A big fat Swissmas post

Warning: You may or may not encounter unicorns flying around this post because Christmas in Switzerland is absolute magic!  (As well as a little odd especially if you grew up believing in a big fat jolly guy who flies around the world in one night, on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, who crawls down your chimney on Christmas Eve and leaves presents under the Christmas tree – because that’s not odd at all, right?!)

The festive season started for us on the 22nd November with the lighting of “Lucy”, the affectionate term given to the Christmas lights on Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich. On this day, at precisely 18:00, 12 000 crystals containing luminescent white, red and blue LED lights were switched on, signalling the beginning of the Weihnachtssaison and transforming Bahnhofstrasse into a romantic, twinkling wonderland.

We love “Lucy” and we visit her often but I secretly can’t wait until Christmas is over and the crowds have dispersed so that I can slip out into the streets and have her all to myself.

We’ve also visited many of the Weihnachtsmarkts in Zürich, exploring individual stands, ticking items off our Christmas lists, stopping to warm ourselves by the open fires and fill our tummies with gluhwein and hot chimney cakes.

It was at one of these markets where I discovered, much to my horror, that the big, fat, jolly Santa Claus that I grew up believing in was not the same as the Swiss’ Samichlaus. In fact, he’s based on a 4th century bishop who died on the 6th December and became St. Nicholas. The day of his death then became known as St. Nicholas Day. He’s a much skinnier version of our Santa, travels on a donkey and leaves nuts, gingerbread and mandarin oranges in children’s boots on this day.

But wait, … where our Santa would deliver presents to the good children and a sack of coal to the naughty children, the Swiss’ Samichlaus has a sidekick named Schmutzli who, back in the day, would come out of the woods carrying a stick and an empty sack which he would use to kidnap naughty children and carry them off into the forest for a good whipping. This actually now makes a lot of sense to me … no wonder the Swiss are so well behaved!

As much as I’ve loved all of the Christmas festivities and exploring the many Swiss traditions, I’ve been very aware that our first Christmas away from home could come with a little heartache and that we needed to find a way to make it extra special this year and to start what will become our new family traditions.

So when a friend offered to take us Christmas tree [s]chopping, we jumped at the opportunity. Little did I know that on the outskirts of our forest lies a gorgeous little Christmas tree farm where you can hand pick your Christmas tree and have it cut, trimmed and wrapped up whilst sipping warm punch and eating hot soup and sausages (Do you notice a theme here? I don’t know how the Swiss stay so skinny).


Once that tree is cut though … remember those unicorns? That’s when the real magic starts!

Frohe Weihnachten, Merry Christmas!

Zwölf

It’s one of the words I can’t pronounce properly in German which is fitting because it’s also one of the things I can’t comprehend in life.  My baby turned twelve today.  Twelve.  What is the deal with this kid growing up?  I mean, I’m glad she is an all, but could we slow it down a bit!

She is the perfect blend of a million different things.  Independent enough not to care about the things that don’t really matter.  Funny enough to laugh at her own sense of humour.  Beautiful enough to show confidence but insecure enough to be shy.  Loving enough to know she recognises all that we do and strong-willed enough to make us always try to harder to win her affections.

I like her a lot.  I love her even more!

Sharing what we love with those we love

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I absolutely adore this little country I now call home, but what I love even more is getting to share it with those I love most.  And at this time of the year … Icing. on. top.

My sister and her hubby arrived on Sunday to spend a few days with us before flying back to South Africa after a business trip in Genoa, Italy.  We have 5 days, which isn’t nearly enough but after being apart for 9 months, we take what we can get.  Alarm clocks have been moved forward and bed times are being stretched as we try to squeeze every last minute out of the limited time we have.  

There is so much I want to show them and I want to ‘do it all’ but I know that I have to pare down my list and enjoy being with them more than going, doing, seeing and after two days, they’re already planning their next visit.

My forest was first on the list

followed by my cows

and an evening walk along Bahnhofstrasse

The Rhein Falls

Being an expat is not easy and it’s certainly not a snow globe scene where everything is so dreamy.  But sometimes it is.

Little light of the turnip

I don’t think I truly understood the importance of family traditions until I became a mom and whilst some of my favourite childhood traditions have long passed, preserved only in my mind, others live on and some are just beginning, like this magical little festival of lights. 

Räbelichtli, “rabe” or “rübe” meaning “turnip” and “liecht” or “licht” meaning “light”.  The “li” at the end of the word is the diminutive (and typical of the Swiss – everything has a “li” at the end of it), making it the “little light of the turnip”.

This is the sweetest tradition where children hollow out and carve pictures and patterns into turnips, fill them with candles and parade around the village singing songs.  

We live in a small village however the planning that goes into this little event is huge.  At 6pm the village streets are closed off to traffic and the street lights are switched off.  Residents decorate their homes as well as the pavements with candles, whilst watching and waving to the kids as they pass by.

We have two schools in our village, each school starts at the opposite end of the village and then they meet in the middle for a light dinner.

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to capture any images from the evening but our afternoon looked a little like this …


7 months and a few good nuts

Our seven month anniversary in this [not so] foreign land brings with it the reality that those gloriously long Summer days that I so lovingly referred to a couple of months ago get replaced by short Winter days and loooong Winter nights.  Our sun currently rises at 07:26 and sets at 16:56.  I’m not complaining as Winter also brings with it the promise of cosy evenings in front of the fire, woolly jerseys, beanies, gloves and scarves, Christmas markets, hot roasted Maroni nuts, cheese fondues and of course, this …

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pretty pink cheeks after a very cold walk home from school.

We are no longer ‘new’ to Switzerland and yet everything still feels so new and unfamiliar.  We are learning our way around a fairly complicated schooling system and Julz is in the midst of testing for high school next year to see which tier she will fall into.  Guys, my baby is going to high school!!! (When did that happen?  I swear she was two just yesterday.)

Until then, we are soaking in the delight of primary school as it is not as intense as back home with a strong focus on play – letting them stay little for just a little bit longer.  There is also a strong emphasis on creativity and Julz is now pretty comfortable using a hand saw as well as a sewing machine (both skills learnt from Hand Craft). It almost feels like we’ve enrolled her in Scouts or Girl Guides as opposed to formal schooling.

Language is also a big part of the schooling system with German, English and French all being taught in the local schools.  My guardian angel, Heidi, gives Julz extra French lessons after school which gives me a good excuse to join them for a cup of tea and to listen to my child being taught another language in another language.  I am in complete awe!

As for me, learning a new language has come with many challenges.  When my nearly 40-year-old brain actually remembers a word, I am often unable to get my tongue around the word to pronounce it correctly.  The good side to this though, is that I am providing Julz with hours of entertainment as well as added opportunities for her to practice her German because she’s constantly needing to correct me.

Luckily for me, the people here are extremely patient and kind and are happy for me to fumble my way through this journey with little judgement.  The Swiss have a bad reputation for being cold and closed off but I’ve come to learn that they are just overly polite and don’t want to intrude on someone’s personal time/space.  We joke that the Swiss are like nuts, difficult to crack.  Once you’ve cracked that outer shell though, they are warm, wonderful and genuine people.

We’ve managed to crack a few nuts so far and our little circle of 3 is gradually growing into a beautiful community.   One that feels a little more like family.

Benito is already in his second month of work and whilst I don’t envy his early morning wake-up calls, I do envy the fact that he has somewhere to be every day with a purpose.  I’ve never been a stay-at-home mom so this transition has been a tough one, but we have set some goals and will work towards bridging this gap in the new year.  Also, I booked my first photography shoot!

Speaking of photos (my language of choice) … this is what we’ve been up to lately …

The Chinese Gardens in Zürich

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Hiking from Uetliberg to Felsenegg

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Caumasee

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My cows.  I visit them often and they’re starting to know me (Swiss cows are happy cows).

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Saying “Yes!” to the unknown

A little over five months ago, our family of three took our first steps into the unknown of “what could be”.  The only things we knew with absolute certainty when we stepped on the plane was that we were headed to Switzerland and that we had an apartment to stay in for the next three months.

We made the decision to move together as a family, each one of us fully aware that this would not be easy and that we needed to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.  The fact that we made this decision together has helped in the many ‘WTF’ moments that have followed as no one can be blamed for making the decision to move alone.

We are learning to turn our backs on fear and to look to the unknown with great anticipation and excitement.  We’re learning to embrace the unknown and are trying to take advantage of any and every opportunity to say ‘yes’.  Well, two of us anyway … the tweenager seems to becoming more and more comfortable with saying ‘no’.  In fact, for someone who used to reach her 20 000 word allocation per day by 7:30 in the morning, her vocabulary is getting rather limited.

An example of our daily discussions:

Me:          How was school today?
Jules:       Fine.
Me:          What did you do?
Jules:       Nothing.

Every.  Single.  Day.

For us, it is more practical and effective to actually just do it with her then to tell her it is a great idea with our words and this is exactly what I did when Heidi and Christian knocked on our door on Tuesday evening and invited us to join them for a “little” walk the next day.

I jumped at the opportunity without little thought and managed to convince Jules that it was a good idea.  “Let’s go for a walk”, I said.  “It’ll be fun!”  My eagerness was short-lived when I saw the look on Heidi’s face yesterday whilst she was [disapprovingly] inspecting  our choice of footwear, and completely disappeared after she told me that she’d packed some minerals for our water to stop our legs from cramping during the walk.  (At this stage, we were already buckled into the car, heading swiftly towards Canton Uri – well played Heidi!)

What followed was the worst 4 hours of my life most gruelling, steepest uphill hike through the mountains in which I learnt a lot about myself.

Lesson #1:  Don’t answer the door to Heidi
Lesson #2:  ASK MORE QUESTIONS!!!  (Although in all fairness, I would have said ‘no’ had I known).
Lesson #3:  Buy good hiking shoes.
Lesson #4:  Always pack warm clothes when travelling into the Alps.
Lesson #5:  What you think are warm clothes won’t come close to keeping you warm when you’re in the cold, windy, wet Alpine weather.   Buy warmer clothes.

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This was our halfway mark – see the little rocks at the top of the mountain … that was our end destination.

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The end was in sight.

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IMG_28641SMLThis girl though, she didn’t complain once (at least not within earshot of Heidi and Christian).  She simply soldiered on putting one foot in front of the other, twirling her hiking sticks as she went and even managed to do “the Floss” mid-way.

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Whilst the effort was huge, the rewards were even greater!  Yesterday we were rewarded with the perfect cups of hot chocolate and the fluffiest and lightest Maroni cake served in a traditional Swiss chalet, Bratwurst, Rosti, warm beer and süssmost at the top of our summit, dinner in an authentic Italian restaurant, Prosecco, new friends and the biggest sense of accomplishment.

Everybody needs a Heidi in life.  I’m so glad I found mine!

P.S. If you’re wondering where Benito was in all of this … he was at work!  He officially joined the working world on the 1st October and sadly couldn’t join us.

 

 

 

 

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.