Hurray for Hiking

This year has been strange. On top of being our first year in a brand new country, Covid has not helped make things feel normal. Our original plans when we were looking at the year ahead in January were very different to how things turned out. We wanted to go to Liechtenstein (that did happen), followed by Easter in London, then Cinque Terre in May, London again in June, Romania in July and London in August, (90th birthday and a wedding so multiple London trips were planned), and then finish off the year with Crete for our wedding anniversary in October and Christmas in Romania. Almost none of that happened.

We of course did not go anywhere at Easter, or in May, in June we did a little Swiss vacay in Lugano just to have our first week off in 9 months, and then in August we managed to get to London once. Cinque Terre was looking promising for early October, but then we had to change that yesterday, so planning another part of Italy instead. And of course, Crete is not happening this year. Still hoping driving to Romania for Christmas will be possible. Not exactly the year we had planned, but it did force us to explore Switzerland a lot, which has been lovely, and really get into our new hobby here: hiking.

I say ”new” but really I have been resurrecting an old hobby I had in Vancouver growing up, after an 8 years hiatus, in Switzerland. London did not have very accessible hikes nearby so we did not really hike in the UK. Plus in the pre-COVID world any chance for a holiday we would go out of the country rather than stay within the UK. This season we have done a solid number of long walks and proper hikes, all around the country, and I am pleased with how much we have done considering we have a baby to take with us everywhere.

I also enjoy that most of the iconic places have some yummy food option like our cheese and meat fondue feast at the top of Creux du Van, or our delicious fritto misto with unbelievable view in Monte Bre. Those were probably my two favourite hikes of the year (no, not just because of the delicious meals) because the hikes were challenging yet rewarding, and the views were absolutely stunning. Lauterbrunnen was also gorgeous views, but I would want to try a more challenging hike in the area, as the route we did that day was more of a long walk than a proper hike.

We have also started investing in some hiking gear, which I think makes us official hikers. We have a fancy hiking backpack to chariot our son around in, and I plan to get proper hiking boots in a few weeks as well. It is a great activity for spring and summer, and even into the fall, and then of course winter time we have skiing, so this compliments our activity schedule well. Thankfully there is no shortage of hiking routes in Switzerland. There are literally thousands! So we definitely will not run out of options any time soon. It is also a good pandemic activity because it is naturally socially distant, so since Covid is not going anywhere any time soon I think we will be hiking a fair amount going forward.

Hopefully more travel will be possible too though ūüôā

Blitz through Bratislava

So we recently had to cancel our plans to go to Romania, which was a huge disappointment. I was really looking forward to seeing my family and it is very difficult not knowing when we will next be able to see each other. The original idea was to drive there, stop in Bratislava on the way there, and on in Ljubljana on the way back 2 weeks later. A nice 17 day trip altogether. Totally sensible and normal. Thanks to Covid however we had to cancel this, but when I went to cancel our Airbnbs I apparently had only booked the Ljubljana stay with cancellation. Instead of just doing the sensible thing and letting go of the 1 night accommodation in Bratislava, I came up with the *brilliant* idea to turn it into a weekend, and booked a second night there, thinking it would be a “fun road trip” to drive from Basel to Bratislava in a day, be there to site see for a day, and then drive back mid-day on the Sunday. This was an ERROR. Bratislava was beautiful and I was impressed at how much we managed to see in about a day and a half, but definitely should have gone for longer or not at all. It was a very very tiring 3 days!

We drove Friday after working a half day, so left at noon from Basel, and got in to our Airbnb at 23:00. Our host was very nice and gave us a tour and our keys, and we then crashed out for the night. The Saturday was the main day, and we definitely made good use of it. We walked all around Bratislava hitting all the trip advisor top sites. There was a lot of beautiful architecture on our walking tour, and we went inside Bratislava Castle, which had some great art exhibits and lovey views. The old town was really charming full of cobblestones and cute shops. It also had one of the sites the ”Man at Work” statue that everyone was crowding around taking pictures.

We stepped into a couple of pretty churches and cathedrals, and we walked across the Danube viewing the famous Most SNP bridge, which is the longest of its kind in the world. In general I was very impressed with the architectural variability around the city.

A highlight of the day for me was our delicious lunch where we feasted on Slovakian food, which is quite similar to Romanian food, so it gave me a little taste of home even though our trip was sadly cancelled. It was full of flavourful meats, pickled vegetables, bone marrow, dumplings and latkes.¬†Another highlight was the Blue Church, which was very cute, and reminded me a lot of Gaudi-style buildings. When I looked at it, it a little bit said to me, ”I’m a cute, blue, gingerbread house.” We had walked about 20,000 steps by this point and were completely knackered so we stayed in our Airbnb for a light dinner since I could not even eat after the lunch feast.

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The next day we had time in the morning to do one more site, and it was handy having the car with us, so we drove to Devin Castle, which was really cool. We do love our historical sites, and this was a fairly well preserved set of ruins dating back to 846 CE. The views from here were also stunning. It was very hot so after a couple of hours we got in the car and headed back to pack up the car. We left Bratislava at about 12:30 and got home again quite late. I was impressed we managed to see so much with a 14 month old with us, and that he was happy to be dragged around to museums and castles.

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Ticino Trippin’

So thanks to the COVID situation, we decided on a holiday within Switzerland; the cases have been fairly low here and we have our car, so why not? We went to Ticino a couple of weeks ago and it was such a nice week away. We stayed right on Lake Lugano, which is a gorgeous colour and the views were stunning. It was exactly a three hour drive from home, which is not bad, and we stayed in the same hotel the whole time since I hate the hassle of switching hotels. We went on a day trip to Ascona to see Locarno and Lago Maggiore, we hiked Monte Brè one day, and we also drove to very close to the Italian border for a lake day. It was actually very handy having the car with us. A lot of Lugano sites themselves are walkable, but we were able to go a bit further this way on some days.

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One of the highlights was the delicious Michelin Starred lunch with a view we had at Ristorante Art√©. The food was fantastic and it was the first fancy meal we had since our anniversary dinner in Liechtenstein 4 months prior. It is becoming very tricky going to places like this with a baby so because we were on holiday we went for a Tuesday lunch. Thankfully it was not busy at all at this time, so we didn’t bother a whole restaurant full of people with our screaming baby…

This fish course was one of my favourites because the fish was fresh and beautiful and it also had this delicious pure√©d aubergine that reminded me of my favourite Romanian dish: vinete. This was definitely the ‘treat meal’ of the vacay.

All the other meals we had on the trip were very tasty as well, especially the food at our hotel, the ¬†“Hotel Splendide Royal Lugano”. The one downside though is we were somewhere very Italian feeling, with Italian foods and weather, but Swiss prices. So it definitely was a pricy week. But since our Cinque Terre trip we had to cancel this seemed like a suitable replacement.

Another huge highlight of the trip for me, in fact probably the top highlight, was our hike up Monte Brè. I was so happy we managed to do a 4 hour hike with a baby, and the views at the top were so stunningly beautiful, along with a delicious well earned fritto misto lunch. I felt very accomplished too so the endorphins were high on this day.

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We also ventured to Ascona for the day and it was another beautiful part of Ticino. It was very lush and green, full of palm trees and reminded me of Sri Lanka. Lugano reminds more more of Thailand. In Ascona we walked around the old town, along the lake, and up to the hill to the cathedral, which has saints up along the path as you can see.

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We wrapped up the week with a lake day and I used our stand up paddle board for the first time. I was very proud of myself for actually standing up. It is much harder than it looks, but I am looking forward to getting better at it and doing this activity on future lake days. Lake days really remind me of my childhood in Canada because we did this a lot on the weekend with family and friends. I love that we have so many beautiful lakes to go to around Switzerland.

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Overall I loved Ticino and would happily go back, although we definitely appreciate the prices going places like Greece and Italy instead. I am sure we will go back though because Ticino is a beautiful getaway in the same country and easy to get to for us.

Lake Life

So since international travel is now on hold, we have been exploring a lot of Switzerland. I recently discovered that there are officially 103 lakes in Switzerland. I also researched, out of curiosity, and found out Canada has 2 million lakes, the UK over 40,000, and Romania has 3500. So none of the other countries I have lived in had a small enough number of lakes that I could actually see them all. Switzerland’s 103, however, is very do-able. I have now been to 11 of the 103, and am excited to keep ticking away at the list.

These photos were taken at Hallwilersee; Swiss lake names also often end in “see” – go figure. That day we also explored an old medieval castle built in the 1200’s. It is nice being “forced” to see so much here. Often in the past we would use all of our vacation days and budget towards leaving whatever country we are in, but as that is not an option at the moment, we are putting a lot of energy into exploring our ‘home country’ and that is actually really nice.

We are planning to go to Ticino for a week, the Italian, southern part of Switzerland, and there are a few lakes we can explore while we are there. It also helps that the summer weather here seems to last from about April until October, giving us many weekends for lake exploration. The farthest lake from us is Lago di Poschiavo, which is about a 4 hour drive South East (Ticino is only 3 hours South). That will have to be a separate trip. ¬†Each lake has different attributes surrounding it: farmlands, vineyards, beach front, boats, trees, hills in the background, Alps in the background, various wild life, beautiful villas. I keep getting asked why I would want to see them all, and aren’t they all the same, but in truth they have all been different and have a variety of great sites nearby as well.

Lakes are also a great activity with a baby. There are some beautiful hikes in Switzerland, but I am just not strong enough to do them with a baby strapped to me, so those will have to wait; lakes however are mostly nice and flat so we can still do long walks with the pram easily.

We are still hoping to get some international trips in this year, at the very least to France and Germany since those borders will be open soon, but until then we will be lucky lakey lakers. OK I am done now.

 

Swiss Stuff

So it is looking likely that all of our holidays will get axed this year… We have already cancelled three and the rest of our plans were not even booked, and I do not think there is much point in booking them right now. The worst of it is not knowing when we will be able to go to London or Romania and see our families next. And then regular holidays not being possible is also crummy. I am trying to stay positive and grateful for our health and safety though. Plus Switzerland is not the worst place to be quarantined.

Since we cannot go anywhere outside of Switzerland, and thankfully the cases here have plateaued, they have started relaxing the lockdown measures within the country (borders are still closed) so we can do lots more exploring here. In the past month we have also driven to a few destinations: Biele/Bienne, Murten and Neuchatel. They were all very beautiful.

We also plan to explore the outskirts of Basel more as there is a lot here as well left to see. We did that last weekend and stumbled across some beautiful farmlands, parks and gardens.  Plus there is still more to drive to and explore since we are only 6 months into living in Switzerland.

It is all very surreal to me that this is our current reality. Not being able to fly to anywhere in Europe for the weekend anymore is so strange. I have had lots of time to organise my digital photos and I really have travelled a lot in the past nearly 9 years since moving to London. It feels strange that this year we may only have been to Liechtenstein and within Switzerland by the end of the year… Most years we end up hitting about 10 countries. I am still really crossing my fingers that we will somehow get to at least see our families before the end of 2020, but there is definitely no guarantee. We could technically go to London or Romania, self isolate for 14 days while working from there, then stay for a week or so of vacation, and then come back and self isolate for another 14 days and work from home here. But I do not really fancy being locked inside for 14 days on either side. At least currently here in Switzerland we can go on walks, go to grocery stores, pick up takeaways, drive places on the weekends, and some things here have opened up again (nail and hair salons, clinics, bike shops, physios, more takeaways, etc.). We even have dentist/hygiene appointments in a week’s time! I am excited to be able to do things like that again.

I know the frontline staff and people who actually get sick are having a much worse time, so I cannot complain comparatively, but I do hope things improve, as not being able to travel or eat in restaurants are two of the main things we do for happiness and fun. I also miss my gym and exercise classes. I do appreciate how tech savvy the Swiss are as well. My pilates and yoga class are over Zoom, but it is not quite the same as actually going to the class. We have also managed to start our German classes on Zoom, so that is good. Getting deliveries of online orders has also not been an issue here. We are definitely not bored with a baby, a cat, both working full time, exercising, cooking and learning German, but I would really like a sunny beach vacation more than anything!

Ok that concludes today’s pandemic post. I hope every country starts to plateau like Switzerland has and then we can open the borders and all see each other again!

Quarantine Diaries

Well, things have definitely changed a lot in the last month. There is now a global pandemic situation we have never had to deal with before and it has definitely made everything different. We have had to cancel travel to London at Easter, which is really crummy. We will likely have to cancel our mid-May trip as well. June is even looking iffy at this point. So just like that my favourite hobby (travel) is on hold. Beyond that, restaurants are also all closed, so there goes my other favourite hobby. I do however want to try and stay positive and not dwell on all the negatives of this situation.

Thus, I thought it might be a good idea to start out by making a list of all the benefits and things I’m thankful for during this strange time:

  1. Extra time with my baby (childcare is closed) even though working from home with him is hard, it is so nice getting more time with him when he’s a baby
  2. Extra time with James, it has been so interesting sharing an “office” with him, and getting to know “work James”
  3. We are both able to work from home – not everyone can, so this is a big benefit
  4. We are all healthy currently and we do not socialise with anyone, so the only risk is going for groceries or on walks (but people are vigilant to keep their distance)
  5. We have all the food and essentials we need
  6. We can save more money due to no travel or restaurants (as much as this sucks)
  7. FaceTime allows us to still see our family and friends

Next, I thought I would make a list of things we can hopefully look forward to when things go back to normal:

  1. Travel – we will have saved up our annual leave days and money so maybe we can do a bigger trip (we were only planning small European stuff this year)
  2. Restaurants – first priority will be going back to the all you can eat sushi place we discovered just as this all kicked off
  3. Shopping – I would really like to get some clothes and a few things for the flat
  4. Seeing our friends and family – trips to London and Romania will be happening as soon as they are possible, Vancouver would be nice too but probably not this year
  5. Going back to the gym and my yoga and pilates classes (I am doing this at home, but it is not the same).

You can tell that I am very “type A” because lists make me feel better. Even though nothing has changed I feel better having made a list. Such. A. Nerd. The other thing that has been really good is we managed to buy a car right before this whole pandemic kicked off, and with train travel no longer being advisable, it is nice that we can still explore around Switzerland during this time.

We went to Interlaken last weekend, and did a lovely walk by the lakes. Nothing was open so we packed dried fruit, nuts and water bottles. I would love to go back when things are open because it was a lovely place, but it was also kind of nice being there when it was so desolate not heaving with tourists.

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I think we will try to go every weekend or other weekend to various pretty places in Switzerland. Being in a new country at least we have lots to still explore, even if it can only be in the form of walks (no museums, restaurants, many famous hiking trails closed, etc.). I am glad we are still allowed to go outside, especially since we do not socialise or get close to any people when we do go out, so it is completely safe.

I am definitely sad this was the way the world has kicked off a new decade, not quite the Roaring 20’s I had in mind, but hopefully there are some good things to come after all of this.

 

 

 

Lovely Liechtenstein

Last weekend we celebrated our 5 year anniversary (of the night we met) and Valentine’s Day. We usually do a trip for this occasion. I realised we went skiing in Verbier, Switzerland for our 1 year, Paris for 2 years, Malage/Seville/Granada for our 3 year, Amsterdam for 4 years and this time it was Liechtenstein for the big 5 year. It ticked off a new country for us and is one that borders Switzerland, which is handy.

We took the train there, which was scenic in itself because we went all along Zurich Lake and past some beautiful Alps ranges. Liechtenstein itself I didn’t know what to expect because it’s such a small country, but it was a really lovely place. It was very secluded and felt like a secret place we had uncovered that people don’t tend to venture to. The views were absolutely stunning and we lucked out with crazy warm weather for mid-February.

We also coincidentally were there during their Fasnacht, which is a carnival they do here in Basel too, at the beginning of March. Everyone was very festive and enthusiastic so it was neat to see. I would be very keen to come back in August when the Royal Family host their annual party at the Vaduz Castle grounds, open to all who are willing to make the journey. Plus you could potentially meet royalty (if you can get up the nerve haha…), which would be pretty neat.

The hotel we stayed in was lovely and they even gave us a gorgeous mountain-view suite. ¬†It has one of the two Michelin-starred restaurants in Liechtenstein (which is actually fairly impressive for only ~38,000 people), where we had a delicious anniversary dinner. I wish we could have taken advantage of the pool and sauna area, but I didn’t know to bring my bathing suit! Something to remember for next time.

We also decided to go to the Liechtensteinisches Landes Museum, which had some very beautiful pieces and we learned a lot about the history of Liechtenstein there. They had an archeology section, a natural history section, and then more recent history and political sections too. We definitely left knowing a lot more about Liechtenstein than when we got there.

I definitely feel like we uncovered a secret, hidden gem, and I would totally recommend Liechtenstein for a secluded mountain retreat. Probably wouldn’t pick it as the place to go for a bachelor/bachelorette party, but it’s perfect for a beautiful, peaceful escape.

The Rhine Falls and Schaffhausen

Did you know that Europe’s largest waterfall is in Switzerland? Did you know there’s a cute town called Schaffhausen nearby to explore. Well I didn’t either up until a couple of weeks ago, but I’m glad we have discovered these things. Having been to Niagara Falls in Canada, which are admittedly very impressive, I didn’t know what to expect. The Rhine Falls are obviously not nearly as huge as Niagara, but it was still a beautiful site and lovely day trip. It also was not nearly as crowded with tourists as Niagara Falls. The water was very blue and inviting, though of course I wouldn’t recommend jumping in.

We walked around the falls and took photos, and then stopped to eat lunch at a fabulous restaurant called Schlosschen Worth with a gorgeous view of the waterfall.¬†I didn’t expect to find a fancy Michelin Starred restaurant right there in the middle of the lake over-looking the waterfall, nor did I expect them to actually have a table available without a booking, but we got lucky and managed to squeeze in a delicious meal on our little excursion. Best view I’ve ever had with a meal, and I think I’ve had quite a few spectacular ones.

I had the scallop and caviar appetizer which was both beautiful and exquisite tasing, followed by a delicious cordon bleu, a dish I haven’t had in years and it was just fabulous and really hit the spot. We all thoroughly enjoyed the meal and the spectacular view, and the service was really great as well; they were very accommodating considering we had no reservation and a baby with a large stroller.

After lunch and the stroll around the waterfall we drove down the road to Schaffhausen, where we did a little bit of shopping, admired the lovely architecture and explored another city in Switzerland. I actually had the Rhine Falls and Schaffhausen as two separate trips on my Swiss list until I realised on the day that they were so close together. We figured since we were there why not check it out, and I’m very glad we did. Some of the buildings had stunning, very intricate paintings on them and beautiful carvings. It was a nicely balanced day full of nature and culture.

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We still have lots of exploring to do in Switzerland, but it’s starting to feel like we’ve made a decent dent!

Christmas in Colmar

Now I know this post is a bit late, but I had to write a post on this Christmas Market because it was just amazing. We went to Colmar for the day from Basel by train, which is super convenient, and discovered the most festive Christmas Town I’ve ever seen. All the houses get completely decked out, and the architecture and style of the houses are so charming and cute, it goes perfectly with the Christmas theme. Some houses are completely covered in polar bears, others have window shutters with baubles and stars, everyone clearly puts a lot of effort in to make this the Christmasy-est place on Earth.

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We have a lovely Christmas Market in Basel itself, and we also checked out the Freiburg Christmas Market on another weekend; all of them are fun and festive of course, but Colmar to me was on another level. It just felt like the whole town was built together for the sole purpose of being an adorable Christmas village. It’s no wonder it is such a huge tourist attraction and so world renowned. We went on a weekend in late November and it was already completely packed, so I can only imagine how crazy it must get closer to Christmas.

Next year we also want to check out the Strasbourg Christmas Market because I’ve heard that one is beautiful as well, but I think we will need to go back to Colmar too since it was just so good. We bought lovely meats and cheeses from some of the food stalls, ate at an excellent traditional French restaurant, and I snapped dozens of photos of all the Christmas glam. I think we will also check out some other Swiss Christmas Markets next season, maybe the ones in Bern or Zurich. There are so many cities so close to us that do Christmas Markets that it’s impossible to do them all each year, but it’s great being so spoiled for choice here. In London I’d hear a lot of negative comments from those who didn’t like Winter Wonderland or thought it overpriced or tacky, but I absolutely loved it and went every single year. Thus, having the proper, authentic German/Swiss/French markets so close-by is quite a treat.

We also thoroughly walked around Colmar and went into St. Martin’s Church, which has stunningly beautiful architecture, and had a little mini art exhibit with a few pieces on display. This one especially grabbed my attention as it’s not a usual piece you expect to see in a cathedral:

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As much as I love the Christmas Market it’s nice to also get to check out a few other sites while you’re in a different city anyways. We also walked by two or three Michelin starred restaurants in Colmar (oh how I love France!), which I had not even thought of, so next year I will have to combine our Christmas Market day with a lunch reservation at once of these (it’d be rude not to, right?). Definitely highly recommend Colmar if you happen to be around that part of France at Christmas!

The Dawn of a New Decade…

So it’s that time of year. Time for a reflective post about the previous year and to lay out the plans for next year. It is still hard to believe it’s going to be 2020 in a couple of days. How have so many years just flown by? Life really is short so making the most of it is very important. This past year has been one of the most challenging yet, but also very rewarding. The first half was spent pregnant (which was not fun) and second half figuring out life with a baby, compound that with a new job and moving to a new country, mix in crazy pregnancy/postpartum hormones, and you have a pretty rough ride. But obviously it has been very happy and positive too. I have the cutest little munchkin, best husband and awesome family and friends to do this all with, so I am definitely grateful for that, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard.

In terms of personal life we have managed to still do a bit of travelling amidst the chaos, which is very important to me, and I have focused on some hobbies/activities, such as yoga, pilates, badminton and finally getting back to the gym. Moving to a new country has also presented lots of new challenges, but I think we have done a pretty good job of tackling everything and getting well set up here in Switzerland. It’s definitely hard starting out in a new place, but it is also an adventure and I’m glad we did it.

Travel highlights for the year include the Netherlands, France, Andorra, Spain, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and then Switzerland (and Germany/France from here), as well as some getaways in the UK. Nothing overly exotic this year and 2020 will also be Europe-based trips (unless I have work travel) as we settle in to Swiss life. I’m hoping we can do a bigger trip in 2021 (location TBD, but really want to do something like Mauritius or the Caribbean). Travel obviously changes a lot when a bambino comes into the picture. My dream South America trip and India/China trip and Transiberian railway trip… will all have to wait. I am however looking forward to thoroughly exploring Switzerland and the surroundings next year though.

I don’t want to make a ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ list because I think it’s important to just be happy and try to reach your goals without unnecessary pressure, but I will say that I hope next year is positive and healthy and we create more happy memories. I hope the new jobs work out for us and we manage to explore some new places, and we have lots of family visits in the books too now that all four sets of grandparents live in different countries to us. Bring on the Roaring 20’s!