In German-speaking Switzerland, they don’t say goodbye as you might expect. I was all ready with my limited vocabulary including ‘auf wiedersehen’ or even ‘tschüss’ but it turns out that around here they just say ‘ade’ (ah-day). It’s an adaptation of ‘adieu’, but without the finality of the French sense.

I’ve been feeling a strange mix of emotions this week. One minute it’s like time has stopped, and I’m happily living in the present. Then it’s like things are going too fast, and I feel anxious and unsettled. The next moment feels like forever, like things are dragging on and I will never get anywhere. It’s a little depressing. The news doesn’t help.

If you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts could tell…

This week Canada lost an icon. Gordon Lightfoot’s music was a big part of my youth. He was a folksinger and a poet whose lyrics captured some essence of what it is to be Canadian. Gord’s fine tenor was a backdrop to so many memories for me. I’m not sure when I last saw him in concert but it was very long ago in Toronto, either at Massey Hall or Ontario Place. He was from Orillia, a small town just north of where I grew up.

Meanwhile, in my corner of the world, there is much  to be happy about. Seeing our grandson take his first steps. The coming of spring. Getting ready for our move in a few weeks to a new home in another beautiful place.

Yet sadness has been creeping into my days. Transitions are hard. Beginnings always mean endings. And I’m feeling something like nostalgia as we prepare to leave this place that’s been home for the past three years.

There was a full moon the other night, and as it rose I went outside on the terrace to check it out. I took in the snow-capped mountain tops, the cloud-streaked skies and the thrum of nature at full throttle. Oddly, as day slowly shifted to night, our little town was booming. There was the usual stream of cars on the road below, punctuated by distant shouts from the football pitch as the players wrapped up their game. In the fields just next to us, the farmers were out in force, clearing the piles of grass they’d cut just the day before and rolling them into bales. The weather has been very rainy this spring, so presumably they were taking advantage of a couple of sunny days to make hay, as the saying goes. Big machines were doing some of the work but a lot of it is done manually with rakes and blowers. I could see people moving about with flashlights in the darkening fields.

I went to bed long before they stopped. By this morning there was not a blade of grass out of place, and the bales were neatly wrapped like marshmallows and scattered in the fields.

It brought home the strong sense of community and connection I’ve felt here. Despite not really being part of it, nor speaking the language, and with much of our time here marked by the isolation of Covid, we have felt so welcome and safe in this community.

Life will be easier in some ways when we move. Living in an apartment, I’ve had to get dressed first thing, rain or shine, to take the dogs out to the street above us. In winter it was often still dark, but each day I have been grateful for this view. I will miss it, and remember it fondly.

I will also miss the church bells, the ones I swore I’d never get used to, chiming every quarter hour all through the night. And the lovely people who always seem to be either working or celebrating, even if it means crazy ‘guggenmusik’ and cannon shots at 5 am!

Update: Yesterday morning our apartment filled with an unmistakable smell. The relentlessly efficient Swiss farmers were back out in the fields, spreading manure. Husband, who somehow knows these things, assures me that they don’t use manure on vines. That’s at least one thing I won’t miss!

Et toi? How do you deal with endings and beginnings?


Lately it feels like time is playing tricks with me. Slowing down and speeding up. Sometimes it seems to have stopped completely.

It started when the world went viral and we stopped doing all the things we normally do each day. It continued when we moved to a place where, even after two-and-a-half years, I only speak a few words of the language. And it’s gotten worse since we decided to move away from this place and have been waiting for things to happen.

Now, they are happening. Or about to happen. But I am still not sure what day of what week it is without looking at my apps.

Is it just me? Am I losing the plot of my own life? Or are we all still a little shell shocked?

I was convinced that I had shared the story of our new house here on the blog. But it turns out I only wrote a short update on Instagram.

So let me go back and resume our story for you lovely readers of this sadly neglected blog.

The backstory: We sold our house in France back in 2020 to move closer to my husband’s work in Zug. We didn’t know central Switzerland that well, so we decided to rent while we began to look around to buy a home. After a year we realized there was little on the market, and mostly beyond our budget. In the meantime, thanks to Covid, Stefan began working 100% from home and no longer needed to be at the office. So we expanded our search back into French-speaking ‘Suisse Romande’ and found a new project being built just half an hour from where our son and his partner had settled, and were expecting our first grandchild. We signed a contract for the ground floor apartment with a view of Lake Geneva. It was supposed to be completed and delivered between September and December of 2022.

Big breath in.

Lo and behold, the project got stalled on technicalities. Isn’t it funny how sometimes things in which you have the most confidence turn out to be the ones that go pear-shaped? Over the years we built two houses in France, and despite all of the complexity of regulations and the strike-prone labour environment in that country, both of them went off without a hitch. In Switzerland? With its rock solid banks and clock-setting trains? We didn’t blink an eye when we signed, but fortunately, the contract stipulated that if ever the building was not delivered on time, we were entitled to withdraw. So we did. A few months, one good lawyer and considerable anguish later, we finally got our investment – plus, a bonus penalty fee – back and were free to move on.

This all happened just in January when we simultaneously began looking for a new home. Apartment, duplex, townhouse…we were open to different options. What we found was that by moving further away from my beloved Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), prices got a lot more affordable. Basically, for less than our original apartment, we were able to get a house. But time was of the essence. We had the financing in place for the first project, at an attractive interest rate, and the bank was willing to keep the same terms for the mortgage as long as the deal was signed within the first half of the year. So we hustled our bustles and found a place that ticked most of our boxes, agreed on a price, and signed the purchase agreement.

And the bank? Just as we signed on the dotted line, the news broke that Crédit Suisse was on the brink of collapse. Thankfully, they came through with the payment. (And will now merge with that other esteemed Swiss bank, UBS).

Big breath out.

Now, the fun begins. The place we bought is almost new, built in 2019. It has good space and feels right. But…the previous owners’ taste ran to some very different styles from our own. So we are scrambling to get a few essential things done, like redoing the floors on the main level and transforming a fitness room into a guest room and ensuite. We take possession on May 1st, and plan to move in later in the month. That leaves three weeks. Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, this time thing continues to plague me. Thankfully, the season is changing, and the slow shift into spring is giving me moments of pure bliss as I watch the long-tailed birds (Tits? Shrikes?) flit around the bushes on our balcony. Each morning, we wake to a melancholy performance from a blackbird who clearly inspired the song by the Beatles. And I take in the beautiful views all around me in Brunnen, knowing how much I will miss them, while looking forward to different vistas that will greet us in our new home.

How about you? Is time playing tricks with your life? What is the ‘zeitgeist’ (collective mood) in your part of the world?

All good things…

I have always measured travel not in distance but in time. How long it will take to get there, how long we will stay in a place – these are more meaningful measures to me than kilometres or miles. While I was in Japan for less than a month it has taken me three times that long to sift through my memories and wrap up this series of posts.

I’ve been keeping a list of things I wanted to write about that stood out in my experience of Japan for one reason or another. Quirky, silly things that I loved or found odd enough to be worthy of mention.

One was my massive crush on Japanese cars. I’ve always had a penchant for small cars, driving a Nissan Micra for years, but I’ve never seen anything like these models before. Little breadboxes on wheels, apparently these ‘kei’ cars have their fans.

This make was my favourite:

The technology that the Japanese truly master is the toilet. Reluctant at first to even try to navigate all of the instructions, curiosity got the better of me. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say I have tested the waters and am a convert. I want a Toto!

The Japanese love their brands, from convenience stores to coffee. There is a Lawson Station or 7-Eleven on every corner, usually opposite a Starbucks, Mister Donut, Wendy’s or KFC. Suntory has the corner on the lucrative vending machine market. Plus, clothes shops like Patagonia and the ever-present Disney. It’s a small world after all.

This childlike obsession seems to be a strong influence for women. I was shocked by the fact that feminism in Japan seem to be decades behind the west. The nasal, baby-like voices you constantly hear from women on commercials and recorded announcements. Their often self-effacing behaviour in public. The fact that men still make up the majority of executives in the business world.

I loved how Japan was so full of surprises while simultaneously remaining so true to stereotypes. We saw the famous groups of men in suits getting drunk on a Friday night. The extreme fashion on the streets.

Things I liked less: the overpackaging of everything. Sometimes even a single piece of fruit would be shrink-wrapped for sale. No garbage cans on the street – you just had to carry your rubbish with you. The fact that there was no way to dry your hands in public toilets (although some women seemed to carry a small towel for this purpose).

On our last night in Tokyo, we followed a friend’s directions to their favourite sushi place. It was complicated — the first location had closed, then reopened nearby. It wasn’t on Google maps and the address was nearly impossible to locate. We almost gave up a couple of times until we finally found it, tucked into a corner. Like most restaurants in Japan, it had a plastic model of the food just outside, hardly a sign of high quality for a European. What a surprise! We sat at the counter and watched the two sushi chefs slicing the fish, chopping and rolling their creations. It was all freshly made and truly amazing. We ordered a selection, ate it, then ordered again and again. Then rolled ourselves back to the hotel.

All good things must come to an end, and so it was for this trip.

Perhaps the other time-based measure of travel is how long your memories linger afterwards (I’m tempted to add: along with the extra weight but this is untrue; it was only after I got home and went through the holiday season that I saw the effects on the scale). I have the feeling that Japan will stay with me for a long time. For now, my only destination is Switzerland. We will be moving at the end of May. Not where we initially thought. But not too far either. Fingers crossed it will all fall into place by the end of the week.

Where will you go next?


Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu chain of islands that stretches southwest of Japan to Taiwan. It is famous for a few things, notably the Battle of Okinawa and the continued presence of American military on the island. It is also one of the places in the world with the most centenarians.

One of the reasons may be the volcanic baths known as ‘onsens’. I had wanted to try one of these since we’d arrived in Japan and finally got the chance at the Ryukyu Onsen Ryujin-no-yu. It was as a unique experience as you might imagine, but unfortunately you’ll have to settle for my memory of it: no cameras are (understandably) allowed inside. Interestingly, you also cannot enter an onsen in Japan if you have a tattoo, apparently for their association with the Yakuza.

The baths are separated into male and female sections, and in order to enter you must first undress and deposit all of your things in a locker, entering the bath area with only a small privacy towel. The experience of being stark naked amongst strangers, even of the same sex, and not speaking a word of the language, was a little weird. But I followed my usual strategy of mirroring others. At first I couldn’t find the main showering area and was about to just use the outdoor shower before a woman, who may have been a centenarian herself, began shouting and gesticulating wildly to show me where it was. There was a dedicated space with a long row of sinks with buckets, shower handles and low wooden stools at which to sit while performing ablutions. Soaps and shampoo were provided. Then you used your little towel to dry off before heading into the baths. Many people put their towels on their heads while in the baths. The water was hot and steamy, salty but not unpleasantly so. There were several different pools, some looking out to sea, and best of all, the ‘flower pot’ baths shown here in the official hotel photo.

This onsen was part of a hotel and if I had it to do again, I might consider staying there. Our plan, however, was to live like locals for a week (or at least like privileged ones).

After landing in the prefecture’s capital Naha, we rented a car. Not only did that mean left-side driving, a switch for us, but also navigating some very narrow streets. I use the royal ‘we’ here but what I really mean is that I was the passenger. Driving is challenging enough for me without having to flip my brain around.

The highways are all well maintained and clearly signed. But, like everywhere in Japan, once we got off the main roads, finding things was a challenge. The car’s built-in GPS wasn’t very helpful, so we once again we relied on Google maps. On a number of occasions, technology told us we had reached our destination. Our eyes told us otherwise.

Arriving at our rental in the Yaese district near Minatogawa fishing port, on the southeast tip of the island, the GPS told us to drive down this ‘street’. An elderly man came out of his house and stood there watching us, shaking his head, so we turned around. Despite the owner’s detailed directions, we ended up parking the car and walking around to confirm the address by comparing it to the photo.

Our sweet rental cottage

We removed our shoes and enjoyed the simple beauty of the traditional living space with its tatami mats, low tables and futons for sleeping. Everything appeared to be handcrafted from wood.

The cottage was located in a residential area, which while not the most beautiful of neighbourhoods, was just a short walk to the sea. We soon realized just how close we were to sea level.

One of the oddest things were the loudspeaker announcements we heard each day at 7:00 a.m. and again in the evening around 6 pm. At first I thought I was dreaming, or that it was just a passing carnival. But after a few days, I googled it and discovered that the local PA system is indeed a ‘thing’ in Okinawa and other remote rural regions in Japan. It is called ‘housou’. The childlike female voice and the Disney music somehow typify my experience of Japanese culture.

Over next few days, we explored the beaches and the peace memorial park, then ventured further afield. We drove to the Forest of Horohoro and walked down steps through vine-covered trees to the beach. It was warm enough that braver souls might have gone swimming, but I settled for just getting my toes into the East China Sea.

One day we drove to Naha and walked through the bustling centre and Makishi public market. It is a busy urban area filled with shops and bright lights, yet like most cities in tropical places everything feels a little ramshackle.

Along the way we stopped for lunch at a most memorable restaurant. After waiting in the queue, you select your food from a little machine that looks like an old-fashioned juke box, then pay for it in advance. Then you area seated, almost like a normal restaurant. Unfortunately the menu items were only in Japanese, and our strategy of guestimating the choices backfired when we discovered we had only ordered toppings without the basic noodle dish which was their specialty. Fortunately, the wait staff were tolerant of our tourist ways and kindly helped us add the missing main course.

Okinawan signature soba noodles served with pork
Orion, the local beer, is light and crisp.

The furthest north we drove was to Onna, where we took in the stunning views of Cape Manzamo with its famous rock.

I was surprised to learn that Okinawa main island, or Okinawa Honto, is not as far south as you can go in Japan. The southernmost border, as I discovered reading the excellent novel, The Finder by Will Ferguson, is called Hateruma. We only ventured as far as the main island but if I ever find myself in that part of the world again, I would love to explore all of these amazing islands.

Cape Manzano


Confession time: I am that tourist. The one who goes to a famous place and comes away without seeing its most famous sites.

“What did you think of the cathedral?” It was early in my time in France, and we had just returned from a trip to Rouen.

“What cathedral?” I asked. Given the head shaking that went on after this display of ignorance, I knew I’d missed something major.

Later I looked it up and learned that Notre-Dame in Rouen is famed for being the tallest cathedral in France, for its three towers, each in different styles, and for having been captured in a series of 30 paintings by Monet.

I have no idea how we missed it. Likely we were too busy arguing over where to eat lunch, or looking for a working toilet.

But there was no way we were going to leave Japan without visiting the A-bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. My husband, who is far better versed in current events and recent history than I, was keen to visit the site that commemorates the destruction of a single act of nuclear warfare. And I must admit to a certain curiosity: what would the city so famous for that tragedy be like today?

The museum was everything you might imagine it to be. An imposing space with curated stories of so many lives lost and touched by the bomb, impressively documented with photographs, clothing, remnants of everyday life. It was dark, both literally and figuratively. And as someone with an overactive imagination, not to mention a fear of enclosed spaces, I was uncomfortable. The suffering of fellow humans, no matter how historically significant, makes me want to flee.

Outside, I watched a group of schoolchildren visiting the site. I wondered how it was for them, as young Japanese, whether they felt touched by the events of the past. Or if, as for children around the world, the tragedies of previous generations are too long ago and far away to seem relevant.

This monument in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park is dedicated to the students whose lives were lost in the bombing.

As for Hiroshima today, it is a modern city much like others in Japan. But it has a bit of a vibe, and a popular street-food culture. Which we enjoyed sampling for lunch. Like okonomiyaki, a delicious pancake of cabbage, noodles and oysters prepared and eaten directly off the grill.

For our two nights in Hiroshima before flying out to Okinawa, we stayed in a grand old lady of a hotel next to the main station. It was somewhat impersonal, as big hotels often are, but a welcome break after our previous nights in traditional Japanese accommodation. There was a breakfast buffet at the main restaurant, called ‘Dish Parade’, and the star of the place was this cute little cat robot. The robot acted as a busboy, moving slowly up and down the aisles with blinking eyes and friendly music as people put their empty trays on it. Until it became so overloaded it went into sleep mode and someone came to clear the dishes and reboot it.

I loved watching this funny little robot, and the way people interacted with it. To me it somehow captured all the contradictions of Japan, from intensely modern to heart-warmingly human.

What kind of tourist are you?