued on without her. I feel the same, and look forward to more family times – and finishing those chats – when we see Team Moody again.

 

Le Tour

My Motsy, like a lot of guys, enjoys sinking a beer and watching a sport. He’s got three favourites. The Australian Football League, in which his family has followed the Sydney Swans as long as they’ve been wearing super tight short shorts. Cricket, a deeply ingrained true love associated with long summer days and dry witted commentators, a sport he misses dearly since our move. And thirdly: the Tour de France for which he holds, in his words, an academic love. It’s the strategy and tactics, the constantly shifting complexity of the sport – the long game – that he loves.

I used to joke about being a Tour Widow annually when it was broadcast, but his enthusiasm certainly had its benefits. Last Tour, while we were night weaning our lass, Hotel would willingly do the hideous middle-of-night shifts, all the while with the highlights of the day’s stage broadcast through his earphones (serving the dual purpose of masking some of the more hideous of her wails).  For his birthday this year, since I couldn’t convince Switzerland to assemble a cricket team to play against Australia, his gift was a trip to see Le Tour live.

My research was basic: the nearest part of France to us that the riders went through, we were hitting too. As luck would have it, that turned out to be Morzine in the French Alps for the penultimate leg of the race, and the final King of the Mountain stage. We walked from our digs into town on race morning to observe the set up.

The town was bustling with spectators (a frightening number of whom were lycra clad) already lining the streets. The forecast was for rain but it kept changing as to when and how heavy; after much deliberation (cough arguing) we decided to find a spot and settle in for the afternoon. We located a shady nook with a good view of the incoming riders, and full view of a large screen. We bonjoured our neighbours, set up our chairs, played with some rubber bouncy balls….and waited for the cyclists to arrive.

The rain arrived well before they did, and hung around a lot longer. As I may have mentioned, we can be ridiculously stubborn, so having decided to stay we donned wet weather gear and held our spot. Eventually the caravan arrived (to much joy from the crowd, who got disproportionately excited about the crappy free stuff that was thrown their way) and my girl decided to make me even wetter with her revoltingly sloppy (yet always welcome) kisses.

We watched the riders climb several hill sections throughout the course of the day – some of which we had driven (ha!) the day previously, marvelling at their steepness, making the riders’ prowess even more astounding. After the final climb up the Col de Joux Plane, the cyclists descended into Morzine where we were waiting to cheer them in.

For a sighting of cyclists that lasted a matter of minutes, the crowd sure went wild. Even considering the many hours wait in the constantly pouring rain, the thrill as they crossed the finish line was well worth it. Tim happily ticked off one of his dreams, and I patted myself on the back for a (cold and wet) gift well delivered. Naturally once the race was over, the rain promptly finished and we made our way to our chalet as the sun stuck its nose over the mountains.

My organisation was so lazy that once I’d decided on Morzine as our viewing town of choice, I found the first cyclist website that recommended accommodation, and blindly booked it, thinking that Mots would prefer to be surrounded by people actually interested in the race (not saying I’m not but my conversation doesn’t really extend beyond jersey colours and Lance Armstrong). I didn’t know what to expect, but we stayed in a (admittedly fairly rustic) chalet nestled in the mountains, which was fully and deliciously catered – including booze! – for a ridiculously cheap amount per night. I realise I have just outed myself as a cheap birthday gift giver, however we felt we totally scored with our choice of digs (and Tim got to talk bikes to his academic heart’s content).

As an aside, this week’s Intentional Summer Challenge was to ‘name that plant‘. Our walk into town to view the race was parallel to a gurgling stream, the banks of which were clothed by the below large-leaved plant. Initially mistaken for a pumpkin, it lacked the distinctive fuzziness of a gourd plant and was not actually a vine, having more of a tubular stem system (so not a technical term). My best efforts to identify it indicate it might be a mallow; any tips on this front would be greatly appreciated (clearly my plant identification research is as half-assed as my holiday planning). IMG_8228Mystery plants remaining a mystery, we made it home with two thirds of the family sporting TDF merchandise (and provisions for three quarters of us to become so once our little lad arrives). Luckily, there are no more Purler birthdays until December which gets me off the planning hook until at least…December, no?