Random Ronchamp

I had a serious case of itchy feet last Friday. It was most likely comprised of the recent exodus of visitors, my general motherhood malaise, and a good old fashioned greediness for pastries. As usual for a Friday morning, the kids and I went to the local playgroup. A few hours later, having confirmed that Tim was on board, found lodgings that were a reasonable distance away and having packed the car in a fashion somewhat haphazard, we were en route to France. We pulled up at a farm stay a few hours away just in time to do some twilight exploring (slash meeting ponies).

Ronchamp was never on our list of must visit places – to be honest, I had no idea it even existed. But one of the great luxuries we have living here is the capacity to visit unscientifically selected places without prioritisation or regrets. It’s a real treat. Especially when, as luck would have it, we chose a place only a few kilometres from this.Ronchamp-341The Notre Dame du Haut is a chapel designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. It’s nestled in the woods on top of a hill, flanked by two buildings – an oratory and a convent – by Renzo Piano. We’re not generally church visitors – either on Sundays as part of our travels –  and we didn’t know what to expect.

We were in awe.

Before World War 2, the site was home to an earlier chapel and was a place of great pilgrimage for Catholics. After the original church was destroyed by bombs, Le Corbusier was commissioned to build a new place of worship. An unorthodox choice of architect, Le Corbusier was known for his passion for standardised living and had pioneered several utilitarian-style buildings, believing that all people deserved to embrace a new affordable, comfortable standard of living. The church wished to deviate from its traditional model and embrace the future through modern art and architecture. Le Corbusier similarly departed from his general principles and created this beautiful structure which was in response to the location rather than housing principles. He used primarily concrete – his work is characterised by the use of cheap and practical materials – as well as stone from the original fallen church.

It is considered to be one of the first post-modern buildings, and one of the finest religious monuments. Our two year old also considered it an excellent venue for hide and seek.

Le Corbusier designed the chapel to be invisible until the summit of the hill is reached, mimicking in some aspects the Acropolis. Once at the top, the landscape opens up and views as far as the distant Jura mountains can be spied.

There was also a chance for us all to practice our climbing, with an Indiana Jones-esque mini-pyramid conveniently positioned for toddlers and crawlers alike.

The chapel is still functional, and at any given time worshipers can be found within the hushed walls. Said walls – filled with rubble from the bomb site in a symbol of renewal and continuity – were smattered with jewel-like stained glass windows. It was serene and atmospheric.

There were two separate altar chambers, with the roof opened up to the sky. The light seemed to glow in each of the unexpected pods.

In a minor miracle, both children tolerated our architecture-gazing admirably. They were rewarded with the antithesis of the Notre Dame du Haut: a visit to a monstrosity of a playground, notable only for its carnie atmosphere and alarming abundance of bouncing castles. I shall not sully the beauty above by posting any photos.

The chapel was certainly the highlight of our weekend and the most notable part of Ronchamp which, although a lovely spot, was otherwise very small and nondescript. I was going to say quiet, but the little (deceptively grinning) terror you see below proved me wrong on that front, with almost hourly wake ups on our second night away.  Perhaps little Teddles, much like his architect Grumps and interested-in-everything father, is a budding building enthusiast too.

 

Sure can

Tim, who runs at a much higher base body temperature than I do, doesn’t agree with me but there has been a cool change here over the last week. Given the fragility of Swiss summers (and apparently my pessimism), I am convinced it’s all over and am eyeing up new snowsuits for the kids. Although likely premature, we’ve definitely been hit with a wet wave and as such opted to evacuate Luzern last weekend, following the slightly less grey skies to the French neck of the Swiss woods.

We’re still learning lots of lessons about travel and parenting, but one that we finally seem to have grasped is to have an activity planned; gone, for now at least, is the pleasant aimless wander* of our pre-kidlet days. With this in mind we made our way to Papiliorama in nearby Kerzers – a ‘habitat for Swiss and exotic butterflies’ (honestly, they all look fairly exotic to me).

Years ago, I did a multi-day hike in the Northern Territory which passed by a natural amphitheatre which was a breeding ground for butterflies. My hiking companion, having a bit of an issue with moths, was not terribly keen on said amphitheatre but did her best to man up and check it out. Sorry to say it, J-No, but my punt is Papiliorama – with its domes filled with butterflies in their thousands – would probably not be up your alley either.

One of the things I particularly enjoy about the company of our two year old (spoiler: it’s not the attitude) is her curiosity about the world around her and the challenge that sets us in explaining anything and everything, frequently things I’ve not thought about in years. I’ve nailed shadows, and thunder and lightening has been regularly covered given the current climate. Our trip to the butterfly park afforded Tim and I an excellent opportunity to argue over the meaning of chrysalis versus cocoon (depressingly, I was wrong, which makes me wonder if she’s growing up with an incorrect understanding of other matters. Shadows are our evil twins from another dimension, no?).

Addie had hoped to see a ‘huge orange butterfly’. It turns out, like her aunt, she is not terribly enamoured with insects flying near her noggin, but luckily for everyone the tropical environment allowed for her favourite pastime.Papilion-270As well as butterfly enclosures, the park had a nocturnal dome featuring rats the size of possums, a small bat colony and nocturnal butterflies. Writing that down makes it sound horrific (nocturnal butterflies are totally Stephen King-esque, no?), and unsurprisingly is not how the park is marketed. There was also a rainforest dome, with a bunch of exotic birds including the happy chappy below. Our little miss has being saying ‘sure can, toucan’ ever since meeting him (she was also convinced that, like her, he had used textas to colour himself in).

The second parenting / travel lesson we’re slowly getting our thick heads around is: bring a picnic. All the foods taste better outdoors, and if you can find a park in a vineyard-lined  town overlooking hills and rivers, everyone is happy (also, bring mini toblerones aka mountain chocolate. They help with all manner of bribes).

We drove through Neuchâtel on the way home, but since we were not blessed with children who love driving decided not to prolong the torture trip and head home. The lovely town catapulted to the top of our list of places-to-which-to-return. Sadly I cannot say the same for Nocturnal Dome of Horror.

* let’s face it, ‘aimless wander’ frequently meant pub crawl.

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.

 

The Moody Schwarzwald

In a much anticipated visit – not least by Addie, who despite not knowing the meaning of the word banged on about ‘my cousins’ for days prior to their arrival – Tim’s sister, her husband and their two adorable boys arrived in Luzern (after many a transit mishap, including an impromptu visit to Bern) a couple of weeks ago. The Moody family were treated to our usual ‘Willkommen in der Schweiz’ schtick: raclette, chocolate, my (mostly plagiarised and yet still disturbingly sketchy) tour of the town. We grilled cervelat on Mount Pilatus, visited Adelaide’s beloved marble rollercoaster at a nearby glass factory, swam in the lake, and celebrated our nephews’ belated birthdays in little boy heaven: the Museum of Transport. We also shamelessly attempted to force an interest in Switzerland through chocolate-rewarded games, and as a result many tourismo-tastic times were had (which basically means I ate heaps of chocolate too. Only to support the children, of course). Little Theodore has now met half of his Aunties, and was accordingly delighted.

Moody's Black Forest-004Unfortunately, since not all of us can HausFrau, Tim was travelling for work during the bulk of their Swiss visit. To make amends we booked a long weekend in the Black Forest to let the cousins run wild and the siblings catch up over brews aplenty. We stayed in an alleged farm stay which turned out to be a guest house sporting some velveteen rabbits (i.e. stuffed toys), a motley crew of guinea pigs and a lone immobile goat.

Tim was delighted to see some deers grazing through the window on our first night but was sadly disappointed come the harsh light of day.Moody's Black Forest-272We had naively assumed that travelling with four children would somehow be easier – shared adulting, perhaps some lovely cousin play time and plenty of sunny relaxation. While it was a wonderful getaway, I would not recommend holidaying with two two year olds if you have a choice in the matter. Women scorned be damned; hell hath no fury like two toddlers refused whatever it is they obscurely want. Addie and Arlo were at times adorable but primarily the three months between them was like a red flag to the crankiest of bulls. Of course, Arlo committed the most dreadful of sins. My little tattle tale would run to me routinely and say in indignant tones ‘Mummy, Arlo talked to me’.

Moody's Black Forest-245

In an effort to burn off their steam (and some of the torte for which the region is famous), we took advantage of the forest’s many little trails and embarked on a few nature walks (thanks, Peppa Pig and family for making these acceptable). Our little adventure crew tackled a path built in the wake of an earthquake fifteen years previously, showing the natural regrowth of the area as well as sweeping views of the forest.

I’m always interested in the link between the environment of a place and its narrative; the Black Forest easily lent itself to the images conjured by the Brothers Grimm with wicked witches lurking, lost children and tricks aplenty. We discussed this as we employed some of Hansel and Gretel’s wood-trecking tactics, except breadcrumbs were replaced by Gummy Bears and frankly we were bribing our brats to keep moving.

And between you and me, if there actually was a candy house on the horizon, there were times that weekend I’d have encouraged my terror to run into it.

Still, our little explorers enjoyed their cousin time, scavenging for treasures and, of course, the chocolates.

And we enjoyed the long overdue catch up with Team Moody in the spectacular Schwarzwald, where nobody can hear two year olds screaming.

Done

For the last – I don’t know, decade? – I have kept seasonal to-do lists (amongst the plethora of other to-do lists I maintain, primarily to avoid actually to-doing, a lot of the time). They are usually fairly seasonally predictable. Stews and shiraz in winter, a cold weather hike perhaps, always more reading, preferably in snuggly surroundings. Autumn usually includes some sort of produce picking (apples, maybe, or pumpkins) and spring is picnics, picnics, picnics. Summer’s easy: more swimming in lakes, please, maybe some camping, and all the stone fruit possible (perhaps even incorporated into some sort of tasty beverage if creativity allows). Since the days here have – finally, happily – hit the thirties, I in turn hit last year’s summer list, and found a little non-actioned gem waiting for us: Jucker Farm.

Jucker Farm-339Just under a (very screamy) hour away (why do we keep having children who hate the car?), the working farm is fully prepped for summer thrill seekers such as ourselves. Animals? Tick. Produce aplenty? Tick. Coffee and delicious eats for tired parents and cranky kids? Tick and tick. Rusty tetanus threatening tractors for two years olds? You betcha!

It’s asparagus season here – the Swiss are mad for it, apparently (according once again to our source of all knowledge Swiss – our German teacher) – and not only did we find loads of fresh farm-grown spears but also an astounding array of asparagus-related condiments. I was not aware that asparagus salt was a thing until earlier this afternoon.

Either way, some of the crankiness got left behind as we explored…Jucker Farm-323…met some new (scary) friends…Jucker Farm-688

…and found not one, but three apple orchard mazes. Each, as the saying goes, more difficult than the last. The first had us doubling back a fair bit, during which time we discovered a scarecrow and a giant golden apple in the centre of the maze.

The second was circular, and as such had us a little confused (and my little miss tempted to cheat). The centre of this maze had golden sticks of cinnamon dangling from a tree.

The final and largest maze, which was over a kilometre long, we attacked with a game plan: a picture of the map prior to starting and a path worked out (which may not have been in the spirit of things, but certainly helped move the maze show along). This one revealed a novelty sized golden spoon as its centrepiece.

I can only assume that giant gold apple plus giant cinnamon sticks plus giant spoon equals giant apple pie feast.  No wonder Tim looks so excited at having solved it.

Despite our best intentions – and a delicious looking specimen right next door – we didn’t quite manage to tick ‘swim in lake’ off our list quite yet. However, for this summer at least, Jucker Farm can be marked as done (although I may have to return once we run out of said salt).

It’s flying by

I have spent the last week with the very best type of visitor: an old and dear friend (apologies to my parents who are due to arrive next week, but you know how it is). It’s been a week of walking, gossip and wine (not necessarily in that order. Actually, definitely not in that order). I’ve known Mel longer than I haven’t, which is generally my favourite description of my favourite people. I met her the first day of high school, and although she moved to Sydney we stayed in touch, fortunately going through similar phases (bad 90s grunge, anyone?) at the same time. We both lived in Ireland together and enjoyed our ‘fake lives’, the details of which can never be divulged (mainly due to fake life alcohol consumption and subsequent memory haze). On my return to Sydney we lived together in a few different houses, one which received the dubious compliment ‘this looks like a dude’s place’ (due no doubt to our stubby holder collection and gentleman calendar aka porn wall). It was through her that I met ‘Dr T’ as she called him, and in those first bleary months of having a new baby she’d swing by our house – happily around the corner from hers – to have a cheeky Friday night beverage, making me feel I’d maintained a footing, however precarious, in the Real World. Having her in our neck of the woods has been an absolute treat. It’s also been – for both of us, in our different ways – a chance to reflect on the [insert embarrassingly high number of] years that we’ve known each other, as well as the here and now.

My boy turned three months a few weeks ago. He’s one quarter, which is not really much of an age to be. He seems to be making the most of it though, with sodden smiles and under-the-chin giggles and unbelievably vile gas, which I assume is what having a son is all about for the next twenty years or so. Three months with my girl seemed an age. I’d just accepted a voluntary redundancy and signed off on a not especially illustrious public service career, and we were in the process of making the decision to move over here. Despite all the large scale change that was going on, I was stuck in a weird baby time warp. This time, it’s flying by.

The girl is finally talking fluently(ish) and it has been both a joy and a bewilderment to finally get some insight into what’s going on in that wee noggin of hers. She lives for slippery dips and cake (all flavours, but caramel slice cake – a mythical yet delicious sounding delicacy – is apparently her favourite) (I’m not so interested in the carrot stew cake, thanks all the same Ads). She is obsessed with the mild earthquake she completely slept through the other night, recounting where I was, the fact that her father saw his water ripple Jurassic-park style, and that she and Teddy were tucked up ‘niiiiiiice and tight’. She’s terribly bossy to her dolls, telling them she’s ‘too old’ to do certain tasks, and that ‘there are rules’ about others, clearly mimicking…um…some other unidentified bossy person. She continues to be a stellar older sister, joining in the clapping when the lad rolled for the first time, enthusiastically offering him toys, (unsuccessfully) soothing him and proudly saying ‘Addie and Teddy are best friends’ (which is equal parts adorable and loser-y). She thinks his full name is Teddy Bear and got two-year-old cranky – which is to say all hell broke loose – when I advised her otherwise.

These vignettes of daily life – my here and now – are simple and sweet (and at times horrendously dull, but the idea of caramel slice cake generally keeps me going). What’s harder is the reflection on the passage of time since we were those twelve? thirteen? year old selves, and maybe more pertinently those years in our twenties when everything was heady and full of promise (and, erm, beer). Mel and I spent a glorious spring day sans kids in a mineral spa on a nearby Alp – which I can assure you was every bit as heavenly as it sounds – mulling over all the things. A lot of it was reflective of where we’re both at respectively now, and where we’d like to be heading, but the easy nourishing nature of that conversation was only possible due to our patchwork of shared history. We know each others’ people, backstories, interests and (most fun of all) dislikes; we have also shared conversations like this more often than I could possibly recall, each one a building block. There’s a familiarity, a security, to this that allows for all manner of exploration and it is without question the thing I miss most about living away from her and my other ‘longer than I haven’t’ people.

There was nothing revolutionary discussed; in fact, a variation of the exact conversation was probably held in 1996. Still, days later – even with my return to the doldrums of screeching children, daily chores and no Mel – I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. Such is the power of a (horrifyingly close to thirty year strong) friendship, which seems to have flown just as quickly as the life of the wee lad of mine.