Monday, January 24, 2011

Welcome to the world - Dutch style

One of my favourite traditions in Holland is how a house is transformed when a new life enters the world. To greet the parents upon their return from hospital (I'm not sure how it works when people have their babies at home as is very common here - I guess you just get to help with the decorating?), friends & family adorn the house with either pink or blue bunting, flags, balloons, banners, hand painted name signs (I've even seen the name of the baby spelled out letter-by-letter on rompers strung in the garden) and of course - a giant stork, either wooden and sitting in the garden, or plush and stuck to the window. Riding around our town, I've seen so many decorated houses and it's a really cool tradition - I especially love seeing all the names...




I'm very excited to have become an Aunty again today (for the... 8th time!!!) as my dear sister and her husband have welcomed their precious baby boy into the world. He is such a cutie and the spitting image of his big brother in my opinion!!!! Congratulations guys - we are so excited for you both and can't wait to meet little Byron... We hope you like your little welcome home surprise from Holland :-)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Switzerland - it's time to (temporarily) move countries again!

It's hard to believe that in a little over a week, January will be over - this year is escaping me already. I thought we would have plenty of time to relax and prepare for our next move after our Christmas holiday but somehow it's that time already... This time next week we will be packed and in the car en route to Switzerland!

When Mitch accepted the job here, we knew it was a part of the contract that he had to spend some time working in a partner institute. He was interested in the work being done in Switzerland (he was actually also offered a job there, but we chose Holland for personal reasons) and with our friends living down there (the plus side of Mitch turning down the job there was that one of our friends who is also Mitch's colleague could apply - it worked out brilliantly!), it was an easy choice to make the move down south for this temporary stay. I must admit, although I know that once we're there it'll be a great couple of months and I'm looking forward to having friends from Australia so close, the thought of packing up and moving right now is the most unappealing thing. Ever. It might not be our permanent home, but right now I'm quite settled here in Nijmegen and I love our little town, our beautiful apartment, my bike and the general lifestyle here and so it's no surprise that when I think about having to leave this for 2 months, I start feeling a little bit homesick for Holland and it's stroopwafels... But anyway - enough of me being negative, it's going to be great and we'll be back to miserable, rainy Holland before we know it!

We were in Switzerland just after Christmas and on the way to our friends house, we drove by the rental Mitch and I will be living in for the next 2 months.... Oh my. Accommodation in this area is near impossible to find so I was quite excited when I found this place online (a holiday apartment basically) as it looks beautiful - small, but new, however what I didn't realise was the location. Naturally I looked it up on google maps but only on the flat map version - I couldn't see the gigantic alp that we are moving to. I was even telling Mitch that we can take our bikes to ride around on to get some exercise - that idea went out the window as soon as I realised that you have to stick in 1st gear to make it up and down the narrow, windy mountain road by car! Yes, we are basically moving to the middle of nowhere - literally, the side of a mountain in between local bull fighting cows and vineyards. It's only a 10 minute drive into Martigny down the extremely steep... cliff ... but it's going to be quite interesting living there - I'm so spoilt right now with having the XL supermarket only a couple of mins by car and the local smaller supermarkets 5 minutes by bike, not to mention the city centre being so close.... On the plus side though - we are going to have some amazing views!

Here's a few shots of our last trip to Switzerland in December - we took a day trip to nearby Montreux & it's impressive former prison/chateau on the shores of Lake Geneva. I'm looking forward to seeing some more of what this little landlocked country has to offer and hoping to maybe even take some trips into neighboring France & Italy...










Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Years in... Paris!!!!

After our week playing in the snow in the French Alps & a couple of days recovery time in Switzerland, our group all headed back to France to see in the new year in the city of lights. The drive from Saint-Maurice to Paris was only meant to take 6hrs but thanks to heavy fog, the Swiss motorway suddenly closing (and no alternative routes being provided - we had to double back), some necessary stops at Carrefour for cheese & baguette (yes my CARREFOUR war cry still exists!) and then heavy traffic starting 80km out of Paris, we didn't arrive in the city until quite late in the day despite our very early start. The last time we drove in Paris was back in 2007 and it was the biggest travel mistake we have ever made, one I've sworn never to re-live - first time driving on the wrong side of the road and wrong side of the car and we picked up our rental car at Gare de Lyon in central Paris. Lets just say it took a few days for my heartbeat to return to its normal rhythm!!!! Nowadays we are used to the 'wrong' side of the road and driving was no worries - we just parked our car in a parking facility on the ring road and we were set.

Whenever I think of Europe, Paris comes to mind - it's such a well known city with the iconic Eiffel Tower but despite the hordes of tourists, I don't think I will ever tire of what would have to be my favourite city in the world. I love wandering the streets, people watching from tiny round tables on streetside cafes, eating nutella crepes and just absorbing everything this city has to offer. We met up with some more friends from the UK here and it was the first time in Paris for some of our group so naturally we did the usual touristy sights (not that I minded - I would've done them anyway!), including....

... climbing the Arc at night (a new experience) ...






... the Eiffel tower (which we didn't ascend due to the lines being a couple of hours long - a problem I've actually never encountered before surprisingly) ...





... Notre Dame ...





... Montmartre & Sacre Couer (including some celebrity spotting - Aurysia and I chased a guy that I'm CERTAIN is off 'Heroes' through the streets of Montmartre) ...






... the Moulin Rouge (always wanted to see the famous red windmill but never had before) ...



... the Catacombs: something that I have been wanting to do since Year 9 when I saw my teachers photos of her visit. Being the final resting place of thousands of Parisians, they were fascinating although I was feeling a bit stuffy and nauseous by the end of it and couldn't wait to get out ...









... the Louvre by night (where our happy little monster friend decided to re-join us from India) ...





And of course - New Years Eve under the Eiffel Tower!!!!!!!!!!!!


Ok, I have to say it straight out - although the few days in Paris itself were lovely as always, NYE was a MAJOR disappointment. You know when the news shows images from around the world on new years and there are always shots of fireworks off the Eiffel Tower - well, it's WRONG! I'm sure I'd read articles online before about Paris for NYE and how wonderful the fireworks display is etc etc - well, I have to say, Brisbane puts on a much more impressive show. We stood under the Eiffel Tower in the freezing cold waiting to see the fireworks, at midnight the tower started glittering (which it does every hour anyway) and people were cheering, a few small fireworks went off (BYO ones I'm sure, people were setting off little firecrackers and fireworks all around us, they might look alright in the photos but they really weren't impressive) and that was it. We stood there and waited and waited and waited and nothing happened and everyone left. Very, very, very disappointing!!!!!!!!!





Paris might still be my favourite city but it failed big time for NYE celebrations... Perhaps the fireworks technicians were on strike - I mean, it is France after all....

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