Eins, deux, tre…

Our recent holiday was a Swiss three-in-one special. We started out in our German-speaking Central Switzerland, moved on to French-speaking Vaud, then to the Canton of Valais where a mix of both French and German is spoken. Finally, we spent a few days in the Italian Canton of Ticino, wrapping up what felt like a whirlwind tour of Europe without crossing any borders.

I was hesitant when planning the trip. Our week in northern Germany earlier in the summer had reminded me how many things can go wrong when you travel. With our daughter’s trip from the UK having been cancelled twice already due to Covid, and our first time together in over a year, we didn’t want to take any chances. Thankfully, Switzerland offers a lot of different experiences in one tiny country.

Okay, they’re not THAT different. Lakes and mountains are usually involved. But within that mix, which I happen to love, there’s quite a lot of diversity.

Leukerbad Therme (Loèche-les-bains in French) is a mountain resort high in the Valais famous for the thermal baths. It offers some pretty spectacular scenery with a wall of cliffs surrounding the town. It also has some rather unusual history with the springs dating from Roman times and, more recently, a rather checkered past: in 1998, it became the first Swiss town to go bankrupt! (In a country not exactly known for fiscal mismanagement, somehow the president of the commune got sent to prison).

None of this had any impact on our holiday, although I must say that like many thermal towns, there is a confusing array of public and privately run establishments, with various hotels attached. The main one, Leukerbad Therme, is public and you can go and use the baths for a fee regardless of where you’re staying. It was a huge, maze-like place, with many different pools and areas and little indication in any language of how to access them. We still had a lot of fun exploring though. Everyone but me enjoyed the crazy water slides (I backed out when I found out they were closed tubes where you were in the dark). Madeline, our daughter, had a minor mishap inside one of the tunnels when she bumped her head and got a rather massive egg on her forehead.

It’s the only egg she’d have anything to do with being vegan. This made booking hotels and restaurant a little challenging, as the cuisine in the mountains is notoriously cheese-and-meat heavy. Thankfully I found a place that offered ‘vegan options’. It was a smaller hotel with a good kitchen and service with a personal touch. They laid on quite a good breakfast spread for her and had a few different non-animal choices each night at dinner too. Despite some confusion at check-in over their Covid status (she and her boyfriend were vaxxed in the UK and had not yet acquired the correct documents for Switzerland; a new law having just come into effect in the days before), we were given a warm welcome. The restaurant was rather good too, with an extensive wine list. No affiliate links on this blog but I can heartily recommend the Hotel Waldhaus.

Our next stop was Locarno, in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino (Teissin in French). It is on beautiful Lake Major, half of which is in Italy. We rented a place just outside the city, in Ronco Sopra Ascona, with fabulous views overlooking the lake. I had not been to Locarno before; it is less of a city than Lugano, with more of low-key vibe. Just across from our beautiful rental were a couple of tiny islands, one of which houses Ticino’s botanical gardens, called Isole di Brissago. We took the ferry across one day and spent a wonderful few hours wandering around the lush greenery, capping it off with lunch.

There is something sort of laid back and old-fashioned that I love about the Italian cantons in Switzerland. I guess the vibe is similar to northern Italy, which I also love. Our rental was in a residential area perched high up for the views. All of the houses here have names. There is statuary on the roofs.

The weather was only middling during our time there but our last day was magic. It was nice to end our vacation on a high note with a swim at the Lido. We kissed our daughter and her boyfriend goodbye the next morning and put them on the train back to Geneva.

Our last leg was the Simplon mountain pass. It seems I’d worried about the drive  over the mountains somewhat needlessly. Unlike the train, it was relaxing and scenic. It seems that the hairpin curves and twistier roads are actually lower on the mountain. Once you get to the top the views are rather open. We enjoyed a quick stop to admire the views before heading down the other side.

We returned to Aigle (Vaud) to celebrate our son’s birthday before heading home the next day.

By the time we got back home to our corner of Lake Lucerne, it felt like we’d been away for a very long time. Which is everything you want in a holiday, n’est-ce pas? Non è vero? Ist es nicht?

Gute fahrt!

It was a very good trip.

Our daughter’s long-awaited visit from the UK finally happened in early September. We spent two weeks together and it felt like the first true vacation since the pandemic began. It was also our first family holiday in Switzerland since moving here last year, which gave me plenty of material to observe from a new perspective.

During that time, we went from our German-speaking side of the country back to the French before moving on to the Italian part. Just as this old girl was getting her brain retrained NOT to speak French in every public situation, we were navigating between all three languages plus English for the British boyfriend. But that was only one of the (admittedly enjoyable) challenges.

The Simplon car shuttle was my first experience of travelling by car on a train. A bit scary for a claustrophobic who doesn’t trust technology but a good way to cut short the long, twisty drive from French-speaking Valais to Italian-speaking Ticino.

There are two ways to do it: either you drive over the high-mountain pass or you put your car on the train and cut through. After much discussion (read: lively debate, ahem, I mean argument; that’s how we do things in this family), we decided to take the train on the way there and drive on the way back. Husband, the designated driver, will always prefer a mountain-top view. Nervous Nelly here is afraid heights and gets car sick from too many turns. So why do you live in a mountainous country, you ask? Go figure.

On a side note, the experience reminded me of a story I used to read to my daughter when she was little: We’re going on a bear hunt. It’s a wonderful tale about a family that goes through a bunch of stuff on an imaginary bear hunt. Every time the family runs into an obstacle, there’s a recurring theme: We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh, no, we’ve got to go through it!

It is a perfect metaphor for so much of life, even the good bits.

So, we managed to agree and drive ourselves to the place where you load your car onto the train in Brig. We had calculated the timing fairly well so were first in line and able to grab a coffee and do a WC run while waiting for the train. Generally they leave every hour or two in the busy periods. When the whistle blew we followed the line of cars onto the train, positioned it just behind the car in front and cut the engine. Then the fun began.

I had somehow not realized we would be in the dark during the journey. Also, I read all the emergency instructions in the brochure and tried not to think of what would happen if we got stuck. And there was a fire. Or an earthquake. Truly, having an imagination is a curse.

To nobody’s surprise but my own, twenty minutes later we emerged safely on the other side of the mountain. Then began an hour-and-a-half drive down far more narrow and twisty roads from the Domodossola, in Italy, that would take us to our holiday rental in Locarno.

When I saw the receipt from the car shuttle train I smiled. I’ve posted before about the use of funny words in French.

But somehow I’d never realized how they say ‘good trip’ in German.

More about our holiday later. Until then, good farts to all!

Renaissance

It has been a long, wet, unseasonably cool summer. We had the odd nice day here and there but there’s no denying that this was the summer that wasn’t. Yet here we are at the end of it and it feels like a bit of a rebirth is going on.

The clouds have finally cleared and the wild weather that wreaked havoc around here this summer ‘seems’ (I’m couching that one in every disclaimer possible) to be settling into something more stable.

It has been exactly one year since we arrived here in Central Switzerland and finally, like the weather, I am feeling settled too.

On my terrace, the lavender is making a bit of a comeback, like many of the plants that were so battered by the summer storms. The fields are all around us are beautifully green and groomed. I can hear the tinkle of sheep bells just above us and am looking forward to seeing our nosy neighbours again soon.

The swallows have returned and provide endless entertainment as they swoop around.

Our family is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, too. Today, we will be reunited with our daughter for the first time in more than a year. The vegan vet is flying here from the UK where she has been hard at work over the past year since graduating. And in a week’s time we will all meet at my son’s place on the other side of the ‘Rostigraben’, the cultural divide between German- and French-speaking Switzerland, along with my French father-in-law.

How many missed occasions will we be celebrating? Various birthdays, Christmas and the new year, unnamed holidays cancelled as flights shut down between the UK and Europe over the past year. Finally, we are all double-jabbed and ready to roll! There will be bubbles and a very nice cake, then a bit of a holiday here in Switzerland.

For now, I will be kicking back and enjoying the remains of summer as we begin our second year here. Maybe even get my paddle board out again. Fingers crossed we will sail into a lovely Indian summer.

How are things with you?

Where are you from?

It’s a simple question.

People live in different places but they are usually from somewhere. A hometown or a country or a continent. Recently, on holiday in Germany, I realized that I’m not sure how to answer it anymore. Because here’s the funny thing: where you’re from changes.

And sometimes there is no short answer.

I always used to say I was from Toronto. I was born there and for most of my life considered myself to be ‘from’ that city. It was mostly where I grew up, came of age, fell in and out of love.

For a brief while, I was less sure about where I was from. Our family moved from Ontario to Minnesota when I was a young teen. To American Midwesterners, it seemed I had a British accent. And what was so funny about the way I said ‘about’? To them it sounded like ‘aboot’. When we moved back to Toronto five years later, I was reproached by my teachers for using words and expressions that sounded ‘American’.

Now I feel a bit too disconnected from life in North America to say I’m ‘from’ there anymore.

When I first met my husband and got married in France, the answer was a no-brainer: I was from English-speaking Canada. Otherwise, it begged the question: Vous êtes Canadienne? But you must speak French! And where’s that Céline Dion accent? I became used to explaining that French is mostly spoken in Québec and a few pockets of other Canadian provinces. Yet the French people I met would shake their heads in wonder, secretly believing that I spoke more of their tongue than I admitted. I wasted no time in learning the language and proving them right.

Living in France, the question of where I was from rarely came up. The French only ask you where you’re from if they know you well enough to ask you personal questions. Because your personal life is, well, your business. And if they’re going to ask, they will use neutral language: Vous êtes originaire de quel pays? (What country are you originally from?)

In Switzerland, people don’t often ask where you’re from either, at least outside of Geneva. They just get on with the business of communicating with each other. The fact that Switzerland, like Canada, is a country home to people from many different places means that more often than not, more than one language is involved. Language isn’t much of a barrier here. You just work with whatever words you have until sufficient understanding is achieved to get things done.

It’s been awhile since anyone asked me where I’m from. Perhaps because, like most of the world, I haven’t traveled much in the past year and a half. And in the meantime I moved, changing home from one adopted country to another.

On holiday in Germany last month, the question came up several times. And now that I live in German-speaking Switzerland, I found myself stumbling to answer.

I finally landed on this: I’m from France but I live in Switzerland.

Which prompted: Ah, but you’re English speaking?

Yes. Originally from Canada but I lived in France for nearly 30 years.

People in northern Germany, especially the younger generation, seem to readily speak English as soon as they realize you don’t speak their language. They even apologize for their ‘poor’ English (which I rush to compliment while excusing my own lack of native lingo).

I also realized that I love it when people ask outright where I’m from. It doesn’t feel rude or resentful or prompted by anything but honest curiosity. It makes me feel more at home.

But it also makes me realize that I really don’t know the answer, which seems kind of sad. Not that it really matters. We are from wherever we are right now. At least for those of us fortunate enough to enjoy the privilege.

And right now, I’m happy right here.

Where are you from?

Wetter

This is one German word I’m having no trouble translating. Because the weather is in fact wetter.

Don’t be fooled by all those stunning photos I’ve been posting. In between the odd gorgeous day with blue skies and sunshine have been a multitude of days with rain, cloud, storms and fog. Especially lately. It seems that every day brings constantly changing skies. Although we are somewhat protected by the mountains that surround us, we do get some nasty winds and violent thunder-bangers (there is one going on as I write this).

Still, we are far less exposed than our neighbours in Zurich, Zug or Lucerne where a hail storm recently ended in this scene:

We have had some lovely weather, just not when we expected it. I think it’s down to climate change in part but we haven’t been here long enough to say what is normal or not for this part of Switzerland.

On the whole I don’t mind the weather here, even if it is wetter. In this first year in our new place, we’ve had more snow than I’ve seen since leaving Canada, as late as April this year. Along with beautiful, sunny days and overall cooler temperatures than in France. Which suits me fine. Our southern exposure can get searingly hot on fine days but thanks to the mountains, the direct sun goes off our terrace by mid-afternoon, giving the apartment plenty of time to cool down before bed time.

Given the tropical storm that permanently rages in my hormone-challenged brain, I had thought living without A/C again would be impossible. But so far, a couple of fans are doing the trick on the hottest nights.

And the view around here is such that even waking up to rain isn’t too depressing. Just look what this morning brought!

How has the weather near you been lately? Wetter or not?