23 August 2012

It's come to an end

Our awesome Euro-adventure has come to and end after two amazing years. We had our ups and our downs and many amazing experiences. We learned a fair amount of french and some key phrases of the surrounding languages. We met some fantastic people who we will miss a lot. We ate and drank our way through our little part of Europe. We drove many kilometres and crossed many borders. We had our fair share of chocolate and cheese. We said hello to many a alpine cow. We had visitors and we visited. Admired the mountains. Played in the snow and sun. Ate wild strawberries. Watched the seasons change. Swam in the mediterranean sea. Too many great things to mention.

It was a bit of an effort tying up loose ends in Switzerland before we left - I won't go into the boring details but just say that repatriating is hard work. Switzerland is well known among expats as being overly bureaucratic and we had our fair share of hoops to jump through. But we jumped and now we're back home in Brisbane jumping through it's hoops. We had a lot of help from some good friends in Switzerland during our final race to the finish line and without them it would have been a lot harder.

We were lucky to have had fantastic weather for our remaining weeks in Martigny. There were summer parties happening everywhere and the atmosphere was just generally pleasant. A very nice way to end our grand adventure.

It's nice to be home in Brisbane and to be able to speak the language comfortably and confidently - it makes finding an apartment and buying a car MUCH easier when you can speak the language. I will always look back on our time in Switzerland and Europe fondly and will probably bore my grandchildren with anecdotes of the times we lived amongst the Swiss Alps. I have a feeling we will return there one day when we're old and grey.

31 July 2012

Biking and kayaking

A couple of weeks ago Roy and I drove to Interlaken to take advantage of a nice gesture from some friends of ours. They gave us a voucher for two to go kayaking and bike riding. We drove to the bike hire place and were greeted by a 'kiwi' lady who thought that we were a tad crazy for driving two hours to Interlaken to kayak on a day that didn't have perfect weather. It was a bit cloudy and there were some rain showers but overall a beautiful day. She gave us some nice, expensive bikes and told us a nice biking route and before long, we were on our way. We rode through some lovely countryside and eventually we started ascending and leaving the valley. It was tiring work but once I got a hang of the gears on the bike, it wasn't too bad. The gears were very fancy so it made it a lot easier than it would have been on a cheap bike with bad gears. Eventually we got to a stage where I couldn't carry on any further because I knew that we had to ride back. It wasn't exhaustion that prompted the turning back but the fact that the fancy bike seat was super uncomfortable and my butt was so sore. It was a fun ride back, despite my sore bottom because most of it was downhill. It was quite exhilarating zooming down the hill.

We made it back to the bike hire place, said goodbye to the lady and drove to our next adventure - to a little town next to Lake Brienz called 'Iseltwald'. Iseltwald is a mostly car free village (except for people staying in hotels and residents), so we parked our car and wandered down the hill admiring the views as we went. The lake and it's surrounds were rather stunning and it was exciting to think that we were about to go kayaking on it.

Unfortunately because we don't have a waterproof camera, we didn't get any photos. But, it was really beautiful. We kayaked for about two hours around a tiny island, along the shore and almost to the other side where we got caught in a small storm which caused some fun, little waves. It was so much fun. We even managed to not capsize the kayaks.

After our magnificent, lake adventure we walked back to the car and took a rather scenic journey back to Martigny. We were going to take the Furka Pass but since the weather wasn't so good, we took the Grimsel Pass which was a little bit quicker. Close to the top we were surrounded in eerie, dense clouds which made for a bit of a scary drive but once we were out of the cloud we saw some beautiful views. It's amazing how much the landscape changes as you drive higher. It's so rugged and looks almost untouched. Beautiful!

I'm so glad we got to experience that. It felt like we were on holidays for a week instead of just on a day trip.

11 July 2012

A Swiss adventure with the in-laws

Spending two weeks is a small apartment, tiny car and different country with your in-laws doesn't sound like much fun does it. But, without getting all mushy and such, my in-laws are pretty awesome. We have our moments but nothing compared to the average in-law relationship. Roy's parents were our last visitors from Australia before we leave Switzerland in a few weeks. Roy took some time off work so we could give them a proper tour of Switzerland and the surrounding countries.

I picked them up from the airport at Geneva. Only one of us could go to pick them up because the Panda doesn't fit much in it. Three people and luggage for two were squished in the little car and we were on our way to Martigny. On the way via the motorway that drives alongside Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), Roy's parents were in awe at the beauty of their surrounds and the size of the mountains over the other side of the lake in France. Let's just say that their awe didn't waiver the whole time they were here. Their mouths were pretty much open the whole time.

We took them up the nearest mountain so we could show them Martigny from above.

We picnicked near a lake - Lac du Mont d'Orge.

Admired the views of Sion from Mont d'Orge.

Visited some mountain villages.

Went for a three day road trip - stopping in at Bern (one of my favourite cities) along the way for lunch where I was lucky enough to experience my lap being doused in the whole carafe of water. Let's just say, lucky it wasn't wine or some other sticky liquid. It was quite refreshing and the waitress was very embarrassed. Not to worry!

We stayed in a small village in Germany called Grafenhausen in the Black Forest for two nights. We had dinner at the local brewery called Rothaus and enjoyed some excellent food and beer. We even sampled the cake that everybody knows - Black Forest Cake.

We visited a lovely town called Triberg and checked out the tallest waterfall in Germany - Triberg Waterfalls.

Went to Freiburg im Breisgau to have lunch at Kartoffelhaus (potato house), which specialises in dishes made of - you guessed it, potatoes! It was really nice! Good quality food for a good price!

Then we stopped in at Titisee to have a boat ride on the lake.

We checked out of our hotel and embarked on a bit of a mammoth drive. We drove down to Schaffhausen in Switzerland to check out the mighty Rheinfalls.

Then we drove to Bregenz in Austria and had lunch next to Lake Constance. 

Stopped in at Vaduz, Liechtenstein. 

And drove down through the middle of Switzerland for a stop in at Lucerne. We were lucky enough to choose a day that they were having a big festival in the city. There was live music and lots of food stalls around which was nice. 

On our drive back from Lucerne we were watching the clouds roll around the sky and while doing 120km/h on the motorway we noticed the cars ahead slowing down and little icy balls falling from the sky. We advanced a little further and cars were pulling up on the motorway and the balls were getting bigger. They were pounding our poor little panda. I got a little dramatic because I was picturing the car being covered in giant dents and windows smashing and then having to just hand the keys over to the car wreckers since we didn't have full insurance. There goes the idea of selling the car before we leave. But, to my luck the hail stayed at a small enough size to not cause damage and we carried along our way to Martigny. That was a pretty epic day! Four countries in a day. Visiting the giant Rheinfalls, seeing the 6th smallest country in the world, visiting a festival and being bombarded with hail on the motorway. Wow!

We drove to Evian-les-Bains in France the next day and caught a paddle steamer across Lac Léman to Ouchy in Lausanne. Okay, the count now is five countries in two days. The weather wasn't too crash hot but it was a lovely boat ride. When we got to Ouchy we watched the last few minutes of a beach volleyball championship and had some very tasty crêpes. 

Whenever we have visitors to Switzerland, I always make sure that we take them to Gruyères (not that we've had many visitors) but my point it, it's a must see!

Some friendly, happy chickens in Gruyères.

We had the obligatory feed of Gruyère double cream and meringues...mmmm...
Another place that we go to when we visit Gruyères is Maison Cailler which is in Broc - about 10 mins drive from Gruyères. The home of delicious chocolate! We did the tour of the factory and ate some very tasty chocolate. We stopped in at Chateau d'Oex on our way home. 

The next day Roy and Marty went to Bettmeralp to catch the gondola up to see the great Aletsch glacier while Gay and I wandered around Martigny, admired the flowers and fit in a bit of shopping too. 



I had a bit of a rest day while Roy took his parents up the Grand Saint-Bernard pass and over the border briefly into Italy (six countries in five days, I think).

We paid a visit to the famed Montreux Jazz Festival for an afternoon of free, live music, lots of food and market stalls and a great atmosphere by the lake. 

We checked out the famous Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny and gawked at some paintings by some very famous artists - Kandinsky, Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and Matisse to name a few. 

We checked out Sion and watched a great Alphorn concert which got me feeling a little sentimental at the thought of leaving Switzerland in a months time. Though our two years here have been tough at times, it has also been so great. Switzerland with all it's quirks and oddities is a very special place. 

We wandered the markets of Sion. Had another picnic by a lake. We saw a snake swimming in the lake just after Roy's dad hopped out after a quick swim in the chilly water.

On our last full day with the in-laws, mother stayed home to have a relaxing pack and do some handwashing before heading to the UK the next day. Roy, Marty and I went to Grande Dixence dam to check out the worlds tallest gravity dam. 

We finished off the day with a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant in Martigny and walking around the many Roman ruins nearby. I think the parents-in-law had a fantastic time discovering the beauty of Switzerland. If their constant exclamations as we drove anywhere were anything to judge their experience by, I'd say it was great. Sometimes spending a long time in a small town and getting bogged down with chores and daily life can distract you from what is around you. Their visit has made me really appreciate what we've been living in for the last two years. It truly is a beautiful part of this little world.