Carte postale

The postcard-perfect view from our holiday rental in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland.

We stayed for a week just steps from Staubbach Falls, the highest free-falling waterfall in Switzerland at 297 metres. The falls attracts a steady stream of visitors daily who climb the hundreds of steps up to the lookout point on a rocky ledge behind the falls.

It is amazing to wake up each morning to this view, and to go to sleep with the backdrop of water rushing down from the glaciers.

It seems that the name ‘Lauterbrunnen’ can be interpreted to mean ‘clear spring’ or ‘many springs’ or even ‘noisy springs’. My vote goes to the latter version. Below us was a road that goes to the Jungfrau campground, with a pretty constant flow of traffic. And just across from was a lovely church spire. The bells chime every 15 minutes between six in the morning and ten at night, and every hour on the hour all night long. That means that if you’ve just fallen asleep, exhausted from a day of cycling or hiking, there is a good chance you’ll be woken when the church bells chime out twelve strokes at midnight. One, two and three a.m. seem much lower-profile but are still enough to waken the light sleeper.

Among the tall tales Swiss rental owners will tell you: “Pretty sure the church bells stop at night.” When you point out that they don’t, the reaction is: “Why would they bother you? We don’t even hear them anymore.”

I did not acclimatize to the church bells but still managed to get a good night’s kip with ear plugs and sleeping pills. Not ideal but at the moment I need all the rest I can get. And in between times they were rather pretty…

Now we’re home for another week’s stay-cation before getting back to work and gearing up for our move in a month’s time. I am beginning to panic slightly at the daunting to-do list, so news from this blog may be sporadic for the next few weeks. Please bear with me: I’ll be back soon with a revamped identity and more cross-cultural adventures.

Here’s to ‘clear springs’ to you all until then!

A bientôt…

Se faire la malle

You know that feeling you get when you’re preparing to leave a place? It’s rather strange and unsettling. Everything seems so impermanent and when it’s time do the things you would normally do, you wonder, why bother? Yet it can be sort of liberating. You can stop caring about certain things because, well, tomorrow you’ll be somewhere else.

Just this week I learned a new expression in French that perfectly describes (at least to me) the feeling I have at the moment: ‘On va se faire la malle.’

Meaning: we’re packing our bags. Taking off. Literally, doing ourselves a trunk. Or a bunk. I got the full sense of it here on my favourite website for contextual translations of French expressions in English.

It made sense. I knew that ‘une malle’ is a trunk. Remember those? My grandparents had one in their basement. Something you packed on a steamer when you travelled overseas. It seems the origin of the French locution can be traced to 1935 and is associated with prisoners planning their escape from jail.

It always amazes me when I come across an expression I’ve never heard before. After so many years in France, you’d think I’d have heard them all. But no. The French language is rich with such turns of phrase and there are many yet to learn.

‘Se faire la malle’ is my mindset at the moment. Not just because we’re gearing up for a major move in just over a month’s time, but because we’re going on a holiday. Just for a week, and nowhere too far away. In fact, because it’s nearby and the risk of infection is fairly low, we’re going on holiday in Switzerland.

How original, right? The same country we’re moving to. Although we may be forgiven, I think, given how lovely it is and how much there is to do and see. There will be time for travel in other years. For now, we’re heading to the Bernese Alps near Interlaken, and a little town called Lauterbrunnen.  

Many, many years ago, shortly after graduating, I took my maiden trip to Europe. I was a young woman on my own, and nervous about travelling in foreign lands. So I signed up for a Contiki tour out of London. We were a group of mostly single tourists from North America, the UK  and Australia. For several weeks we went through France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. We stayed overnight at a campsite near a town that I remember thinking had to be the most beautiful place on earth: Lauterbrunnen. I only hope it lives up to the memory.

And while I am planning my own escape from France, I think it will not be long before I am dreaming of returning to it. There is nothing more attractive than something that is both familiar and unknown, something loved yet just out of reach. I’m fairly certain that as soon as I’m living in Switzerland, holidays in France will have a new appeal. And I’ll be attentive to keeping up my language and continually exploring new linguistic turf en français.

What’s your favourite French expression?

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Où?

This is Brunnen, in central Switzerland. It is the view off the terrace of what will soon be our home. We move in September.

If you’ve followed along for a while, you will know we spent some time searching for a new place to live. We knew we would move across the border to Switzerland from our current home in France, near the border by Geneva, to consolidate our lives around husband’s workplace in Zug, between Lucerne and Zurich. But it wasn’t easy deciding exactly where. For months, many of them in confinement, we scoured the ads for places to buy or rent. But there was little on offer that satisfied our criteria, or produced the longed-for effect: un véritable coup de coeur.

In the end we chose to rent, a bit far from our initial target area. Because, well this. An amazing view of the mountains — and Lake Lucerne, if you look closely. It is spacious and modern and has most of what we wanted. And a couple of things we didn’t.

That road, for example. It was the one sticking point. I had sworn we wouldn’t take a place that overlooked traffic. But it’s just far enough away, and with little traffic outside of business hours. With the windows closed you can’t hear anything; when they’re open, depending on the weather, it can be a bit noisy during the day at least. We decided to take the leap. We’ll only be renting, so we can always move. Besides, on the upside, roads mean connections. Z Frenchman can take the train or drive to work in about half an hour.

Image: Wikipedia / Tobias Klenze / CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Some of the advantages of our new location: a ten-minute walk to town — and no hills! — which is small enough to feel like a village but big enough to offer shops and a train station. There’s a direct local train to Lucerne, which takes 50 minutes, but means you can go into the city car-free. And it’s only a few minutes from Brunnen to Schwyz, with trains and connections everywhere in Switzerland.

Out of all the places we saw, there were three where I was able to ‘me projeter‘. All had one feature in common: they were built into a hill. This is quite common in Swiss apartments, at least the nicer ones. They are terraced, or stepped into the hills, taking advantage of the natural geography to create what feel more like homes than apartments. Large balconies with the best views. And it’s great to have the solidity of that mountain behind you, according to fellow blogger and feng shui expert, Colin Bisset. The energy just feels right.

The lakefront is gorgeous, with cafés and restaurants, swimming and boats. It is part of Lake Lucerne, or what the Swiss call the ‘Lac des quatre cantons’ because its odd shape touches four different cantons. We’ll be in the canton of Schwyz, but very close to several others.

As for the title of this post: very little separates ‘where’ (où) from ‘or’ (ou) in French. Just an accent. Yet their meanings are entirely different. Or are they? There is always an ‘or’ involved in ‘where’. You can’t be in two places at once, and we’ve chosen to be in Switzerland starting in September. And just as the accent makes all the difference to the meaning of this little word in French, so will the accent, or the language in general (German) make a massive difference in our lives. More on that later.

So that’s us. Where will you be this summer?

Se projeter

Love the view and feel of this place but it is too close to a major highway

When you’re looking for a place to live, there is really only one question: Can you see yourself there? This is what the French call ‘se projeter’ — literally, to project or imagine yourself living somewhere.

I am becoming a bit of an expert on imagining my life in different places. We’ve been visiting properties to buy or rent now for months — mostly online lately due to coronavirus. But now visits have started up again and we’re trying to get out and see places live and in person.

One thing I’ve learned is that there is no technology — virtual reality, 3-D photos or video — that can substitute for the feel of a place. Do you feel a kind of buzz as you enter? Could this be the place in which the next chapter of your life will unfold? Can you imagine getting up each morning and seeing that view?

Terrasse mit Traumaussicht
I could live with this view but the place is just too small.

Oddly, it is not necessarily the nicest or most spectacular places in which I can see myself living. It seems to be a combination of privacy, attractive space and surroundings that do it for me. Basically I’m attracted to anything with greenery around it: a treetops or garden apartment, light-filled rooms but not a full-on southwest exposure. While husband wants an open space with tons of light and most of all a spectacular view, I want to feel protected by walls and not overly exposed.

There are some things I simply cannot do: certain architecture is a non-starter (non-descript is okay but not in-your-face ugly, whether in colour or style), the sloped ceilings of an attic apartment, anything too boxy or institutional-feeling, a terrace overlooking a road or even a parking lot.

Traumhafte See- und Bergsicht
This little garden would be perfect for us but the apartment is overpriced and needs work.

Also, I don’t want to feel too isolated. We’ve set a 15-minute maximum on the time it should take to walk to a village, café or shop. Ideally I’d like to be within 5 minutes and not have it involve a massive slope. But this is a tough ask in Switzerland, especially as we also want peace and quiet, as well as a view.

I’m working hard on ‘projecting myself’ into my new life. Where we see ourselves next year, in five years, in retirement? City or country or somewhere in between? I need to see water, he needs to see mountains. I want proximity to a city with bookshops and train connections. He wants to be within 30 minutes of CrossFit.

You learn to be very careful of places that look too staged.

The biggest challenge at the moment is the sluggish property market. We haven’t sold our house in France yet (quelle surprise, given the past two months of lockdown) and there is little available on the Swiss side. Things are gradually picking up but the challenge remains: to sell in a buyer’s market (France) and buy in a seller’s market (Switzerland).

So we’ve decided to rent, at least for now. Which is probably more sensible anyway until we decide where we want to be long-term. Now we have to find a place to rent that meets all our criteria and is still affordable. And also accepts pets.

Where do you see yourself — today or tomorrow?