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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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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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!

 

 

 

It must be love

From the very first time I landed on Swiss soil almost 18 years ago, I fell in love with Switzerland.  At first I thought it was just a little Summer fling but since then each time I returned I found myself falling harder and harder.  6 years ago, I took the plunge and introduced him to my daughter.  Whilst I knew he would love her, I didn’t quite know what to expect from her, however, their connection was instantaneous and since then their love for one another has also blossomed into something beautiful.

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We are now in a serious, committed relationship.

In no particular order, these are some of the traits I love most …

  1. The mountains

    They’re the very first to welcome you into Switzerland and kiss you goodbye when you leave.

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  2. The people

    The Swiss people are exceptionally friendly and will go out of their way to help you.    I have had nothing but positive experiences with the people I have encountered from the gentle soul at the bicycle shop who offered to specially come in on a Sunday to let me try out a bicycle so that the roads would be quieter for my fragile little ego, to family and friends who have rallied to make our integration just a little bit easier and the shop assistant who saw me struggling with the language and immediately changed from Swiss German to English without skipping a beat and offered me chocolate (she was my favourite).

  3. Chocolate

    Enough said.  Although I must just add that shopping now takes twice as long as we now have a chocolate isle (not a sweet isle with a chocolate section.  A. Chocolate. Isle.).

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    (this is only one half).

  4. Public transportation

    This is still a novelty and I’m hoping that my love for the public transport system won’t be short-lived.   When we arrived we bought a month’s travel pass which allows us to travel anywhere in Zürich on any form of public transport (bus, tram, boat or train) and this has allowed us to do a lot of sight seeing.

  5. Shopping and the honesty system

    As a South African, this blows my mind every single time.  Whilst there are check-out points with cashiers, a lot of the shops have self-service options.  You can either take a scanner, scan your items and pack them in your grocery bags as you go (my favourite option) or you can scan the items and pay for them at the check out counter using your credit card.

    There are also a number of farm stalls in our village which sell fresh flowers, eggs, etc.  The goodies are placed on display for everyone to see along with a price list and a bucket is left to the side for you to place your money once you’ve selected your items.

  6. Downtime

    This was one of the main ‘pros’ on our list when we decided to move to Switzerland.  We wanted a more simple, less hurried lifestyle and this is exactly what Switzerland offered.  

    Sundays and public holidays are considered ‘family days’ and all shops are closed on these days.   What I love though is that the villages come alive on these days … families are out and about, riding bicycles, rollerblading, picnicking or braaing grilling on their balconies.

    Lunch time is a similar ritual with most schools, shops and businesses shutting down for a long afternoon lunch.

Whist we’re still in the early stages of our relationship and trying to figure out this whole cohabitation thing (he has some serious OCD issues), I am looking forward to this next stage and getting to know him a whole lot better!