Hiking Schwyz

If there is a downside to living in the land of chocolate and cheese – and I’m not saying there is, mind – it may be related to our waistlines. We’ve certainly been living the good life for the past few weeks, so this weekend we decided to get some exercise in as well as continue to explore the countryside. We researched hikes that could be done in our local area, looking for something relatively simple but scenic nonetheless (code for ‘we really aren’t up to climbing a mountain’.)

The hike we decided on was a section of the Pragelpass-Weg route, which spans the Schwyz and Glarus Cantons. We opted for the first leg, a 14km stretch that started at Schwyz and wound its way to a town called Muotathal. We don’t have wheels yet, but the public transport here is excellent. We were able to get the two trains we needed with about a three minute wait and very little hassle. It was also inspiring to see many other people mobilising for Sunday activities – walkers like us, but also rock climbers and cyclists (and a bunch of people wearing Swiss traditional dress and smoking cigars. I was tempted to remove my hiking shoes and join them as they seemed to be having a blast, but I needed to keep my lungs ready for fresh mountain air so no dice).

Tim and Adelaide discussed hiking strategies on the way there (no cigars). 
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Until she got bored and fell asleep.

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We arrived at Schwyz and tried to work out where we were going. The formal hiking trails around Switzerland are signposted and numbered; we were looking for walking route 29. Our internet map advised us that this would require a 2km walk through town to locate the trail. As we got out of the station, the skies were a little grey and we anticipated rain.

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We didn’t make it into the main hub of Schwyz – we skirted around the edges to find the trail. This meant we wandered past houses, market gardens, fields of flowers and the ever-present majestic mountains.

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We weren’t sure what we were looking for. In Australia, a lot of the hikes we’ve done are on bush trails in national parks – completely independent and quite obviously hiking trails. Here, it wasn’t clear if we were looking for a trail, a formal path, a gravelled road or a shortcut through fields. Although we’d experience all along the way, the start turned out to be the latter, with a welcome sign showing us to trot through a fence and start the walk through a field of pear trees.

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For the first few kilometres we traipsed through green meadows alongside little rivers. There were many gates and makeshift bridges to cross, and we’d frequently see farm houses, dairies (which we could smell as well as see) and small towns.

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We also saw some rather creepy carvings.

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The hike was categorised as easy and while it was a reasonable length, it was primarily flat. We still got all the sights of the surrounding Alps without having to do any of the hard work. (Tim postulated that carrying the girl for 14ks was hard enough work; an argument about my nine months of carrying her ensued.)

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About halfway through the walk, we came across an old bridge. At this site, in late Autumn 1799, Russian General Suworow and his army were stopped by the French when trying to reach the Schwyz lowlands. Apparently there were 20,000 men and over 1,000 horses constituting said army – hard to imagine in the small space we’d just come through.

The bridge itself escorted us across a raging river. We’d seen numerous waterfalls as we walked and had wondered where the water wound up – we had our answer as we crossed. It also explained how Suworow’s army was detained as there was no easy way across other than said bridge.

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After our own wee army made it safely across, we stopped for a snack and to don our wet weather gear as the threatening rain started to come through on its promises.

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The terrain changed significantly as we walked. From the meadows, we walked up through small towns into the sub alpine ranges (the internet tells me the sub alpine forest we walked through is the largest in Western Europe, with the largest explored cave network underneath. We were oblivious to this as we hiked and as we barely saw anyone else the entire way it also seems like Western Europe’s largest best kept forest secret). We walked along rivers and lakes, and at times the path opened up into broad fields.

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Between our wet weather gear and the canopy of trees, we were kept dry.

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And our wee passenger was warm and comfortable (we assume. She seemed happy throughout the day so we’re taking it as a win).

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The final stages of the walk as we approached Muotathal became farmland, with many cows and goats dotting the landscape. We researched why bells are worn around the cow’s necks (and smaller ones around sheep and goats) – the answers ranged from the cynical (for tourismo purposes), to amusing (each cow in Switzerland is part of a larger, secret cow orchestra that unite to make a great symphony), to punny (‘it’s udderly necessary’ and ‘because their horns don’t work’), to traditional (the larger the bell the richer the farmer, as well as interesting information on ornate bells for ceremonial purposes). The simple reason is that the cows roam freely over the Alps to graze, and can frequently get themselves in unexpected areas or the weather may be such that it’s hard to find them. The bells are an easy way of locating them. It was also rather lovely to hear the gentle clanging of the orchestra rehearsing as we made our way through the fields.

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Even though poor old Tim had the heaviest load, he wasn’t the one who was tuckered out at the end of the day.

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We made our way back, slightly sore and sorry but definitely delighted with the experience, for a well-earned beverage on the banks of Lake Zug.

The little things

We’ve been here just on two weeks now, and alongside exploring our new country we’re slowly starting to learn the ropes about life in Switzerland. There are many similarities, but just enough differences to make our day to day life slightly surreal, like we’re in a dream or a parallel universe. Or, say, another country. Some of them are blatant and expected – the other side of the road thing, language and money differences, opposite seasons, weird powerpoints. But there are a handful of other quirks – some minute (like the different alert sound the train station makes) and some large (like the tax system) that are slowly infiltrating our consciousness as we adapt our daily lives.

Apartments seem to the be the primary mode of residence. We’re staying in one now, and as I’ve been walking the bub around our town and further afield, it’s apparent that this is the main way people live. Ours is comfortable and spacious (we lived in The World’s Smallest Darkest Apartment in Marrickville for many years though, so our benchmark is pretty low), and happily seems to be fairly soundproof (our girl is currently protesting bedtime. Like, for hours at a time. I felt for our neighbours until I did some Laidey-scream-testing and it seems to be not too bad – which is a relief, because otherwise you could probably hear her in Australia). The coolest thing about it, though, is the lift. You get in it as normal in the foyer of the building and you need to activate it with a key, as the lift opens up directly into our apartment. I don’t know how common that is, but it’s awesome and every time I use it I feel like I’m in Big. (I also just fell down an epic late 80s and early 90s movie spiral. Thanks, internet.)

We don’t have an apartment number either – just our street and block. Names are put on the door and the postboxes. When we moved in, we were ‘Fam. Purtell’. Adelaide and Tim received their Swiss permits and bank information without any hassle, but the days dripped on and there was nothing for me. I had my panic on for a while – my photo was pretty bad, perhaps I was rejected due to Inappropriate Hairdo? – but when we went to the post office I was advised that they did not know I was living at that address, as I am a Noller (this was extremely difficult to explain. It just didn’t seem to be understood that I was a Noller but my husband a Purtell. For the first time I was quite pleased we were both too stubborn to drop either of our names from Adelaide’s: her hyphenated Noller-Purtell enabled me to explain out family getup a little easier). Not a major pickle by any stretch of the imagination, and easily rectified (door plaques changed, as opposed to my name), but just something we didn’t consider at all.

Recycling is an epic deal here. Prior to arriving, Tim’s colleague commented on the magnitude of this but we sort of shrugged it off. It’s recycling, people. How big a deal could it be? Joke is on us, it turns out. A major component of our ‘welcome to Switzerland’ relocation induction was about focused on this (and despite the amount of info we received then, we’re still somewhat confused). Switzerland has a goal to reach 50% of its 1990 emission levels by 2030 and the whole waste system has been set up to support that goal (in comparison, Australia’s goal is 5%…although, this has a number of caveats that actually put us at 61% above, according to Tim’s research. We’re the second worst per capita, exceeded only by Russia) (blush). Every apartment block has two receptacles for waste – normal rubbish and green waste (all food scraps sans meat). For normal waste, you must use their official garbage bags which cost CHF2.9 each (about five bucks). Putting such a high price on garbage (in an already expensive country) means that people really observe the waste rules. There are centres in every town to take all your waste, but they are only open restricted hours. Also, at train stations, supermarkets and other designated spots around town are the various recycling plants – paper, PET, glass, cans and the like. It’s quite confusing though as there doesn’t appear to be a standard system for these – some supermarkets only take PET, for example, but it doesn’t seem consistent. I see parents walking around with their kids and stopping to offload the day’s recycling at various points in town (and have creepily followed them to work out where to go) – it feels complex enough that it could easily become my part time gig. I’m sure we’ll be used to it soon enough however, and it’s an excellent incentive to reuse and recycle (also, the fivers saved on garbage bags can be put towards my wine time).

One of the main incentives to move here (other than the girl learning to speak multiple languages, as opposed to Westie and Bogan, the native languages of her parents) are the significant tax advantages in Switzerland. I’m confused slash disinterested by tax at the best of times*, but it’s been another topic that has been drummed into us. Here, we have a federal tax of 1%, and then each of the 26 Cantons (like states, I guess, but smaller and with apparently much more control. Also, bear in mind that the entire population of Switzerland is less than that of Sydney, so we’re almost talking the equivalent of local government areas in terms of population) is able to impose its own tax, which goes directly to expenditure on roads, schools and the like. Naturally, each Canton competes to attract high flying rich peeps and businesses, and the taxation is generally quite low. For example, Canton Zug, where we’re currently living, taxes at 4.15%. Across the border in Lucerne, where we’re contemplating moving, is a ‘hefty’ 10%. In addition to this, there’s a wealth tax based on assets (of which we have none here, other than our firstborn but happily she is not claimable, because otherwise we’d probably owe them money). Also, being married and having no religious affiliation has a significant impact on our tax status – hurrah for our shotgun civil nupitals! The doozy, though, is consumption tax: the day to day is expensive. There are rumours** of people crossing the border to smuggle back meat and other goods. There is also no social security or healthcare included through taxation – the former is done conjointly between employer and individual, and the latter through insurance. Interestingly, the social outcomes here are apparently the same as the Scandinavian (complete welfare state) models; we don’t know enough about it yet to have much of an opinion on that one.

Finally, perhaps most strangely and definitely most amusingly of all, people totally rollerblade here. There are signposts for walking, pushbikes and…inline skates. Maybe that 80s/90s spiral wasn’t too out of context after all.

*Although my lovely cousin Kylie is not. This bit is for you as requested, and apologies if it’s not detailed enough but I was falling asleep writing about tax as it was.

**We’re planning our trip in the near future.

Return to work

Adelaide is a December baby. Early estimates had her arriving on the big day itself but she rocked up slightly earlier, on the 20th (thankfully – not because a Christmas birthday would be the end of the world, but because mama was well and truly ready for some festive bubbles). Because it was the silly season, as well as a potentially complicated arrival, Tim had a glorious six weeks off work. We had a lovely – although admittedly shell shocked – summer. We watched a lot of Suits, several bad movies, and lazed around in our cool, dark lounge room while our tiny one slept, either in her bassinet next to us or snuggled in our arms. We ate meals at any hour around the clock, really only when we remembered to feed ourselves as most of our energy was focused on feeding her (and doing laundry. So much laundry). We took slow family outings, mainly to local parks and beer gardens and walked around the neighbourhood, trying to lull her to sleep, a lot.

I was terrified when Tim had to return to work. It was my birthday the day previously, and we’d had a low key celebration which felt like we were celebrating the end of our freedom. I just didn’t know what I would do with myself without him around to help. I didn’t know what to do with the baby, didn’t know how we’d fill our days. It was such a different feeling to being at work. There, I knew what to do or at least how to bluff convincingly. I was capable and competent – with the baby, I felt like a charlatan. (Although the bluffing admitted to earlier actually implies I was one already.) On the advice of a few friends, I gave myself a list of daily goals to help keep me focused. Lofty they were not. Leave the house once a day. Get dinner on the table. Stay on top of laundry. (And keep the baby alive, but that presumably goes without saying.)

Slowly, things started to feel like my new normal. My neighbourhood had lots of excellent cafes (and indeed bars); my daily outings became pleasurable. I joined my mother’s group which helped enormously. I’ve always loved cooking and most days, the meals were prepped and ready to go by the end of her first nap. Laundry…well, the laundry was managed but not without cussing. And then, of course, we up and moved.

Tim’s just had the longest break he’s had since she was born (sixteen whole lovely days!), and even with the flights and the hectic nature of settling into a new country, it’s felt like a holiday. We’ve taken the time to travel a little but even adapting to a new space together has been exciting. Best of all has been the ever present extra pair of hands, the company during the day and getting to spend uninterrupted time with my two favourites.

He started his new job this morning, and while so proud and pleased for him, I confess something of the old nerves have returned. This time around I know what to do with the girl, at least. I know our days will pass and I am fully confident I can keep her healthy and happy. Filling my time has me a little more anxious. As mentioned, our village is much smaller than any I’m used to and popping out to try a new cafe isn’t really on the agenda. There are certainly new towns to explore, with galleries and sights to see, but it doesn’t feel quite as fun on my own (Adelaide’s critiques are less than fascinating, so I’m not counting her as company as such at this stage). Our train of visitors commences next month with my parents, so that will alleviate some of the potential isolation. I’ve also got my standbys: dinner still needs to get on the table, there’s German to be struggled through, and there is an international play group that meets weekly that the lass and I will join.

Lest you think I am in any way complaining, I reiterate that we’re the luckiest people in the world to be here and to be exploring a new country together. It’s just not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows (or Alps, chocolate and lakes, as the case may be). At drinks the other day, I was told it had taken about two years for another ex-pat to feel settled in, like it was home. I’m trying to be realistic about my expectations and I’m aware that the coming months – particularly the snowy ones – could be hard.

Today, however, the sun is shining. We just did a lap of the town to find the source of the Evil Every Fifteen Minute Bells (a lovely old church, with a playground conveniently next to it). Picked up some fixings for a plum torte. Read my book while she crawled and ate some miscellaneous park ground covering. I know we’ll be alright, really. And of course, if we’re not, there’s always going to be laundry.

The first of many

As a general rule, I’m the kind of mama that strives for routine and rules. Up at seven in the morning, breakfast and play, nap at half nine for two hours. Lunch, more play and then a lovely afternoon nap for another two hours before dinner, bath and bed (without protest) at seven in the evening. A full twelve hours sleep and then repeat. Of course, someone failed to give my girl that particular memo because that has happened exactly never. But because I have it in my head that we should be a structured kind of family, I generally balk at anything that might upset said routine, no matter how fictional it may be.

Tim, on the other hand, could not be more laissez faire when it comes to parenting. ‘She’ll cope’ is pretty much his mantra, whether it’s about a lunch we want to go to, a nap she might miss, a train she might lick or paper she might eat, or – say – a move to Europe. I love his approach in theory, but of course it’s the complete opposite to mine and therein lies many a challenge. We discussed this ad nauseam when contemplating the move here and we agreed on what we thought was a happy medium: ‘routine’ during the week, and aim for a weekend away once a month. Of course we fantasise about Paris, Milan, Barcelona and the like, but to to be honest even if it’s around the corner we’ll be happy.

However, when he suggested that said getaway occur this weekend, I was hesitant. We’ve been on the go for weeks now, and it seemed so unfair to move her again when we were finally getting close to something that might one day resemble my dream routine above. (Of course what I meant by this was that I don’t want to miss any more sleep, or deal with a testy baby, any more than I need to.) One of the main reasons we came here was to capitalise on seeing the world together, so I am trying to lose some of my rigidity and become a little more carefree. So, despite my lame arguments, Saturday morning saw us running to the train station to head a few hours away to Interlaken. (One of Tim’s other travel goals is to learn to pack light. This is the total baggage for the three of us for the weekend, including baby cot and assorted paraphernalia…and apparently we need to trim it down further. Yikes.)

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We had our first sight of fog, a sign Autumn is descending. It was beautiful, and the slight chill that comes with it refreshing, but I am slightly nervous about the winter that lies ahead.

7d72-2aac-1a08-71b2Interlaken means ‘between lakes’. It’s a small town about two hours from our home, known for its scenery, proximity to the Alps and outdoor activities (hiking, paragliding, rock climbing and the like). The town itself is, as the name gives away, flanked by two large, ice blue lakes which are bordered by mountains. The train ride in was breathtaking.

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We moseyed around town for a while to get our bearings (and to help the baby get some some cobblestone-induced sleep. No dice, sadly. But the tongue made many more appearances).

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Tim actually gasped when this popped into view. (Given how majestic it is, I’m not sure how it surprised either of us, but it did.)

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I gasped when I saw the brave (slash crazy) people jumping out of the sky.

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It was a gorgeous clear day so we decided to head to Grindelwald, and from there take a cable car up to First. As we were leaving Interlaken we realised the Jungfrau Marathon had started that day. Said to be the most beautiful marathon in the world, we thought it must also be one of the most difficult as the runners had to climb to the highest peak of the Alps. We were too late to see the start, but the next day we saw many people hobbling around town as testimony to its ferocity. We were pleased (although very much humbled) that our endeavours were merely by train.

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We had clear views across the Alps as we arose. 
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25ae-a1bc-472d-9e80And more evidence of the crazies in the sky.
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However, we were happy to be there (and one of us tried to eat her shoe to prove it).

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There were a few ways down from the Alps. Adelaideybird and I took the cable cart. Hotel saw the flying fox and, despite my pleas on behalf of our potentially fatherless girl, embraced it wholeheartedly.

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As we descended the mountain, I kept hearing the clanging of bells. I initially thought it was a hideous tourismo gimmick, that alpine sounds were being pumped through the cable cart and would subsequently be available for purchase with matching knits in the guest lounge at the end. However as we looked around, it turned out the clanging was from bells on the necks of cows grazing on the fields below us. Grazing to enable my cheese and chocolate feasting at a later date, I hope.

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We made our way back to town, grabbed dinner and had a quiet night in. We’re still trying to work out how to juggle the baby’s sleep in a small hotel room. Luckily we’re both reading good books (this for Tim which I loved too, and I just started this, because I love me some detective fiction) and between whispered conversation, red wine and chocolate we did just fine.

Today’s weather wasn’t so great. We knew this would be the case, so decided to head to Trummelbach Falls. About an hour away from Interlaken, they are a series of glacier waterfalls inside a mountain. I’d love to be able to tell you more about them, but it turns out they are not suitable for children under four years of age so Laidey and I were not welcome, and killed time while Tim checked them out. To be fair, we had a grand old morning.

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As did Hotel. He likened the falls to a powerful old tap – you know the ones. Dull silvered metal, with a valve that pinches your hand when you turn it. When it finally relents, the water that bursts forth is unchecked, powerful, frenzied. c22e-0641-6a0c-38ec 9ae3-5f7a-b624-5350 84d6-bd4e-5c9c-11da
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Our train ride home was the most beautiful I’ve been on – we rose past the lake and through the mountains for miles. We had no time to take snaps though, as we were passing our daughter between the carriages of other tourists who wanted a cuddle (and having a cheeky wine for the road). We’re now back at the place that’s starting to feel like home, and she’s tucked up safe and sound in bed, leaving me little excuse to decline any further ventures out of my comfort zone.

Basel on Business

The best meal I’ve eaten to date was in Paris, circa 2002. I’d not been to the city before, and didn’t (why I’m using past tense is unclear; I still don’t) speak a word of French. I was meeting a friend the following day who’d lived there for some years – she had booked our hotel and made plans for the next few days. I flew in early evening and made it via the Metro to our hotel, but other than that had no clue as to where I was or where I wanted to be. I was keen to get out and explore but (as mentioned previously) I’m not great with directions, and I wanted to have a few drinks with my dinner. I made a rule – I could go out and have a lovely meal, and as many drinks as I fancied, but I wasn’t allowed to cross any roads. That way, I’d always be able to find my hotel easily and stress free. As luck would have it we were on a large and winding kind of block, so my options weren’t as limited as one might expect. After eyeing off several contenders, I haltingly walked into a small, dimly lit restaurant and between embarrassing hand gestures and even more shameful butchering of my high school French, found myself seated in a corner table. I don’t know what I ordered – I suspect they felt pity and gave me a fixed menu – but each dish was magnificent. I was binge reading Harry Potter at the time (2002, remember?) and between the meal, the book, and the delicious red that kept topping itself up I had a perfect evening. (I also didn’t quite understand the currency and spent three quarters of my holiday budget on that one meal, but it was worth it.)

The ‘don’t cross the road’ rule served me well then, and came into play again today when we made a day trip to Basel. Tim had an appointment there for relocation tax matters; the girl and I decided to tag along. We left him at 9am sharp, and agreed to meet up an hour later. Although we do have technology, we’ve only the one device until Tim starts work, so we had to revert to pre-technological travel tactics: show up at a designated spot when you say you will, and don’t get lost in the meantime. Taking the last part seriously, I allowed myself only to walk along the Rhine and back until his appointment was done. Happily for me, the mighty river offered many beautiful sights as I walked the block its banks. 
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After Lucerne and Zurich, Basel felt distinctly industrial (not helped by several large towers and chimneys pumping smoke). Once Tim finished his meeting, we broadened our horizons and explored the Old Town, market place, Rathaus (the town hall) and Munster (the Cathedral).

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Before going, I looked up the highlights of Basel. Other than the above and several museums (my girl is an uncultured brute; she cried through the David Bowie exhibition in Melbourne recently so I didn’t bother subjecting her to any further tyranny of the arts), Basel is apparently known for its excellent position between Germany and France (!), and for swimming down the Rhine. The water in the river – and indeed all bodies of water we’ve seen since arriving, and there have been many – is clean and clear and looks very inviting on a warm Autumnal day. We watched jealously as several people bobbed past us. They had put their clothing in an inflatable bag which was tied to them, so they could drift downstream with the current. We debated whether the girl would float but since we hadn’t taken our swimmers decided against testing it out.

ebeb-21c3-e611-04b7 8f65-5ccd-c448-db55We only had a few hours in town, so after a quick lunch we made our way back to the station for the trip home, thankfully with the majority of our budget intact. 1116-a84f-46f6-3330 7220-69ac-d758-ad2d

Our Nation’s (Non) Capital

I have never professed to have much in the way of geographical competence (just ask anyone who has gone househunting with me), but it wasn’t until we had been in Zurich for several hours that I was advised that it’s not the capital of Switzerland (that honour goes to Bern). A new low, even for me.

The non-capital is only a 35 minute train ride from Rotkreuz, so this morning we packed our bags (and made about three trips back to the house for things we’d forgotten, because even though we’re nearly nine months in, we still haven’t nailed this ‘on the go with a baby’ thing) and hit the city. The trains here are super bub friendly – there are baby play areas with mini slippery dips to keep little ones occupied (they could take it up a notch and put in a bar to keep parents occupied but we’ll live).

We’re keeping our outings simple – partly because of the little one, but also because we’re here for a while and for the first time in many years we don’t feel we have to tick everything off the to-eat to-do list in one hit. Today, we planned on doing a walking tour of the Old Town to orientate ourselves (and be informed of the real capital of the country). We rolled in early and had a quick bite to eat on the Roman Platform next to Lake Zurich.
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Some of us ate with worse manners than others (but admittedly much more relish).

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I was very happy to have a significant amount of distance between me and the evil colony of birds below.

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We met the tour group and started the walk. We were the only people there with a baby and the dynamics were, as a result, completely different from any other tour we’ve done before. For starters, Adelaide is apparently not very interested in Zurich now she too knows it isn’t the capital; she was very tired and skwarky at the start, so out of respect for the other patrons we tag teamed settling her away from the group. This meant we tag teamed information as well – and it turns out I may not be the best listener slash paraphraser ever (it’s unlikely that the tour guide described the art we walked past as being painted by Mr Blah Blah McPainterson). Also, people act very differently when you have a baby in tow – they’re a great social equaliser. We were given a lot of advice on how to put her to sleep, lots of baby touching and a few photos, and a lot more conversations with people in the group that we’ve ever had on tours before. Surprisingly (as I am fairly standoffish with strangers generally), I quite like this aspect of travelling with a little one (although I wish the sleep tips were actually of use).

The tour itself was grand; my standout moment was when we were shown the shop in which Oprah Winfrey was infamously advised she would not be able to afford a handbag she was eyeing off (I got similar thrills when shown the balcony in Berlin that Michael Jackson dangled Blanket from many years ago. The fine historical and cultural heritage of Europe is wasted on me). The views, however, were not (although again my girl is working on that tongue pose. Possibly trying to catch errant plum from earlier in the day?).

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I’d also forgotten how prominently churches feature in Europe. We saw several on this tour; Grossmunster (Great Minister) was the final site.

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Adelaide got all King Kong on it.

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Following the tour we roamed the streets, peeking around corners at cute bars and cafes and making mental lists of places to return to when my parents are in town to babysit. Once again, before heading home, we hit a park for lunch and a wriggle. This time she worked on her rolling (by which I mean we didn’t stop her when she started tumbling down a hill).

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A (boring, sorry) note on our administrative tasks which were largely completed yesterday: Swiss bureaucracy is amazing. We had to register our permits and visas and of course a whole bunch of papers and passport photos went missing in transit*. Our relocation support person rocked up to take us to the appointment and witnessed something of a Tim and Wendy bonanza when we realised we didn’t have everything we needed. She calmly took us to the authorities and somehow everything got effortlessly worked out and we now have our permits on the way. Happily they even accepted a smiling passport snap of me, hurrah!

Our banking experience was similarly uncannily simple. I remember moving to Ireland and having to lie about having a job and a permanent address to get a bank account. A friend of a friend wrote a fake confirmation of employment letter for me – I worked for the Irish Chocolate Company, I think. At the bank I was quizzed on said job and, being a hungover fool, hadn’t even thought to do the most basic of homework. I still remember the scathing look I was given by the bank manager when I couldn’t advise him of the address of the Irish Chocolate Company: ‘So ye don’t know where ye go to work everyday?’. Here, it was a simple process and we walked out with Swiss bank accounts within half an hour (woot woot!) – but to be fair, this is probably more indicative of my sad state of affairs many moons ago than it is of either country. (Although, if memory serves, the Irish bank did actually open the account. The Irish Chocolate Company never did get around to paying me any wages, though.)

*More than likely thrown out by me in a cleaning frenzy prior to leaving Australia.

Farmers’ Markets and Faux Father’s Day

As much as I love exploring new supermarkets, my favourite shopping is always done at farmers’ markets. A cherished ritual at home, we were keen to find a Swiss equivalent where we can pick up our produce each week. We gave the Lucerne ones a test run yesterday (there are also bi-weekly markets in Zug, our other contender for Future Home Town). We wandered around the Old Town, choosing a range of delights to sample.

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I’d forgotten how delicious European butter is, and don’t even get me started on the yoghurt, cheese and Swiss bread. We bought a punnet of fresh raspberries and they are the most delicious I’ve ever eaten (possibly because I alternated bites with Swiss chocolate). In other news, my jeans are becoming increasingly snug.

It was lovely to head home with our spoils and set up our new kitchen. After a quick drink with a few of Tim’s new colleagues, we made ourselves a market platter and enjoyed the evening in.

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Today is Father’s Day. Technically, it’s not Father’s Day in Switzerland – it’s celebrated here in June (as it happens, within a few days of Tim’s birthday. Two-for-one, here we come!). But since it’s his first, I hadn’t the heart to insist on adhering to local timelines. He had the choice of activities for the day and opted to take a trip up the northernmost peak of the Alps, Mount Pilatus. Before you applaud our physical prowess, let me clarify: this trip involved a quartet of transport. We took a boat, a train, a cable car and a bus to explore said mountain.

Although our girl’s jet lag is (slightly) better, we were still up super early so after a Father’s Day skype with both dads back home, we legged it to Lucerne to start the trip. Like all good Father’s Day outings, it started with a daddy-daughter pose.Swiss Family Purler Arrival 0323 - 20150906-2The first leg was by boat across Lake Lucerne.

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Tim reverted to his favourite subject matter: flags on boats.

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Halfway through the boat leg, we had to present our tickets. Yesterday we had purchased half fare cards, and although I thought this was an independent tour, Tim asked if we were eligible for the discount. As it turned out, we were indeed and the guard seemed shocked we’d actually paid full price. After filling out some Swiss paperwork and paying a Foolish Foreigner Tax, we got our money back and carried on ogling the scenery.

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As we were sailing along, we could see the mountain which we’d eventually scale. To my absolute height-hating horror, I could see the line of the cable car against the sky. It looked way too steep to be safe and I was terrified.

We arrived at the port, and proceeded to the train. It’s the world’s steepest cog railway (don’t you love it how caveats are thrown in to ensure it’s the number one in the world? In Narrandera, for example, there is the ‘world’s largest playable guitar’. Apparently it’s not the world’s largest per se so they had to throw ‘playable’ in there to get kudos) (also, yes I played it). Pickiness aside, this was one steep railway. It had a 48% incline, effectively rising one metre for every two we went forward. As we scaled the mountain I got increasingly nervous, but some passengers apparently found it boring and slept through the whole trip.

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Sadly the summit was submerged in fog and rain.

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Not having much view made me feel slightly better about stepping into the cable car for the descent, although still somewhat nervous…

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Which turned out to be spectacularly non-scary. One (Tim) might even call it lame. The views, however, were anything but.

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We stopped halfway down for lunch where we saw a bunch of hikers and rock climbers. I am ashamed to admit we ate the carby delight lunches that they’d earned. But hey, we’d just scaled a mountain. (Also – first Swiss rosti! Tim was pleased to note it fell apart, just as the ones he’s attempted to make do.)

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The second cable cart ride was a gentle descent down the mountain. Our little lass has always been a tongue-poker-outer, but she’s really excelling herself here. Swiss Family Purler Arrival 0500 - 20150906-2 Swiss Family Purler Arrival 0504 - 20150906-2 Swiss Family Purler Arrival 0505 - 20150906-2

The final leg was a bus ride back to Lucerne, then the train home. After the morning out we enjoyed relaxing at home for the afternoon – Sundays are quiet in our wee town. Following the outings of the last few days we have some boring administrative chores to attend to tomorrow (Swiss bank accounts! Registering with authorities!), and the girl has come down with a nasty cold (possibly due to exposing her tongue to all that mountain air…or more likely licking the bar floor on our flight, sigh), so we’ll be on the down low for a while. But it’s safe to say that all agreed it was the nicest fake Father’s Day we’ve ever had.

Rotkreuz v Lucerne

Following our brutally early start yesterday, we decided to make the most of the morning and get out and explore our new town. A jet lagged baby means family balcony selfies as the sun rose.

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Rotkreuz is a small village roughly forty minutes drive from Zurich (we had late night traffic work en route so that’s a guesstimate). It has about 7,500 people and as such is by far the smallest place I’ve ever lived. Our apartment is in the centre of town, right next to the train station. We’ve got a cluster of bars and restaurants next to us, and a short walk to the other side of the station where there are supermarkets, cafes and a few odd shops. We spent the morning strolling around and checking out the new neighbourhood, and indulging in one of my favourite foreign country pastimes: checking out the grocery stores.  I am delighted with the (unsurprising) abundance of cheese, chocolate and vino but also interested in some of the local faves. I’ve not been game yet to try Rivella, a fizzy drink made of milk whey or DIY raclette, but I’m sure the motivation will come.

We are staying in Rotkreuz for the first few months, after which we will find a permanent home. We’d originally picked Zug or Lucerne, as they are bigger towns with a bit more action, but roaming around yesterday morning made us reconsider. The village is small but pretty, with green hills circling it and wildflowers lining the streets (they may just be messy flowers as opposed to wild, but let’s roll with the latter). There’s a river the other side of town, which is apparently lovely for swimming in summer.

After lunch and a snooze for the still unsettled baby, we decided to make the ten minute train trip to Lucerne. After emerging from the underground station, all bets were off with Rotkreuz – Lucerne is stunning.

A gorgeous old cobblestoned town set on the banks of Lake Lucerne, framed by the alps, it was bustling when we arrived. I always loved, at home, going to Circular Quay – there’s something thrilling about picture postcard places in a city, especially those that have a holiday vibe. Lucerne was similar (in vibe only); people were walking around the lake, basking in the sun, admiring its beauty and perched in the cafes and bars circling the water. It was reinforced how different travel with a baby is – in our holidays previously, we would have been the ones propping up the bar on a gorgeous sunny day, as opposed to strategising sleep plans (both hers and ours).

We followed the crowds and took a walk to the Old Town.

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Since the bumpy cobblestones failed to lull our girl to sleep, we strolled around the lake further.

FullSizeRender 17 FullSizeRender 21I’ve read the best / only way to manage jet lag with little ones (and indeed big ones) is to get as much sun as possible during the day. (Note: this did not work for us. She was up today at 1.30am, happy as you please. I figure we’ll either ride it out, or she and I will just be getting up for three hour blocks in the middle of the night for the rest of our lives.) Thus, we pulled up some grass in one of the many parks next to the lake and let the bub frolic.

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She continued to work on her current best trick: waving.

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FullSizeRender 16It’s hard to get our heads around the fact that we’ll actually be staying here for some time. It’s exciting and surreal, and yet the normality of going to a park and fussing about getting home in time for dinner, bath and naps balances it out a little. We dearly longed for a stop off in the afore mentioned bar on the way back, but settled instead for our first Swiss wine at home, supplemented by live jazz wafting in the window from the bar next door. 
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We figure we have plenty of time to check out the sights, but this first taste of Lucerne was delightful.

The long haul

It’s 5am Swiss time, 1pm in Sydney. The baby’s been awake since 2 and we cut our losses at 4 and all got up. On the plus side, the apartment is unpacked and rearranged (and every power point and cord licked) and a list is written of things we need to pick up today. On the downside, the bags under my eyes rival the shipping container.

Twenty two hours in transit was never going to be pleasant (and that’s flight to flight; not including getting to our new home at the other end), but even with our small monster in tow it was better than we’d anticipated. We were in the extremely fortunate position of being flown over business class, and when choosing fights we tossed up between the one with an on board nanny versus the one with a stand up bar. If you’re in any doubt as to which we chose, you don’t know us at all. In our defence, the bar was an absolute godsend. Not only because both she and I are used to sending her to sleep while I jiggle her in the bjorn with wine in hand (note: only when we’re out and about, but it’s been a world of farewell lunches lately), but because it gave her some much needed crawling and exploring space. Our game plan was to work in four hour shifts with her in an eat / play / sleep cycle. Of course it didn’t work out exactly like that, but over 14 hours she got 4 small naps; enough to keep the edge off, and miraculously other than some gorgeous giggles, she made not a peep.

The bar was awesome, but surreal. A friend of mine once went on a five day train journey in Eastern Europe. One night, unable to sleep, he made his way down the train to the dining cart. It had come alive at 3am and became an impromptu bar, with a range of fellow insomniacs, seasoned drinkers and harried parents. He said it was a fabulous night, and in the morning it was almost as if it hadn’t happened, a surreal dream. Our bar felt a little like that. We boarded the plane at 6, and at about 7 I walked down through the sleeping cabin to find, at the end through the curtain, a bustling little oasis.

There was Mr Travelling to Barcelona To Invest A Rich Woman’s Money (he drank bubbles), the Harvey Norman Sales Conference Guys (rum and cokes all round), Ms Kindle And Smiles But No Conversation (beer), and Adelaide’s favourite, Mr London On Business With A 5 Year Old At Home And Never Too Busy To Wave To A Baby Or Play Peekaboo (I liked him too, as he moved from bubbles to white to red to beer and then a cheeky gin). We were Family Relocating To Switzerland, and after Tim’s shift in the bar Adelaide had waved and grinned at everyone there, endearing herself to all and pretty much everyone knew our backstory. Like any bar, there were a few jerks (Mr Half Tanked ‘Do You People Speak English’ and Ms ‘What Does It Take To Get a Cup of Tea Around Here’) but by and large the camaraderie was rich and the stories – and wine – flowed freely. It made pleasant memories for a flight that could have been the stuff nightmares are made of.

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The second leg wasn’t so great, but it wasn’t hideous either. We were all knackered by then, and she grizzled a little as the flight commenced. Tim’s trick was to block out all visual stimulation and bounce the heck out of her in the bjorn; it worked and we all caught some zzzzs.

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IMG_5354We landed in Zurich at sunset. I was focusing on ensuring her wee ears popped so wasn’t able to see much out of the windows other than clouds and lots of green; by the time we’d made it out the other side the sun had set. We were met at the airport with a ‘Roche’ sign and were taken to our new apartment in Rotkreuz (a town we’re likening to the Canning Factory Town, or the Abattoir Town – apparently the majority of the people who live here work at Roche).

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The apartment is great. It’s open plan, spacious and clean. It has weird sliding doors and tilty windows, the beds have large spongy European pillows and separate duvets; little differences that distinguish life from the familiar. We’re across the road from the train station and although I’m used to the hustle and bustle of Marrickville, the clock tower that rang every 15 minutes throughout the night last night really threw me (that, and my non sleeping baby). We were welcomed by one of the relocation staff and there was a settling in hamper, which after we bathed and fed the baby was how we refreshed ourselves.

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Next up – we explore. We’ve a shopping list (vegetables, please!), and some basic chores to do. We’ll check out the Canning Factory Town this morning and head to Lucerne this afternoon. That, and find all the coffee.


In related news – here’s a list of the things we took for the bub on the flight…and  how they actually worked out.

  • Nappies. More than we think we’re going to need, and then a few more on top of that. Just to be safe.
    Verdict – took way too many. We used five or so and had 20 with us. However, I’d bring them all again because they’re compact and the last thing you want to be without. It also means we’re OK here for a few days. 
  • Wipes; as above. On her first flight, there was an epic incident by another bub on the plane. It effected the baby, both his parents, and the poor unsuspecting stranger sitting next to them. The embarrassed, flustered mother came and asked me (the only other mum on the plane) if I had any spare wipes and I gave them all we had for the cause. I’ve never travelled short since.
    Verdict – didn’t need to crack into the large pack, but again I’d bring them.
  • Change of clothes – three full sets for her, and two shirts / one pants each for us. See above (although we don’t have a set for the stranger, who was the one who really needed them).
    Verdict – (arguably) didn’t need them for us (although as Tim pointed out in Dubai, I was covered in baby muck) but did use a change for her. Would have been better to have different climate clothes – I’d packed for winter but Dubai was a whopping 40 degrees.
  • Food, of course. She’s still breastfed so that will help, but also needs meals and snacks. On the advice of a well travelled friend, I made up a ziplock bag for each meal with the food, a spoon and a bib in each. It breaks my heart a little but she really loves the puree pouches, and as long as she’s eating I’ll be happy (slightly resentful for all the time I spent cooking meals she rejected, but happy). I’ve got a savoury and a fruit pouch in each bag. I’ve also packed fresh fruit (banana, pear, kiwi – her faves) and an avocado, as well as a few rusks and rice crackers for crunching and spitting out all over the floor. The airlines don’t have a limit on liquid amounts for kids so I’ve also got two bags of frozen milk and a bottle and sippy cup, in case she fancies either.
    Verdict – way too much food, and we didn’t even use any of the airline’s purees. However, the rusks and crackers came in handy for keeping her occupied and although I hated giving it to her, a custard on the way down guaranteed she’d swallow (sugary sugary goodness) when she wouldn’t breastfeed or take the bottle. 
  • Medicine slash toiletries. Nurofen and Panadol for pain relief if needed (she has no fangs yet and I am convinced they will arrive on the flight, because how else could it be any worse?). Fess for a blocked nose and chest rub, both just in case. Barrier cream and a nappy rash cream. Hand sanitiser, for us. A thermometer, again just in case. (Sadly, no phernergan. The doctor looked at me like she should call child services when I asked her if I could dose the girl up. Guess that’s a no, then.)
    Verdict – would definitely take again. Used the creams and some nurofen for her wee ears; and even though we didn’t need it all I’d hate to be looking for it. 
  • Her sleeping bag. It’s optimistic, I know, but we hope she may actually catch some zzzs at some point during the 22 hour transit.
    Verdict: HA!! It lined the bassinet in which she barely slept. Useless.
  • Baby bjorn, because we can jiggle her at the bar if she doesn’t.
    Verdict – indispensable. Got her to sleep in it more often than not, and much better than the pram when in transit as hands were left free. The slight proviso I’d make is that something that blocks out other distractions would be good – Tim whacked a blanket over her and that did the trick in the end. 
  • Toys. These include a quiet book (which she’s a bit too young for, but it’s gorgeous and we’re hoping somewhat distracting), two Sophies (for teething), a few books, a few non-musical (and hopefully therefore not too annoying) rattlely things. Also, again on the advice of the seasoned traveller friend, a bag of balloons for hotel rooms and transit. She’s already had pretty good milage out of one here so it’s a win already.
    Verdict – meh. Some were useful, but she has the attention span of a goldfish and is more interested in moving. The airline actually gave us some toys for her as well, and she got excellent milage out of a toothbrush. However, I wouldn’t risk taking none but I’d cut down the number.
    This view is disputed by Tim – he loved the toys the most. He’d plop her at his feet and give her one toy; when she (quickly) got bored he’d rotate around with others. Reckons this killed an hour at a time. 
  • Noise blocking headphones. Tim’s manager gave us these as a gift for her – he is a well travelled man with two kids and swears by them. I rather think it’ll be everyone else who needs them.
    Verdict – didn’t use for her as she had some with the seat, however we’d bring on other trips to test them then. 
  • A muslin wrap. Not sure why I’ve included this – she’s no longer swaddled and cannot stand being covered when she’s fed (not that I cover her, but just in case I feel uncomfortable). I have vague ideas that it could be useful for covering her bassinet or similar.
    Verdict – we could have used this as the light / visual blocker with the bjorn but it stayed in the carryon. I was also wearing a scarf which took care of any potential modesty issues. I’d not bring it again, even though it’s kinda like my security blanket from her early days.