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!

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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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Greetings and a few other things

Gruetzi, Gruetzi Wohl, Gruetzi Mitenand, Guten morge, Guten abig, Hallo, Hoi, Hoi Zäme, Sali … these are just a few of the greetings that I’ve had to learn the last couple of weeks and every time I think I’ve mastered the greetings, I’ll walk past someone and be greeted with something completely new.

This language thing is quite complicated.  The spoken language amongst the locals in Zürich is a dialect, Swiss German, and whilst similar to German it is quite different in that the Swiss understand German however the German’s don’t understand Swiss German.  Swiss German is taught to children at home and in Kindergarten however from first grade, the kids are taught in German and all written communication is in German – Swiss German is not a written language.

To my knowledge, there are no classes for adults to teach the dialect so I will need to learn German however I’ve been told that the locals prefer not to speak German which means that I will also need to learn the dialect.  (Edited to add that this has not been my experience at all.  Everyone that I have encountered has changed to either German or English to help us along).  I am however eager to learn both especially the dialect so that I can truly integrate myself within the community.  I can however confidently tell you that my Afrikaans has improved tremendously!  Every time I open my mouth to say something in Swiss German, die taal comes out.

Julia’s German is improving every week and she is loving the challenge of learning a new language.  I love listening to her recount stories from her day where she’s tried to explain to new students the rules of a game using limited German, hand signals and body language.  She has been and I’m sure will continue to be, my biggest teacher in this process.

Today she started her commute to and from school on her own.  A 50 minute journey, walking, crossing busy roads, catching a bus and catching a tram.  Whilst I know that to the average Swiss person, this is not a big deal, our South African friends will appreciate that this is huge!  Julz tells me that she’s ready and whilst I do believe her, there are signs which speak to her anxiety and her little nails have been chewed down to the skin.  My own anxiety is also off the charts and has taken my helicopter parenting skills to the next level … iPhone ‘Find my friends’ tracking app is a wonderful thing!

Julz is now officially back on court, which I’m hoping will provide her with an outlet for some of her anxiety.  We managed to find a wonderful coach with fantastic credentials – I actually have to pinch myself when I see her playing with him because in SA she would never have had this opportunity.  He is from Serbia and has a number of national and European titles to his name and has played amongst some of today’s greatest tennis players including Marin Cilic and Novak Djokovic.  Julz will also get the opportunity to play on different surfaces here which will bring a new dimension to her game – she plays mainly indoors on carpeted courts but will start playing outdoors on clay courts in the Summer.

Benito has gone for his first driving lesson to do a ‘controlled fahrt’.  Myself and Julz still can’t listen to him talking to the driving instructor without breaking into a fit of giggles.  (I’ve always wondered where she got her toilet humour from and now I know … She got it from her Mama).  Basically, a ‘controlled fahrt’ is a driving test that we have to do to convert our drivers licences to the Swiss version.  It is a practical test to prove that we in fact know how to drive.  Driving lessons have been recommended though due to the vast differences from South Africa – driving on the right hand side, different road signs and traffic light signals, the increased number of bicycles (who have right of way on a number of roads) and of course the buses and trams.  We need to pass the test first time round or risk having to do our complete driving tests all over again including a written test (in German), first aid courses, practical tests, etc.  I’m putting this off until I can (a) find an English speaking teacher, (b) get enough confidence to climb in a car and drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and (c) not break into a fit of giggles when talking about doing a ‘controlled fahrt’.

As for me, I am nesting.  We move into our home in just over a weeks time and my days have been filled with planning and shopping.  This is not as much fun as it sounds when you have to convert your precious Rands into Francs however the one good thing about selling up everything and moving across the world is that you realise what’s important and what’s not and that you actually need very little in life in order to be happy.  I’ve also spent an enormous amount of time getting re-aquainted with my Canon and whilst I may not have a lot of ‘things’ in my life, I will be surrounded by my photos and the beautiful memories I captured.

Life as art:  An exhibit of our last few weeks

Evening sunsets

The Gerold Chucci Umbrellas

Graffiti walls in Zürich

The beautiful rose gardens and views in Rapperswil

Katy Perry live in Zürich

I will now end off with a simply ‘goodbye’ as goodbyes in Swiss German are equally as complicated as the hellos.

1 Month

Grüezi mitenand!

One month in already and yet it feels like only yesterday we were moving in with my sister and her family, preparing for this big adventure.  I still feel like I’m a tourist in my home town and although I long for some familiarity, I hope that this feeling never ends.  I look around me and I am in complete awe of the beauty that surrounds me and I have to pinch myself at least once a day because I LIVE IN SWITZERLAND and I have a little German in the house!!!

I knew that the transition from English to German would be quick for Julia but I never realised just how quick.  In 8 short days she has learnt to count from 1 – 100 (she can also count backwards and count in 2’s), she can introduce herself, tell you where she’s from, where she lives, how old she is, etc.  She’s also starting to make friends with the kids in her class and although none of them speak the same language, they are fluent in play and spend their breaks playing ‘Rock-paper-scissors’ and Uno.

I still travel to school with Jules every morning, more for myself than anything else.  I’ve never been a stay-at-home mom and I also had a killer commute to work back in Jozi so I never did the morning drop-offs.  I am therefore soaking up and loving this little window of opportunity that I have even if it’s just to sit next to her quietly while she plugs in her earphones and zones into a world that I am not a part of.  The teenage years are sneaking up fast.

In two weeks time, my travel pass will expire and she will start to travel to school on her own.  This is something that I have struggled with enormously, knowing that my baby is growing up and that her journey to independence has been somewhat accelerated by this move.  As difficult as it is to let go, I am greatly comforted by the fact that she is in the right place to explore and grow this independence and I have no doubt that she will be just fine in this world … and so will I.

With Julia’s new found independence, I will have more time to dedicate to getting settled.  I have already applied for my permanent residence permit which once received will open a few more doors for me (I am the only outsider in my family as Benito and Julia both have Swiss citizenship).  I also want to start learning German and sign up for some sort of ‘integration’ course.

We found a lovely apartment, not far from where we are currently staying and we move in mid-June.  Having sold everything back in South Africa we are now faced with the mammoth task of refurnishing our home.  When renting a home here, you basically get an empty shell or a blank canvas, whichever way you look at it.  The inside is painted all white, there are no built-in cupboards and no light fittings.  The homes do however come with a fully fitted kitchen including oven, dishwasher and fridge and there is a communal washing room with a washing machine and tumble dryer.

Finding an apartment was one of our main priorities since we were unable to complete any ‘admin’ (applying for my permit, opening bank accounts, etc.) until we had proof of residence.  Now that we have the apartment, things are starting to take shape and we’re finding ourselves getting busier and busier.  I welcome this shift towards building our own routines and finding our rhythms but in this in-between space we have been enjoying …

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… our bicycles.

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We ordered this little treasure online from Germany and it arrived with the postman a few days later (guys, the postal system here deserves it’s own blog post – it is just fabulous!).  We weren’t home to accept the delivery and so my bicycle was left downstairs at the entrance door of our apartment building.  I hadn’t ridden a bike in over 20 years and was worried that I was going to spend all this money on a bike and not enjoy or want to ride it.  My first ride confirmed those thoughts but as the day went on I started to fall more and more in love with it and now our bike rides are some of my favourite moments.

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… bicycle trips to the airport to watch the planes come in to land.  This always makes me think of my Dad because I know how much he enjoyed this spot when he was here with us a few years back.

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… finding a home.  On Thursday evening we went for a walk and came to a clearing in the woods and could see our new home in the distance.

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… getting back on the tennis court.  This has got to be my absolute favourite thing that we’ve done here so far.  To see Julia’s face light up on the court was pure magic!

… and some exploring.

Image 2018-05-06 at 19.13 (1)The Botanical Gardens in Zürich

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Rhein Falls

Happy weekend every body!  We have a long weekend ahead of us and are looking forward to some more exploring.  Any suggestions are welcome!