Countdown

Nine visitors – not all at once, admittedly (the most at any one time was a whopping five which is unheard of outside the festive season) – have kept us on our toes for the last few months. The ‘Wendy Noller Tour Of Luzern’ has been getting a thorough workout. I am no longer sure which facts I’ve researched myself, which I’ve stolen from other (legitimate) tour guides, or which are even facts at all. I’m fairly sure at least twenty percent of my cobbled together show-and-tell is either embellished or made up entirely, but I no longer remember which parts this applies to, and believe it all fervently myself.


Eight dips, thus far this season, I’ve taken in Lake Luzern. I’m talking full body immersion, which is something of a record because unlike the other Purlers (who are either insensitive or foolhardy or most likely both) I am totally chicken when it comes to cold water swimming. But at the end of last summer, realising I’d barely felt the chill of the current above my knees, I regretted not holding my breath and taking the literal plunge more often. So this year, I’m working on embracing the bracing, beautiful waters.


Seven cygnets have arrived, and have grown so much since they’ve hatched they must be almost ready to make their own way in the world. The family of swans lives right near our lake, and since the little ones were born mama and papa have been parading the family around proudly: shuffling awkwardly along the sand, gliding smoothly across the glassy lake, plunging suddenly into the depths as a potential meal is spied. I’m still terrified of them, but last Friday evening as we sat enjoying a grill the family passed very close to us. As they walked by – papa in the lead, six little ones trailing behind, followed by the mama and one last, tardy cygnet. I saw the mama (because it had to be the poor, frustrated mama) turn to her baby and positively snap at him: ‘hurry up!’ or ‘stop whining, we’re almost there’ or ‘we’ll go to the park again tomorrow, we were there for three hours already today’. I wanted to exchange a sympathetic look with her, but I’m way too scared of them to make eye contact.


Six minutes of listening to a cellist playing while a ballerina danced around a donkey. As part of Art Basel, I tagged along with Uncle Pip (my bestie, and the taker of the snaps below) to Schloss Mauensee, the private residence of a Swiss businessman who was a Chinese diplomat, and remains a prominent Chinese art collector. The castle and the art were both amazing, although I do admit to being slightly perplexed at the donkey installation described above. It was Phillip’s last night in Switzerland, and a delightful – if not at times surreal – way to spend it.


Five meals of raclette in only a few short weeks (purely for the visitors, you understand). I mention this primarily because if I am hospitalised in the near future, you’ll know to check my arteries. I love the dish – and we like to think our raclette game is increasingly strong – but it is most definitely a sometimes food. Hoo boy.


Four heavenly days in Mallorca. More pertinently: four heavenly days away from my (much loved) offspring. Since Phil (who, again, took the snaps below) was visiting at the same time as my in-laws, the opportunity arose for the two of us to hit the island. I’d assumed the largest of the Balearic Islands would be ridden with tourists with little to offer other than mega resorts, swim up bars, buffet dinners. (Please note: I do not hate any of these things. They are just not my priority for a sans-family getaway). I am perfectly capable of admitting that I was completely wrong. Palma was a small but fascinating city, with the excellent food the Spaniards frequently deliver. We drove to the coast to lie on beaches framed by national park – busier than the ones I’m used to at home, but no less lovely. We spent our final night in the mountains, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, and as you can imagine had a rotten time altogether.


Three nights away for Tim, travelling around Italy with one of his old friends. Not to be outdone by my lone getaway (which I may or may not have classily referred to as breaking away from the shackles of my family), Tim hit the road not long afterwards. He had his favourite type of break: covering lots of ground, seeing lots of Italy (Lago Iseo! Venice! The Cinque Terre!), eating and drinking and taking photos. We missed him, of course, but have loved hearing his tales and seeing his snaps and insisting that he return wiht us to give us the ‘Tim Purtell Tour Of Italia’ very soon.


Two syllables that have delighted me: ‘mama’ has finally been uttered by the cracker-loving lad in the house. Of course, now I’m wishing he didn’t holler it at me quite so frequently, such as earlier today in the shopping centre when he (successfully, I’m afraid) demanded a pretzel by yelling ‘mamamamamamamamamama’ non stop at the top of his lungs.


One tuckered out family. We’ve loved every minute of our run of visitors. Having family and friends stay with us makes us far less homesick and is a load of fun to boot. The kids, in particular, relish the excuse to hit the lake or a mountain or go out for lunch as a ‘very special treat’ (a phrase that loses its meaning somewhat when you’re doing it almost daily). Now that the rush is over, we’re now slowing down a bit (which basically means catching up on the piles of laundry and cleaning and sundry joys of the Hausfrau Life). Last night, our little crew sat around the table for our first Sunday roast. While there was a marked difference from the pulsing dinner of a few weeks ago (six adults! three kids!) it was relaxed, cosy, us. Not terribly quiet though; the little dude yelling ‘mamamamamama’ every time he wanted a roast spud took care of that.

Proud

My best mate Phil – also the girl’s Guidefather – and his partner Andrew have been hanging out in the Europes and making us hideously jealous with their social media snaps for the last month. They visited us in Luzern for their first weekend, and we’d been biding our time until meeting them in Madrid to bookend their visit before they went home. We arrived last Friday and were greeted by heat in the high 30s, instantly forcing us to slow down, relax and drink cerveza (which happily this pregnant lady doesn’t actually like, so it wasn’t until the lads hit the gins that I got surly).

When booking the trip it was unusually difficult to find somewhere to stay. The apartment we chose required a minimum four night booking, despite its website claiming otherwise. On querying this we were told this was due to it being one of the biggest events of the year in Madrid: Pride! Apparently the largest festival of its kind in the world, Madrid Pride has over 2 million people celebrating over the weekend. The whole city had its glad rags on.

Madrid 0021 - 20160704We spent our Saturday moseying around the city, spending some playing time at the surprisingly lush El Retiro park, where the girl’s father and uncles seemed to have more fun playing than she did.

We lunched with our Spanish friends Paella and its noodly cousin Fidueà, and then embraced that other excellent Spanish tradition: the siesta. We figured we couldn’t be in Madrid for the party of the year without giving it a go, so we got our fiesta on and hit the streets for Pride. As we walked the few blocks to the parade, we could hear music and revelry increasingly escalating, and the girl’s dance moves kicked in.

For a two million people strong party, the city was amazingly relaxed. There was a vibe of good cheer with costumed people, DIY-sangria-sellers, families, and general revellers throughout the city, but no angst or overt drunkenness that I associate with epic street parties (well, those in Australia at any rate). The parade itself was huge, starting at 6pm and continuing well into the early hours. We’re used to the spectacle and flamboyance of Sydney’s fabulous Mardi Gras; this parade, although enormous, was much more low key but in a way was more inclusive. Anyone and everyone was in on the act, with no fencing between the crowds and the parade so bystanders could become part of the act if they so chose (which many of them seemed to do). Rather than being solely focused on the parade, the party is city wide, with stages, DJs and live music set up in squares and greens across town. We strolled the closed off streets, watching the festivities and (in my case not) drinking litre-large beers before hitting a nearby rooftop bar to eagle eye the crowds, lights and spectacular Madrid sunset (and, of course, indulging in late night exceedingly garlicy tapas on the way home).

The following day we’d planned a cycle tour around the city. It was Laidey’s first time on a bike and although the set up was fairly laborious she got into the groove quickly enough (although her ‘smile for the camera’ face needs a bit more work).

It turned out to be just the five of us on the tour, and we scooted around the streets we’d partied on the night previously. We started at Point 0 in the city and made our way outwards, circling palaces and vine covered buildings down towards the river. The main piece of trivia I remember from the tour guide was that Madrid is clearly party central – there is more than one drinking establishment per each person living in the city, and beer is far cheaper than water or soft drinks. Hurrah for Madrid!

The day was again hot – it clocked 38 as we were cycling around – and the heat took it out of a certain little someone. I realise she looks in a bad way here, head lolling as she slept against her father’s back, but rest assured she perked back up as soon as we stopped and got stuck into a plate of olives (still with that ridiculous ‘grin’).

We spent our final night with more tapas, questionable premixed sangria and discussions of the holiday just gone and those to come. Despite their best efforts over the weekend, Uncles Pip and Sunny were not able to get the girl to say their names before she says ‘mama’ (thank goodness. I would be furious…and yet unsurprised). We flew back together to Zurich where they embarked on the long haul home, and we made tracks back to Luzern to play with a circus themed puppet show from the already much missed Uncle Pip. And, of course, work on our smiles.

Casa Batllo

It was Tim’s dad’s long term dream to visit Barcelona, and specifically to see the work of Antoni Gaudi. The day we arrived the inlaws had visited Casa Batllo and regaled us with  tales of the house and its creator, and generously offered to take our little miss for a morning so we could experience the site ourselves. We enthusiastically took them up on it – I figured that even if the house was dull, I could sneak off and catch a baby-free snooze in the Spanish sun and nobody would be any the wiser.

Gaudi (or, as we suspect many people call him, Gaudy)(although the googles tell me the word has no relationship with the man) was a Catalan architect who specialised in an organic modern style of design. He rarely drew plans, preferring instead to build complex three dimensional models from which he and the builders would engineer his designs when the time came (part of the reason his Sagrada Familia is still under construction nearly 100 years since his death). He was told as he graduated that ‘we have given this academic title either to a fool or genius. Time will show’. Given the popularity of all his buildings throughout Barcelona it seems the general consensus is the latter.

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Casa Batllo was remodelled by Gaudi with no limitations imposed by the Batllo family (the patriarch of which was a textile magnate who owned the building and commissioned Gaudi). I’m not sure what they thought they might get, or what they were hoping for, but if they had their fingers crossed for a surreal underwater-esque abode, they were probably fairly happy.

The house is built around a central shaft, with glass and cascading blue tiles made to mirror the effect of the ocean. Tim recalled deep sea diving and the distorted feeling one gets looking at the shimmering distant surface from the depths.

The tour was a (magnificently baby free) self guided audio and visual lark. The narrator told the story of the house and Gaudi, and as you held the iPhone to different aspects of the house you were shown images of both what it would have looked like in its heyday, and what Gaudi may have been imagining when he designed it. For example, when I hovered the phone over the fire place a mushroom materialised on the screen, lit up, and then smouldered away as if it was on fire (or I was on drugs)(also, that’s Rohan and not said mushroom).

It was several stories high and incorporated both the family residence as well as several apartments. It had foyers, sewing rooms, and large windows out of which to spy on passers-by.

As we neared the roof, we hit the surprisingly beautiful laundry and storage rooms, which had been designed to promote natural air flow and cooling throughout the building.

The final stop was the roof terrace, where we basked in the sun and longed for only one thing – an icy sangria (and maybe another few hours sans baby).

The remainder of the day was filled with wandering the city streets, eating tasty tapas, chatting, and playing with our girl. Which, when it comes to it, is pretty much our favourite kind of day.

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Barcelona beach baby

I had been a trifle trepidatious about returning to Spain after a few visits some ten years ago. Not for any negative reasons – precisely the opposite. It’s an amazing country and I wanted to be able to fully enjoy its (frequently late night) culture; I just wasn’t sure how to do that with our little lass in tow. The answer: grandparents.

Tim’s folks are currently visiting the Europes, and after their own trip to Berlin they progressed to Barcelona, a long-time dream of Tim’s architect father. We joined them, along with Dom and Roh, for a weekend. The lass got dolled up especially.

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Tim only arrived close to 10pm on Friday night – but Spain! No problem! We left the sleeping child with her Gra and Grumps, and hit a bar for tapas and then a gin joint before stumbling in at an hour most recently delegated to middle-of-night feeds and soothing. It was brilliant. The next day I regretted it somewhat, but of course had siesta to look forward to.

Saturday was stunning, with temperatures in the teens which had the Berliners and the Luzerners shamelessly strutting around in t-shirts. We were heading for Park Güell, one of Gaudi’s major works that sits atop the northern hills of the city, looking out to sea. A system of mosaic-covered buildings, terraces and parks, it was intended as a housing development but has since been converted into a public parkland area with the organic focused architectural features maintained.

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Like all of Gaudi’s work peppered throughout the city, it had a surreal vibe (not least due to the unexpected wattle popping up throughout the site).

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We spent the morning basking (and bobbing the baby to sleep) as we strolled through the courtyards and caught glimpses of the ocean on the horizon – a sight we hadn’t realised we’d missed until we saw it.

Barcelona 0063 - 20160217Barcelona 0049 - 20160217Barcelona 0058 - 20160217Barcelona 0042 - 20160217Barcelona 0066 - 20160217Part of our mission complete, we left the gardens and headed towards the sea. Gera, Tim’s mum, is having a milestone birthday later this year and since neither Tim or Dom will be around for it, we’d decided to take her for a surprise seafood lunch on the Mediterranean. Purely selflessly, you understand.

One of Tim’s colleagues, a Barcelona native, recommended a joint alongside the beach. He further recommended we sample the fideuà: a Catalan specialist akin to paella, but made with noodles. Who were we to argue with a local?

Gera’s upcoming big day was celebrated in (greedy and boozy) style.

Our fill of seafood achieved, we had one final mission for the day (other than staying awake for future tapas and nightlife): to give the girl her first dip in the ocean. Although sunny it was winter, and we’re not complete monsters, so it was toes only.

The sand was a (tasty) hit, and she loved waving at fellow beach patrons. I suspect she’d argue with us about the monsters part, though – there were tears the second the ocean touched her little feet, but nothing daddy couldn’t make better. And although her folks were exhausted and full, there was nothing grandparents couldn’t make better when we hit the town for the second (!) night (!) in a row (!!).