Summer: Seville.

We arrived in sweltering Seville just before lunch (our lunch, not the Spanish lunch, which I have yet to properly understand. We seem to be either too early or too late, but that’s also the perfect summary of mine and Tim’s personalities, so there we are). We had about 24 hours in the city so wanted to make the most of it, which for us means wandering, eating, and looking at lizards or other small spottable creatures. Our pickle was that we were somewhat frazzled post travel and the idea of walking around town in near 40 degree heat was rather unpalatable. Enter: horse and cart.

(We opted to take this for a few reasons. The primary one was that once they saw it, the kids were super keen. The other was we were super lazy and didn’t want to confront the heat. After about two minutes I felt dreadful. The horse was managing the heat and all of us for the better part of an hour in peak siesta time. My consolation was that we stopped regularly, and I saw the driver pause and give him water on several occasions as well as a full hose down when we finished. Still: thank you, noble steed. Also, my son is now your number one fan (he waves at all the horse-and-carts now, garbage men forgotten)  my lass thinks she’s a princess.

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Walking or trotting, Seville is a treat. The fourth largest city in Spain, it has the hustle and bustle you’d expect from an urban hub, coupled with slow pace that we’re starting to appreciate from the Spanish, in one of their hottest cities. A contradiction, sure, but one you feel as you plod along the streets which seem to move just as quickly as the charming chattery Spanish language around you. We spent a lot of time wandering the shaded narrow alleys, tripping over stones and getting pleasantly lost as we searched for ice creams and parks and each other (we got separated sans technology and had to revert to old school meet up principles).

Now we’re back on the road, we’re reverted to the one place / one meal approach to travelling. In Seville, the one place was a mighty one: the Alcázar. I’d been to the beautiful palace before, but as is apparently thematic on this holiday I barely remembered any of it. The site it stands on has been occupied since 800BC: it’s been used for the military, numerous churches, as a stable and warehouses and eventually a palace. It is now an extraordinarily well preserved example of Moorish architecture, and is the oldest occupied palace in Europe as well as a UNESCO site due to its garden’s diversity.

Enough of the blurb: the Alcázar speaks for itself.

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The palace and its surrounding grounds are enormous. There is room after perfectly tiled room, hidden courtyards, cool nooks in which one can get lost, and impeccably manicured gardens. If it wasn’t for a pressing agenda and two not entirely relaxed children, we could have spent weeks exploring it. As it was, we settled for goldfish spotting in the ponds, and cheesy family snaps.

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And, of course, splashing in any available fountain.

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At one point – one loses track of time in such a place – the kids and I found ourselves in a long, cool room hung with tapestries and tiled with hand-painted folklore. Despite the fact that I might look cranky, we were actually discussing what the lion slash dragon situation was.

To the delight of our almost-over-it kids, the immense gardens featured a maze. Our Addie led the way, while I carried a less than enthusiastic Ted in her wake.

The last time I was in Seville, the oranges were at peak ripeness. I remember sitting at a bar on the river and having them plonk heavily next to me as they fell off the trees, their almost cloying scent catching us unawares. This time of year, they are just forming: bursting their glossy roundness against the green leaves, everywhere you look across the city.

We had places to be and phone conferences to call into, so our visit was shorter than we’d ideally have liked. On our way out of the sweet city, we stopped for a much anticipated treat: churros. Tim and I had regaled the children with tales of amazing straight doughnuts that could actually be dunked into – gasp – warm chocolate. Thankfully – like on every other measure – Seville delivered.

Still. more. summer.

We spent just over a week in our little Spanish hilltop town, and it proved to be an excellent base for exploring the surrounding Andalusian area. Because I am geographically ignorant, I thought this included the nearby Gibraltar. For once I was correct about proximity, but as usual there was a flaw in my thinking: Gibraltar is part of the United Kingdom and not Andalusia, a fact which apparently everyone other than me is aware of. We went with one purpose only: to go up the rock and see the shores of Africa (OK, we actually had two goals: to also buy super cheap booze).

Gibraltar is small – only 6.2 square kms – and as we approached we were surprised and a little confused by the large fence that separates it from Spain. We parked the car, grabbed our passports, and walked across the border. It was quite surreal. I can’t think of another occasion that I’ve crossed a land border on foot and had my documents inspected. The British overseas territory is not, I am sorry to report, a particularly pleasant place. Lots of high rise apartments cram the 35,000 inhabitants into the small territory limits. While there were a few ostentatious mansions on the water (adjacent to the Ludicrously Large Yacht Parking) most places were shabby and run down. There was an airstrip immediately inside the border, which commuters strolled across. Apparently online gaming is a huge industry there, and whether imagined or not we felt the place was slightly seedy. We made our way promptly to the (Swiss manufactured, naturally) cable care and ascended the rock, much to the delight of our lad who loves any form of transportation. (As a tip, if you ever go: walk up the rock instead of cable car. Even though it was hot, if we left early the walk would have been manageable and far more enjoyable than the six minute trip up. It appeared mostly shaded and would have offered a far more interesting perspective to the area.)

It was a stunningly clear day, and from the top of the rock we were able to see across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco, rising out of the water (it’s on the far left below, in case all blue-grey landmasses look the same to you. They sure do to me).

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The top of the rock is also home to the only wild population of Barbary macaques in Europe. I was horrified to learn this as I am a scaredycat joyless person who hates our adorable monkey cousins. My daughter, however, is not. She was besotted with them, and when I asked her what she liked about them she replied ‘their hair. They’re so hairy!’. My revolted point precisely, Ads.

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After a stop for said cheap booze we bizarrely walked straight back over the border. The Spanish side had passport control but the two immigration officers didn’t bother opening the gates and simply waved us all through a door out the side. Hola!

Next stop: the beach. We went to Estapona for the afternoon to swim in the Mediterranean, build sandcastles, eat seafood tapas and see if the kids love the ocean as much as their papa. (Verdict: most definitely.)

The days have become a bit blurry, like all holidays should, and I’d like that to be my excuse for not exactly remembering that it was our ten year anniversary last Thursday (in my defence, I knew it was coming up but I had confused the days, a completely understandable position after a decade, no?). We spent the day in Ronda, a mountain town at the top of a very winding drive. We finally arrived and entered through the town wall…

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…and immediately indulged in ten year anniversary pastries. (At least, the two best products of our relationship did.)

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Ronda is a very famous town in the region. Built high in the hills, it straddles a ravine and the two halves of the town were long divided. In the 1700s, the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) was built to, ahem, bridge them. It’s an impressive sight. Each of the old towns is lovely in its own right, and the bridge adds a drama to the whole scene. Stunning architecture aside, there’s a waterfall at the base that gushes down into the calm river which snakes its way through the chasm. The bridge itself could be walked over, under and into: it used to be a prison, particularly during the Spanish Civil War. It was impossible to see it all in one hit – every different angle held new aspects.

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Ronda is also the city in which, 300 years ago, the official rules to bullfighting were negotiated and agreed. Many years ago, on a holiday to Seville, I went to see the traditional Spanish sport. It was not for me; I was unable to watch it and left shortly after it started. I appreciate the complexities of tradition and the arguments around the life spans of bulls (apparently fighters often live much longer than animals bred for meat), but despite being a meat eater, leather wearer and all round hypocrite, I felt it was a step too far in terms of the animal’s welfare. I was however (see: hypocrite) quite happy to check out the bullfighting arena where it all began, so to speak.

We celebrated our decade with a spectacular lunch. In a courtyard at the base of the town, with a playground within eyesight and ice-cold vermouth being refilled regularly, we toasted the years together. And then brat number two ate our dessert (flan, with almost burnt caramel, with a heavy dollop of cool yoghurt around it. So good, or so I’ve heard).

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A million years ago, on a previous trip to southern Spain, I spent a day? a few days? a week? in a beachside town that had something to do with tuna. The modern age of the internet, and a memory that is determined to connect some dots, located it as Zahara de los Atunes, a seaside fishing village on the way to Cadiz (this is relevant as it was a key part of the puzzle; on the same trip I visited the Cadiz fortress). Since we were so close, we did another day trip – this time through the nearby national park – to visit it.

Jimena is surrounded by the enormous Los Alcornocales National Park. It’s the only remaining natural cork forest in Europe, and a hugely significant ecological area both for historical reasons but also for controlled modern industry. The cork trees are still farmed – the sport the weird look of a tree undercut, as the bark at the base is removed while that on the top remains. The base bark is then left to dry in huge fields in the sun before it is used. The park is also home to many native animals – I saw a Spanish ibex while out running one morning* – and birds. As we drove to the beach, we saw an amazing flock of eagles circling, darting and dancing in a huge vortex. We stopped the car and got out to watch them, having never seen a sight like it. It was mesmerising, magical.

* disclosure: I literally ran the one morning. And I only ran a tiny bit. Those hills! That heat! Ridiculous.

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We arrived at the beach I’d stayed at and I found that the town was completely unfamiliar. Admittedly, it was 18 years ago I was there and at the time it was tiny, and it was in the opposite season (winter in southern Spain is heavenly, by the way), and I think I actually stayed at the opposite end of town. I remember a sleepy mostly-closed village, where we had to ask the local restaurant to open in advance if we wanted a meal. Now, in the height of summer, it was an unrecognisable bustling beach haven. Once we hit the beach I remembered the curve of the land – or at least I’m going to tell myself I did.

The beach was lovely. The children were maniacs, running in and out of the waves, playing ball and building sand ditches (not having quite mastered castles). Addie, who gets cold quite quickly (especially after her father dunks her head first into the ocean) ran and interrupted my sunbaking by asking for a cuddle. Happily obliging her, we sat quietly for a while and she murmured into my ear ‘Mama, your arms are as warm as the sun’. I died happy, folks.

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Our final excursion was to the southern most tip of mainland Europe: Tarifa. Or at least, it would have been had we been able find a bloody car park there. A dreadlocked mayhem that sort of reminded me of south east Asia, the town was crazy busy and we found it almost impossible to get to the tip of the country. So, four cranky people cut their losses and went to nearby Bolonia, where we pulled up near some Roman ruins (those dudes were everywhere, man) and had our last dip in the Med for a while. Unfortunately the wind was whip strong, and despite using child labour to weight all our possessions it wasn’t the most pleasant of days and we called it not long afterwards.

The rest of the week was spent pottering (me), reading (me), dipping in the pool (me), playing in cubby houses (not me…OK, sometimes me), lazily walking to lunch (me), getting up super early to take lovely snaps of the village at sunrise (are you kidding I am not insane. That was totally Tim, as evidenced below).

We all had our favourite pastimes, but the person who had the most cherished ritual of all was our Ted. Every morning around 8.30 the garbage men would drive up our street, noisily clanging and clattering. Our little man, waiting after his breakfast, would jump up, gasp, and run to the window where he would wave at them as long as they were in sight. After the first few days, they started waving at the top of the street and similarly didn’t stop until they turned the corner. This morning, he even earned himself a few toots of the horn. A happier holidayer there has never been.

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Summer, continued.

I’m sitting in a whitewashed Spanish casa, in a tiny town made of confusing and exhaustingly steep streets, perched on the side of a hill. It is about a million degrees; shade makes no difference. The male half of the family is taking a siesta (both having done a bit too much fiesta-ing last night) and Addie is off chit-chatting to herself, primarily about how long it will be before she will have another swim and whether or not she will put her whole head underwater (currently: not, but maybe tomorrow).

When planning this, our summer holiday proper, we didn’t realise how heavenly the season in Switzerland would be. It felt like we’d already had a solid summer before we even left home. Apparently it is the year of double the fun for us, as last Thursday we barrelled into the car to drive over 2000km to get here (not in one hit. We’re clearly a bit idiotic but not that crazy).

Our first stop, for convenience and to get a few miles under our belt, was Chambéry in France, not far from the Swiss border. Given the road trip was going to be intense, we decided to hold off on sightseeing until we reached our final destination. We figured we’d aim for one sight and one (hopefully decent) meal at each stop en route and not put too much pressure on ourselves to do much else. At Chambéry, this equated to a delicious Lyonnaise-style meal and a visit to the Fontaine des Éléphants. A tribute to a local military hero returning from a campaign to India, the fountain is locally know as ‘the four arseless’ as the pachyderms are lacking their rear quarters.

Unfortunately our excellently located AirBnB was also weird, hot and mozzie ridden, so we departed absurdly early the next morning. Perhaps it was for the best as it was our longest driving leg, down the coast of France and Spain to Valencia. Due to our pre-dawn departure we arrived in time to check off our Valencia activity: Turia Park. We hired bikes and cycled around the former river turned massive green space. The kids, who had done amazingly well on the ten hour drive, were indulged in their every request for parks and splashing in any available water. (Our meal here: seafood tapas. Hurrah for no longer being land locked!)

Our final day of transit – coincidentally my driving leg – was also the most spectacular scenery wise. We made our way from Valencia to the town I’m now sweltering in, Jimena de la Frontera. The route was made of wide brown expanses, hills lined with cultivated olive and orange groves, and craggy odd-shaped peaks, all spiked with the occasional peep of the Mediterranean.

We arrived late afternoon, and after meeting my friend for a drink (red wine and lemonade. When in Jimena, as they say) made our way to our digs for the next week or so. The house has been a year-long renovation project for my friend; we’re the inaugural visitors in what will be a holiday rental. It is traditional for the area: white washed and multi-leveled, with cooling tiles, exposed beams, low doorways (Tim’s noggin can attest to this) and hidden terraces. It also, to the delight of the kids and the relief of the parents, has a tiny pool which is the perfect size for sitting in with a beverage after the heat of the day has subsided.

It’s a slow moving town. Partly because it’s Spanish, partly because it’s hot, and partly because it’s steep (but probably mostly because it’s Spanish). The weekend we arrived was the annual Féria so around 9pm the town – the Purler ring-ins included – started mobilising down to the main square, which became a hot spot of cerveca, jamon and flamenco (and several far less traditional Spanish things: dodgem cars and jumping castles). I couldn’t quite bring myself to let my kids stay out fiesta-ing as long as the Spanish brats (2am!!) but they made it to a very respectable midnight.

Today, we walked up winding cobbled streets past wild blackberries, fig and avocado trees to the medieval Castillo de Jimena de la Frontera. Built by the Grenadian Moors, it was one of many points that guarded access to Gibraltar and the Bay of Algeciras. Although in ruins now (another ‘broken castle’, to Addie’s ongoing confusion. Actually, not ‘Addie’: she insisted on being called ‘Princess Anna’ for the duration of our visit. I was apparently to be called the less glamorous and far less explicable ‘Fireman’), its strategic position was obvious as it looms above not only Jimena, but all surrounding land.

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We are trying to adjust to many things – the heat, Spanish timekeeping, red wine and lemonade, the bloody hills. This is most difficult for me, as I seem to operate on two functions: rushed or even more rushed. I’m trying to relax, to not worry so much about time frames (meñana, meñana as they say here) and to embrace slow walking in the shade, long lunches, late afternoon siestas and even later dinners. I am pleased to report that it’s not going too badly thus far, but I suspect we have the red wine and lemonade to thank for that.

Lyon, revisited

Our first trip outside of Switzerland after having relocated was to the lovely city of Lyon. It was my first solo international car drive, Addie was a tender 9 months old and a rubbish sleeper to boot, and – in the most dreadful of crimes – we failed to eat nearly enough of the amazing local cuisine. A return trip was always on the cards and happily it occurred last weekend. We were meeting up with some friends who are on an enviable three month holiday around Europe, so last Friday we hit the highway. Once again I was behind the wheel, but this time we’d doubled the number of offspring (both of whom now happily sleep well) and had absolutely no intention of missing out on French delights.

Our last visit was in October. It was autumn and the weather, while not exactly unpleasant, was not prime outdoors material. We’re currently in the height of summer here – it’s been glorious for weeks now – and the city felt completely different. (That may also have had something to do with the two pint size travellers who are no longer happy to be simply pushed around as their parents sightsee and eat.)

It was a low key trip, the markets / traboules / walking tours of our previous visit not replicated. This time, we focused on food and local parks which kept all of us reasonably happy.  After a late arrival on Friday night we made the most of lost time and hit the old town for lunch. The two little charcuterie monsters were delighted.

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As always, there was wandering to be done. On our last trip, we were belatedly told about an Australian themed barge on which one could partay (to be fair, it didn’t matter if it was belated or not as I doubt we would have gone to the inappropriate and inappropriately named ‘Ayres Rock’ anyway). Jen and I did, however, sneak away from our beloved families for a cheeky non-Aussie-barge rosé.

The main culinary event was saved for the evening: we visited a Michelin starred bouchon where three quarters of us ate beef and the other had major food envy. While there, I overheard a familiar accent and my already burning ears pricked up even more when she said the words ‘Wagga Wagga’. Turns out I was not the only Riverina lass dining in Lyon that evening (and she had also ordered the bloody beef). After a few games of ‘who do you know’ and ‘where are you going next’ we went our seperate ways only to run into each other again the following morning. For the third largest city in France, with a population of about seven times that of Wagga, it sure felt like a small town.

We left after a market run where we stocked up on meats, fish and baked goods (the former two largely ruined by the time we got home due to a reverse refrigeration accident), stopping in Geneva on the way home for a dip in the lake. Once again it feels that we perhaps didn’t capitalise on the fabulous city, but nonetheless we all had a great getaway. If we do make it back again, I’m curious to see the changes not only in the city but in our wee girl. The snap on the left was taken on our first trip and the one on the right last weekend. Although the latter looks like she is crawling, my girl is actually scaling the wall on the banks of the river. On second thoughts, maybe I’d rather we didn’t see the next Addie incarnation any time too soon.

Countdown

Nine visitors – not all at once, admittedly (the most at any one time was a whopping five which is unheard of outside the festive season) – have kept us on our toes for the last few months. The ‘Wendy Noller Tour Of Luzern’ has been getting a thorough workout. I am no longer sure which facts I’ve researched myself, which I’ve stolen from other (legitimate) tour guides, or which are even facts at all. I’m fairly sure at least twenty percent of my cobbled together show-and-tell is either embellished or made up entirely, but I no longer remember which parts this applies to, and believe it all fervently myself.


Eight dips, thus far this season, I’ve taken in Lake Luzern. I’m talking full body immersion, which is something of a record because unlike the other Purlers (who are either insensitive or foolhardy or most likely both) I am totally chicken when it comes to cold water swimming. But at the end of last summer, realising I’d barely felt the chill of the current above my knees, I regretted not holding my breath and taking the literal plunge more often. So this year, I’m working on embracing the bracing, beautiful waters.


Seven cygnets have arrived, and have grown so much since they’ve hatched they must be almost ready to make their own way in the world. The family of swans lives right near our lake, and since the little ones were born mama and papa have been parading the family around proudly: shuffling awkwardly along the sand, gliding smoothly across the glassy lake, plunging suddenly into the depths as a potential meal is spied. I’m still terrified of them, but last Friday evening as we sat enjoying a grill the family passed very close to us. As they walked by – papa in the lead, six little ones trailing behind, followed by the mama and one last, tardy cygnet. I saw the mama (because it had to be the poor, frustrated mama) turn to her baby and positively snap at him: ‘hurry up!’ or ‘stop whining, we’re almost there’ or ‘we’ll go to the park again tomorrow, we were there for three hours already today’. I wanted to exchange a sympathetic look with her, but I’m way too scared of them to make eye contact.


Six minutes of listening to a cellist playing while a ballerina danced around a donkey. As part of Art Basel, I tagged along with Uncle Pip (my bestie, and the taker of the snaps below) to Schloss Mauensee, the private residence of a Swiss businessman who was a Chinese diplomat, and remains a prominent Chinese art collector. The castle and the art were both amazing, although I do admit to being slightly perplexed at the donkey installation described above. It was Phillip’s last night in Switzerland, and a delightful – if not at times surreal – way to spend it.


Five meals of raclette in only a few short weeks (purely for the visitors, you understand). I mention this primarily because if I am hospitalised in the near future, you’ll know to check my arteries. I love the dish – and we like to think our raclette game is increasingly strong – but it is most definitely a sometimes food. Hoo boy.


Four heavenly days in Mallorca. More pertinently: four heavenly days away from my (much loved) offspring. Since Phil (who, again, took the snaps below) was visiting at the same time as my in-laws, the opportunity arose for the two of us to hit the island. I’d assumed the largest of the Balearic Islands would be ridden with tourists with little to offer other than mega resorts, swim up bars, buffet dinners. (Please note: I do not hate any of these things. They are just not my priority for a sans-family getaway). I am perfectly capable of admitting that I was completely wrong. Palma was a small but fascinating city, with the excellent food the Spaniards frequently deliver. We drove to the coast to lie on beaches framed by national park – busier than the ones I’m used to at home, but no less lovely. We spent our final night in the mountains, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, and as you can imagine had a rotten time altogether.


Three nights away for Tim, travelling around Italy with one of his old friends. Not to be outdone by my lone getaway (which I may or may not have classily referred to as breaking away from the shackles of my family), Tim hit the road not long afterwards. He had his favourite type of break: covering lots of ground, seeing lots of Italy (Lago Iseo! Venice! The Cinque Terre!), eating and drinking and taking photos. We missed him, of course, but have loved hearing his tales and seeing his snaps and insisting that he return wiht us to give us the ‘Tim Purtell Tour Of Italia’ very soon.


Two syllables that have delighted me: ‘mama’ has finally been uttered by the cracker-loving lad in the house. Of course, now I’m wishing he didn’t holler it at me quite so frequently, such as earlier today in the shopping centre when he (successfully, I’m afraid) demanded a pretzel by yelling ‘mamamamamamamamamama’ non stop at the top of his lungs.


One tuckered out family. We’ve loved every minute of our run of visitors. Having family and friends stay with us makes us far less homesick and is a load of fun to boot. The kids, in particular, relish the excuse to hit the lake or a mountain or go out for lunch as a ‘very special treat’ (a phrase that loses its meaning somewhat when you’re doing it almost daily). Now that the rush is over, we’re now slowing down a bit (which basically means catching up on the piles of laundry and cleaning and sundry joys of the Hausfrau Life). Last night, our little crew sat around the table for our first Sunday roast. While there was a marked difference from the pulsing dinner of a few weeks ago (six adults! three kids!) it was relaxed, cosy, us. Not terribly quiet though; the little dude yelling ‘mamamamamama’ every time he wanted a roast spud took care of that.

The pest in Budapest (or, my new favourite city)

We arrived in Budapest late afternoon, on a perfect spring day, as the sun was starting to think about setting in that glorious golden way it has. Our boy had slept all the way from Bratislava and our girl was singing happily to herself next to him. The drive towards the city was lined with flowering trees and rolling hills, full with the lush green of recent rain. We drove up a rise and around a corner and then there it was: the magnificent Budapest, straddling the Danube. Hoo boy, what a welcome.

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I’d heard fabulous things about the city: some good friends were married there and talk of it fondly, several other friends had recently visited and reported back in highly favourable tones. I was prepared to dig it, or maybe even be slightly underwhelmed. I was not prepared for it to become my new favourite city in about fifteen minutes flat.

The city is actually relatively new if you consider it as a sum of its two ancient parts, Buda (on the ornate park land west bank of the river) and Pest (the throbbing, funky hub on the east bank). Officially joined in 1867, they were physically united by the first permanent bridge built across the Danube, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Named for its major benefactor, the Chain Bridge not only linked the two previously separate cities and provided a symbolic unification, it served a pragmatic purpose: Széchenyi had lamented the lack of simple passage to his father’s funeral, and thus was a visionary behind and champion for the bridge.

We stayed in the city centre, and on our first day walked across said bridge and up a steep hill (scrambled admirably by the three year old) to Buda Castle which sits proudly atop the city. From there it was a short walk to the colourful Matthias Church, a destination we visited not for religious purposes but rather due to the castle-themed playground situated directly behind it. Despite being tuckered out after all that playing, we scored a fun night out with Dom and Ro in one of the city’s Ruin Bars – abandoned buildings repurposed to become small venues. Ours was a tribute to all things red: Communists, punk, and shots of the local spirit, Palinka.

The following day was Mother’s Day and we had two in our midst – myself and my lovely mother in law, who spent the day with two of her four kids, and two of her four grandchildren. We started it in manner grand: a boat trip down the Danube.

With bubbles, of course.

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The cruise took us down the river, past the many spectacular buildings and alongside Margaret Island, a 4km long nature reserve in the middle of the Danube, then back again. Remembering my university days and multiple all-you-can drink harbour cruises, and apparently forgetting that I am now a 40 year old mama of two, all I could think of was shouting ‘bridge skol’ when we passed underneath the many Budapest structures.

In a (futile?) attempt to retain some level of dignity, I instead opted to enjoy my champagne far more sedately and sipped instead of chugged as we chugged past the gothic gloriousness of Parliament House.

Next on the agenda: Mother’s Day lunch. Outside, with puddles to play in and statues at whose feet to kneel. (And delicious Hungarian fare and wine but these were of zero interest to the kids. Until dessert arrived, and then it was ON.)

I mentioned previously our love of visitors. There was another reason for this love that I failed to discuss: babysitting. Later that night, after a muddy afternoon of park play, Tim and I hit the town for a wander. If I’d not already fallen for it hard, I’d have been won over by Budapest by night.

We strolled the banks of the river, marvelling at the light (you can’t see it in the snaps, but the sky was a deep smoky blue as we set out) and the throb of people out enjoying the city. There were bars with music drifting through the air, people perched alongside the river in makeshift chairs enjoying a drink, restaurants spilling out on the streets, fellow travellers strolling casually along soaking it all in, just like us. There was also this guy.

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One of the main reasons I’d wanted to head out (apart from freeing the shackles from my beloved offspring, which is always totes appropriate and even more so on Mother’s Day) was to visit the Shoes on the Danube Bank. A sculpture along the bank of the river, just down from the Parliament, the iron sculpture is a memorial to those slaughtered in World War Two. Thousands of individuals, primarily Jewish people, were made to line up on the bank of the river and remove their shoes before being shot. Unshod, their bodies would be swept away by the river’s unforgiving current and the shoes – a valuable commodity during the war – taken and repurposed. I’d seen it from a distance during the day but at night, with the darkness closing in and the powerful river only metres away, it was eerie, frightening, powerful.

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Somewhat subdued we walked to our late dinner  – paprika and dumplings aplenty! I love Hungary! – enjoying even more breathtaking views.

Over our meal, we discussed what made the city so attractive. Its beauty and history were a no brainer; the place blew our socks off. It was impeccably clean and felt completely safe, and now that we’ve been Swissified this apparently matters to us. There was a lot of green space and the playgrounds were next level, which appealed to 50% of my family (Ok, let’s face it: 100%, since Tim and I like park downtime as much as anyone). The food was good, the atmosphere amazing and we were blessed with stellar weather which makes anywhere a billion times better. But our little pests had it pegged: there was ice cream on every corner, and it was thoroughly enjoyed.

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We barely scratched the surface of this incredible city. There are thermal baths (hundreds of natural ones apparently; Addie is still asking to go to the pool as we foolishly promised), galleries, an island, more amazing architecture, about a bazillion parks and restaurants we didn’t even spy, and no doubt a bunch of other treats I don’t even know about. I don’t care. I will take any excuse to go back.

The brat in Bratislava

We love having guests, and have been fortunate to have had a huge range of family and friends visit us since we’ve moved here. We enjoy it for a number of reasons. Visitors make us feel far less isolated, still in touch with Australia and our lives there (especially when said guests have arrived with non-European delicacies such as vegemite, brown sugar and most deliciously Twisties). When people stay we have the chance to spend time with them after the kids have gone to bed and feel like actual social adults (and we have an excuse to eat raclette and drink wine, purely in the name of hospitality, of course). I love the different kind of interaction my children have with guests; sure, they might not see people regularly but a concentrated visit brings its own advantages (also, Adelaide thinks pretty much everyone is her aunt, which is adorably narcissistic). But perhaps most of all, we love the opportunity to see our adopted home through the eyes of others, and enjoy relishing new sights and new experiences with them. Which is really just a convoluted way of saying that we like to crash other people’s holidays.

Tim’s parents are currently on their third visit here since we relocated, and while keen to visit us in Lucerne they naturally wanted to explore a little further afield as well. We arranged to meet them, as well as Tim’s sister and her partner, in the East. First stop: Slovakia.

Of course, technically that was not the first stop. There was a picnic and park break for lunch in beautiful Salzburg, several refuelling stops and even more three-year-old-related breaks. But eventually, amidst a haze of pollen that seemed to be drifting with us across Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, Germany, Austria again and finally Slovakia, we pulled up at our new digs just outside Bratislava and settled in for the evening.

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The rest of the travellers arrived late that night – they had driven from Berlin – and the following day we hit the city of Bratislava. Situated on the Danube, we could spy the city’s centrepiece from miles away: Bratislava Castle. We started our wandering there, at the top of the city.

The castle itself was quite austere; not only had it been relatively recently rendered and painted white (we weren’t sure how traditional that was) the courtyard and surrounds were quite barren. A baroque-style garden, with manicured shrubs and swirling rock gardens, was in the process of being sculpted, which was beautiful but added to the confusion a little. After a brief castle playground interlude we made our way down into the old town, walking along the city wall briefly before meandering down the ornate winding streets.

The old town itself was beautiful, perhaps surprisingly so given the industrial feel of the city just outside its inner hub. As we had driven in the previous night, I was a little shocked at the number of towers pumping out smoke, the fleet of cranes hovering over the working docklands, and the unusually high number of trucks carrying cars around the city. It turns out that Slovaks are not terrible drivers who need lots of tow-truck action, but that Slovakia is a huge producer of cars: some 43% of the economy (which is apparently the fastest growing in Europe) is attributable to car manufacturing. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t the ornate, pristine buildings lining the streets, the wide cobbled alleys, or the relaxed feel of the city centre. (I will acknowledge it is possible that the relaxation came from the icy cold beverages you see below.)

While our children – the littlest sister and brother present – fought over plastic toys, the older set of Purtell siblings were far better behaved. They barely bickered at all (not surprisingly given Dommie is the most chilled person in the world) so it was up to our small people to properly put the brat in Bratislava.

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We spent the rest of the day wandering the city – stopping at the famous Blue Church (Gera speculating that it was an Normal Coloured Church until recently when it realised the boon of tourism) and then purchasing some local wines (and some not so local prosecco) for the evening ahead. For the record, the Slovak cabernet franc blend was one of the loveliest wines we’ve sampled in a while.

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The following day we went to Devin Castle, a well preserved ruin again on the Danube just outside the city. Or, as Addie called it, the ‘Broken Castle’.

It was a glorious spring morning, and we climbed the formidable looking hill to get to the top. Due to some medieval-style amusements along the way, it was a lot easier than anticipated.

The castle was strategically built at the confluence of the rivers Danube and Morava; it dates back to 856 and was most recently occupied in the 17th century when it was blown up during the Napoleonic Wars. Later, the Iron Curtain ran in front of the ruined castle, marked by heavy artillery and fortified with barbed wire and watchtowers. Apparently the name of the castle – Devin – means watchtower or observation, closing a kind of ironic circle around its history. On the sunny morning when we visited, the remaining shell of the watchtower felt peaceful, giving little indication of the Broken Castle’s tumultuous past.

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Our walking over for the morning, we enjoyed a picnic lunch at the base of the castle (which sounds lovely since I’m not pointing out it was also right in front of the car park). We then bundled our exhausted little adventurers into the car to move onwards, deeper down the Danube.