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.

Spanish Sojourn - Salamanca-1115

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).

Spanish Sojourn - Salamanca-1269

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.

(The other) Bali

I write this in thirty-odd degree heat, with the beach grinning at me to my right and a fridge full of rosé to my left. It seems a world away from Luzern where it snowed twice in the fortnight prior to us leaving, although technically we’re only a few hours by plane. We’re on the island of Crete in Greece, staying in a small beachside village called Bali.

Never having visited its Indonesian counterpart I can’t really compare them, but I can say this Bali is working out just fine for us. Our villa is perched just out of town, nestled in some olive groves with the dramatic volcanic mountains the island is known for rising around us. We had audacious plans to climb them one morning but the lure of the villa’s pool (and aftermath of afore mentioned rosé) has been too strong.

Addie is loving it. Her days include dangling her feet in the water, watching her father and I dive for toys she relentlessly throws into the pool, swimming, building sandcastles at the beach, timidly testing out the waves and screaming in public when she gets overtired. At this stage – almost five months old – it’s hard to say if Teddy is having much in the way of fun but since he’s not telling us otherwise, I have to assume it’s a win for him too. Neither child is wearing much in the way of clothes and our snow suits are happily a repressed memory. We stroll down to the local taverna a lot, and there’s a funny little toot-toot (train, to those of us who have fully mastered the English language) that chugs us into town should our horizons need expanding. It’s lazy, and warm, and I’ve finished one book and started on the next: exactly what a summer break should be.

We’re here with my parents, which has allowed us to indulge in freedoms we’re no longer used to. See those rocks in that snap down below? We went diving in the reef just below them. Like we used to do before the children. It was lovely – the water was clear and clean, visibility was amazing and we saw schools of neon fish, eels, crabs, sea cucumbers and all manner of interesting rock formations. But the best thing of all was the sound: the blissful, meditative inhalation and exhalation from my tank. This sound – and diving in general – used to scare me a little, but now my primary aural fears are relegated to middle of the night wailing, and the absence of these was pure heaven.

Crete, Greece-361Our town is a tiny tourist spot but we’re not too far from Rethymno, a larger coastal city where we headed one morning to check out the local markets. Our girl loves olives so she was in heaven as we trotted through sampling the local wares.

The old town – the largest on Crete – was lovely, with the winding alleys you’d expect providing welcome shade during the heat of the day. We stopped for lunch to belatedly celebrate my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary, and feasted on local anchovies, octopus and lamb.

And enough rosé to tucker out one of our party for the bus ride home (and ensure I was looking suitably bedraggled).

Crete, Greece-331-2We also got a boat trip in, a three hour cruise around out of the heads and round the coastline. The water here is an unbelievable mix of greeny blues, contrasting dramatically against the grey rocks. The captain pulled us in to little caves and skirted around goat-roamed rocky escarpments with great skill.

Unbeknownst to us, the boat moored for swimming (and wine or ouzo, take your boozy pick) and although we were unprepared I am pleased to advise that Motsy made the most of the situation, his Bonds doubling just fine (by European standards) as swimwear. (An aside: I’d like to pretend that these snaps of our kids accurately reflect the trip; that Teddy took the voyage calmly and that Ads was keenly interested in nautical affairs. However this was not the case. Our grizzly bear screamed for a large chunk of the trip – soothed only by his father rigorously dancing the Zorba with him in the carrier, and Adelaide clutched the iPad as if it were a buoy. Which I suppose it was, of sorts.)

Still.

And not to boast or anything, but we’re about to have our second night out sans kids; we’re all set to indulge in something seafoody and delicious while my suckers parents take care of our littles. Having said that, the nights in haven’t been all bad, with Tim revisiting his grill skills and all of us reaping the benefits.

We’ve only a day and a bit left (and we still haven’t visited two of the three beaches in town), but the week has felt long and luxurious. Even our littlest guy has worked on his chill skills. Crete, Greece-394And with that, the local taverna and its nondescript cold white wines call. Antio sas!

Home (?)

This morning, after nearly 24 hours in transit which I am working on blocking from my memory, Tim asked me how it felt to be back in Luzern after three weeks in Australia. More specifically, he asked if it now feels like home. During my holiday, as well as on the drive back to our apartment from Zürich Flughafen, I asked myself the same thing.

The bad stuff about the trip out of the way first: the flights, of course (even though manageable, and we always had at least one spare seat next to us, they were never going to be pleasant), the molars my little girl cut while visiting her new cousin, the jet lag and subsequent sleepless nights that won’t likely let up for a while yet, the ear infection I didn’t realise she had (mama of the year) which resulted in a (now understandably) grumpy bub for well over a week. I wasn’t well myself during the trip, and that coupled with a sense of constant rushing, the feeling of needing to maximise my short time there, and still not seeing nearly everyone I’d hoped to, made it more stressful than is usually associated with a holiday.

The good stuff, as always, outweighs everything else significantly. The girl and her cousins. The girl and her grandparents. Cuddling that brand new boy and his giggling, adorable older brother who has finally learned my name. My dear friends, who I’d missed exactly as much as I knew I would. Sydney, that old heartbreaker, with her spectacular coast and laid back vibe and ridiculously friendly and helpful people (on my first day back, jet lagged and armed with a rickety stroller I had to take two large suitcases to be repaired. This included a walk, a ferry ride and another walk, during which no less than eight people stopped me to offer help. I had forgotten how goddamn nice Australians can be and in my fragile post-traumatic flight state, I nearly burst into tears each time). After eight months, good coffee, which also nearly had me in tears of joy particularly while managing said jet lag. And the eats. Of course, the eats. There was not an Asian restaurant within a five kilometre radius of me that was safe.

But the question of home lingers. It definitely felt like a return to home when I arrived in Sydney, however the longer we remained the more this feeling dissipated. She’ll always be my city, but Motsy’s absence was keenly felt by both the lass and I, as was the slower life we’ve carved out over here. Things have changed there, too. People have switched jobs and addresses, lost and found partners, welcomed little ones; moved along as life should and inevitably will. Such things never matter with old friends but they emphasise the distance, and reminded me that we’re not locals anymore.

Arriving back yesterday afternoon was tough. I’d barely slept (my tall, wriggly girl doesn’t fit in the bassinet and therefore all sleeping was on me, punctuated by tosses and turns every half an hour that ensured at best only patchy snoozes), felt decidedly unwell, and was covered in 24 hours worth of Baby Muck which made me smell and look exactly as fabulous as it sounds. Ads and I were well and truly over each other, and I’m fairly sure she had her grizzle button flicked to ‘low yet constant’ for the last ten hours of transit. Naturally our bags were late during which that switch got turned to ‘high and tantrummy’.  Hotel’s arrival was the best thing that happened to either of us that day, and her little face lit the already Swiss-shiny airport even brighter when she saw her dad. The two of them haven’t stopped giggling since we got back (I have been working on sleeping, and pleased to report I am doing quite well at it).

It’s greener since we left; warmer too (and as I found out today, in a gasp-worthy surprise while looking out at the Alps, we have a nude sunbathing neighbour in the garden apartment below us who obviously likes to take advantage of the sunny weather). The lake is as lovely as ever although definitely more boat-filled, and we’ve already trotted down twice today to look at the ducks (her), be scared of the swans (me) and eat a cheese, pickle and random one-slice-of-egg sandwich (shared in the sun). There are too many wonderful people and things in Australia for it to fully feel like home proper here, but it does have the colossal advantage of having Tim and our simple, peaceful day to day life. Both of which can be anywhere, of course, but for now I guess they’re – we’re – in Luzern. So in answer to his question: it was a fabulous holiday, and it’s wonderful to be back. I am just never, ever doing those flights again. We’re getting the boat next time.

Family bread

In the early days of our courtship (which I hope makes it sound significantly classier than it actually was), Tim earned the moniker Bread Boy amongst my friends. The first night I went for dinner at his house (a strictly platonic affair, with several other friends present, although we each had one eyebrow raised in the direction of the other) he pulled out of the oven a freshly baked loaf on my arrival. On subsequent dinners, and later breakfasts, the home baked bread continued to make an appearance (as did extra inches around our waists but by then we were locked in, so delicious carbs for all!). Making bread remains a treat, a small tradition we continue on lazy mornings or if we know a toasty breakfast will be in order (so, um, a lot).

As I’ve mentioned, Swiss bread is delicious. Swiss Sunday bread, or as our German teacher calls it, ‘family bread’, even more so. A dough enriched with butter and milk, Zopfmehl is a plaited bread brushed with egg until it is glistening, slightly sweet and irresistible. It’s traditionally eaten here by families on Sunday, a day where the pace slows down and time is spent together around the table and outdoors in nature. It’s a lovely tradition, and one our carb-loving crew has embraced. I only recently learned (again from my font of all knowledge, Irene the German Teacher) that Zopfmehl is plaited from four, not three, ropes of dough, requiring more work to perfect my loaf (and, of course, eat the spoils).

Our little family will be in separate hemispheres for a few weeks. Adelaide and I head to Australia tomorrow, while Tim will kick around Germany and the States for work. Our trip is motivated by the best reason of all: the newest family member, my sister’s boy, arrived a few days ago and this aunty’s arms are already flexing their teeny-tiny-Rupert cuddle muscles.

We’re packed (so many more toys this time! so many more snacks!), strategies have been strategised (I’m not letting her walk in the aisle so she doesn’t realise it’s an option and therefore want to do it all. the. time)(we’ll see how long that actually holds out for an ants-in-her-pants baby), and now it’s just a matter of deep breathing before the solo 23.5 hour flight. As everyone tells me, it comes to an end. Eventually.

The payoffs just over the horizon are huge, though. That nephew, for starters, as well as the three others kicking around the traps. Family, friends, food (dumplings! noodles! yum cha!) and Sydney sun all rank pretty highly. Seeing my girl with her grandparents again will be wonderful (by ‘seeing’ I mean laughing all the way to the beer garden as I leave her in their hands for babysitting duties). It’s been eight months since we’ve been back – Adelaide has now spent equal amounts of her little life in both countries – and I’m excited about her rediscovering, however briefly, the home both her folks love (and the beach. Her two favourite books are beach centred and for a lass that’s only ever been to one, she’s pretty obsessed).

After eight months, there are a few things I’ll be taking back with me. A toddler, who can whisper ‘dad’ and can swing all by herself (with only a few face plants). Some rudimentary phrases of Deutsch, and sadly yet predictably several additional kilos. A sense that our team has become tighter since we started our adventure over here (partly, no doubt, from sheer necessity but also there’s a cameraderie we’ve built as we’ve explored and built a new home). Also, nestled in my bag, next to the almost-export-level of Swiss chocolate, several packages of Zopfmehl, ready to be made into family loaves for Sunday eating. In Bread Boy’s absence, his little doppelgänger (see? totes across the Deutsch) may have to assume the baking honours.

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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).

Cousins

It’s fair to say my sister and I are close. There’s two years or so between us, we share mannerisms and speaking style (i.e. quickly), and when my hair was dark at my wedding, for the first time people identified us as siblings. But more than that, she’s been a close friend, travel companion, gossip confidante and wine time buddy over the years. Our sweet babies were born within four months of each other, and although we didn’t live in the same cities in Australia she has been a constant in our lives (not least due to many middle of the night ‘does your baby do this or is mine broken?’ text messages from me). I had been counting down the days until she arrived (by which I really mean the arrival of my nephew’s cheeks).

After a day of catching up, wandering around Lucerne and strategising about jet lag, we decided to capitalise on the crystal clear day and head up to Pilatus. The last time Motsy and I went it was foggy and while beautiful in its way, did not even nearly compete with the stellar views we caught yesterday. It was an awesome welcome to Switzerland.

Pilatus 0021 - 20151212Pilatus 0025 - 20151212Pilatus 0027 - 20151212We caught cable cars to the top, and then walked the five or so flights of stairs to the summit, slipping a little on the iced ground and crunching through deposits of snow. Pilatus 0043 - 20151212Pilatus 0036 - 20151212Although a stunning day, the chill was in the air and winter was evident all around. Pilatus 0030 - 20151212Pilatus 0059 - 20151212We looked down on Lucerne, arguing about the location of our digs. Given my poor eyesight and  poor directional sense I don’t know why I bothered (but I was right). Pilatus 0058 - 20151212We stayed at the top for a hot chocolate (cough wine) and entertained the kidlets with bubbles, because apparently the Alps weren’t spectacular enough.Pilatus 0123 - 20151212This week sees them on a trip to Interlaken, Tim back to Waiblingen and us all hitting France in time for the girl’s first birthday this weekend. I’m quite happy, though, to spend my days watching the two cousins play together (or at any rate near each other, Fletch trotting across rooms and making animal noises and Laidey zipping around with her one-knee-up crawl, still inappropriately uh-ohing). It was worth the wait.

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A lot like Christmas

Tim’s new job requires him to travel – not as much as we’d first thought (yet, at least) – but every few weeks he scoots across the border to Germany. Waiblingen, to be specific. Just outside Stuttgart, it’s about three and a bit hours from here and so when he had an extended stay last weekend, Adelaide and I hitched a ride.

I confess we had an ulterior motive: Christmas Markets. Found throughout this area, they are renowned in Germany as being epic. I love Christmas and I love markets; it was a no-brainer. We rolled into town on Sunday afternoon and made our way to the Ludwigsberg markets. In the centre of town, they were easy to find, not least because many helpers indicated the way.

Samichlaus 0310 - 20151207They were jammers (and slightly blurry). Samichlaus 0325 - 20151207Samichlaus 0322 - 20151207Possibly blurry due to the Gluhwein (mit rhum) we knocked back. Because Christmas Markets. Samichlaus 0318 - 20151207The Ludwigsberg Markets are renowned for the angels that line the town and light up the night. Samichlaus 0333 - 20151207Samichlaus 0347 - 20151207Angels and, um, other lights. Samichlaus 0329 - 20151207This snap was meant to capture the general vibe of the markets, but turned out to be a tribute to Mr Man in the middle. Clearly we love you the most, whoever you are. Samichlaus 0349 - 20151207Samichlaus 0334 - 20151207Following dinner with one of Tim’s colleagues (an Aussie guy who’d gifted us with not only a Vegemite supply but also a tip off to a German meat wholesaler just around the corner from work), we called it a night. Motsy had two days of work ahead and Laidybird and I had two more days of gluhwein markets.

We hit Stuttgart the following day and stocked up (shamelessly) on Christmas decorations for the tree and (essentially) snow boots. As a city, Stuttgart was fairly nondescript. Perhaps the markets (which of course I loved) gave an unfair focus, but other than a large open town square there was little in the traditional sense of attractions. However, it was a cool, crisp winter day and there was nothing that hot wine and wurst couldn’t take care of. We had a ball.

The following day we canvassed the hotel breakfast room – primarily populated with Tim’s colleagues – for the best way to spend our day. The recommendation was to head to Schönberg, a wee town about half an hour away, as it was a typical village of the area with many traditional buildings. And, of course, more markets.

It was everything that was promised, and the girl and I spent the morning moseying the streets listening to jazz Christmas carols played by a three piece street band while snacking on clementines (her) and stollen (me).

A few days after returning home, we had our best early Christmas present: my sister, her husband, their lovely lovely boy and equally lovely baby bump arrived to play, for a whole month. As they managed their jet lag we dressed the tree in the spoils from our mega market spree, getting increasingly excited for the upcoming festivities.