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?

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.