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?

Rigi Tell Trail

After our week of cabin-fever-inducing summer downpours, the ol’ sun reappeared in spectacular fashion this weekend. Which was fortunate, as we’d planned our next installation of the Intentional Summer Challenge: to go on a quest. While the rest of the world seemed to be chasing Pokemon we were significantly less cool and opted instead to follow the historic path of William Tell, the great folk hero of central Switzerland.

My knowledge of Willhelm / Guillaume / Guglielmo / Guglielm Tell (depending on which of the four Swiss languages you favour) was limited. Of course I’d heard about the infamous ‘arrow through the apple’ tale, and the sort-of-related William Tell Overture, but that was my total background on the guy. As we’d chosen to hike a route that reflected the man’s own path, we figured it was time to brush up on a bit of Swisstory.

A legendary strong man, Alp-hiker and expert marksman, William Tell led the Swiss resistance to attempted Austrian domination in the 1300s. Arrested by the Austrians with his son, he was offered a challenge: to shoot an apple from his son’s head in a single attempt, or for them both to face execution. Tell pulled out two arrows and successfully shot the apple. His son was released but when asked why he drew two arrows, Tell replied that had he shot his son he intended to use the second arrow to kill Gessler, the leader of the Austrians. With this he was imprisoned, however en route to Küssnacht dungeon Tell escaped capture and ran cross country through the Alps. His captors followed, and Tell famously assassinated Gessler with the second arrow through a narrow stretch of road cut through large rocks. His act sparked a revolution which eventually led to the formation of the Swiss confederation.

Our hike commenced close to the top of the mountain at Rigi Kaltbad, and followed some of the path that Mr Tell ran as well as marking the point where the famous fatal arrow was shot. The walk itself covered about 12km, and apart from a few straight stretches was primarily downhill all the way to Küssnacht. There was definitely no running from our team, lumbered up with one bambini apiece, but there was plenty of Alp gazing from the top of Rigi across Lake Luzern out to Mount Pilatus on the crystal clear day.

We had teamed up with some friends to do the hike, and we slowly made our way down the sometimes precarious mountain path. We frequently passed people walking the opposite direction and admired their gumption, but after a few hours our knees were telling us that upwards may have been a better game plan. Happily, there were ample scenic distractions as well as the melodious bell ringing of the Swiss cows grazing on Alpine grass.

We stopped for a very Swiss lunch (würst! älpermagronen! anything else on the menu with an umlaut!) in a seemingly middle-of-nowhere farm restaurant. The kids played on swings and trampolines and looked at the ponies, no doubt much like William Tell must have done while he was on the run.

The final descent into Küssnacht town was tough; we’d been walking steadily downhill for about 4 hours and our joints were telling us all about it. So loudly, in fact, that we forgot to note the site of the final showdown between Tell and Gessler, instead fantasising about icy beers and cool lake swims.

Our quest completed, although perhaps not observed as formally as warranted, we hobbled into town and called it a day. A spectacular day, with beautiful views and better yet glorious sunshine throughout the entire walk. For me the trip will be marked by the achievement of another quest of sorts: my lass, after months of pestering on my behalf, finally spat out her first proper ‘Mama’. I have some concerns that it came right after she played with the afore mentioned ponies, but she’ll have to learn full sentences before I’ll acknowledge that particular request.

Titlis

Apologies in advance. This post is pretty much just mountain porn. Titlis @ Easter 0249 - 20160328But Switzerland! The Alps! It’s impossible to get complacent with them. Following our Easter morning indulgences, we got ourselves ready for a day on the slopes (skiing for the lads and hiking slipping on ice and tobogganing for the Purlers). As previously mentioned, the girl was not allowed to remove her Easter headband. Titlis @ Easter 0205 - 20160328We were destined for Mt Titlis, a nearby Alp that rises above the town of Engelberg. A popular ski run, it also has a glacier, revolving cable car, assorted vantage points and restaurants. We did our best tick off all of the above. Titlis @ Easter 0249 - 20160328Titlis @ Easter 0254 - 20160328Titlis @ Easter 0283 - 20160328Titlis @ Easter 0289 - 20160328All the while wearing Easter headwear, naturally.Titlis @ Easter 0336 - 20160328Not being skiers (yet…there’s always next season), we found a toboggan run and gave that our best shot. Not just for the baby, as it turned out.

We skidded over the ice, played on the slippery dip for a looooong time, and nowhere near burned off all the chocolate we continued to eat throughout the day. But it was tops. And, as always, the mountains were gobsmacking.  Titlis @ Easter 0324 - 20160328Titlis @ Easter 0330 - 20160328And that’s really all there is to say about that.

The Toblerone

In hindsight, we probably should have called it quits when we realised we’d forgotten Tim’s snow jacket. By then we’d already run into several pickles: the car’s GPS had stopped working, we weren’t entirely sure how to get to our location or how long it would take us (only that we had to catch a car train somewhere along the way), and we’d not realised we had to leave our vehicle and get a train for the final leg of the journey so our packing was cumbersome (at best). The girl was cutting two teeth which made her a delight of a travel companion, a chest cold she’d picked up in Barcelona only adding to her charm. However, we had booked a weekend away – a night in Zermatt and one on the shores of Lake Maggiore – and hot damn we were determined to go. So, when we realised (with much cussing) that Tim’s jacket was AWOL we pulled up (in the snow), grabbed coffees and Matterhorn-shaped biscuits and took several deep breaths. And forged onwards.

We found the car train, which we boarded along with scores of other cars for 17km of tunnel through the Alps. Years ago, we went on a totally bogus tourist ride in Shanghai which promised to take us to the ‘centre of the earth’; it finally felt like we’d made it. Zermatt 0008 - 20160221We popped out the other side into a wintery paradise.Zermatt 0016 - 20160221A wintery paradise with super mega chocolate (I would like to believe).Zermatt 0024 - 20160221After several hours of fairly bumbling travel, we caught the train to Zermatt, a ski town at the base of the Matterhorn. A snow covered village, it operates with no cars as such – only little electric miniature numbers zip around the streets. It had a hobbit-esque feeling to it: close buildings, winding narrow streets, flushed and happy people (and yeah, I might have had two breakfasts). We were staying in a ski lodge we’d booked the night before, not knowing much about the area. It had, we thought, a cute outlook. (It also had both a fondue and a raclette maker, and a legit ski bar with suspended fire place. It rocked.)Zermatt 0032 - 20160221Cute quickly became breathtaking when the clouds parted to reveal the Face of Toblerone itself.Zermatt 0074 - 20160221Zermatt 0045 - 20160221We took a stroll with the lass to check out the town and make use of her Christmas present. She was less than impressed. I’m not sure if pictures can impart the sound of a baby screaming, but please use your imagination if not. I suspect she was embarrassed that we’d miscalled the toboggan potential of the patch we chose. Zermatt 0034 - 20160221Shortly after this things began to deteriorate. The poor little lass got her first real bout of Disgusting Babyitis (i.e. the vomits). The below photo was taken in our last moments of innocence. Her father’s vest will never be the same.Zermatt 0054 - 20160221Despite the woes, the Matterhorn was ridiculous.Zermatt 0048 - 20160221Zermatt 0076 - 20160221And the one plus of being up all night with a very unwell baby is getting to see it framed with glittering stars (I am aware that I would also be able to see it this way if, say, I went to the ski bar and stayed up drinking, but I’m really trying to see the positives of the dastardly situation). Zermatt 0082 - 20160221Zermatt 0082 - 20160221-2The situation had not improved the following morning, so after a trip to the doctor (where we were the only people sans ski or party injury) we made the call to cut the trip short and head home. We dropped the inlaws at Interlaken and took one very unwell baby back to Lucerne, barely surviving what was easily the most revolting car ride I’ve been on since my mate Austen’s 21st birthday booze bus. We’ve had a day of couch bound cuddles, punctuated with the occasional terrifying lurch of a cough, but she seems to be on the mend. Although it still feels as if it might have been best to cut our losses while we were (marginally) ahead, it sure was something to see that chocolate wrapper brought to life.

Cousins

It’s fair to say my sister and I are close. There’s two years or so between us, we share mannerisms and speaking style (i.e. quickly), and when my hair was dark at my wedding, for the first time people identified us as siblings. But more than that, she’s been a close friend, travel companion, gossip confidante and wine time buddy over the years. Our sweet babies were born within four months of each other, and although we didn’t live in the same cities in Australia she has been a constant in our lives (not least due to many middle of the night ‘does your baby do this or is mine broken?’ text messages from me). I had been counting down the days until she arrived (by which I really mean the arrival of my nephew’s cheeks).

After a day of catching up, wandering around Lucerne and strategising about jet lag, we decided to capitalise on the crystal clear day and head up to Pilatus. The last time Motsy and I went it was foggy and while beautiful in its way, did not even nearly compete with the stellar views we caught yesterday. It was an awesome welcome to Switzerland.

Pilatus 0021 - 20151212Pilatus 0025 - 20151212Pilatus 0027 - 20151212We caught cable cars to the top, and then walked the five or so flights of stairs to the summit, slipping a little on the iced ground and crunching through deposits of snow. Pilatus 0043 - 20151212Pilatus 0036 - 20151212Although a stunning day, the chill was in the air and winter was evident all around. Pilatus 0030 - 20151212Pilatus 0059 - 20151212We looked down on Lucerne, arguing about the location of our digs. Given my poor eyesight and  poor directional sense I don’t know why I bothered (but I was right). Pilatus 0058 - 20151212We stayed at the top for a hot chocolate (cough wine) and entertained the kidlets with bubbles, because apparently the Alps weren’t spectacular enough.Pilatus 0123 - 20151212This week sees them on a trip to Interlaken, Tim back to Waiblingen and us all hitting France in time for the girl’s first birthday this weekend. I’m quite happy, though, to spend my days watching the two cousins play together (or at any rate near each other, Fletch trotting across rooms and making animal noises and Laidey zipping around with her one-knee-up crawl, still inappropriately uh-ohing). It was worth the wait.

Pilatus 0127 - 20151212