(Freaky but fun) Fasnacht

This is Tim’s story, really. I’ve been a ([largely] supportive, amused, bemused and frequently jealous) bystander throughout the experience. It started after last year’s Fasnacht, when an always-enthusiastic Tim got chatting to colleagues at his office about the festival. It turned out one of them plays trumpet in a local Guggenmusik band. Tim is also a trumpeter, and it was suggested that he might be able to play along in the festival the following year.

Firstly, the band had to agree he could join. Although some members come from slightly further afield, the majority are Luzerners and certainly there were no other foreigners. He then had to audition, something which inspired more than a few nerves as it had been many years since he had picked up his horn. He left, trumpet strapped to his back as he cycled to the bunker where the band rehearsed, while I waited at home nervously on his behalf. The hours passed and eventually I went to sleep. He rolled in well after 2am reeking of beer and cigars and declared the audition a success despite having not played a note. Turns out as long as he could booze with them, the band were down with the foreigner joining.

Rehearsals started in earnest last September, held weekly. The first few sessions had Tim feeling a little glum: there was no music as everyone played by ear, the names of the traditional tunes were long forgotten, and the conversing and instruction was all in Swiss German. However as the weeks went by it started falling into place and he would come home from practice with increasing enthusiasm as his skills grew (other than the Swiss German. Still haven’t even remotely nailed that). My nerves increased in line with my due date – there was no mobile reception in that bunker – but little Teddy didn’t interrupt his father’s hobby and was rewarded with the band filming a tri-language rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to welcome him, and celebrate his sister’s birthday.

The costume was the next hurdle. The band had a Venetian theme and he needed both a coherent outfit as well as the traditional style of Fasnacht mask. The costume was sourced at a local Fasnacht speciality store, the staff happily knowing Tim’s band’s theme and being able to ensure he wasn’t out of place. The band’s conductor makes masks, and Tim had several fittings of the sculpted fibreglass headpiece, choosing eye colour, final touches and hair style (which I somewhat cruelly mocked, given his current choice is ‘bald’). The finished mask arrived about two weeks before the festival and sat in pride of place in our living room, prompting Addie to wander around declaring ‘Daddy’s mask’s scary‘ on a regular basis. To be honest, I couldn’t argue.

Finally, the week prior to lent arrived and with it, the festival. The schedule for Fasnacht is gruelling. Starting on Dirty Thursday, Tim played from the official cannon shot at 5am through till one the following morning, with similar shifts again on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. His group follows the tradition of the early Fasnacht bands, marching the catacombe-like streets of the Luzern Altstadt playing, and popping into local restaurants to serenade diners with their tunes.

Marching the cobbled, bustling streets of the city while trumpeting in an oversized mask is, apparently, tricky business.

Luckily, the rest of the band were old hands and made sure Tim was well-fuelled for the task.

Let’s drop the euphemism:  by well-fuelled of course I mean drunk. In between playing sessions they hung out at the band’s stand which converted into a bar. The day started with beers, progressed through wine to gin and tonics, and then when someone needed a pick-me-up, espresso grappa shots. It was little wonder their audition process was so exacting.

Tim’s dad had travelled from Australia for the festival, having been here last year and falling for its bawdy charm. Himself a trumpet player (it’s genetic, clearly) Mike became the band’s groupie at first and then joined them on the final few days as an honorary ring-in, making his trip quite the experience. I confess that as much as I love my two littles, I also love festivals and day drinking, and holding the fort while the lads had a ball was at times hard. Luckily, the kids and I made it down a few times to experience the hullaballoo.

Fasnacht was weird and wild and the streets were pumping throughout the day and night (and provided me with some good ‘here’s what happens if you don’t eat your vegetables’ material).

And of course, I did my best to make up for lost party time.dsc_8952In a country where we’d been warned the locals were not particularly welcoming, and that it would be hard to make meaningful Swiss connections, Tim feels so fortunate to have shared this crazy experience with a bunch of people who he now calls friends (or at the very least, epic drinking buddies). The hospitality was extended to me and the kids as well as Tim’s dad, making a week that will be remembered for years to come (even if said memory is sightly beer and grappa hazy).

(Also, that’s our baby’s rattle Tim’s a-shaking there. Nothing but the best instruments for our family.)

The first month

We’ve survived the first month. The little guy is currently snoozing in the weak snow-flickering light, although you wouldn’t know it from the sounds erupting from him. I’d forgotten how disproportionate to their size is the noise a baby makes (and how amusing. So much gas is never not funny). I’ve done a day and a half sans Tim – he went back to work yesterday – and thus far the casualty count is limited to burp cloths. There’s still another half day before he gets home, though, so please don’t consider me cocky.

As many people advised before our Teddly’s arrival, it’s easier the second time around. I’m not as nervous, edgy, scared I’ll break or ruin him (or if I do, he can moan about it with his sister on family holidays to come). Practically, things are working better: feeding, anti-Houdini swaddling techniques, knowing to tag team. We’re more confident as parents, and our nightly game plan sessions are much tighter and have been far more successful than the surreal, exhausting early weeks with Addie. It ain’t perfect (surely it’s not asking too much for a four week old to sleep for, say, twelve hours straight?), but it’s working.

We’re all dancing the newborn dance, of course. Ads has been wonderful. She chooses his clothes (she had them both adorably wearing owl-themed outfits yesterday), laughs hysterically at any and all of his bodily functions, and says ‘hey miiiiiiister’ in manner soothing when he cries. Naturally it’s not all easy sailing – her terrible twoness has escalated and her long suffering father is in her bad books far more than deserved, but generally it’s been lovely to watch her become the title of her second favourite book: a Big Sister (her first favourite? Everybody Poos. Fine literature is another joy I shall forever associate with parenthood).

Motsy’s holidays – four heavenly weeks! – were slow and cosy, but we managed to wander around snow covered Luzern nonetheless: to play in frosted-over parks, choose his baroque-themed Fasnacht costume, toboggan at the lake and, one glorious night, cycle to the Neustadt for a decadent dinner sans bambinis (with much thanks to their visiting Gra). For a moment, jumping on our bikes, dressed up and filled with anticipation for the evening ahead, felt like a return to the early days of our relationship where we’d cycle off to dinner or a drink, carefree and jubilant. (It then started snowing in time for the cycle home, and we started looking at our watches and counting the hours of precious sleep we’d get if we left immediately, and thus the spell was broken).

And I’m learning, clumsily, how to juggle our wee family of four. There was a fairly botched walk to kita this morning – when will I learn to check the weather, and thus avoid striding out into heavy snow thoroughly unprepared? – and a rather manic grocery store outing yesterday, but otherwise the feeding and sleeping and tea cup drawing routine is slowly becoming my new normal. That, and trying to keep our offspring alive and (largely) unharmed for five more hours until their father’s return.

And then, we were four

I write this on a foggy winter’s afternoon at my kitchen table. I’m not entirely sure, even when I stop to think, what day it is. I am wearing  – still, sadly – maternity jeans and shirt, not because I remain pregnant but because disappointingly I have not instantly lost the twenty odd kilos I gained over the last nine months. I am also, bizarrely and humiliatingly (and admittedly amusingly), wearing a pair of hospital issue stretchy white underpants with the crotch cut out of them, my arms thrust through the leg holes, as a crop top of sorts. Into this I’ve shoved two ice packs that are regularly swapped out – at my midwife’s instance – with cabbage leaves and this weird tigerbalm-scented paste called Pasta Boli (not the kind you eat, she helpfully advised). Birth itself is of course undignified, but it feels like it’s nothing on these early weeks of motherhood.

However! Our boy is here! Little Theodore Winton arrived precisely on his due date, endearing him forever to his prompt mother’s heart. His birth was almost the opposite of my experience with his sister; gory details aside, this time was far easier and much less traumatic. The most surprising aspect of the birthing procedure was the mingling of alternative medical practices with the more standard delivery process. At various times I was fed different homeopathic concoctions, assorted aromatherapy treatment was pumped through the room depending on my current state, and I was given acupuncture towards the end of labour itself. I’m finding the same with my midwife – there’s a surprising focus on alternate options and traditional practices; and to be fair, they appear to have worked. I had assumed that the seemingly clinical, straight-and-narrow Swiss would not be so into alternate treatment options, but on reflection maybe it makes more sense that a comprehensive and thorough approach to healthcare is taken rather than the more linear one we have at home.

We left the hospital six hours after little Teddy was born. I’d not even contemplated doing this prior, but in the absence of a family room and due to the smoothness of the birth we decided we’d be happier heading home. We were back in time for a patchy night’s sleep and to wake our little miss on her birthday, the highlight of which was hearing her say ‘niiiiiiice’ when she saw her new brother.

We hosted Swissmas again this year, with the life savers that are my bestie and Tim’s sister and bro-in-law, who kept us not only alive but alarmingly well fed and watered during our first week as parents of two. I’d thoroughly recommend recruiting them if you ever wish to extend your family and still feel like a human being. There was raclette, a life-threatening glühwein maker, a ridiculous amount of gifts (Ads went from not knowing what a present was to demanding to open all of them in about two minutes flat), lots of champagne, many tasty treats from home, and a few not-so-silent nights.

Now, we’re in that no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year, which is only compounded with the haziness of a newborn (and the sick resident two year old, just to keep us on our toes). We’ve a week or so before Tim’s mum arrives, during which we’re tentatively feeling our way as a family of four (or eight, if you include Peppa Pig and her fambam, who I confess are making fairly regular visits to the Purler household), capitalising on the frozen meals I feverishly prepared prior to his arrival, and enjoying being wrapped in the newborn cocoon. Right now, though, both bambinis are asleep, so we’re indulging in a cheeky wine and leftover Christmas cheese platter (possibly with a mint slice chaser). And cabbage leaves.

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.


There are changes afoot, a shift in our daily gears. Maybe it is in part due to the deteriorating summer – the air is now chill in the mornings, the sun richer and mellow in the afternoons, the leaves starting to look towards the ground. The girl is off to kita – she’s doing her induction at the moment – and for the first time in her little life, and perhaps the most significant part of mine, we’ll be apart. My burgeoning belly is also a visual reminder of all that lies ahead, now impossible to forget or ignore. There are things from now – from this time before – that I want to remember, hang on to.

Her gangly frame, all limbs and enthusiasm, when she sits cuddled on my lap. Her little legs already dangle impossibly to my calves. Those same legs fearlessly climb, run, bruise, scrape, and one day – no doubt sooner than I expect it – won’t tangle with mine anymore.

The murmurs of the new baby; the whispers and wriggles and thumps, unexpected yet so familiar, a reminder that he’ll be with us so soon but until then, for this lovely last time, it’s just me and him.

The late summer lake afternoons, where she has learned to play by herself, fully absorbed in the movement of sand to water to bucket to hand (and, sigh, mouth). The occasional glance to me with a quick smile, the shimmering pride in her little face mirrored against the glassy water, the mountains, the sky.

The abandon with which she runs to her father when he returns home from work, her gasps of ‘Dada!’ shifting the focus of the evening. The giggles as the two of them play – way too energetically before bed time, but how can such a sweet sound be resisted? Her three ‘Swiss kisses’ as he leaves each morning, her cool, soft cheeks the sweetest of all gifts.

While the excitement for the next stage for our little family is mounting, it’s hard to imagine how we could be happier, fuller than we are now, to understand what this shift in our lives will bring. But life before her is unthinkable*, and even though it’s hard to predict how, there’s a comfort and security in knowing that in a few short months, these pre-fourth-Purler times will also become a distant, hazy, inconceivable memory.

*not strictly true. A sleep in every now and then wouldn’t go astray.


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.