Autumn in Switzerland

It’s the September 25th which means that we’re officially in Autumn.  Coming from South Africa where the seasons blend into one another without much fuss, I am really enjoying the definite shift from Summer into Autumn.  The weather has cooled down to a crisp 15C, the leaves are turning various shades of red, orange, yellow and brown, our days are getting shorter and everyone is decorating their homes for the Fall – think pine cones, candles and pumpkins! (while I want to pitch a tent in Migros’ Fall isle and watch it transform, because we all know what’s coming next … twinkle twinkle)

Speaking of pumpkins, we visited the Jucker Farm this weekend and all of our senses were treated to the magic of Autumn in Switzerland … apple picking, hot pumpkin soup, süssmost, pumpkin carving, apple throwing, pumpkin filled Berliners, freshly baked bread, etc.

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It’s so pretty here right now.  Cool, calm and promising, a taste of the best months to come.

 

 

 

Being ‘prepared’ for life abroad

They say that being “ready” isn’t enough, that you need to be “prepared” for a significant change in your life and so I read up and researched everything I could possibly find on moving abroad once we made that final decision to do so.  I also spoke to friends and family (and a few strangers, okay, basically anyone who would listen) who had made similar moves before and I questioned everything.

I received some really great advice and information along the way and listened to what made the most sense for us as a family.  A lot of the information we received provided an insight into integrating into a new cultural environment, new schools, people, etc. however most of the information revolved around our physical possessions e.g. “sell your furniture as it’s likely to get damaged in transit” or “book this airline as you’ll be able to take more luggage”.  Looking back, I’ve realised that very few emotions were discussed and maybe I didn’t ask the right questions but no matter how hard I tried to prepare myself for this move, nothing could have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that lay ahead.

We’re quickly approaching our 5 month anniversary living in Switzerland and whilst I absolutely love living here and wouldn’t change it for anything, it has not been easy.  I also promised myself very early on that this blog would provide an honest view of our lives here and so I decided to list a few things that I have struggled with the most and lessons that I have learnt along the way.  These are just a few things that I wish had come up in some of those earlier conversations.

  1. You will ‘forget’ how to cook/bake

    Being someone who is always in the kitchen, this one has been tough.  I’m still trying to figure this one out but the majority of my favourite (South African) recipes simply don’t work here.  I’m not sure if it’s the flour or the butter but I have more baking and cooking flops here than ever before and it’s driving me insane.

    The Swiss recipes work perfectly however the palate here is completely different and I often find myself craving one of the sweeter South African treats.

    My tip to others:  Keep trying.  It’s also a good excuse to phone your Mom daily with requests for new recipes.

  2. Make a list of all the reasons why you love your spouse

    This move, although completely new, feels vaguely familiar to the move we made all those years ago when we decided to first move in with one another.  Given that neither of us are working and that we’re spending more time together than ever before, we’ve had to relearn how to be in each other’s space, what works, what doesn’t and how and where to compromise.

    My tip to others:  Make a list of all the reasons why you love your spouse and revisit it often.

  3. You will become a living, breathing contradiction

    I feel happy yet sad, fulfilled yet lonely, smart yet stupid, at home yet foreign, angry yet at peace, and and and …
    My tip to others:  Be kind to yourself

  4. Out of all the people you will miss, you will miss yourself the most

    It’s difficult to put this into words, but I miss myself the most.  My old self.  My confident self.  The one who didn’t have to think twice before doing something and if I wasn’t sure of something I could just ask someone, knowing full well that I would be able to understand whatever was said.

    I don’t have a tip for this one as I’m still trying to figure it out for myself.  In some of the advice I received, people said that the second year is easier and my mantra has simply become “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time”.

  5. There is no logic in emotions
    This one hit me like a ton of bricks the other day.  I was walking through the airport on my way to catch a connecting train and I heard a whistle.  The very same whistle that my Dad would use to get my attention when I was little, the same whistle that my sister now uses to call her boys.  My head flew around as my eyes frantically searched for the source and whilst I knew it couldn’t possibly be one of them, my heart was convinced otherwise and when reality finally kicked in, I slowly turned around and walked to my train, tears streaming down my face.

    It’s the little things like this that catch me completely off-guard and wreak the most havoc with my emotions.

    My tip:  Phone home often.  Every day if needed.  (Also, WhatsApp have an awesome feature that allows you to do group calls so I can now call my mom, my sister and my daughter all at the same time!)

  6. Your memories will become your most treasured possessions

    It’s amazing how you can decipher between what’s important and what’s not when you have 4 cubic meters of space to fit 3 full lives into.  For me, when I looked at the contents of my house, there was very little that couldn’t be replaced and there was so much more that we didn’t even need.

    It quickly became clear that I was unable to part with the photographs and canvases that were displayed on my walls.  These were all carefully packed into a container and, fingers crossed, will hopefully reach us by October/November this year.

    My tip:  Pack a few of your favourite photographs with you and display them throughout your house whilst you wait for the rest to arrive.  Share new photos with family back home and encourage them to do the same.  (My folks send me daily updates of themselves with my dogs and these are often the highlight of my day)

Sharing some photos of my most prized ‘possessions’ in life …

(Photo credit:  Sugar Tree Photography)

 

 

 

 

 

The first day

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After I dropped Julz off at school today and after my mandatory ‘parking lot cry’, I set off in search of the perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  It wasn’t really about the cookies but rather about me needing to occupy my time and to create something that would bring an inkling of happiness to my girl’s day.

Today was not only her first day of the new school year but also her first day at the local Swiss school.  A day that she’s been dreading since we first arrived here in Zürich.  After 3 months of intense German lessons, followed by Summer break, it’s now time to integrate and to start her journey into the Swiss schooling system.  Ready or not, here we go!

Unfortunately Julz was less than ready and our final Summer moments were filled with anxiety, dread and a lot of tears.

This is all new territory, and hell, are we ever learning.  School starts at 8:30 and ends at either 15:15 or 16:15, depending on the day except for Wednesdays when school closes as 12:00.   School closes for 1.5 hours at noon each day and the kids are sent back home for lunch.  There are two local schools which service our community and the kids are responsible for getting themselves to school by either walking or riding their bikes.

Julia is in a class of 7 students.  Actually, the 7 students make up the whole grade – 4 girls; 3 boys.  She has one teacher who teaches all of the subjects.  All of her subjects are taught in German apart from English and French.

In South Africa, we prepare for the start of the new school year by ordering text books and buying new uniforms, books, stationery, school bags, lunch boxes, etc.  In Switzerland, we buy shoes – apparently.  I learnt this little bit of information on Sunday afternoon (when all the shops were closed) as I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed.  I dashed next door to Heidi who confirmed that a standard back to school shopping list for moms in Switzerland consists of indoor sneakers, outdoor sneakers, ‘house-shoes’ (slip on slippers for indoors), rain boots, snow boots, etc.  Luckily, we’re still in the Summer months and wearing a pair of socks or going bare foot is perfectly acceptable inside the classroom and Julz has more than enough sneakers to go around.  EVERYTHING else is provided for by the school.

My two school drops offs in Switzerland (you can read about the first one here), have by far been some of the hardest parts of my mothering journey.  On our walk to school today, I could sense her anxiousness, I felt her grip and I casually mentioned that we should turn around and run away and I’d be lying if I said that I was joking or that she didn’t half consider it, but then we were met by two wonderful teachers who briskly whisked her away, chatting to her non-stop in German.  She didn’t even have a chance to look back at me.

When we met her this afternoon, she was walking with her new friends.  She casually walked up to me, gave me a jab with her elbow and said “Why were you so stressed?”.

Oh, and the cookies?  They were delicious!

*****

Each year on the first day of school, I ask the same question and then photograph her answer.  This was today’s answer, the same answer for the fourth year in a row.

 

 

 

 

Schoggi love

For anyone who’s ever dreamed that Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory was a real place you could visit, this one’s for you.

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Luckily, we didn’t need to win one of 5 Golden Ticket’s to get to see Maestrani’s Chocolarium as access is unlimited and so is their chocolate.  From the moment you walk in, to the moment you walk out there is nothing but sampling stations for all of their delicious chocolate.  Also, tell your wife kid that you’re taking her to a place where she’ll get to walk through and sample as much chocolate as she wants, and you’ll earn the rank of a god.

I loved the creativity and the imagination behind this place.  Every inch of the Chocolarium is designed around the concept of HAPPINESS, and you feel it from the moment you get there with a pathway counting down each step to happiness.

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Past the front door, you’re met by the smile-o-meter where your picture is taken and your smile measured.

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The Chocolarium is a real life chocolate and sweet factory with a series of different rooms each focusing on the journey of chocolate, from bean to bar.  The interactive rooms focus on everything from the raw ingredients and their origin through to the various processing methods.

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And just when you leave one room and think “Holy Mother of Imagination, that was fun!”, you’re wowed again in the next room with even more colour and more attention to creative detail.

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And my favourite, the dotty room.  A plain white room which has been decorated over time by visitors to the Chocolarium with thousands of little dot stickers.

Towards the end of the exhibit, there is a chocolate workshop for those wanting to discover their inner chocolatier.  We chose a bar of milk and white chocolate, which we received in it’s melted form and then Julz went crazy* at the topping station.  She then placed the bar into the freezing hub and then packaged her final chocolate creation for the trip home.

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* Crazy = Sprinkles and chocolate/biscuit balls with a teeny, tiny bit of crushed caramel added to the side for her Dad.  Note the 20:1 ratio.

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Summer days

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here for three months already.  I find myself measuring the time by the flowers that surround us, the fruit growing on the trees and the changing seasons rather than the weeks and the actual time that is going by.  The Sunflowers are currently blooming which I’ve been told is a sign that Autumn is just around the corner but for now we are enjoying our Summer break and are soaking up the beautiful weather and the luxuriously long days.

This is my first Summer in Switzerland and although I knew it could get hot, I never anticipated the type of heat.  As I write this, it’s just after 19:00 and our temperature is 33C with temperatures only dropping slightly to 27C through the night.

Given that this is our first Summer break in Switzerland and most likely our last before both Benito and I return to the working world we decided to take it very seriously.  We asked Julz to come up with a Summer bucket list with strict instructions that not every item needed to include spending money but rather simple little acts that would make her happy.  Her final list included small things like catching fireflies and swimming in a lake to bigger things like visiting a chocolate factory and eating ice cream in Italy.

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Little did I know when we prepared this list that the Swiss people take Summer seriously too – I guess long Winters will do that to you – and that this will in all likelihood become our Summer tradition.  We have had so much fun preparing this list and finding ways to make the little things in life magical and as we’ve chatted to people along the way, our list has grown enormously as everyone has another ‘must see’ item to add to the list.

Two weeks in and these are some of our Summer moments …

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IMG_0018smlTravelling to Italy to meet up with friends and to tick the ‘Gelato in Italy’ box.

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A visit to Stein am Rhein, one of the prettiest little towns that I’ve ever visited followed by shopping in Germany.  Our neighbour, Heidi (yes, I live next door to a real-life Heidi) introduced us to the wonderful world of shopping in Germany.   One of the downsides to living in Switzerland is the ‘consider-donating-an-organ’ high cost of living, so the locals all travel across the borders to do their shopping (it’s literally half of what we pay in Switzerland and duty-free).

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Swimming in a badi.  Our swimming pool is one of the things that we’ve missed the most.  We took it for granted in S.A. but swimming here is no joke.  A season ticket, which offers Summer access costs 200 CHF per family.   

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Watching the sun set, followed by the Greatest Showman on the shore of Lake Zurich. 

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A trip up Mount Stanserhorn and the most spectacular views.

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An evening stroll along Lake Zurich.  Ok, I won’t romanticise this – it was 33C and all three of us had worn jeans in anticipation for the ‘cooler’ evening weather.  We were on our way to Zurichhorn and little did we know but the ZVV app had bi-passed all trams and buses and rather told us to walk the 3kms to our venue.  There are days when I love technology and then there are days like these, when I want to throw my phone in the lake simply to be able to dive in and retrieve it.

 

 

 

The 100 Acre Woods

I’m not going to lie, since coming to Switzerland, I seem to have picked up approximately 10 283 744kg.  I’m usually pretty good about what I eat but my impulse control at the moment seems to be equivalent to that of a two year old.  This has lead to my morning runs which are quickly becoming a habit and a favourite part of my day.  Unfortunately it is near impossible to run with my heavy Canon but still, every morning I am filled with regret for not having my camera with me.  This morning however, I ditched the run for a walk with my camera so that I could show you all ‘my’ forest.

May I introduce you to my version of the 100 Acre Woods.

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Well hello there Sunshine!  My Sunflower loving heart is so happy.  In the middle of the forest we come to an opening filled with a huge sunflower field!

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We walked back home through the village which, as mentioned before, is mainly surrounded by farmlands.  It’s a completely different world from the one we just came from but equally beautiful!

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(The honey farm and the ‘honey shop’ I was telling you about here)

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“How do you spell ‘love’?” – Piglet
“You don’t spell it, you feel it.” – Pooh

2 Months

Our 2 month anniversary coincided with moving in to our new home which will in all likelihood be my forever home because they are going to have to forcefully remove me if they ever want me to leave as I am never doing this again I really like it here.

In the last three months we have lived in four different homes and out of ten suitcases and whilst we’ve had a lot of fun, it’s also been exhausting and it is so good to finally be able to settle down and to have a place to call our own.  Julz is also enjoying her new room and retreats there often.  I’m telling myself that she’s revelling in her new space and that it’s not the early signs of the teenage years which are knocking on our door a little too frequently lately.

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In the first two months we didn’t have much of a routine other than Julia’s daily trips to school and our weekly washing day.  (The washing day still cracks me up … in our old apartment we were allocated one day a week to do our washing and this was not negotiable.  Luckily in our new apartment, the people are a lot more easy going and we can more-or-less do our washing whenever we want.  EVEN ON A SUNDAY, which was a big no no in the old apartment.)  The start of our third month has already brought with it more of a rhythm and we are quickly finding our feet and getting to know our new neighbourhood.

We live on a hill in a quiet little village called Winkel and are mainly surounded by farmlands and forests (a big tick off Benito’s check list).  The landscape seems to change every few weeks as new crops and flowers are planted and we have a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables on our doorstep.  This morning we went for a run through the forest and found a little box with bottles of fresh honey (CHF 7 – just put your money in the box and help yourself to some delicious honey). We also no longer get woken up by church bells but rather by the resident rooster.

The local school is a stones throw away which means that Julia’s current 50 minute commute will shorten to a 2 minute walk in October when she’s able to join the school – just in time for the changing seasons and we are so excited by the promise of the extra hour being added to our sleep pattern in the Winter.

The school term comes to an end in a few weeks and we have a 6-week Summer break ahead of us.  Zürich really caters to the kids during the Summer and for CHF 25, they can get a Summer pass which allows them to travel on any form of public transport (bus, train, tram, boat and funicular) in and around the city.  They get entrance to a whole bunch of badis (pools or designated swimming areas in the lakes and rivers) as well as entrance to the museums, zoo and a number of other attractions.  We are already planning to take full advantage of the warmer weather and are busy creating our Summer bucket list.

Until then, we are enjoying …

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… finally being rid of all of these boxes and having some normalcy restored to our living room.

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… this.  Here’s to hoping that her enthusiasm lasts!

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… the view of our apartment building and one of the many beautiful views (if you squint really hard, you can see the mountains in the distance).  

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… evening walks in the forest and playing tennis with tree branches and a pine cone (my girl is happiest with a “racket” in her hand.

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