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There are many positives and negatives associated with social media but in terms of helping the less memory-savvy of us recall our past activities, it certainly has merit. It was only due to a friendly Facebook reminder last Friday morning that Tim realised five years ago to the day, on a business trip to Switzerland, he had made precisely the same getaway on which we were about to embark. The primary difference between the two trips – other than the ankle biters and trouble-and-strife coming with him, of course – was that the first one allowed him to witness (via dodgy internet in a shady hotel room at an unsocial hour) his beloved Sydney Swans triumphantly winning the grand final, whereas this weekend…well, not so much.

We’d done the trip to Colmar in the Alsace region of France before the boy had arrived, but we’d always felt that there was plenty more to explore (cough wines to drink). So when some friends from home – an ex-colleague of mine and her lovely family – were making a pit stop there on their holiday, we shamelessly crashed their party. As did the Autumn leaves, which were popping up everywhere we turned.

After a catch up dinner when we arrived late Friday night (Adelaide speaking in hushed tones about being allowed to stay up late, see the moon and eat some ice cream at a restaurant) we decided to explore the small town on a mini tourismo train the following morning. There was a pre-programmed audio tour available in multiple languages, however all I learned was that two year olds prefer the iPad to local history, nine month old daddy doppelgängers think the headphone jack is a toy purely for their oral amusement, fruit pouches make lovely leg accessories when inexpertly squeezed by both children, and Colmar sure is a real purdy ol’ town.

We reunited with the Family Grozdanovski for that staple of travelling with kids: park time. Slippery dips for our monkey, a football slash basketball hybrid for theirs.

Because Motsy is clearly a creature of habit the next stop on our tried and true agenda was Riquewihr, a walled town about half an hour away. We shuttled our way there through vineyards with burnished leaves, anticipating the Alsatian bounty awaiting us.

We did not, however, anticipate our companion at lunch: angry Nicole Kidman.Colmar -098We enjoyed a delicious feast (complete with kidneys bravely ordered and consumed by Liam) and caught up on gossip, travel tales and the pressing issue of Nicole’s anger, and whether her companion was in fact a semi-Dame-Edna-ed Barry Humphries.

The short drive back to Colmar was made even more spectacular by the incoming storm (although possibly not so much for those waiting back in Riquewihr who were caught in the rain), the light bouncing off nearby hills and villages in manner spectacular.

Ever the photography enthusiast, Tim paused for numerous ‘ain’t this pretty’ breaks on the way home, forcing Bailey to get in on the snappy action (Tim’s enthusiasm rarely takes any prisoners). Bailey caught both the leaves and our little bear perfectly.

Despite this being Tim’s third iteration of this particular itinerary, we left Colmar the following day (detouring past the toy museum to indulge our girl’s love of baby dolls and her mama’s unexpected love of train sets) fully anticipating that we’ll return, despite all the other lovely places to visit. It’s sweet, close, super tasty – and besides, we’ve been left with so many unanswered questions. Why is Our Nic so angry? Who is her Barry Humphries-esque companion? How did she even wind up in the Alsace? Such mysteries can only be solved with Colmar dedication (and Crémant).

Bring it

It may surprise you to know that I am quite a sentimental kind of person. I can’t let a festive season pass without viewing (preferably on multiple occasions) ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ and there’s a Dire Straits album that was oddly slotted into my teens that will reduce me to tears if heard unexpectedly. There’s a ridiculously large box of child-related paraphernalia that I cannot bring myself to cull and I live in genuine fear that Posh and Becks will break up. But nothing brings on self indulgent melancholy like good ol’ Autumn. I’ve been wandering around for the last few weeks fairly misty eyed over the turning leaves, the chill in the air, the darker nights and the mellowing of the light (although this morning, against my better judgement and for reasons I am unable to articulate, I tried a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I was almost cured of Autumn Love right there and then. Yikes).

Earlier this month was the two year annualversay of our move to Switzerland, further impetus for reflection. This year I celebrated by making good on my FOMO. A few months ago, at the start of summer, Tim had climbed Mt Pilatus with some colleagues. I was hideously (cough childishly) jealous and, on Motsy’s urging, decided to give it a go myself. Despite having nowhere near the level of fitness required to scale the 2,128m mountain, it turns out I’ll do anything to get a morning away from the brats. A friend and I took it on, and after almost four hours of solid upwards hit the peak. Although the nicest day of a bad bunch, the mountain was still covered in heavy fog as we climbed. It made for poor visibility but given the scrambley nature of the path we took and my fear of heights, it was possibly for the best. Tim and said brats met us afterwards for a grill, where we cheersed to two years well spent (and it’s lucky arms are used for cheers-ing, as lord knows my legs were not up for anything much after that hike).

The last two years have gone swiftly. Theodore – who of course wasn’t even remotely on our agenda at the time – is now the age that Addie was when we moved here. In those early days, we looked around at childcare options and found that a lot of the playgroups were only accessible for ‘older’ kids – starting at about three years. I didn’t think too much more of it until it hit me a few weeks ago that, completely obviously but also somehow impossibly, my little daughter is now almost three. The horror of this discovery was counterbalanced somewhat by the parallel realisation: I can offload her to spielgruppe! And to spielgruppe she went: Swiss style.

Waldspielgruppe is forest playgroup, where the kids toddle off to the woods for the afternoon. They forage for wood, build a fire and play with knives, cook and eat cervelat (a sausage that Tim and I liken to vegemite: divine if you grow up eating it but absolutely vile if introduced to it later in life), and generally have a fabulous mucky time. Addie had her induction last week so Teddles and went along for the ride, but she starts solo this Friday and could not be more excited. It’s both thrilling and heartbreaking to see how grown up she is, and to watch her chatting to the leader and the other children in a language I can barely understand made me grateful once again for the opportunity we’re getting here.

To capitalise on her new skills – and to marvel at the newly fallen snow and the gradually changing foliage – we took a wee family hike yesterday. We went to Elm, about an hour and a half from Luzern, took a quick cable car up the mountain and did the Giant’s Playground walk. Our surly looking little bear has RBF, like his sister before him, but was actually very happy to be out on his papa’s back.

It is ludicrously easy to get outdoors here. Swiss efficiency is astounding. Cable cars take you to seemingly inaccessible peaks, where there are nearly always comfortable places to sit and rest, family friendly walking tracks to follow, and fireplaces – stocked with fire wood – to grill your lunch. This walk was only just over 2ks, a perfect distance for the littlest walker, and had an activity site every few hundred metres which was just enough to bribe inspire little Addie along.

We stopped for lunch where Addie abandoned all waldspielgruppe learnings, leaving the fire-building duties to the lads in the family, instead joining her mama in a far superior pastime: salami and cheese consumption.

Lunch consumed, we continued the loop trail along – marvelling at mushrooms (and someone’s Sporty Suit) and as always the ridiculous view. We get out and hike a fair bit, but this was the first trip that we felt was well executed. Planning and timing went without a hitch, the walk was perfect for our family, and our grill game was strong. As we made our way back to the cable car (and the massive outdoor trampoline area that was a sure fire Addie approved activity) we were, I confess, fairly self congratulatory.

Although Tim’s contract here is permanent and has no formal end date, we’d always had in our heads that two years was the time we’d commit to staying. Almost as soon as we’d jumped off the plane we figured we’d be staying longer than that, given how much exploring there was to be done. We have a long and lovely trip to Australia planned over Christmas, so we’ll see how much good food, coffee and weather influences us, but it’s hard to imagine leaving here any time soon. I mean:

Besides, if we’ve only started to nail our hiking game after two years, imagine how we’ll bring it next summer.

Random Ronchamp

I had a serious case of itchy feet last Friday. It was most likely comprised of the recent exodus of visitors, my general motherhood malaise, and a good old fashioned greediness for pastries. As usual for a Friday morning, the kids and I went to the local playgroup. A few hours later, having confirmed that Tim was on board, found lodgings that were a reasonable distance away and having packed the car in a fashion somewhat haphazard, we were en route to France. We pulled up at a farm stay a few hours away just in time to do some twilight exploring (slash meeting ponies).

Ronchamp was never on our list of must visit places – to be honest, I had no idea it even existed. But one of the great luxuries we have living here is the capacity to visit unscientifically selected places without prioritisation or regrets. It’s a real treat. Especially when, as luck would have it, we chose a place only a few kilometres from this.Ronchamp-341The Notre Dame du Haut is a chapel designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. It’s nestled in the woods on top of a hill, flanked by two buildings – an oratory and a convent – by Renzo Piano. We’re not generally church visitors – either on Sundays as part of our travels –  and we didn’t know what to expect.

We were in awe.

Before World War 2, the site was home to an earlier chapel and was a place of great pilgrimage for Catholics. After the original church was destroyed by bombs, Le Corbusier was commissioned to build a new place of worship. An unorthodox choice of architect, Le Corbusier was known for his passion for standardised living and had pioneered several utilitarian-style buildings, believing that all people deserved to embrace a new affordable, comfortable standard of living. The church wished to deviate from its traditional model and embrace the future through modern art and architecture. Le Corbusier similarly departed from his general principles and created this beautiful structure which was in response to the location rather than housing principles. He used primarily concrete – his work is characterised by the use of cheap and practical materials – as well as stone from the original fallen church.

It is considered to be one of the first post-modern buildings, and one of the finest religious monuments. Our two year old also considered it an excellent venue for hide and seek.

Le Corbusier designed the chapel to be invisible until the summit of the hill is reached, mimicking in some aspects the Acropolis. Once at the top, the landscape opens up and views as far as the distant Jura mountains can be spied.

There was also a chance for us all to practice our climbing, with an Indiana Jones-esque mini-pyramid conveniently positioned for toddlers and crawlers alike.

The chapel is still functional, and at any given time worshipers can be found within the hushed walls. Said walls – filled with rubble from the bomb site in a symbol of renewal and continuity – were smattered with jewel-like stained glass windows. It was serene and atmospheric.

There were two separate altar chambers, with the roof opened up to the sky. The light seemed to glow in each of the unexpected pods.

In a minor miracle, both children tolerated our architecture-gazing admirably. They were rewarded with the antithesis of the Notre Dame du Haut: a visit to a monstrosity of a playground, notable only for its carnie atmosphere and alarming abundance of bouncing castles. I shall not sully the beauty above by posting any photos.

The chapel was certainly the highlight of our weekend and the most notable part of Ronchamp which, although a lovely spot, was otherwise very small and nondescript. I was going to say quiet, but the little (deceptively grinning) terror you see below proved me wrong on that front, with almost hourly wake ups on our second night away.  Perhaps little Teddles, much like his architect Grumps and interested-in-everything father, is a budding building enthusiast too.

 

Sure can

Tim, who runs at a much higher base body temperature than I do, doesn’t agree with me but there has been a cool change here over the last week. Given the fragility of Swiss summers (and apparently my pessimism), I am convinced it’s all over and am eyeing up new snowsuits for the kids. Although likely premature, we’ve definitely been hit with a wet wave and as such opted to evacuate Luzern last weekend, following the slightly less grey skies to the French neck of the Swiss woods.

We’re still learning lots of lessons about travel and parenting, but one that we finally seem to have grasped is to have an activity planned; gone, for now at least, is the pleasant aimless wander* of our pre-kidlet days. With this in mind we made our way to Papiliorama in nearby Kerzers – a ‘habitat for Swiss and exotic butterflies’ (honestly, they all look fairly exotic to me).

Years ago, I did a multi-day hike in the Northern Territory which passed by a natural amphitheatre which was a breeding ground for butterflies. My hiking companion, having a bit of an issue with moths, was not terribly keen on said amphitheatre but did her best to man up and check it out. Sorry to say it, J-No, but my punt is Papiliorama – with its domes filled with butterflies in their thousands – would probably not be up your alley either.

One of the things I particularly enjoy about the company of our two year old (spoiler: it’s not the attitude) is her curiosity about the world around her and the challenge that sets us in explaining anything and everything, frequently things I’ve not thought about in years. I’ve nailed shadows, and thunder and lightening has been regularly covered given the current climate. Our trip to the butterfly park afforded Tim and I an excellent opportunity to argue over the meaning of chrysalis versus cocoon (depressingly, I was wrong, which makes me wonder if she’s growing up with an incorrect understanding of other matters. Shadows are our evil twins from another dimension, no?).

Addie had hoped to see a ‘huge orange butterfly’. It turns out, like her aunt, she is not terribly enamoured with insects flying near her noggin, but luckily for everyone the tropical environment allowed for her favourite pastime.Papilion-270As well as butterfly enclosures, the park had a nocturnal dome featuring rats the size of possums, a small bat colony and nocturnal butterflies. Writing that down makes it sound horrific (nocturnal butterflies are totally Stephen King-esque, no?), and unsurprisingly is not how the park is marketed. There was also a rainforest dome, with a bunch of exotic birds including the happy chappy below. Our little miss has being saying ‘sure can, toucan’ ever since meeting him (she was also convinced that, like her, he had used textas to colour himself in).

The second parenting / travel lesson we’re slowly getting our thick heads around is: bring a picnic. All the foods taste better outdoors, and if you can find a park in a vineyard-lined  town overlooking hills and rivers, everyone is happy (also, bring mini toblerones aka mountain chocolate. They help with all manner of bribes).

We drove through Neuchâtel on the way home, but since we were not blessed with children who love driving decided not to prolong the torture trip and head home. The lovely town catapulted to the top of our list of places-to-which-to-return. Sadly I cannot say the same for Nocturnal Dome of Horror.

* let’s face it, ‘aimless wander’ frequently meant pub crawl.

Eat all the cheese

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, one of the main reasons we don’t feel terribly homesick here is the number of visitors – family, old friends, and sometimes friends-of-friends and acquaintances – that swing by to visit us (it could also be related to the import level quantities of vegemite I have stashed in the cupboard for daily consumption). One of Tim’s oldest friends is currently with us. They go back close to two decades: Jimmy was the first housemate Tim ever had after leaving home, and part of the link to how we met. The few summer days we’ve been able to spend together have been a (beery and cheesy) treat. Tim, Jimmy and our girl hit the mountains yesterday to get some Alpen views, find some farm cheese (so many different types! all so delicious!) and, bizarrely, eat soup with a rock placed proudly in the centre of the bowl, for reasons unknown.

I took the next shift, sipping sunset wines on the lake as Jimmy purchased his cigarettes at the casino. Much to his amusement, he (dressed in casual tourist attire) was offered the cigarettes on a silver platter, opened and ready to smoke, by a fully tuxedoed butler who also offered him the choice of four languages in which to discuss the lighting of said durry.

Today is Swiss National Day, the day on which the foundation of the Swiss Confederacy is celebrated. Three Cantons originally swore the oath of confederation, and at the rough point where this occurred one can spend the day listening to speeches and celebrating. Given our Swiss German remains not up to scratch, and my love of breakfast is deep, we opted for another Swiss National Day tradition: the Farm Brunch.

An increasingly popular tradition, the brunches were an initiative to support local smallholdings and encourage people from towns to better understand what farmers do. We took a short bus ride out of town, after which we followed the signs (and fellow brunchers) under the watchful eye of Mount Pilatus to our farm.

A gorgeous morning for a walk, we followed the country path up the side of the hill (the very mild hill in the snaps, not the massive ol’ mountain), working up our appetites.

Our hosts farmed Angus beef and grew an apple orchard. Brunch was a huge spread of local cheeses and meats, Bircher muesli, to-die-for apple juice freshly pressed from their own orchard, and rösti with bacon and egg. (While I had no complaints, I had promised the little Swiss Miss that she could have ‘sausases’, her third favourite food after cake and ice-cream. Happily the abundance of small, sweet bread rolls adorned with the Swiss flag distracted her from otherwise certain sausage related meltdown).

There were over one hundred of us in attendance, and while we opted not to stay to sample the local wine it felt like there was quite a party in the making. We wandered home along the lake, past the local-wine-producing vineyards, and through lovely farmland (in a vain attempt to get two hot and bothered littles to sleep. I assumed my constant dull narrative of ‘look! cows! ooh, a tractor!’ would have been enough to send them off, but apparently not).

The festivities continue this evening, with an abundance of fireworks due to be deployed later tonight. We have our eye on ‘The Big Swiss’, a mean looking rocket type cracker available in a tent that has popped up around the corner from our house purely for the sale of all things pyrotechnical. But of course, the number one priority is to continue on Operation Eat All The Cheese, which I reckon is a totally appropriate celebration of this wonderful country.

For now

It is the great irony of my current situation that my move to the other side of the planet, giving me access to so many new and exciting countries and experiences, is actually the most insular and enclosed period of my life. I can’t be sure that it wouldn’t be the same if I had remained in Australia – young children play a significant part in this, as you can imagine – but despite the world on our doorstep I have never felt so encapsulated, been so contained.

A lot of the feminist literature I pretended to study at university (preferring instead to focus on happy hour) spoke about women being identified as the other, their domain being the home, their interests curtailed to that of the private, the domestic. I was born well after this awakening – that this had to be named and identified made little sense to me at the time. My understanding of and interest in feminism was more brutish: down with the patriarchy! equal pay please! my body is my own! While such sentiments remain legitimate (and still somewhat crude), it’s now the rumblings, the stirring, the collective uprising against the domicile as women’s domain that interests me more. Those generations of women before me, bubbling away until the quiet frustration and fury became no longer quiet.

A quick caveat: the situation in which I find of myself is, I think, largely of my own making. There are some external barriers – I’ve found it hard to find work here, and this combined with the costs of living here and social set up make it more practical for me to manage our family. However outside of that, I am well educated, I live in an age of amazing technology, and my partner is nothing but supportive of any action I wish to take.

Nonetheless, I find myself identifying with this image of the woman trapped within the home. It’s a big old tumble of frustration, boredom, exhaustion, isolation. I was going to liken it to a tangled ball of laundry but really, that’s just too terribly on point. Juxtaposed with this is how fortunate I am: a lovely happy and healthy family, plenty of time to spend with them, a beautiful and safe city in which to live, a continent we’re fortunate enough to be able to explore. Despite this admittedly ridiculously wonderful scenario, I find myself feeling at times trapped and at others defeated, and because of it I feel ungrateful and unwarranted in expressing any discontent.

It is in part the relentless – and only predictable in its unpredictability – lack of sleep. A tired old complaint, if you’ll excuse the pun, but one that is infiltrating everything at the moment. Then there’s the bubble of Hausfrauing – any available energy is spent inadequately attempting to stay on top of the never ending chore cycle (cook, eat, clean, repeat) (everything in my life is currently slightly sticky due to those two brats). There’s a distinct lack of contact with anything outside of families and children. My main relationships here have been forged through our children, and I am exceedingly grateful for them for numerous reasons. However, I frequently find the tedium of my own conversation (toilet training! room sharing! she calls them ‘rainbrellas’!) grating, formulaic, caricatured.

A friend asked me, fairly recently, whether I get time to myself. I do – quite a lot, really. I spend it sleeping when I can, reading (novels of the comforting and familiar variety; for me, trashy crime always), watching assorted television of an evening while slogging away at a lengthy and poorly considered craft project, drinking wine, absently flicking through social media. All of these extend the insular nature of my existence. They are also completely within my own control. What I failed to understand was that she was really asking about the quality of the alone time I have, how I use it. Does it nourish me, connect me to anything, build something?

The difference between my situation and that of my feminist predecessors is of course that there was little choice for them. Society unquestioningly and inflexibly enforced their capture within the home and the web of their families; that same society against which they chose to uprise and challenge. While it would be simple for me to use this narrative, I find the my truth a little more nuanced (although no doubt theirs was too, but that was perhaps part of the reason their oppression continued for centuries). To what extent is the time of my life the cause, or a significant contributor, to this? My personality, motivations and inclinations? The old school nature of Switzerland in particular, compounded by my inability – still – to speak the language? Or is this the nature of – I don’t want to use the word oppression, because I am anything but oppressed – containment, perhaps? But then who, if not me, is doing the containing?

I don’t have any resolution of these thoughts and frustrations currently flitting around in my head. And since my children are both asleep and there is a layer of lunch-related muck on the floor, a dinner to prepare that will in the near future be added to said floor muck, only a few chapters left in my crappy novel, and a slippery dip to visit, they will not be resolved any time soon. Thus my cycle continues for now.

(Also, I am really, really enjoying that crappy book.)

They don’t have kangaroos in Austria

After our Black Forest adventure, our troops headed to Konstanz where in a shared custody style arrangement I swapped one Purtell (Tim) for another (Dom), and three of the four siblings got to hang out together for about three hours before Tim hit the road again for work. We lunched by the lake, swapped tales and fuelled the kids with nice cream for the road trip ahead: to Austria.

Moody's-016Years previously I travelled briefly to Vienna, memorable primarily for schnitzel, some stealthy mini-bar theft and postcards emphatically attempting to differentiate the European nation from its similar sounding antipodean counterpart. This time, we stayed in the alpen Tirol area, not far from the German border.

It was hideous.

Once again, we tried to manage the littles with keeping them as active as possible. Close to our digs (a 427 year old farm house, traditional in style and quirky in design) was a waterfall hike, which after a day of settling in (and attending to Arlo’s adventurous nature by a trip to the hospital…after he’d already managed to acquire a stitch in his noggin from playing too hard) we bribed convinced the kids to tackle.

The walk was just shy of 3kms, which turned out to be perfect for our three little walkers (and one sleeping baby).

It was even better for me, as I convinced Fake Tim aka Auntie Dom to take both my children for a spell. Sadly I wasn’t quick enough to leg it back to the car and cross the border while I had the chance. Moody's-051I’m not sure what I expected, but I loved Austria. Dommie compared it to New Zealand or Canada (with no offence meant at all to either nation) – associated with and similar to a larger country (Australia and America) but wonderful in its own right and somehow more chilled and adventurous. (And of course, with the starchy Germanic food I know and love). And she was bang on – it was amazing.

The cousins enjoyed splashing in the creek that flowed from the waterfall for which the walk was named and apparently watered the local town (and sorry, town, that my daughter appears to be washing her hands in your drink).

The following day we went back across the border into Germany to visit Neuschwanstein Castle. Built by Ludwig II of Bavaria – the last of the Bavarian monarchs – it was an homage to Wagner (whose Swiss home is perched just over the hill from our place in Luzern) and later the inspiration behind the Disney castle. As Tim was not with us, I was on photographic duty and failed spectacularly in getting the money shot of the castle (‘why do you keep using portrait mode for landscapes?’ he moaned when he saw my pathetic attempts), but you get the picture.

The kids did remarkably well during the short tour of the castle. When wandering through the King’s bedroom, Addie was delighted to note on seeing his desk that Ludwig shared similar interests to herself: ‘Oh! The King has a craft table!’.

The castle was not finished prior to the King’s (fairly suspicious, apparently) death, and as such there were only a few Romanesque-style rooms to view. All were ornate and fairly trippy – Ludwig had hoped to live out his medieval dream far away from the pesky eyes of Munich (and close to the chef’s apprentices, allegedly, which is where he spent a lot of his nightly visiting hours). All photography was banned inside, which is possibly a good thing given how much I butchered the castle’s exterior.

A highlight for the cousins was a horse and carriage ride up and down the hill to the castle (and a highlight for Finn was the horse stopping to drop a load halfway down the hill). Moody's-141As always on holidays, we ate like kings, enjoyed a few glasses of gin / vino / whatever to wash the day away and shot the breeze like champs. Even after almost two weeks together, it felt that there were still many conversations left half finished, but surely that’s the point of family. Despite their two year old woes, Addie has been asking after Arlo (and his much less maligned brother Finn) almost hourly since we arrived home and seems quite disgruntled that they have continued on without her. I feel the same, and look forward to more family times – and finishing those chats – when we see Team Moody again.