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.

Spanish Sojourn-320Spanish Sojourn-330Spanish Sojourn-336Spanish Sojourn-358

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.

Lyon with JGJ-316

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.

Carbon Copy

There are many positives and negatives associated with social media but in terms of helping the less memory-savvy of us recall our past activities, it certainly has merit. It was only due to a friendly Facebook reminder last Friday morning that Tim realised five years ago to the day, on a business trip to Switzerland, he had made precisely the same getaway on which we were about to embark. The primary difference between the two trips – other than the ankle biters and trouble-and-strife coming with him, of course – was that the first one allowed him to witness (via dodgy internet in a shady hotel room at an unsocial hour) his beloved Sydney Swans triumphantly winning the grand final, whereas this weekend…well, not so much.

We’d done the trip to Colmar in the Alsace region of France before the boy had arrived, but we’d always felt that there was plenty more to explore (cough wines to drink). So when some friends from home – an ex-colleague of mine and her lovely family – were making a pit stop there on their holiday, we shamelessly crashed their party. As did the Autumn leaves, which were popping up everywhere we turned.

After a catch up dinner when we arrived late Friday night (Adelaide speaking in hushed tones about being allowed to stay up late, see the moon and eat some ice cream at a restaurant) we decided to explore the small town on a mini tourismo train the following morning. There was a pre-programmed audio tour available in multiple languages, however all I learned was that two year olds prefer the iPad to local history, nine month old daddy doppelgängers think the headphone jack is a toy purely for their oral amusement, fruit pouches make lovely leg accessories when inexpertly squeezed by both children, and Colmar sure is a real purdy ol’ town.

We reunited with the Family Grozdanovski for that staple of travelling with kids: park time. Slippery dips for our monkey, a football slash basketball hybrid for theirs.

Because Motsy is clearly a creature of habit the next stop on our tried and true agenda was Riquewihr, a walled town about half an hour away. We shuttled our way there through vineyards with burnished leaves, anticipating the Alsatian bounty awaiting us.

We did not, however, anticipate our companion at lunch: angry Nicole Kidman.Colmar -098We enjoyed a delicious feast (complete with kidneys bravely ordered and consumed by Liam) and caught up on gossip, travel tales and the pressing issue of Nicole’s anger, and whether her companion was in fact a semi-Dame-Edna-ed Barry Humphries.

The short drive back to Colmar was made even more spectacular by the incoming storm (although possibly not so much for those waiting back in Riquewihr who were caught in the rain), the light bouncing off nearby hills and villages in manner spectacular.

Ever the photography enthusiast, Tim paused for numerous ‘ain’t this pretty’ breaks on the way home, forcing Bailey to get in on the snappy action (Tim’s enthusiasm rarely takes any prisoners). Bailey caught both the leaves and our little bear perfectly.

Despite this being Tim’s third iteration of this particular itinerary, we left Colmar the following day (detouring past the toy museum to indulge our girl’s love of baby dolls and her mama’s unexpected love of train sets) fully anticipating that we’ll return, despite all the other lovely places to visit. It’s sweet, close, super tasty – and besides, we’ve been left with so many unanswered questions. Why is Our Nic so angry? Who is her Barry Humphries-esque companion? How did she even wind up in the Alsace? Such mysteries can only be solved with Colmar dedication (and Crémant).

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.

 

Just across the border

Following the debaucheries of Fasnacht, Tim’s dad had scheduled a week in Berlin, staying with Tim’s sister and her partner. We met Dom and Roh in the German village of Rhinaeu to hand over the paternal cargo. We stayed in an Escher-esque German farmhouse, with odd lofts and wings, two lovely wood fireplaces, and a view of a creek with a population of (we hope) water voles (as opposed to the possibility of their less attractive cousin, water rats). After a night of catching up and sampling yet again delicious Alsatian wines, we made our way to the French town of Strasbourg, just across the border. Our early business of the day included glasses-shopping: our little girl has to wear goggles like her mother, and French specs are significantly cheaper than their Swiss counterparts. Fortunately, Peppa Pig wants to wear glasses so our little miss is down with the idea (I am coming around. I will admit there have been tears on several occasions – mine, not hers – but the cute red frames we picked together have gone a way to perking me back up). We also sourced some excellent coffee – much needed after a rocky-ish night with the youngest Purler – and hit the centre of town for some Gothic cathedral viewing.

And some sleeping in her uncle’s digs (the Palais Rohan, home of a group of cardinals, stood majestically across from the cathedral).

The largest town in the Alsace region (and the ninth largest in France), Strasbourg architecture was very similar to that of Colmar, although being a much bigger city it also had a broader range of styles. The cathedral above was an obvious difference, but many almost Parisian style balconied buildings also lined the squares. Being a border town, Strasbourg was also impacted early on in the second world war, its 80,000 inhabitants evacuated and several buildings destroyed by bombs.

After a decent amount of wandering we made our way to indulge in the local specialties of Crémant d’Alsace (the sparkling wine of the region) and ‘pie baked in the flames’ – tarte flambée or flammkuchen, depending on which side of the border you’re standing on.

The rest of the weekend was spent grocery shopping in an overwhelmingly and depressingly large French store (and subsequently skipping back across to Switzerland with our goods), feasting in our weird farmhouse and enjoying our final time with Mike for a while.

Reality has hit this week with Hotel starting a run of travel for work, meaning I’m the lone sailor on the ship at home (because let’s face it, my two wee deckhands are not good for much other than cake eating, giggling and wearing cute onesies). Amongst other boring household and administrative tasks, we’ve finally managed to secure the youngest Purler’s citizenship and – as of today – a passport, so happily in future it will only be groceries smuggled across the border.

 

…et la deuxième partie

In part, our trip to Paris was to celebrate my birthday. It’s the last year before I have to be in denial about being forty, and we saw it in well: a luxurious lunch at the (surprisingly child tolerant) local and an epic cake that delighted Addie and bored Teddles.

In the height of decadence, my wonderful mother in law looked after the kids while Tim and I hit the town for dinner. By ‘hit the town’ I mean we raced out, guzzled wine and a bistro dinner, and legged it back home as the clock ticked over to double figures (and my boy started screaming). But the delicious wine came in a ginormous wine-glass shaped decanter, and the boeuf was the size of my head, and it was totally worth the sleepless night.

Our holiday rationale (not that one needs an excuse to go to Paris), other than my birthday, was to get out and travelling again as soon as possible as a family of four. We’d taken Addie on her first trip at six weeks (to a 90th birthday bash in Melbourne. We know how to party, people) and conquering my ‘travelling with a newborn’ fears stood us in good stead for future adventures. We wanted to do the same with the lad, especially as Gra was with us to pick up any disastrous slack. I’m not quite prepared to call it a roaring success, but it forced us to leave our comfort zone and we know a bit better how to coordinate ourselves in future. The week certainly had its challenges, and in some ways I feel we slightly short changed Paris as we weren’t able to experience quite as much as we’d have been able to,say, sans kids. I’ve never thought they’d be to my taste, but I now understand why people with littles choose package sun holidays.

paris-792However! It felt terribly indulgent to be there, and we explored as much as we could (I am fairly sure we covered every single playground in a 5k radius). And as we succumbed to the sweet lure of technology on the train ride home, we all agreed that it was a wonderful trip (although perhaps not quite so much for our waistlines. It’s officially Diet Town in our house).

Gra departed yesterday afternoon; she’ll be sorely missed by us all. In a minor miracle both the children are asleep at once (well, they’re quiet at any rate, and I don’t want to be advised differently) and it feels we’ve turned a small corner away from crazy newborn land. We couldn’t have done it without her gentle helping hands (especially when they passed my delicious nourishing wine) and our little family feels much fuller, more balanced for the experience.

Paris, partie un…

I’m not going to lie: travelling with both a five week and a two year old ain’t the most fun I’ve ever had. Admittedly it’s not the absolute worst, but as Tim’s mum has said on numerous occasions, my holiday standards need to be temporarily lowered (I could, of course, be making jokes about travelling with said bambinos and my mother-in-law, but in fairness she’s been the holiday hero and is quite right about standard adjustments).

We’re in Paris for a week. We caught a train from Luzern last Thursday – it’s only a four hour trip, and we figured there would be plenty of capacity for the kids to wriggle around if needed. Also, due to the bureaucratic complications of both our home and adopted countries, Teddles is currently a Man of No State meaning the passport controls of airports needed to be, um, dodged. We’re staying in an apartment near the Place de la République, an area which we’re getting to know quite well given the boy is on three hourly feeds and the French do not support out-of-the-home breast feeding. Again: standard adjustments.

Happily, we have some fine literature on Paris which is keeping us informed (although is apparently a little dull for some of the crew). It’s also helped our wee mademoiselle identify the ‘wow, fantastic’ Eiffel Tower.

If the truth be told, I don’t actually mind having an excuse to keep it local. We’ve found a delicious bistro around the corner that we’re tag-teaming visiting for dinner, a lovely coffee shop to provide necessary support for our late nights, and of course all the street pounding our hearts (and cranky unsettled children) desire.

We were joined for the weekend by Aunty Dom and Uncle Roh, who as always brought the fun times (and entertained our kids, which is always greatly appreciated. NEVER LEAVE EUROPE YOU GUYS).

We decided fairly early on that waiting in line for hours for The Art (which wouldn’t be particularly appreciated by half of our family) wasn’t for us. Instead we’ve opted to wander the streets – and the Seine – to absorb the city (and to attempt to counteract at least some of the pastries, pomme frites and vin rouge being consumed). Thus far, we’ve spent several days meandering, one on a river tour, and made daily trips to assorted parks to appease the resident toddler.

And of course, in Paris, that’s pretty much enough.

(Other than the food. Did I mention that?)