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.

Nutritious lunch #6 (soundtrack by Deep Purple)

When I was in high school, circa year nine, my music class consisted of every student rocking up, grabbing their instrument and playing ‘Smoke On The Water’. This happened several times a week for about six months and probably would have been awesome except that I played the flute. It feels like I have had the song stuck in my head ever since.

So when we all went down to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline, we weren’t making records with the mobile but rather eating all the cheese. There was raclette (this time a selfie rather than communal effort), fondue and rosti (which had cheese on top). They, unlike my rock-n-roll flute, were awesome.

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Rainy old Sunday

Our dinner went smashingly, to the point where when we woke this morning and heard the rain outside we were relieved we could skip our planned hike and nurse our sorry heads inside on the couch, finishing the series we’re currently watching and potentially ordering a cheeky recovery pizza later in the day. However, our resident ten month old apparently doesn’t like Bosch and made it clear that staying indoors all day quietly was not on the cards.

It’s mushroom season here and I’ve heard of people hitting the forests to forage for delicious wild treats. Obviously, there’s a concern about eating poisonous mushies and to assist with this the Naturmuseum Luzern – the museum of natural history – offers an identification service. You take your loot in and they advise which goodies can be risottoed and which must be turfed. Given our sad state, foraging in the wet woods was out of the question but we cut to the end game and decided to head into the museum for the morning.

Lucerne was misty, grey and wet, and it was beautiful. The cobblestoned streets had a shimmer to them, and gorgeous silvery light danced around the lake. It still wasn’t as nice as our couch in our warm house, but the cold bite to the air helped brush the cobwebs away. That, and nearly being taken out by the Lucerne tourist train as we turned a tight corner in the Old Town.

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We traipsed around until we found the museum. Adelaide appears less than impressed with her call to leave the comforts of home (or maybe she’s embarrassed about being rugged up in pink baby ugg boots. But how could I not?).

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I’ve always loved natural history museums, and they’re usually my first port of call in any given city in inclement weather. I spent a lot of time in the one in Dublin, mostly in the thin narrow room that felt completely stuffed with…well, stuffed things. I’ve spent rainy holidays in the states and the UK lazily perusing the musty wares. Sydney’s is great – they do night time openings with a full bar as well as having an awesome kid’s area by day that I’ve taken the girl to, so she could crawl around and discover. I was excited to see what Lucerne’s held.

Wild boar, is what.

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We realised fairly early on that not being able to read German hinders our ability to learn about the installations (we will be starting lessons soon, but we had to wait until we knew where we’d live. Even once they do kick off, I suspect we won’t go from zero to understanding the Swiss ecosystem as explained by the museum immediately). Tim attempted some google translate (we tested it on our bills: his name comes up as Lord Timothy Tumble and mine is Woman Wendy Noble) and although that gave us laughs, it wasn’t so great for learning. Adelaide didn’t seem to mind though and crawled happily through the trees, fossils and stuffed birds.

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The museum is known for its insect collection, apparently one of the most significant in Europe. Surprisingly, given my irrational fear of nearly everything else, I’m not actually that freaked out by bugs (don’t get me wrong, I think they’re kinda gross and all but birds are definitely, unquestionably worse), and these were presented quite prettily. They’d added a surprise element by putting them behind panels you had to access with pass cards – it was like a big bug lucky dip. Some panels hid pretty butterflies, some freakily large cockroaches, and others spindly stick insects.

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Adelaide’s apparent interest has me concerned she’ll wind up like those weird insect guys in Silence of the Lambs.

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We wandered around for most of the morning, taking it in turns to view the collection and spot our girl climbing the stairs (up is fine and embraced enthusiastically. Down, not so much). Disappointingly, I didn’t see anyone saved in the nick of time from eating their potentially lethal mushroom haul, but we were happy with the characters we did meet.

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We had lunch in a cosy restaurant overlooking the lake. It would have been delightful except that Adelaide had decided she didn’t care for our choice of venue and Lord Tumble and I had to individually scoff our meals while the other managed Captain Screamalot outside in the rain. We made our way home through the local hills, thick with forest. We rose above the fog at one point, the town below barely visible due to cloud cover.

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We made it home in time to settle the baby and, finally, get our couch time (with a heavenly recovery gin). The pizza didn’t get a look in, but we did give these a go.

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Yeah, they’re little dancing people. They were like man-shaped flakes of polystyrene with some colour on them, but given our state we happily knocked them back. Also, I have to stop buying snacks simply because I think their names are amusing.

Helping the economy

Sadly, our days have been focused disproportionately on shopping and as such have been a total nightmare. The most successful outing was to Zurich earlier in the week during which I failed to bring my wallet, which should indicate how low the bar was set.

We need to purchase a bed before we move, which I assumed would be a simple and potentially enjoyable task. Fool! The beds are completely different sizes than all the linen we own, they have single mattresses (which is apparently a great thing), you need to purchase slats for each side individually and they are as complicated as circuit boards, each side has a weird independent tilting system, and all these variables are explained in Swiss German…gah. Adelaide had a meltdown today in the store we’ve visited three times this week and frankly, I was entirely supportive.

On top of that, we’ve been hanging at various supermarkets. We’re having our first guests (that aren’t my parents) over to dinner tomorrow night, and I confess I have culinary nerves. Like everyone in the post-chef-worshipping era, I enjoy cooking and take an interest in food (by which I mean, of course, that I’m a total glutton), but by no stretch of the imagination am I any sort of gourmand. I tend to try new recipes for guests and as a result have had my fair share of mishaps, but nothing that can’t be solved by the twin mantras ‘put an egg on it’ and ‘put nicecream on it’.

However, grocery shopping has been the biggest challenge in pulling it together. I’m still not certain – despite spending a disgraceful amount of time in the supermarket – what I’ll be able to find in terms of fresh produce, so the menu had to make a last minute change this afternoon. I’ve exchanged Adelaide for some lamb – meat is ferociously expensive here, and I’m hoping I’ll cook it well and won’t have to resort to using said egg. We also don’t have the pantry and utensil arsenal I’m used to – I’d taken for granted having a range of spices, sauces, spatulas and the like at my fingertips. The biggest pickle, though, has been the labelling. Everything is conveniently described in three languages; sadly, I am too ignorant to read any of them. Locating cornflour and baking powder became a five man task this afternoon and I’m very grateful to the staff and fellow shoppers for trying to interpret my hideous attempts at butchering their language.

Other than keeping the franc flowing, I am probably the only person ever to hope that their kid is teething – she has none yet, and I’m convinced she never will (if you have a business in baby dentures, please get in touch). She’s been grizzly and dribbly, and although that could just be her personality and hygiene practices I’m hoping fangs will emerge soon. If they ever do she could help us with the continuation of the Chip Challenge. Remember Light and Tangy? Add a fancy frenchy name and bam! here they are, straight from the 90s to Switzerland (we yummed them up nostalgically).

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My extensive shopping did assist in one area. There’s a Swiss seasoning called Aromat; we’d seen it around various restaurants and read about it prior to coming in several Swiss food articles. It’s hugely popular and apparently makes everything taste better…because it’s pretty much MSG in a brightly coloured shaker. It is also my new Swiss dinner party saviour in case things go hideously wrong: egg, nicecream and Aromat.

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The worst thing about The Great Chip Challenge is that it’s going to reveal, revoltingly, how many chips I am capable of eating (the best thing of course is that I get to eat said chips in the name of research). Let’s just pretend it’s all about international education and nothing to do with poor eating habits. And for the love of god, please nobody ask about candies.

The next out of the fryer is a Halloween treat, charmingly named Monster-Eyes. Why I chose this remains unclear. They had the texture of cheese and bacon balls and the flavour of dehydrated Campbell’s tinned tomato soup. The were hideous, but of course I should have known that. They, and too many glasses of crappy red wine (of which one glass was actually too many), were my dinner the other night because Tim was away and the baby had given crying her best effort yet (and also my body is a temple, clearly).

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The other chosen treat were named Diavolo, complete with dancing devil. These were, according to Hotel, great chips. Thick, flavoursome and crunchy and a massive hit of chilli…only problem is, I really don’t like chilli chips. This was probably for the best though as it forced me to eat slightly more nutritious food in his absence.

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We’ve had more luck with sweet treats – Tim brought home a Ragusa bar he’d been given at work the other day for me to taste. It was toasted hazelnuts covered in (essentially) nutella, and coated in ganache. Adelaide has just learned to clap (best trick ever) and I swear it was no coincidence that the skill emerged with the arrival of these bars of goodness in our house.

(Just for the record, we did actually eat vegetables last week as well. Honest.)

Local wanderings

The days passed quickly even with Tim away in Vienna. Earlier in the week, on our morning coffee stroll, I was struck by a glorious tree in the middle of town with stunning yellow foliage. Intending to return to take some snaps, I was shocked a few days later to see that there were no leaves left; the tree was a collection of motley sticks against the grey sky, slightly smudged with fog. It’s already colder than most Sydney winters and I am increasingly aware how pathetic my tolerance to bad weather is. We’re trying to live by the Scandanavian mantra: ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’, but I suspect that might be bollocks.

These daily walks take us past all manner of curiosities. One of my faves are the numerous farm stalls. There are about half a dozen dotted around our area that I’ve seen, some in town and some on the roads circling us. Usually part of a small allotment, they generally sell eggs, apples, pears, quinces and sometimes (apparently delicious and unpasteurised) milk, rabbits and chickens. They all operate on the honesty system where you choose your goods and log your purchases in a wee book, taking any change you need. I’ve not actually purchased anything from them (mainly because I am a bit unclear on the log book lark) but I can’t resist going in and looking, and probably arousing suspicion of larceny most foul.

I also get a disproportionate amount of amusement out of the postal service, called The Post (in German, of course, Die Post). Without fail I think of Sideshow Bob’s tattoo: The Bart, The. Kills me every time. There are boxes dotted everywhere, including one down by the river, on one of the walking tracks. I like to think of someone penning an old school unrequited love letter amidst the gorgeous trees and then popping it in the mail (although, given the name of the post service maybe it’s an old school death threat instead).

This weekend was quiet; we had to do some furniture shopping which I can assure you is as wretchedly dull here as it is everywhere. On Sunday, happily, nearly all stores are closed so we decided to walk part of the way to Lucerne, and capture some of the fleeting Autumnal colours.

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All throughout the woods are little bird houses, of different shapes and sizes. On our stroll we counted over a dozen of them, nestled in the trees.

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Our village is surrounded by farmland. There are fields of corn, the afore mentioned apples, pears and quince trees, many cows and the odd horse. Tim whinnied and both our girl and the actual horse looked at him disdainfully.

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He had more luck demonstrating dandelion blowing.

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As we walked through this grove, we could actually hear the leaves falling around us, a sound neither of us are familiar with. They rained down thick, fast and golden.

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It’s easy to walk here – there are trails, it seems, between almost every village and there are always many people strolling and cycling along. This one took us through farmland and along the river to Gisikon-Root, a small town about five kilometres away.

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Our little passenger once again enjoyed the ride.

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We arrived in Lucerne and explored the festival. By explored, I mean we found a beer tent and ate two kinds of pork for lunch.

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Adelaide was happy with her blueberries, though.

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We then wandered around our neighbourhood-to-be; this park is about a block away from our new digs and is set on the banks of Lake Lucerne.

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We are getting increasingly excited – despite the woes of furniture shopping – about the impending move. Our temporary apartment has been fantastic but it feels exactly that: temporary. Although we’ve shuffled furniture around, hung the girl’s mobile (which, happily, my father reconstructed for her following relocation woes), and tried to acclimatise we don’t really feel settled as we know we will be up and moving again shortly. However, we’re trying to make the most of our wee town before we go; and with that in mind I am determined, honesty system confusion aside, to farm-stall-shop this week (I’ll hold off on penning death threats, though).

Swissnacks

Much like wine, I’ve never met a crunchy savoury snack I didn’t like so when some chip-loving friends in Australia (hi Rita and Dee!) suggested we try a bunch and report back, as you can imagine the arm that wasn’t holding my glass required a lot of twisting. There are several familiar snacks here (Pringles immediately come to mind) but there are also a whole bunch of new and potentially delicious treats to discover. I’m not expecting to meet the Swiss equivalent of the mighty cheese Twistie, but I’d happily settle for a Burger Ring or a Toob.

We were given the heads up prior to moving here that the range of foods – particularly herbs, spices and sauces – is quite different from what we’re used to. The Asian food influence we have in Australia is definitely (and sadly) lacking, and we have indeed noticed a difference in the availability of cooking staples. However, one spice that is available in abundance is paprika; even the local convenience store has about half a dozen different types. So when choosing our first chip to test run it seemed fitting that we’d go with a paprika flavoured number.

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Surprisingly, we found these to be super sweet; they had a slight smoky flavour at times but our general impression was that there wasn’t enough salty goodness balancing the sugar hit out. I am also assuming that the alarming orange hue was due to the paprika (although I am aware that they are chips, for god’s sake, so weird dusty orange colouring is par for the course)(um, also cheese Twisties are hardly a colour occurring in nature). They won’t make a repeat performance in our household but that did not stop us finishing them, of course.

(The Brot Chips Knoblauch also pictured are garlic bagel chips and exactly the same as all other garlic bagel chips I have eaten elsewhere, which is to say crispy and crunchy and delicious.)