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?)

The Alsace

As many have observed before me, the more one sees the world, the more there is to see. As a general rule, we try not to revisit too many places – this continent is amazing and we are becoming gluttons for travel (and travel-related eats, of course) – but we made an exception for Colmar and the Alsace region. To be fair, only 33% (25%, if you count the lad) of us had been there – Tim visited circa 2012 when he traveled this way for work – but he generously agreed to return so we could experience it together. Just under two hours drive away, it was an easy last minute weekend trip with some friends. A few Fridays ago, we all hit the road after work for a weekend of sun and vino.

We stayed in downtown Colmar but headed out on Saturday to visit some of the vineyards surrounding the town. First stop (while the littles slept away, apparently not too keen on indulging their parents’ drinking whims) was the Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle, perched atop a nearby hill. Built in the 12th century, its purpose was to watch over the wheat and wine routes – half of which task we were more than willing to take on. We grabbed a leisurely Alsace style lunch in a nearby town – despite the hot weather Tim yummed up baekhoffe (a lightly spiced stew he declared delicious) and I’d be lying if I pretended the tarte flambée was only for Adelaide.

There’s about 170km of wine trail throughout the Alsace region, spanning 67 villages across the east of France. It obviously produces a wide range of wine, but is particularly noted for its Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir, as well as my fave – the sparkling Crémant d’Alsace. Somewhat overwhelmed with choice, we opted to visit a winery recommended to us rather than try pot luck. While not entirely to my taste, there was absolutely nothing horrid about sitting in a cool, dark wine cellar among old bottles on a summer’s day in France. Actually – not quite true – it was slightly horrid only to be able to have a tiny tease of a taster due to the belly bulge you can see below.

The drive around the region was stunning. Rolling hills, vineyards, distant smudgy mountains? Yes please.

The following day we thought we’d best check out the town we were allegedly visiting. Colmar is a popular destination – it’s very picturesque with colourful wooden houses lining canals which give the town the moniker ‘Little Venice’. We wandered the streets, soaking in the atmosphere.

The sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty – Frederic Bartholdi – hails from Colmar, and there’s a much smaller replica of the lady herself on a roundabout on the way into town (which prompted much giggling from our car). The town houses a museum dedicated to Bartholdi in its centre which showcases some of his other work and gives a history of the statue, located in the house in which he was born.

In order to maximise our weekend away we headed to a walled village a short drive from Colmar for Sunday lunch. Riquewihr is ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ – one of the most beautiful villages in France (based on a fairly tourist-focused application process, I gather) – but it was indeed stunning. Located on a hill flanked by vinyeards, the town centre is closed to traffic and, like Colmar, boasts cheerfully coloured buildings (and, of course, wine aplenty).

Given the Alsace area is so large, and we only visited a small portion of it, I hope we’ll be able to break our ‘no return’ rule on a technicality and make it back there in the future. Because really, with excellent food, wine and gorgeous scenery, what’s not to love? (The ferocious temper tantrum my girl had in the car on the way home is the answer to that question, but I’ll take that to mean she also wants to head back.)

Colmar with Ann, Doru & Seb 0202 - 20160902

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?

Besançon, between showers

There are a bunch of places on our ‘must-get-to-while-we-live-in-The-Europes’ list, including Rome, a hiking holiday in Portugal and hopefully a glimpse of the northern lights. There are also places on our ‘easy-drive-from-Luzern’ list: enter Besançon.

Located on a bend in the Doubs River, and the capital of the Franche-Comté region, Besançon has been kicking around since Roman times. Due to its proximity to the Alps, it held military significance over the years but is most famous today for its watch industry and delicious comté cheese. You might guess which of these two had our focus (hint: we’re still running late for everything).

Still trying to perfect our weekend away game, we opted to leave on Friday night rather than first thing Saturday. We hit the road as Hotel finished work, driving across Switzerland, briefly through Germany and then into France, springtime light lingering despite the rain predicted to continue falling all weekend. We pulled into town quite late (late only by my rigid baby-routine standards, and reasonably early for every other person on the planet) and caught dinner in town, while our girl worked on catching kisses from her father.

IMG_6601Saturday started, happily, with pastries and a break the rain. We seized the opportunity to walk through the Besançon’s old town up to the Citadel, about half an hour’s stroll. The town itself is delightful: winding streets and garden filled squares, wrapped up by a richly flowing river.

And Roman ruins, of course. These Corinthian columns flank an ancient aqueduct, an area that was later used as a Roman theatre (which we mistook for Besançon’s amphitheatre, completely incorrectly as it turns out).

We walked up through the medieval Black Gate…

Besançon 0073 - 20160416…past the astronomical clock of Saint Jean (located inside this cathedral, the clock has over 70 dials which indicate times, tides, sunrise and set, orbits of the planets and much more over the span of 10,000 years. Given my loathing of the regular chiming of bells in Rotkreuz, I am terrified to imagine the havoc such a beast could wreak)…

Besançon 0080 - 20160416…and through the outskirts of town to the  Citadel.

An old fortress perched atop the hill, the Citadel now houses gardens, several museums, an aquarium, an insectarium, and a zoo.

It seemed slightly troubling that out little Australian had her first roo sighting in rural France, but it didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest.

Besançon 0112 - 20160416Like many people I generally find zoos inhumane and depressing, and even though I want to encourage Ads to continue roaring like an adorable little lion when she sees them, such creatures aren’t supposed to be in cement enclosures in cold, rainy France. We didn’t last long, preferring to wander the site and climb the wall to get a view out across the town and river.

Shortly after this, the spring rain started again. Hotel and I were a sorry sight, running back into town with brollies in various stages of explosion, soaking ‘waterproof’ jackets and a rogue plastic covered pram in which our oblivious baby slept happily away.

One of the (many) errors we’ve made on our weekends away is not to have planned meals, preferring instead to chance upon cute eateries or being happy to wait for a table at places we’d like to visit. For some reason we seem to think we are still travelling like it’s 2014 (i.e. pre baby). This time, happily, we researched and booked ahead which made all the difference. This restaurant was reviewed as having excellent food, as long as one could stomach the decor. Knocking back local specialities such as morels and chicken cooked in yellow wine and a local take on quenelles, we barely noticed the stuccoed walls adored with varying sizes of bells.

Sadly our little mademoiselle must have, as she was not at all interested in delicious French dining, insisting that we take it in turns to walk her around the block in the rain, learning how to splash in puddles.

The rain subsequently set in for the weekend, and although we did our best to make the most of our time in town, it was hard to get out and about in a permanent state of dampness. Coupled with the fact that our princess has apparently discovered a pea on the bottom of her travel cot, resulting in two wretched nights of sleep (for us – the little terror owned the bed while we lived in fear of waking her with the slightest of movements) we cut our losses the next morning and headed back to Luzern, happily in time to catch the end of the street food festival happening at the end of our street.