Winter in Switzerland


I have now experienced all four seasons in Switzerland, each so very different and beautiful in their own way but Winter, Winter is by far my favourite!

The Winters here can get long though and we need to take all the necessary precautions to maintain our Serotonin levels. Morning vitamin D Drops with breakfast – check. Eat lots of veggies – check. Follow the sun on weekends – check. Create a killer play list to sing along to loudly – check. Have a healthy stash of chocolate readily available – double check.

But then, last week, I stumbled upon an even better solution to the “Winter Blues” (okay, it wasn’t so much of a stumble as it was a 3 hour drive) and her name is Quila.

Quila is my “foster child” and has been entrusted to me by the Stiftung Schweizerische Schule für Blindenführhunde (The Swiss Foundation for guide dogs for the blind). One day, in the not so distant future, she will become somebody’s eyes but for now she is mine and my job is to love her and to help her develop into the brave, dependent and strong-willed dog that she needs to become. Also, all of Quila’s commands are in Italian, which has to be the happiest language ever! My heart smiles every time I praise her with a loud “Brava!”

Speaking of languages, something magical is starting to happen in our household. Whilst Julia fully understands everything that is being said to her in German, she has been slow to start speaking however lately when she speaks to someone in English, German words are bubbling to the surface before the English words have a chance to come out which means that she’s starting to think in German!

This is a big step in the right direction as being the perfectionist that she is, she only speaks in German when she has to (e.g. to her school teacher) or when she feels comfortable enough with a person to make a mistake and not feel judged. Now that the words are automatically coming out, soon it won’t be a choice.

Life is starting to change for all of us as we’re all finding our own place in this new world of ours. Benito has joined the local fire department as a volunteer fireman. Our village is really small and our fire department consists of only volunteers however the facilities, training and camaraderie are fantastic! And if you know Benito, you know that he is in his element!

Julz is heading into the final stages of her primary school year and will soon be heading off to High School. As I’ve mentioned before, the Swiss schooling system is completely different from back home and offers a wide variety of options to students based on their different learning abilities and academic capabilities. After being in the school for a little over 4 months, Julz has managed to achieve the goals she set for herself and surpassed all of our expectations and will be going through to Sec. A.

She’s growing up fast and our time with her is fleeting. There are a million messages I want her to walk away with but mostly, I hope she always knows that her mom and dad chose her dreams. That we chose to live our life a different way even when we were told we were crazy. It may not always be easy, but it’s definitely worth it!

—ooOoo—

Sharing our Winter in Switzerland so far …

Yes, Winter in Switzerland is my favourite. Add to that, a wet nose and wagging tail and it’s damn near perfection!

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!

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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Image 2018-08-07 at 19.47

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.