Summer: done

We moved fairly quickly after Seville, having only one night in four different towns as we – perhaps foolishly – started moving north for the winter. The towns were chosen based on convenience for our trip (we didn’t want to drive too far each day but we also didn’t want to stay in places that we either too large to discover or too small to feel busy), and as such we embarked on something of a holiday lucky dip.

Happily for us, the first of the last stops was a surprising stunner: Salamanca.

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A university town, Salamanca is a town built in – and at times it looks like carved from – sandstone. We spied it in the distance long before we arrived; a town barely discernible from the lightly coloured rocky terrain (erm, that sandstone?!) around it other than its ornate peaks rising into the sky. As we approached, the city’s walls were visible: ancient Roman fortifications that, along with the river, have been turned into an enormous green space for the town. We made our way to the car-free old town where we wandered the streets and climbed the bell tower and soaked in the wonderful atmosphere.

As the kids were exhausted from a long day, we took them for their daily holiday ice cream in the magnificent town square (yup, we’ve become those parents) and then tucked them into bed. I stayed and held the fort while Tim hit the town and did what he does best: drink whiskey (actually, take photos. But you’d best believe he stopped for a treat for himself along the way).

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The next stop en route home: Pamplona. Another city chosen for convenience, we were again pleasantly surprised (but not wowed like Salamanca). We stayed in an attic apartment at the top of the old town, and our very helpful host directed us to local treats: the chocolate pastries from the bakery next door, a bar built into the city walls with stunning views across the nearby sprawling hills, and a pinchos bar where we ate tiny Spanish snacks to finish off the night. We were about a month later than the town’s famous bull-running, but it was easy to imagine the mayhem that would occur through the streets.

Our own running continued. Toulouse, known as the pink city due to the terracotta used to build the old town, was our next stop. The adults enjoyed a wonderful dinner and would have liked to spend more time checking the town out, but the allure of the swimming pool in our hotel was too much for the smaller people. Our final stay was in Valance – the French Valencia – which felt like it rounded out the trip nicely.

As we drove northwards it felt we were leaving the summer behind us. Temperatures began dropping, and by the time we hit Toulouse the leaves on the trees lining the pink canals had started to turn. Our final day’s drive – from Valence back to Luzern – was filled with gloomy skies and rain: autumn had arrived while we had been gone.

The last week since we’ve been home has been one of small adjustments and tweaks. Addie has started the new school year with an increase in her activities: four days of kita and playgroup, including her favourite weekly forest visit. Swimming season is definitely over although we managed an optimistic chilly dip a few days ago, conscious the entire time that it was likely our last until next year. Luscious summer fruit is long eaten and the apples and pears have arrived in force, as have the pumpkins (much to our girl’s delight. She ate four – FOUR! – bowls of Golden Soup the other night and promptly asked for it the next morning for breakfast). The mornings are grey and chilly and the afternoons have the rich glow of a tired sun. I love Autumn, and I love the indulgent melancholy of seasonal change (and I, like my daughter, love pumpkin soup) but somehow it seems hard to embrace it. We had a magnificent summer – my favourite yet – and I guess I’m not quite ready to let it go. Then again, the lake was bloody freezing, so maybe I’ll just make a hot chocolate and be done with summer after all.


At the risk of being sombre, I have probably already used at least half my allotted summers. A bunch of them are long forgotten. Some of them linger as sensory memories only, revisited briefly through the scent of, say, coconut oil or steamed corn on the cob. Some were most definitely squandered (I’m looking at you, wasted university summers). A few unfortunate years I missed them altogether: moving continents and foolishly –  unintentionally – following winter. The summers since the arrival of my children have been different again. Ads was born in the peak of an Australian summer and my memories are primarily of bunkering down in our darkened terrace, hiding from the sun and hoping for sleep. The last two, spent here in Switzerland, were fleeting both in terms of weather and enjoyment. I was pregnant for the first and had a six month old skwarker for the second, so my attention was focused primarily on morning sickness and baby naps and basically keeping everyone alive.

These unfortunate summers past all feel like a rehearsal for this year. This year – unexpectedly and delightfully – the summer has been amazing. Weather wise (which isn’t everything but it certainly helps) we’ve had bonza days since May. We had a solid influx of visitors over May and June, resulting in lots of lovely lake time and the start of a holiday vibe. But most importantly, I find myself reaping the full benefits of being a hausfrau: the kids are old enough to enjoy summer actives (swimming! camping! grilling!), I’m not ruled by Nap Schedules as restrictively, and we can spend as much time as we like by the water. Tim and I have finally copped on that only one parent needs to be at home of an evening, resulting in a tag team effort of evening lake swims. For the first time in maybe forever, I feel like I’m making the most of the season.

Here, the height of summer coincides with Swiss National Day. On 1 August (or thereabouts, the history books refer to ‘early August’) in 1219, three Swiss cantons – formerly independent states – banded together to protect their trading routes and themselves from Germany in the north. In a field called Rütli, north of Lake Luzern, these three states swore the ‘Oath on Rütli’ which established the first Swiss confederacy. Over time (and several battles) other states joined, and eventually the collective became the Confederation Helvetia of today. As you can imagine, it’s a much loved celebration by the Swiss. Firework shops pop up for the week preceding it, people take extended holidays around the formal day off, grills and picnics are prepared, and everyone wishes each other well on the day.

Our third Swiss National Day – a glorious thirty-plus summer’s day – started off appropriately, by shoving a mini Swiss flag in our breakfast. (Although admittedly not terribly Swiss, i could have been worse. We could have shoved the flag into our usual breakfast: vegemite toast.)

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We were spending the day not far from the meadow of Rötli, the site of Swiss confederacy. Located in one of the three cantons that formed the original Switzerland – Canton Uri – we were hearing to the Lorelei Bathing Islands.

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The ‘islands’ are actually made from reclaimed rock and gravel excavated during the building of the Gotthard Tunnel, the largest tunnel in the world, connecting Switzerland to Italy. A five year project, the islands were made to counter the erosion occurring at the site of the Reuss Delta and provide a habitat for native birds and water life of the area. They also – very conveniently for our needs – deliver excellent swimming for both children and adults alike.

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We had excitedly prepared our grill, and I had been very enthusiastically planning what fireworks I would purchase (doing something banned in my own country remains childishly thrilling, I’m afraid) when a national fire ban was put in place. We were annoyed for a few moments, but since a fire ban is indication of a delightfully warm summer, we happily complied. (Also, fines for breaching said ban were CHF20’000 minimum, so we were happy to eat non-grilled food.) We spent the day pottering by the lake, swimming across to the islands, exploring the nearby bird sanctuary and playing chaseys around the viewing tower.

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Although definitely idyllic I will admit the day wasn’t perfect. The children ate only olives and cake for lunch, poor little Teddy has a summer cold so was quite miserable, patience was tested from time to time, and there was a revoltingly filthy marshmallow incident in the car on the way home. Still, in the summer scheme of things it was a lovely way to celebrate once again our adopted country, and since that marshmallow came in a packet bearing the Swiss flag all is forgiven.

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Twelve months later…

My summer to-do list wasn’t particularly ambitious this year, which is just as well as only about a third of it has been ticked off. While I’m not entirely giving up on the season I have a feeling we’ve seen the back of it for the year, and I’m prepared to let the rest of the list slide until next year. Happily, a few weekends ago the weather was lovely and we were kicking around at home, so we were able to tick off ‘walk the Luzern wall’.

Open only during the summer months the wall skirts the Alt Stadt of Luzern, providing lookout and protection for citizens back in the day. Now, it provides (fairly scary for a clumsy six months pregnant lady) steep stairs and chiming bells.

And, of course, stunning views across the city.

It was a lazy kind of day, enjoying the tourist buzz that late summer in Luzern brings. There was undoubtedly ice cream (not anything unusual; although beautiful, Luzern is also fairly culinarily conservative so pistachio is about as avant-garde as it gets), a stumbled-across farm cafe on the outskirts of town and some sprint training, in honour of the Olympics.

Last Saturday marked our one year annualversary of arriving in Switzerland. I remember, when I was quite small, visiting one of my great-grandmothers in her nursing home. She was sitting on her bed, crocheting small squares for a blanket, and offering us the large, chalky peppermints that I always associate with her. Being young and rude I asked her if she was bored all the time, just sitting around and knitting. She replied that every year of her life had gone faster and faster, and sitting around and knitting was about all she could manage to fit in any more. I couldn’t comprehend it at the time, but she was right – every year has flown by increasingly quickly, and this was no exception.

We’ve had a ball. We’ve met – exceeded, actually – our ‘go-away-once-a-month’ goal which has given us some amazing travel (cough eating) experiences. We’ve managed to settle here better than we’d expected – Tim at work and me as a Hausfrau, something I never thought I’d be doing (and much less enjoying…most of the time). There have been some pickles, sure (adjusting to the expense of Switzerland living has been a bit of a shock, my German remains horrific, and I’ve still not really mastered my recycling game), but overall it’s been a wonderful experience for our wee crew. Prior to coming, we’d mentally signed up to a minimum of two years here. If Nanna Graetz continues to be correct, that’ll be done and dusted before we know it. Guess I’d best dust off my knitting needles.

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?

Rigi Tell Trail

After our week of cabin-fever-inducing summer downpours, the ol’ sun reappeared in spectacular fashion this weekend. Which was fortunate, as we’d planned our next installation of the Intentional Summer Challenge: to go on a quest. While the rest of the world seemed to be chasing Pokemon we were significantly less cool and opted instead to follow the historic path of William Tell, the great folk hero of central Switzerland.

My knowledge of Willhelm / Guillaume / Guglielmo / Guglielm Tell (depending on which of the four Swiss languages you favour) was limited. Of course I’d heard about the infamous ‘arrow through the apple’ tale, and the sort-of-related William Tell Overture, but that was my total background on the guy. As we’d chosen to hike a route that reflected the man’s own path, we figured it was time to brush up on a bit of Swisstory.

A legendary strong man, Alp-hiker and expert marksman, William Tell led the Swiss resistance to attempted Austrian domination in the 1300s. Arrested by the Austrians with his son, he was offered a challenge: to shoot an apple from his son’s head in a single attempt, or for them both to face execution. Tell pulled out two arrows and successfully shot the apple. His son was released but when asked why he drew two arrows, Tell replied that had he shot his son he intended to use the second arrow to kill Gessler, the leader of the Austrians. With this he was imprisoned, however en route to Küssnacht dungeon Tell escaped capture and ran cross country through the Alps. His captors followed, and Tell famously assassinated Gessler with the second arrow through a narrow stretch of road cut through large rocks. His act sparked a revolution which eventually led to the formation of the Swiss confederation.

Our hike commenced close to the top of the mountain at Rigi Kaltbad, and followed some of the path that Mr Tell ran as well as marking the point where the famous fatal arrow was shot. The walk itself covered about 12km, and apart from a few straight stretches was primarily downhill all the way to Küssnacht. There was definitely no running from our team, lumbered up with one bambini apiece, but there was plenty of Alp gazing from the top of Rigi across Lake Luzern out to Mount Pilatus on the crystal clear day.

We had teamed up with some friends to do the hike, and we slowly made our way down the sometimes precarious mountain path. We frequently passed people walking the opposite direction and admired their gumption, but after a few hours our knees were telling us that upwards may have been a better game plan. Happily, there were ample scenic distractions as well as the melodious bell ringing of the Swiss cows grazing on Alpine grass.

We stopped for a very Swiss lunch (würst! älpermagronen! anything else on the menu with an umlaut!) in a seemingly middle-of-nowhere farm restaurant. The kids played on swings and trampolines and looked at the ponies, no doubt much like William Tell must have done while he was on the run.

The final descent into Küssnacht town was tough; we’d been walking steadily downhill for about 4 hours and our joints were telling us all about it. So loudly, in fact, that we forgot to note the site of the final showdown between Tell and Gessler, instead fantasising about icy beers and cool lake swims.

Our quest completed, although perhaps not observed as formally as warranted, we hobbled into town and called it a day. A spectacular day, with beautiful views and better yet glorious sunshine throughout the entire walk. For me the trip will be marked by the achievement of another quest of sorts: my lass, after months of pestering on my behalf, finally spat out her first proper ‘Mama’. I have some concerns that it came right after she played with the afore mentioned ponies, but she’ll have to learn full sentences before I’ll acknowledge that particular request.

The intentional summer

The idea, proposed by the New York Times, is simple: make the most of this often too-fleeting season by consciously choosing to change your days, weeknights and weekends to better savour summer. Weekly suggestions of activities are offered; tweaks on daily routines or flashbacks to summers past. The underlying principle is that focusing on how you spend your time and varying your standard routine enriches your experiences and subsequently your life. The planning and anticipation will heighten enthusiasm, carrying the plans through ensures you get out and enjoy the season before the nights start to grow dark and long sleeves are once more reluctantly donned, and the activities themselves are about embracing time with family and friends, frequently in the great outdoors.

Apart from the fact that I love both a list and a challenge, I’ve dearly missed summer, and as our Swiss one is allegedly fleeting I’m keen to make the most of it. I already have the luxury of a fluid schedule with my lass that – amongst the household chores and playgroups – enables daily trips to the lake to splash in the increasingly warm water, build sandcastles and eat iceblocks, but the notion of planning a little more and enjoying things outside our (at times admittedly mind-numbingly dull) schedule was appealing. I signed on immediately.

The first challenge was to pick a place nearby to which you normally drive, and either walk or cycle there instead. Coincidentally, after nine months of deliberations, research, road testing and dilly-dallying (and not a few arguments), we recently bought a bike trailer for Laides and figured there was no better time to take it on its maiden voyage. We hit the road last Saturday to do a loop from Luzern to Horw (a township in the Luzern canton), and then back via Kriens (another wee village just outside Luzern). Admittedly we don’t normally drive this route, but we do frequent the Ufschötti – the local beach – so we decided to make that our final destination for a dip in the lake.

It was a glorious day, and as we cycled through dappled streets we spied people out swimming and sunning themselves along the banks of Lake Luzern. I confess I was happy to be cycling merrily along solo (taking bad and slightly dangerous iPhone snaps) rather than lugging our 12kg monster up the Swiss inclines; her papa did a brilliant job.

There’s a very different approach to cycling here than there is in Australia – in fact, to road occupancy in general. I cycled semi-regularly at home: to work before the lass was born, around the neighbourhood for dinners or to meet friends, to the markets. There was always an underlying current of fear: Sydney drivers notoriously cannot abide cyclists and there is no comprehension of ‘public’ roadways. Here, however, there is a much more relaxed approach in general. Many people cycle, and carry their little ones with them either in trailers or perched on kid seats. While there are many designated bike lanes, there is also a lot of communal traveling space. Cars are patient, and willingly share the road (both with cyclists and with other cars – I’ve found it to be far more relaxed here on the roads in general). It’s a refreshing and relieving change, like I’d been holding my breath but could now finally relax (it also helps that they’re chilled about helmet rules here. While in principle I am pro-helment, and it’s certainly not negotiable for the little one, I confess cycling down the side of a hill with the Alps in the distance and the wind through my hair was a glorious, liberating feeling. And, according to Tim aka Nerdy McHelmetWearer, a bad example for our daughter).

A few hours later, we arrived back at the local beach. Our German teacher told us that its name – Ufschötti – means to pile up, to build. The beach itself is man made, using the sand that was excavated from the Sonnenberg Tunnel. The tunnel, just outside Luzern, was built in the 1970s and was at the time the world’s largest nuclear bunker with capacity to hold 20,000 civilians in the event of disaster. (The tunnel was tested in the 90s and, despite some minor pickles closing its doors due to years of use by cars, it did manage to hold the required number of people. Air circulation and water availability were also fine – but there had been no provision made for plumbing, and as such the experiment was abandoned reasonably quickly. Tours of the tunnel can be done, but sadly our lass is too young to enable us to check it out.)

Regardless of its origins, Ufschötti is gorgeous. We took our first dip in – Addie and I had been wading up to our knees, but after our cycle a full body immersion was warranted. It was surprisingly temperate – cool and refreshing and nowhere near as chill as I was anticipating. I had forgotten, however, how revolting and slimy lake beds are which gave added incentive to dive in quickly.

Our first summer challenge ticked off, and not before time. Already the storms are rolling in – I’ve just run around the house to do some serious battening down of hatches – with the rest of the week projected to be wet and thundery. That won’t stop us working towards the next few challenges though, with fingers crossed that we won’t have to utilise the bike trailer’s rain cover too frequently.