Friday, 28 October 2011

smash up derby with the loaner car

I was in a car accident the day before yesterday.  Everyone is fine.  The worst part is that it wasn't even our car (bought online before we arrived).  Our car was in for service, so we had a loaner car for the day.  One day and I managed to get hit.

I was on the bridge crossing the Saane river, wide enough for one vehicle at time.  The other driver was was coming from the opposite direction.  She drove onto the bridge and I realised that she wasn't going to stop in time.  It happened both quickly and slowly.  Anyone who has been in an accident knows what I mean.  We looked at each other and I braced for what I knew was going to be a crunch. My shoulders hunched up to my ears and my hands gripped the wheel in anticipation of the sound of metal crushing into metal and that horrible feeling of impact.

Thankfully, the other driver spoke English and after making sure that we were both ok, she indicated that we should go see her mechanic, conveniently located just down the road.  I managed to get my car to the garage, but it wasn't driving well.  It felt like the front tire was square instead of round and there was liquid leaking from under the hood.  We limped slowly into the garage and parked.

Then the Swiss system of getting things done really kicked in.  The garage called the dealership (located 20 minutes down the valley), the dealer came to pick me up, the other driver waited with me, the garage filed all the insurance paperwork, the dealer drove me to where our serviced + washed car sat waiting and then I drove back home.  It was all very efficient, of course.  I didn't even have to give my name or driver's license to anyone.  Amazing.

As it turns out, the other driver has been involved with the Kennedy School (where our kids go) for 40 years and is a great friend of the Lovell's.  Main bien sur!  As I said to her, we were obviously meant to meet, it's just too bad that it involved two cars in the middle of a bridge.....

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

hockey games + birthdays

This past weekend, we went to stay with the Cleghorn-Moores in Villars-sur-Ollon where they are taking a "Year off the Back".  Click here to see their blog -  They very kindly offered to put us up in their chalet so that we could spend the weekend together without having to stay in a hotel or holiday apartment.  Their kids were also on school holiday and we were all looking for something to do.

There is something so lovely about spending time with another Canadian family while living "away".  There is a built-in comfort level, a feeling of familiarity, even if you don't see them very often at home.  Greg, Andy et al were fantastic hosts and we spent the weekend bowling, biking and scootering at the Gryons park, eating, hanging out + the highlight - watching the Villars Hockey Club smoke the team from Bulle-La Gruyeres.  The Villars HC's home ice is an open-air pavilion of sorts.  There is a roof, but no real walls to speak of.  It's indoors, but outdoors and it is very cool.

Our only real tactical error all weekend can be chalked up to a rookie mistake.  On Saturday night, before the game, we went to Villars' take on a Mexican restaurant for dinner.  At The Gringo, you can have anything from fajitas to hamburgers to cheese fondue (of course).  The food was great, but when we arrived at the game, we discovered that there is a restaurant/bar along the top of one side of the "arena".  Being Canadian hockey fans, we re-named it the Hot Stove.  Here you can dine on cheese fondue and drink till your hearts' content, all while staying warm and watching the game.  Despite our being bundled in long underwear, toques, mitts and down jackets, we were chilly outdoors and were frequent visitors to the Hot Stove in search of hot chocolates and other libations.  After all, even if you're freezing in an outdoor arena in the mountains on a cold late October night, what's a hockey game without a few beers?
dinner at the Gringo

Yesterday was Jeff's 46th birthday.  Wow!  That means that I'm going to be 43 soon.  Time is literally flying by and birthdays kind of force us to pause and take stock, if even for a moment.  How did we get here?  It really doesn't seem that long ago that we met in a northern Ontario tree planting camp.  Our wedding was merely a few years back.  Kids?  They just arrived on the scene.  Now, here we are living in Switzerland, about to celebrate our 14th anniversary.  We are lucky enough to be spending many of our days hiking and biking and soon, skiing.  We are learning some languages, meeting new people and experiencing a new kind of life, different than the one we know.  We are spending lots of time together, as a family.  This is a gift.  We are learning together how to enjoy the glorious moments and how to help each other through the tougher times.  It's all good and Jeff and I, in particular, feel incredibly grateful and blessed.  Happy days....

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

squeezing lemons

Half term break.  Honestly, didn't they just start back at school?  We have opted for the stay-close-to-home, explore-our-own area kind of holiday.  A "staycation" of sorts, but that is a word that bothers me.

geared up + ready to go...
First stop on the holiday tour was a trip to the Seilpark, in Zweisimmen just down the valley.  It's quite a vast ropes course, one that would never fly in Canada.  The park appears to be safe, but the Swiss do not seem to be as concerned with issues of liability.  Before you are allowed on the course, the one staff member walks you through how to do the course safely - clipping the carribeaners on and off (one at a time), only 3 people on a platform, using the zip-line (including braking) etc.  Once she is satisfied that you can participate safely, you're cleared to go.  Pumped with enthusiasm and armed with their Kilcoo training, the boys took off with their friends and quickly moved through the lower courses and onto the really high and challenging ones.  Esmée was more restricted because of her height and had 3 of the lower courses to choose from.  I even participated and moved between Esmée and the boys, but to be honest, they all left me in their dust. There was no keeping up with any of them.  Both Jeff and I were amazed to watch them focus and work hard, to be scared and work through it, to be both challenged and exhilarated.

On Sunday, after a delicious mountain-top lunch of schnitzel, rösti, pasta and a couple of "alpine rings", 17 of us headed off on what ended up being a 3 day hiking trip.  Four families, including 13 kids, set off from the Relleri for the Grubenberghütte, one of the many alpine huts run by the Swiss Alpine Club.  The 3.5 hour hike (give or take) was beautiful, mostly gentle traversing along alpine meadows, but with a 30 minute kick-ass hill climb right at the end.  Again, I was amazed at how well the kids did.  Now, Esmeé did not carry her own pack very far, but she hiked and hiked until we got to the hut, chatting, playing + singing with her friends all the while.  The boys hung with their friends, closer to the back of the pack, exploring everything along the way and according to one witness who walked with them for awhile, telling disgusting and inappropriate jokes.

 dinnertime at the Grubenberghütte
We arrived at the Grubenberghütte just in time for a well-deserved cold beer before dinner and we settled in for the night.  The hut sleeps a total of 34 people in 2 dormitories.  It is cheek by jowl so you had better hope that your dorm-mates do not snore, fart or both!   Dinner was deliciously simple - tomato soup, salad and pasta - and all prepared by Hans, keeper of the hut.  While the huts here evoke some memories of hiking in Nepal, this is a far cry from the Nepalese experience.   This is Switzerland afterall, so you can count on neat, clean + organised.  The woodpile outside is impeccably stacked and the dorm beds are stocked with perfectly folded duvets and identically placed pillows.  There is cold running water and depending on the hut, the WC may be an outhouse or indoor toilets.  One thing is for sure, the views are outstanding everywhere you look.

sunset from the Grubenberghütte
After a cosy, but somewhat chaotic sleep, a smaller group of 8 decided to continue on and make our way to another hut - the Chalet du Soldat.  We were relying on the advice from 2 Swiss hikers who had the misfortune of spending the night with our group of 17 at the Grubenberghütte.  We did not have a map or GPS, but they pointed us in the right direction after breakfast.  Again, this is Switzerland and in the name of order, almost everything is marked.  There are yellow trail signs posted all over the country pointing the way for walkers, bikers, hikers and red + white trail markers painted on rocks and trees indicating the hiking trails.  And if you mis-read a sign, chances are you will run into another hiker somewhere along the way who can set you straight.  It is not impossible, but it is hard to get lost in Switzerland.  

Peter, Jeff and I, along with 5 kids (2 of Peter's and 3 of ours) made our way, following the signs.  It was amazing hike, not too long or difficult, but the geology of our surroundings changed and it was fascinating.  As it turned out, we were hiking along the "Sentier géologique des Gastlosen",  also known as the Swiss Dolomites.  It was breathtaking.  

The Chalet du Soldat was a much larger hut, more like a mountain hotel.   It was packed with other families - tables full of kids playing Uno + drawing mountain-scapes, parents drinking wine and taking in the sunset.  While we waited for our fondue dinner, Graydon spent a long time trying to build the perfect house of cards, Eli drew optical illusions, George and I played an inspired game of Scrabble, Esmée + Madi mastered Spot It, Peter drew the mountains and Jeff read Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence.  It was a really lovely night.  

sunset reflecting on des Gastlosen

As I've mentioned a number of times, Switzerland is country that expects order and detests clutter or anything out of place.  The huts 
have rules, like any other establishment in this country.  When you enter a hut, there is a mud room of sorts where hiking boots are to be left, in an orderly fashion.  

NO boots inside, only slippers, which are, of course, provided.  There is always a rack of slippers in the mud room, organised and labelled according to size.  At the first hut, Hans took tidying up to a new level.  When I came down at sunrise, I found all the hiking boots neatly lined up in rows with the laces tied together! 

Tuesday morning, we left the Chalet du Soldat, headed for a town called Jaun that we had never heard of and quite frankly, had no idea where it was in relation to Saanen.  We suspected that we might have to take a bus and/or train to get home, but we really weren't sure.   Another gorgeous hike into the valley and it all worked out.   We're now back in Saanen, trying to figure out what to do for the next few days before heading to Villars to see Andy Cleghorn and Greg Moore for the weekend.  

The adventure was a total success - we all loved the hiking and staying in the huts.  We were dirty and smelly and a little overtired, but so, so happy to be out hiking in the mountains for 3 days under a glorious blue sky.  

One of the things I loved most was being able to give into whimsy.  We had a vague idea of what we were doing - going up a mountain to stay at a hut - but with a little spontaneity we decided to continue and figure it out as we went along.  It has been a long time since we, as parents, have been able to make on-the-spot decisions like that.  Our lives have become full of schedule and structure, always having to be here or there.  There is too little room to indulge in the vagaries of wanderlust.  

At the Chalet du Soldat, Peter struck up a conversation with a man from Paris who was on a brief holiday by himself.  He arrived in Geneva by train with no set plans.  He decided to go hiking, picked an area and set off.  He told Peter that he only had a few days in Switzerland and wanted to see as much as he could in that short time.  He wanted to "squeeze all the juice from the lemon" before he had to return home to Paris.  

I love that.  And I get it.  I want to squeeze the juice from lemons to.  


Friday, 7 October 2011

proud parents

We are proud of all our children, well from time to time when they aren't fighting, bickering or behaving badly!  However, Eli in particular, has really made us proud.  First, there was the skateboard situation...  Since then, he decided (all on his own and without even letting on) to run for School Council Vice President. He wrote a speech that he gave in front of the entire school and was up against other kids who have been here for years.  Unfortunately, he lost to a kid who gave Ibiza t-shirts to anyone promising to vote for him - the lesson in politics wasn't lost on any of us.  Regardless, he chose to put himself out there and that took guts.

Eli also made the JFK U13 football (soccer) team and he's thrilled!  They've had 2 matches - one win and one loss so far and they are having a great time.  Go blue!

Because we all love to talk about the weather, the tides are turning here.  Yesterday was sunny and warm, I think it might have even hit 25C.   Today was a different story.  Rain in the valley and snow not too far up the mountains.  It definitely feels like winter is coming...

tonight's sunset

the swiss do hot dogs right

Earlier this week, Jeff and I had a hot dog lunch at the Saanen market. While it may not sound particularly exciting, it did result in a very interesting culinary discovery.  At the sausage stall, you choose your type of grilled hot dog or sausage.  A baguette is cut in half and shoved onto a phallic looking piece of stainless steel that toasts the baguette from the inside!  Your condiment choices, while somewhat limited, are hung from the canopy of the stall and are squeezed (kind of like from an udder) from the Costco-sized bottles into the bottom of the baguette.  Et voila, your hot dog, swiss market style!  The best part - no leaking condiments since they're all contained in the bum of the baguette.  Brilliant + delicious, a winning combination!  The Optimist Club at the Erin Fall Fair, makers of the world's best back-bacon-on-a-bun, could take some cues....

Sunday, 2 October 2011

un bon weekend

It's been a great weekend!

Like Ontarians with their Fall Fairs, the Swiss love to celebrate the turn of the season.  On Saturday, Bill Lovell took the kids and I to a festival in Albeuve, in the canton of Fribourg.  The festival was fantastic - crowded, boisterous and steeped in alpine culture + tradition.   Decorated cows and goats paraded through the fair a number of times throughout the day,  bell ringers marched in formation, alphorn players entertained while flag throwers wowed the crowds.  Like all fairs, there were candy stalls and a "fish pond".  There were also lots of stalls selling local specialities - cheeses, salamis, bread, honey, wild boar paté, to name a few.  The best purchase of the day, however, was Graydon's.  Right off the bat, he eyed an original painting on wood that he really wanted to buy. It has it all - a river, snow capped mountains and a farmer with a horse. It now sits on his bedside table and will always remind him of our time in Switzerland.

The whole weekend has been, in fact, quite social.  We went to a lovely and lively pizza night at an Australian family's home on Friday + a BBQ today with a group of JFK families.  The BBQ was at the Arnensee, a glacial lake about 20 minutes outside of Gstaad.  For you Georgian Bay'ers, think the McCoy's meets Swiss Family Robinson.... Everyone brought baskets of food - sausages, baguettes, kebabs, salads, desserts, cheeses + salamis, vegies + hummus and of course, chips/crisps.
a public Swiss bbq which you find along many hiking trails.. it comes stocked with paper + wood, of course!

The kids found old fishing lours in the shallows, rigged up fishing poles and tried to catch some mountain trout.  Of course, there were a few that got away....

Most of the kids swam until their lips were blue and their feet numb with cold.   At one point, the 20 or so kids divided into 2 groups - one on each bank of the river that fed the lake.  They slung mud at each other for what seemed like hours.  Despite what appeared to be the beginning of a Lord of the Flies moment, every kid had a huge smile on their face and was having the time of their life.  

I thought how amazing that all these kids, some almost strangers with just a few weeks of school in common, fall into step with one another so easily.  Despite their differences in language, culture and backgrounds, they are all kids looking to create a great time on a sunday afternoon picnic.

I can't help but continue to be amazed by how lucky we are to live in this place. The people we've met and been fortunate enough to spend time with are interesting and interested.  Everyone has a different story.  Conversations meander from english to spanish to german to french to italian and back again.  It's truly fascinating and inspiring to be in the midst of such cultural and personal diversity.