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?


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?


The next leg of our trip offered some of what were, for me, the most memorable moments of our time in Japan – some of which were unexpected.

We took the bullet train from Kyoto to Okayama, where we stopped for lunch at a little Italian place by the station. Full disclosure: at that point, as much as I love fish, I was ready to sell my soul for anything but. I don’t remember what we ate exactly, but it was delightfully fish-free!

Our plan was to get a bus from the train station to Uno Port, where we would catch the ferry to Naoshima. The complexity came in finding where to get the right bus. A first attempt failed, at which point I got a little stroppy and insisted my Google app knew better than my husband’s. It then led us down a ramp to an underground bicycle parking garage. Stefan immediately saw my mistake and high-tailed it, chuckling demonically at my navigating skills, while a very nice man in a uniform helped me lug my heavy suitcase back up the bicycle ramp.

On the bus…

We finally got on a bus going the right way and managed to determine that it would indeed take us to the ferry port, a fact that was confirmed by the announcements in both Japanese and English. Still, every now and then Stefan got up to check we hadn’t missed our stop with the driver, a fact which did not go unnoticed by the locals. As we approached the ferry port, it made me smile when several Japanese passengers got up to tell us it was time to get off.

The short ferry ride took us to Naoshima’s Miyanoura port. The little island on the Seto Inland Sea is known for its iconic pumpkin which some clever marketing people have used to brand everything. A quick shout-out to fellow blogger and journalist Colin Bisset, who made the brilliant suggestion we include the art island on our tour.

On our first evening, whether due to local custom or the fact that it was near the end of the season, very few restaurants were open for dinner. It was raining as we ventured out to a place described on Google maps as an izakaya (pub-style restaurant). This appealed as we had spent the weeks before our trip watching – and loving — Midnight Diner.

Pushing open the door, we entered a run-down looking place with a few dilapidated stools around the bar. Behind it was a lone man, cigarette dangling from his lips as he worked over the grill. I hesitated, wondering if we were quite ready for something this, well, local. But we took the leap. He brought us beer and a simple menu. A few minutes later, a man entered the bar, looking at us in surprise as he chatted to the chef/owner. Then three older women came in, followed by a young guy. Everyone seemed to know each other and they all seemed rather curious about us. Then the man, apparently the official emissary of the other customers, asked us a few questions: where were we from, etc. After a little hemming and hawing, he asked us if we would mind changing seats and sitting on the other side of the bar; it seemed that we were sitting on their ‘regular’ stools. It broke the ice. We found ourselves sitting next to the young guy, who spoke enough English that we were able to have a conversation. In the meantime, while we were waiting for our food, several tourists entered and were turned away. It seemed that the policy of the place was to take just a few guests and no more. Just as well, given that the old guy was on his own and took the time to prepare everything from scratch on a small cutting board.

When the food came, it was delicious. Well worth the wait, cigarette smoke aside, and insanely cheap. Overall, a unique experience and what felt like a slice of local life.

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped by this sculpture beautifully lit up for night.

The next day saw us checking out the island’s main art museum, Benesse House. It was a fascinating place both for the architecture and the pieces displayed — modern and monumental.

Before we took the ferry out that afternoon, we stopped for some edible art. Oddly enough, the little patisserie was a one-woman-show of its own, run by a pastry chef who had trained in…Lyon. And yes, the chocolate cake tasted just as good as it looked!

Next stop: Hiroshima

Finding my feet in Japan

Imagine you have a month to travel anywhere in the world. Amazing, right?

When the opportunity landed in our lap thanks to my husband’s job, part of me was thrilled. But in truth, I’ve never been much of a world traveller. Don’t get me wrong: I like to experience new places. What I enjoy a lot less is getting there. Since I met Stefan in Toronto all those years ago and ended up moving to France, seeing family and friends means crossing an ocean, or at least the English Channel with our daughter in the UK.

But November? We would have to go much further afield for decent weather. Not to mention Covid. Planning any kind of big trip this year felt like a crap shoot with the pandemic working its way around the world, and the rules about vaccines and PCR tests constantly shifting. Plus, a whole lot of other stuff: a new grandchild, a move in the offing (even though it’s off for now), what feels like uncertainty for the future.

But if there’s one thing that’s held true in life for me it’s this: if an opportunity comes along, you take it. So when the Japanese government announced it was dropping most travel restrictions and opening to tourism again in September, we booked. A first for me; the third time for my husband, a confirmed Japanophile. His last trip in January 2020 had been skiing in Hokkaido. We decided to focus on the southern half of the country.

Landing in Tokyo after a 14-hour flight was a relief. No matter how many times I do it, sitting in a metal tube as it shoots through the atmosphere 35,000 feet in the air makes me nervous. I am that annoying passenger who keeps their light on the whole time. I read, I scribble, try to focus on a film…but my eyes keep going back to that bloody screen. Even though it was longer, it was reassuring to see that we avoided Russian airspace.

It was also my first time in Asia. And I realized as we walked down the street that it was my first experience as a visible minority. Most of my previous travel in exotic destinations has been in places that attract hordes of tourists. In Japan, while we did see non-Asian faces at key locations, we were often alone in the crowd. Which was not a problem at all. Mostly I forgot about appearances in the struggle to understand; occasionally I caught a few furtive looks and remembered that we were clearly outsiders.

The first day in Tokyo we were so exhausted from the trip that I barely noticed when the earth moved shortly after we checked into our hotel room on the 8th floor.

“Did you bump into the bed just now?” I asked my husband. He looked over from where he was unpacking his suitcase and shook his head.

“Can’t you feel that?” The bed was shaking. It lasted about a minute and then it stopped. Later we learned that there had been an earthquake in Southern Honshu (Japan’s main island). Thankfully there was no fallout from the quake (5.6 at its epicenter). I guess it was Japan’s way of shaking my hand in greeting.

Our hotel in the Shiba-koen district was the perfect landing pad, set on a quiet residential street with good access to the lively Minato area with its tall office towers. There is a nearby shrine and statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, in the park. The area also offers nice views of the Tokyo Tower, inspired by the Eiffel. It helped me to feel at home.

But Tokyo is big. It is bigger than any other city I’ve experienced. And even after a few days exploring it, we barely grazed the surface.

Getting around was half the fun, even though I must admit that after my welcome handshake, I was happiest taking the Yamanote Line of the subway system which mostly runs above ground. Also, we did a lot of walking which is probably why I managed to enjoy so many treats without carrying away extra baggage.

Some of my most distinct memories:

A tea-tasting experience. Husband doesn’t drink but I took the course with alcohol. To be honest, by the time we found the place I needed something to take the edge off. And while I’m at it: some of the tea-inspired tastes (including eating tea leaves) left me less than inspired, but the herbal and tea-infused gin and tonic was delicious!

A walk around Ueno Park, with its shrine and museums, beautiful especially as darkness fell and the lights came on.

Crossed with the crowds at the chaotic Shibuya intersection. Waited in a line-up of people taking selfies with the famous dog, Hachiko, a Japanese Akita dog memorialized for his incredible loyalty; the story goes he waited at Shibuya Station every day for nine years after his owner’s death.

Had a drink in the bar on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt, made famous in one of my favourite films, ‘Lost in Translation’.

Visited the Meiji shrine where we witnessed a Shinto wedding in progress.

I was captivated by all of wishes written on small wooden plaques called ‘emas’. Especially this one…

While I don’t know the author of that wish, I will borrow her sentiment. While were in Japan we celebrated our wedding anniversary: I am grateful that my barnacle husband has stuck to me for 36 years!

Stefan stayed on for an extra week of Japanese language training while I flew home. As per my usual ritual, I imbibed whatever was on offer during the flight while watching the slow progress of our plane on the screen, this time along a route I’d never flown before: straight north, skirting the eastern coast of Russia to Alaska, then across the top of the globe at 37,000 feet to Scandinavia and down.

So now I’m back and still digesting it all, especially the wonderful food. I will share more in my next post.

What is your most memorable travel experience?