Monday, 26 September 2011

out of the valley, but not far away

This past weekend, we tore ourselves out of our valley and drove to Lauterbrunnen to catch the train up to the Jungfraujoch - a place they call the Top of Europe because it is the highest accessible peak on the continent.

The 3 famous mountains in this area are the Eiger (one of the most deadly ascents for mountain climbers), the Monch and the Jungfrau.  The rail line that takes visitor's skyward was built in 1912 and the trip winds through Wengen - home of the oldest and longest dowhill ski race on the world cup circuit.  After Wengen and a station called Klein Scheidegg, the train heads into a long tunnel right through the Eiger.At 3571m / 11,782 ft up top, the air is thin, the views are spectacular and we were all in awe.

looking to the Aletsch Glacier from the Jungfraujoch

As if the views, the Ice Palace and glacier weren't enough, Jeff and the kids went on a huge zipline in the "adventure park" - a definite highlight for the adrenaline junkies!

graydon flies through thin air

Today's adventures took us to Thun to get our Resident Cards which will legitmately allow us to stay in Switzerland for the year.  After the signatures, fingerprints and photos (they don't mess around), we wandered around the market town built on an island in the River Aare.  We then headed further north to IKEA to pick up a few things to better equip our rental flat.  I find it disturbing that IKEA actually felt like "home" - the same layout, same meatballs, same junk at the check-out.  And the worst - the same feeling of wanting to burst into tears by the time I made my way around the store.  IKEA, swedish for "get me out of here"......

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

peas in a pod

Well, in my tennis world, things are looking up.  Jeff and I have been playing together quite often at the outdoor clay courts in Saanen which has been fantastic.  But, for anyone who knows the social and physical outlet of a regular tennis date with female friends, you'll understand that it has been something I've missed since we arrived here.  So last week, in a moment of strategic bravery, I accosted a woman dressed in a tennis skirt in the parking lot of the kids' school.  I gushed about how much I love to play tennis and asked if she would like to play sometime.   Thankfully, Laura is a lovely woman who probably took pity on me (so desperate did I appear) and arranged a game for this morning at the indoor tennis zentrum in Gstaad.  She found a third and we played with the local pro for one glorious hour!  Here's hoping it becomes a regular gig...

Now, here's a sight.  Three screen peas in a pod.....

This, I guess, is what happens when all the homework is done, you're skateboarded out, you've read all the books in the flat and everything on TV is in German!  Tomorrow, they are going on a 2 day hike with the whole school + they're staying overnight at the Wildhorn Hut at 2303m!  Doesn't that sound amazing...?

Friday, 16 September 2011


Nothing like a 360 degree view of glaciers, mountain peaks and sheer drops to remind us of how small + insignificant we really are in this world.  Jeff and I did our first big climb today.  The Oldenhorn sits 3123m above sea level and towers over the local glacier at Les Diablerets.  From the glacier below, it looked like this:
I really wasn't sure that I was going to be able to get up there, but with some huffing and puffing, putting one foot in front of the other and a little scrambling while clutching a steel cable, we made it up to the top of that peak in time to have a sandwich jambon fromage and marvel at the views.

Today was an amazing experience and reminded me of my time in Nepal with Daphne and Claire and of how much I love to hike.  There is so much beauty and majesty and awe in the mountains.... No matter how hard the climb, there is no feeling like standing at the top looking out and down, knowing that you made it ...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

this mum + dad are so not rad

there's a brand new, state of the art skateboard park that just opened in the community of saanen.  i think it's meant to keep the youth of saanen out of trouble and off the proverbial streets.  it's a happening spot and since we arrived, our boys in particular have been like moths to the flame with that park.  they are DYING to get in there.  we, of course did not bring skateboards with us, nor did we ship them in the sea container whose arrival is still pending... eli and graydon took matters into their own hands last week and made some english posters announcing to the mostly german-speaking world that they are in the market for second-hand skateboards ("doesn't matter what brand, but they must be in good shape").  everyday, we have been checking the posters to see if anyone has ripped off any of the homemade tabs that they diligently crafted with scissors and wrote out by hand.  after day one, there was a tab missing from one of the signs, but we haven't heard from a soul...  fast forward to today when jeff and i decided to bite the bullet and drive 60km out of the valley (so much for living locally, but when it comes to shopping, resort towns don't offer the best deals) to a sizeable town in the french speaking canton called Bulle to find some skateboards for our well intentioned, but coming up short, sons.  we planned to find used, but of course there weren't any and we got sucked into all the new, flashy ones at the store.  language was a bit of an issue, but i muddled my way through with my rusty french and we went to have lunch while the shop built the boards.  there was much excitement and anticipation to see the new rides after school.  graydon had already won the toss to pick his first and he picked the one he liked.  eli picked up his new board, turned it over and after a few minutes put it down and asked if we could return it.  we scolded him for being ungrateful, but he complained that the pictures and sayings on the bottom were inappropriate and disgusting.  so, we took a look and low and behold, it's covered with a cartoon of a hotdog holding a jackknife and there are all sorts of captions such as "biggest porno bargain in NY" + "pleasure unlimited, live + hot" + "make her hot! fast! this potent new sex formula".  you get the idea....  eli refused to use it, full stop.  he said it goes against everything he stands for and that he won't ride a "board covered in porn"....

hmmmm... how to handle this delicate situation?  while we admire eli's ethics, we don't want to drive all the way back to Bulle to return it.  thankfully, graydon is not as principled and offered to switch boards as long as we buy a can of spray paint and some stickers.  eli has offered to help him to paint "graydon" on the board, graffiti-style...  it was a lovely moment, graydy's generosity towards his brother and eli's relief that the mistake made by his loser parents wasn't going to stick to him.  in the future, i think we'll be in charge of equipment we know and understand - skis, tennis racquets + bikes - and stay away from the ones that are way too rad for this mum and dad.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

living local

this is our swiss chalet... well, actually just the ground floor 
flat on the right side...

it's not large, but well laid out and has the most amazing view towards gstaad.  the pic below was taken at sunset last night, complete with the alpenglow....

our immediate neighbour is a farmer and on saturday afternoon, his herd of sheep were turned out into the field.  the sounds of sheep bells now fill our ears morning, noon and night!  much relief last night when we discovered that sheep do settle down eventually and so do their bells...

this weekend we did a lot of local exploring - on saturday we went up the wispile in gstaad for a hike.  it seems the swiss have playgounds at the top of many mountains and this one included a petting zoo + adventure park.  the kids loved it - the highlight was our picnic lunch perched on logs overlooking the 360 degree views of our valley. 

today we hiked up the saanen eggli trail which is literally right out our back door.  we went with an australian family who live 3 chalets away and who's son and daughter are in eli and graydon's classes.  they are a great family and came last year for one year and have extended their stay until this coming  christmas.  both tina and rob have been amazing resources for us as we muddle our way through the logistics of everyday life here in the saanenland.  we have spent quite a bit of time together and it's been wonderful to make such fast friends.  the boys sailed up the mountain, esmée found it rather challenging, but with lots of rest stops and an impromptu scavenger hunt along the way, we finally summitted the mountain with much celebration!!  

for those of you who have experienced esmée's love of sleepovers, it didn't take her long to pursue her favourite passtime on swiss soil... she had australian twins from her class for a sleepover this weekend. all went smoothly and not surprising from the girl with a dramatic flare - esmée is now speaking with an almost perfect aussie accent :)

one of the nicest things about living here has been how much we walk and how little time we spend in the car.  we walk almost everywhere and once our bikes arrive next week, we'll be able to ride into gstaad and beyond easily.  there is a convenience about life here which we don't have living in rural ontario.  the locals say they get "valley fever", that they need to get out for a breath of fresh air every now and again.  for us, the simplicity of sticking close to home is a refreshing and welcome change.  come dark and rainy november when it's too late in the fall to hike, but too early in the winter to ski, we may feel differently.  but for now, we're happy to stay put and live local.  

Thursday, 8 September 2011

a few bumps in the road

i think that day 4 at a new school and in a new community is kind of like day 4 on a ski holiday in the big mountains... it's all so exciting + new + great and then... you hit a wall.  

our wall came this afternoon in the form of tired, overwhelmed and fragile children.  the french is particularly hard - most of their classmates have either been taking french for years or they already speak it fluently at home!  they have made some new friends, but as eli said "i like it here, but not enough yet to stop missing caledon and my friends there".  they had some challenging homework which we mistakenly left until after dinner because we wanted to go to the park after school.  nothing huge or insurmountable, but enough to tip the scales from enthusiasm to despair...

for me, jeff went "back to work" this afternoon and will be spending a good chunk of each day in his swiss home office (aka "international headquarters").  this leaves me more to my own devices.  being who i am and having lived in a community like belfountain where i was busy, comfortable and involved, it's a bit disconcerting to have nowhere to be and no one to check in with.  i know it's good to spread one's wings, to learn and grow in a new place.  it's also good to face intimidation and push on through...

so, tomorrow we push on and continue to count our blessings.  it will be day 5 and it is sure to be full of renewed enthusiasm, sunshine + adventure.... 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

what the schnitzel?

here is my dad's favourite song up in the alps.

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if this link doesn't work, search for "the schnitzel man" on you tube - hilarious!!

Monday, 5 September 2011

the real "new year"

it's back to school time + not a moment too soon!  over the weekend, between questions like 'where will the other kids be from?' and 'what if i don't make any new friends?' or teary statements like 'i miss caledon and my friends, when are we going home?" we got out and about for a little hiking + exploring.  

on the way to the local glacier, les diablerets, we came across a small herd of cattle barreling down the road.  as alpine grasses thin out in the fall, the farmers bring their cows back down the mountain with much pomp and circumstance.  the cows wear their large bells and are often adorned with flowers.  
it is a much a visual feast as it is a symphony for the ears!

to get up to the glacier, you can either walk (not our choice at this stage of the game) or take 2 cable cars that soar above rock faces, a little unnerving.  the glacier sits at 3000m and on a clear day, you can see the matterhorn and mt blanc!  it is currently closed to skiers, but open for hiking which we did all the way across and back!  it was insanely beautiful, but much more comfortable for those of us with gortex boots. we're all looking forward to skiing there in a couple of months.

today was the first day of school, the real new year...  eli, graydon and esmee dutifully woke up early, put on their uniforms and, in the pouring rain, we headed down the hill to the jfk international school.  they were nervous, excited and brave and i'd be lying if i didn't admit to having the 'first day of school' butterflies myself!  for the past 41 years, the jfk school, has been owned and run by my sister-in-law Alison's parents, Bill and Sandy Lovell.  it is a small international school with all the worldy + magical charm you can imagine!  every classroom has a view to the mountains, some of the buildings date back to the 1600s + the staff and student lists are dotted with names much more exotic than 'taylor' or 'mcintosh'.  it is a truly special place and we are all thrilled and feel so incredibly blessed to be here.  the day went very well for everyone.. at the end of the day, they were all smiles and full of excited stories about so-and-so or what they did at school as we climbed the hill back home.

as he was falling asleep tonight, eli said that he thinks it's going to be an interesting year because there are kids from all over the world who speak different languages and have different perspectives and experiences.  he also really likes his teacher, mr. yon who is from northern ontario, of all places!  esmée made a new friend named antonia (greek) who gave her a bow for her hair and her teacher, miss jane is amazing, so she's thrilled.  graydon's teacher, mr. kevin, is also amazing + enthusiastic and thank god he is a man because there are 11 girls and 2 boys in the class!  the other boy, alessandro (italian), seems to be a good fiery match for our spirited middle child.  

so finally, they're asleep in their beds with visions of the many adventures to come in their heads...  tomorrow, after we drop the kids at school, jeff and i are going for a hike with a new australian friend and then playing tennis.... ahhhhh, i love europe!   over + out for now...

Friday, 2 September 2011

our first full day in the unbelievably beautiful saanenland, deep in the heart of the bernese oberland area of switzerland... a mid day hike included views such as this one, doesn't it make you want to yodel?..  an interesting trip to the grocery store yielded a request to eat like "normal swiss people" so (homemade'ish) schnitzel + rosti for dinner it was...  all that combined with a few new words of schwiizertuuch + we are well on our way to 
total immersion...