The silly season

For many years (ie pre baby) I considered the silly season to start with the Melbourne Cup in early November and finish with my birthday in early February. It included end of work drinks, Christmas, Happy New Beers, many summer barbeques and the odd weekend away and admittedly a significant number of before midday champagnes. My change in life circumstances has curtailed this extravaganza somewhat, however there’s still a silly season to be had. This year, it started officially for me with the lass’s first birthday, days before Christmas. We were still in Dijon, where two little cousins weren’t quite sure what was going on but knew something was up.

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Something delicious. It was the second time in her life she’d tried cake – the first was at Fletcher’s first birthday – and although she made a valiant effort she preferred the strawberries. I’m not entirely sure whose daughter she actually is.

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We returned to Switzerland in time to prepare for our first Swissmass. The views from our apartment helped get us in the festive spirit.

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Our little miss watched as the house filled up – her second Christmas she was spoiled by having two of her aunts to stay with her and give her all the cuddles.

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Traditionally in this neck of the woods Christmas is celebrated primarily on Christmas Eve, which is when the Christkind comes. The tree is assembled that night (often with real candles) and the family celebrates together and exchanges gifts. I wasn’t sure how that worked logistically, but apparently the parents go into a room with the tree and set it up and get the gifts ready while the unusually well behaved children wait patiently outside the room (I guess they’ve been scared senseless by Schmutzli a few weeks prior, so that may help). Once the ‘Christkind’ has done his job, a small bell is rung. The kids then line up in order of age and go into the room where they sing carols and are given their gifts.

We were too busy auditioning for Embarrassing Family Photos to carol and ring bells.

We had a house full of family and friends and as such the Christkind came and went, largely unobserved. Instead, we decided to stroll around Luzern and check out the Christmas lights.

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There was a distinct lack of Glühwein as everyone was at home ringing bells and carolling, so we too adjourned for our Swissmas Eve dinner – fondue bourguignon. This was a traditional cheese fondue (garlic clove rubbed around the pot, and a mix of local cheese melted with kirsch and swiss wine) with bread, potatoes, pickles and beef for dipping. I’d never made it before, but how can one ever go wrong with an epic bowl of melted cheese?

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One can’t, is the answer.

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There was much merriment (and a late night viewing of a classic Christmas film, Home Alone).

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The following morning the white Christmas we’d hoped for hadn’t quite arrived so we improvised with the girl’s present. Much of the day was spent indoor tobogganing (kids) and sipping bubbles (adults).

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We had my sister and her family, Tim’s sister and her partner and some friends from Australia (one of whom lives in Berlin and the other who was here on hols) spend the day with us, leisurely eating and drinking, chatting and laughing. Instead of a lonely first Christmas away from Australia, we had a happy bustling home, tiding well for our new life here.

As the light dwindled and our first Swissmass drew to a close, there was evidence of more than one of us with festive hangovers.

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Only one day

We had four days in France, and although camped in Dijon we deliberated long and hard whether we should take a day trip to Paris. On one hand it seemed foolish – two small children and several hours on the train (although to be fair, a very fast train), for only one day in a city in which one could spend years and still not be satiated. But Paris won, as I suspect Paris always does.

We left Dijon while it was still dark and foggy, babies strapped to their fathers’ backs. We had ten hours in the city. Tim and I had been there previously, separately and obviously sans children many years ago. It was a first for Jen, Gregg, Fletch and Laidey and as such we agreed on an itinerary that will shock nobody: Paris Highlights 101.

Dijon 0460 - 20151220Dijon 0459 - 20151220Dijon 0456 - 20151220Dijon 0480 - 20151220We hit the tower first thing. The sun had risen and the fog cleared during our journey and we popped out of the Metro and gasped. Despite having seen it previously, neither Tim nor I had ascended, so this was the time.

It was a stunning morning and we had excellent views of the beautiful city.

I did my best, but that open wire cage miles above the safe haven of the ground was not really for me. Happily there was a nice, safe, sturdy steel wall against which I could press myself.

Dijon 0465 - 20151220You’ll forgive us, but there are a certain number of obligatory Eiffel Tower snaps that need to be taken.

After the tower, we walked. Through Christmas markets (pausing only for nutella and salted caramel crepes), via playgrounds (for the little ones) and up sun splattered Parisian streets.

Dijon 0496 - 20151220A short Metro ride and we emerged at Notre Dame where we stopped for lunch, the cousins nailing French dining. Dijon 0505 - 20151220The cathedral was imposing (and had a massive queue, in which we chose not to stand). Dijon 0512 - 20151220Dijon 0514 - 20151220Dijon 0513 - 20151220Dijon 0515 - 20151220Our foot falcons then took us along the Seine to the Louvre and through the Jardin des Tuileries.Dijon 0525 - 20151220I had it in my head that The Thinker was located here, but once we arrived and were unable to find him, the googles told us he was located around the corner from where we were about three hours previously. Instead, we were stuck with this guy who enacted my sentiments perfectly. Dijon 0522 - 20151220Dijon 0529 - 20151220Dijon 0533 - 20151220We walked and walked and walked some more. Naturally, not without sugary fuel. Dijon 0508 - 20151220We walked down heaving avenues, through unexpected old courtyards, winding mysterious lanes, bustling yet serene parkland. We also, at the end of the day, walked the Champs-Elysées which was indeed a busy street.Dijon 0536 - 20151220As the afternoon faded, we arrived at the Arc de Triomph. Dijon 0541 - 20151220We talked of Le Tour, of crazy roundabout regulations, of overwhelming architecture, and of people’s expressions in the face of tragedy.Dijon 0554 - 20151220Dijon 0553 - 20151220Dijon 0549 - 20151220Dijon 0552 - 20151220One day barely even scratched the surface of this magnificent city (although we definitely gave pastry eating our best shot). As we pulled back into Dijon station, once again draped in darkness and fog, we were a weary gang but nonetheless thoroughly captivated by Paris and all vowing to return (when the kids are 18 and we can let our hair down properly).

Dukes of Dijon

We booked a trip to Dijon before I realised it was our girl’s birthday (and subsequently felt like the worst mother ever) (or the best, because France for a first birthday party). We hit the road on Thursday after an epic game of car tetris trying to fit all our luggage and two chubby kids in the rent-a-van. We stopped en route at Mulhouse, just over the border, for a stretch of tiny legs.

We arrived in Dijon later than anticipated due to the car mishaps and one rather cranky birthday girl. Our apartment was situated opposite Park Darcy, the main public park in the city. Our first night in town – and indeed all nights since – we sat at the table, ate cheese (a local specialty is a soft cheese washed, daily, for a month in white wine. It was heaven) and drank wine while contemplating our activities for the following day. As luck would have it, the following day included this:Dijon 0219 - 20151218There’s a self-guided tour one can do called the Owl Trail. It started the other side of the park and covered three kilometres and all the major sites of the city…which apparently included the Bundy Bear. Dijon 0187 - 20151218Back in the day, Dijon was a tremendously wealthy city (not to say it’s poor now, but it used to be a contender for the throne). The Dukes of Burgundy reigned from there – in fact, from the palace and tower you see below. ‘Liberty Equality and Fraternity’ used to be ‘Liberty Equality and Fraternity – OR DEATH’ (caps mine, obvs, but the words were theirs). I guess in the spirit of liberty they dropped the death lark. Dijon 0227 - 20151218

Dijon 0223 - 20151218The trail took us past church after church after church. We were later advised that Dijon – due to its wealth – had thousands of churches prior to the revolution. Now, over 300 still kick on. Dijon 0210 - 20151218We also passed the owl for which the tour is named. You rub it with your left hand (left being closest to your heart) and make a wish. Ours were for pastries and quiet children, both of which I am pleased to report came true.Dijon 0214 - 20151218

Dijon 0230 - 20151218Naturally the tour would be no tour at all if we didn’t peruse local fromageries.Dijon 0243 - 20151218

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Dijon 0240 - 20151218Festive fromageries.Dijon 0242 - 20151218Later that night, after a repeat of said platter, we took the wee ones into town to see the Christmas light show. There were the standard Christmas lights, but also a light show that played out against the side of the palace. It blew the kids’ minds, and our girl giggled pretty much the entire time.

 

A bit of a fail

After dinner and drinks out on the town, Hotel and I had dreams of a lovely relaxed Lyon morning. A little lie in (nothing too ambitious – say, seven?), coffee, french pastries and cuddles with our sweet girl. The same sweet girl who woke up in the threes and ruined all our plans (to be fair, daylight savings kicked in and so as far as her body was concerned, it was in the fours, but that’s still completely ludicrous). After trying our best to reclaim precious zzzs, we reverted to Plan B (which stands for bloody hell, are you kidding me?) and made our way to catch the sunrise over the Roman amphitheatre. Except when we arrived at some ungodly dark hour of course it was closed, the attendants probably luxuriating in their warm beds with their coffee on standby and pastries at the ready, sniggering at us in their dreams. Plan C (you can use your imagination): we made our way to Saint Jean-Baptiste Cathedral, and typically she fell asleep just as the sun came up.

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Not quite ready to give up on the pastry dream, we made our way back into town to find the Sunday markets. They were delicious. There is a law in France that prohibits taking photos of people without their permission, hence Tim’s odd law-skirting camera angle. Rest assured, we’ve not included any dirty jean shots.

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We had to head to Geneva as Tim had to get his passport renewed (the Kiwis can apparently submit everything electronically and have the passports delivered within days; not so for us. In person, with an appointment, at the embassy, thankyouverymuch). As Geneva was only a few hours away we decided to detour via Beaujolais.

Lyon & Geneva 0148 - 20151025If, when driving through wine territory, we are instructed to get out and drink wine, then fine. We will do so.

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The only problem with that plan was that it was Sunday, and all the things were shut. We had a lovely drive through the autumnal vines, mentally making ‘what we would do better next time’ lists (call first / have a game plan / pack a picnic / remember things shut on Sunday / have a daughter that sleeps past three am). We grabbed baguettes at the only place we could find that was open, and Adelaide promptly ate her grandfather’s.

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We made it to Geneva that afternoon. Tim and I did a brief UN, Botanic Gardens and Lake Geneva circuit before calling it a night (night = wine and whispers in our hotel room, hoping that things would fare better the following morning). (Spoiler: they did not.) However the lake was beautiful and the UN doesn’t support any kind of warfare, let alone that with your child, so we cut our losses and enjoyed the evening.

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Trabouling

After a week of friends visiting from Australia (which means more wines than one should have with an early waking baby), we had plans to meet up with my parents following their travels in Spain and Portugal. We were to liaise in Lyon, and as Tim had a work function Adelaide and I hit the road alone on Friday. We made our way to Lausanne, not too far from the border of Switzerland and France, and stopped for lunch. Adelaide had a wriggle in the gardens and I had a rose and we were both rather pleased with ourselves.

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It’s still novel – and will be for some time, I suspect –  to drive a few hours and cross into another country. Luckily the baby slept, because every time I saw ‘FRANCE’ on signposts I embarrassingly screeched in excitement (quietly though, so as not to disturb her).

World heritage listed, Lyon is the third largest city in France, and is lauded as its gastronomic capital. We didn’t have long in town, so we set out early to check out its sights (and squeeze in as many pastries as our arteries could handle). The old town is nestled between two rivers and looming above it, visible from almost everywhere, is the cathedral.

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Only visible if you can be bothered looking up, that is.

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We strolled around the town in the morning, checking out architecture and finding our bearings (but mostly trying to work up an appetite for lunch).

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And Tim and the girl viewed vinyl at the markets along the Rhone.

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Lyon has the largest number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world, and an uber famous octogenarian chef. It has oodles of delicious markets with astounding ranges of charcuterie, cheese, meats, chocolates, pastries, fruit and vegetables. It also has bouchons, home-style restaurants that used to provide a resting place for horses and give a simple meal, usually based around cheaper ingredients, to weary travellers. Given the choices of food in Lyon, we’d deliberated for some time as to how we’d fill our stomachs and had decided to lunch at one such establishment. A low ceilinged, checkered tableclothed affair, it did not disappoint. We were served a standard menu: salami and pickles, rilettes, lentils and a cabbage salad to start, and a choice of mains. They ranged from the local specialty of quenelle (a pike dumpling in crayfish sauce), andouillette sausages and pork cheek stew, to blood pudding with roast apples, and pigs head. We sampled bravely and were well rewarded (also, there was praline pie afterwards for the win). Our bellies full – for the time being – we embarked on a walking tour.

Lyon & Geneva 0043 - 20151025Lyon’s old town consists mainly of streets parallel to the rivers. In order to carry originally water, and later silk, and still later move army troops quickly between the streets a series of traboules (meaning ‘to cross’) were developed. Secret passages through the city, they are located behind closed doors, and lead you through private courtyards and alleys to the next bustling thoroughfare. In the old town there are over 300 such passages, and unless shown where they where I would have walked on past, foolishly taking the long route. Happily for my lazy legs, we were shown many entrances which led us to common courtyards, usually with the communal well still intact.

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These were joined by passages: some straight and some meandering, some with stairs and some flat, illuminated to guide the way.

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Some of the traboules are signposted, like the one below, but the vast majority of them are private and hidden to the unknowing eye.

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All the talk of hauling water (or more accurately Tim’s work function) tired out some of the tourists.

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Even after being shown many of the entrances to the traboules, it was still a surprise when one popped open in an unassuming place.

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I had hoped that this was the nexus of Lyon’s gastronomy and traboules but sadly I was mistaken. Lyon & Geneva 0092 - 20151025It wasn’t all about hidden passageways, of course – we also relished the imposing views from above.

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Tim and I hit the town that night sans baby (thanks, grandparents!) and marvelled at the difference of the city. By night, the buildings are lit from below and are covered in a golden glow. The city had a buzz to it – while fairly frantic during the day, it mellowed out at night and the hum of well fed and watered patrons murmered through the streets. We drank champagne in a dark, spacious and ornate bar, and despite learning the hard way that we really should make reservations in a gastronomic wonderland, we had a dreamy night out.