Monday, February 28, 2011

Life in Switzerland - half way there already!

So, we're 4 weeks through our stay in Switzerland with 4 to go - I made it to the half way point, yay!!!! I would be kidding myself if I said that the last 4 weeks have been a breeze (especially with the last week of being sick) but I must admit, they have gone a bit quicker then I was expecting - thank goodness. It's not that I hate it here (well...) and I have really been loving having our good friends just down the road but in the last month, I've discovered that this country is just not for me. I still love it - it's beautiful that's for sure and there are so many places to discover here but I think it's best for me personally as a holiday destination. Luckily, we have LOTS of excuses to come down here for holidays to visit our friends!!!!! I'm really looking forward to going home - I can't wait to be back on my bike (although I'm a little scared that the amount I've expanded in the 2 months we've been gone may result in some balance issues); I can't wait to be back in our roomy, lovely apartment with my full size kitchen; I can't wait to be back in a comfy bed (the bed in our place here is awful and resulting in a bit of backache for both of us); I can't wait to shop at a supermarket with reasonable prices; I can't wait to be somewhere with life and shops! and well... I just can't wait to get back. Especially as it will be tulip season!!!!! But anyway, enough of my whining about the quiet side of the mountain - we have been having some fun while we've been here.

On Saturday, Mitch and Roy decided to go skiing seeing as we had all that snow on Thursday and it's Mitch's birthday this week (Mitch had told me he wanted to go skiing for his birthday present this year...). Seeing as I'm currently grounded when it comes to skiing and Tiff's not a skier, us girls decided to go shopping & have a bit of a bake up for the day. It was an early start for a Saturday (I was up at like 7am!!! That's early for us - but something we're going to have to get used to in the near future I suppose!) and I was feeling a bit sad I wasn't skiing - Mitch took my little camera up and got a few snaps, it looked beautiful...

But anyway, I soon got over my ski envy once Tiff and I decided to create a masterpiece...

We had both been craving Black Forest cake ever since our visit to the Black Forest in January - sans cake :-( So we figured we may as well have a go at making it... And here's the result!!!

After a few minor changes, it became known as the VAC - Valais Alp Cake :-)

The almost birthday boy! (27 later this week!)

Mitch, there's a plate right here....

It had layers of chocolate sponge, fresh raspberry coulis, whipped cream & grated chocolate and was topped with chocolate ganache, cream and raspberries - YUM! 

Amazingly, it wasn't too rich. This is what was left after the 4 of us got stuck into it for dessert!

The chefs! (I'm very disappointed that my bump is non-existent in this photo! It really is there, I promise!!!!)
Everyone knows I love my baking but I have to say - this cake was pretty darn special. I was very impressed with our efforts!!! It was so gigantic it couldn't fit in the fridge and we instead cooled it on the balcony - luckily it's really cold here! I mean, who needs a fridge when you've got a large balcony - it worked a treat!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snowed in, snowed in...

Ok, so totally forget what I said about there being no snow in Switzerland at the moment... This morning we woke up and looked outside to discover it was snowing!!! Huge snowflakes were coming down but had barely coated the ground. Within an hour, we couldn't see the grass and there was a thick layer of snow everywhere - we had totally lost sight of the vineyards and all the mountains. Mitch rugged up and headed off to work and within 20mins, he was back in the door...

So it turns out that our alp-side temporary home is very difficult to get out of when it snows. Mitch had managed to get part way up the driveway when the car was struggling to grip the road. He got out to put the snow chains on and... the car started SLIPPING DOWN THE HILL!!!! The handbrake was on and all but it was just so slippery out there that the car (even with winter tires!) couldn't stop. Luckily it only got about 50cm before stopping - any further and it would've gone off a small cliff... Not good :-(

So we are snowed in and Mitch is working from home as not only is our driveway impossible, but our steep, windy, guardrail-less mountain road doesn't seem to get plowed. Thankfully Mitch got groceries last night (the sweetheart has been doing everything this week cos I've been sick) so we've got food for a couple of days at least but no clothes... He dropped the dirty clothes to the laundromat yesterday but was told he couldn't pick them up til tonight and there is no way that's going to happen! Oh well. Thankfully we are warm and snug in our teeny place but as much as I love the snow - man I can't wait to get back to Flatland!

--- UPDATE --- Since I started typing this post hours ago, not only our road but also our driveway has been plowed! Thank you Mr Plow Man in your speedy red 4wd!!!!!! Our neighbours are sprinkling salt on the freshly plowed roads and so we should be able to make it out tomorrow. Great news! In the meantime, Mitch and I have been out and about in the snow - I even made a snow angel!!!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What to do on an indoors day in an outdoors country

Switzerland is very much an 'outdoors' country. Especially on a Sunday here as everything here is shut (towns basically close down, even larger cities are really quiet - and I thought Holland was bad but at least we have once a month koop zondag!). The only thing to do is to get out and enjoy the mountains, have a picnic or take a hike - it's certainly a beautiful country for it, especially in this region. As much as there is NO way I could live here, I do appreciate it's beauty although I must admit I find the mountains a little bit suffocating at times.

We've been really blessed with gorgeous, sunny weather since arriving - and quite a few warm days as well. In fact, so warm that it's been a really dry winter and you can't even really ski here at the moment!!!! But what do you do on an 'indoors' day in an 'outdoors' country??? This was our dilemma on Sunday when the weather turned sour and it was cold, overcast, foggy and snowy. Although the snowfall is yet to reach our mountainside accommodation, there are fresh piles of snow not far behind us and the trees have turned a snowy white. On Saturday we visited the nearby town of Vevey, on Lake Geneva. We picked up our friends from St-Maurice on the way and arrived in time for the end of the local markets. The town itself was small and not particularly interesting but the markets were great - a small junk market (we admired a lovely old sled that would look GREAT hanging on a wall but the thought of postage back to Aus wasn't too appealing) and a cool old military suitcase but it was severely overpriced - like everything else in this country. The food section of the markets reminded me of my beloved France - fresh olives, bakery goods, fruit and veg, cheese... Mmmmmm.... Being on a low sodium diet though, I managed to contain myself and not walk away with a bag of olives :-( Anyway, while we were in Vevey we noticed a poster advertising the skiing & baths at a local ski resort called Ovronnaz. The picture was of thermal baths surrounded by snow and although we weren't too hopeful that there would be any snow there right now, we tucked it away in our memory (thank you Roy for 'New Zealands ovaries' - I will never forget how to remember the name of Ovronnaz now :P ) for another day.

After much googling on Sunday morning, we finally decided to brave the weather and go swimming at Ovronnaz. It was bizarre once again leaving the house with a bikini and a ski jacket but I'm slowly getting used to it. As we made our way up the windy mountain road to the ski village, we started noticing cars driving down covered in snow, the temperature dropped down to 0deg and the rain turned into... SNOWFLAKES!!! The higher we got, the more snow there was and by the top, it looked like a picture perfect winter village. A strange sight after such a lack of snow this winter!!!! None of us were prepared for the heavy snowfall of course (I only had on my flimsy little Kathmandu runners & had removed the hood from my ski jacket & had no gloves/beanie etc and poor Tiff didn't even have a jacket!) and it wasn't a fun walk through the slushy carpark snow up to the resort. After paying our entry fees (19CHF - a bit cheaper then Lavey but the facilities weren't as good - Lavey is worth the extra $$) and getting changed, we made our way into the pools...

Ovronnaz has 3 pools - one indoor and two outdoor. You enter the outdoor pools indoors by swimming through plastic flaps - this is great because it means you don't have to walk outside in your swimmers when it's  0 deg. We swam outside and... brrrrrr!!!! The pool was - well, it wasn't warm!!!! It wasn't freezing but there was no way I could have stayed in it for long as it was snowing heavily. We noticed the second outdoor pool and unlike Lavey, it's not a big interconnected pool - to get to it, you had to hop out and walk across the freezing cold pavement. We sent the boys over to test it out and voila - smiles all round. Tiff and I ran across to the other pool (it was so cold, especially when touching the handlebars to get in - once I hit the water my hands burned with the change in temperature) and were instantly relieved - warmth, beautiful warmth. The pool wasn't as big as Lavey (and Ovronnaz is lacking the same facilities & cleanliness) but was still really relaxing to swim around. It was such a strange experience though swimming, outdoors, in the middle of winter, while it was SNOWING!!!!! The snowflakes were freezing on our eyebrows & lashes and making our heads look like they were covered in dandruff - charming.

So, thermal baths: a great solution for an indoors day in an outdoors country. It was really relaxing although I must admit I'm wondering if all the pool water I drank is the source of my current illness - bad gastro for 24hrs is not the most fun thing to have at the best of times, let alone while pregnant.... :-(

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chateau de Germigney - an anniversary getaway in France

Last weekend we escaped from the Alps for a little getaway in France to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary... Seeing as it's our last anniversary getaway before kids, we decided to do something we've talked about for years and try a 'chateau stay' - it was well worth the wait :-)

Seeing as we couldn't check into the hotel until late afternoon, we started our weekend off with a bit of a road trip through France, slowly making our way to the chateau in the Jura region. The roads were super windy and me being me - I was carsick before long :-( But, a lengthy lunch at a random roadside restaurant in a quiet village soon helped ease the nausea. The food was among the best I have eaten in years - simple, tasty and oh-so-cheap (12.50eur for a huge main meal - after being in Switzerland for a few weeks where the food is poor quality and expensive, it was SUCH a nice change!). The staff were so friendly and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal - local saucisse au morceaux with a variety of sauces, salad, fresh bread, zucchini gratin and... chips. We arrived at the chateau later that afternoon and were shown to our room - it was in the 'annexe' of the hotel (what would've been the stables I believe) but was gorgeous... It was the most basic room they had and it was HUGE (especially by European standards) - I wonder what the suite was like then???

The chateau was a cute old manor house. I read up on the history of it and apparently it was built around 1700 and was a hunting pavilion for the Marquis de Germigney. In the 1800's it was turned into a hotel and has been that way ever since. The food here was the best part - it was amazing. Truly, a gourmet feast. We booked a package which included our room, breakfast and a 7 course gastronomic dinner and the only downside to it was that I couldn't eat some of the food ie soft poached egg, raw salmon :-( I am discovering that pregnancy makes dining out a little challenging at times!!!! The dining room was gorgeous and decorated in a... I don't know what to call it, maybe a more modern, fancy medieval style? Imagine round tables, large crystal goblets (all in red), and very much a black tie setting - we felt VERY under dressed!!!! The service was great although I could've lived without the questions from the staff when I didn't eat certain parts of my meal (ie I ate the asparagus but left the soft poached egg as it's a big no-no while pregnant and the plate collecting waitress was somewhat horrified that I didn't eat it - I think she was concerned I wasn't enjoying my meal. No-one really spoke English though so I just patted my tummy lots and kept repeating ahhh... je suis enceinte...). Despite the bits I couldn't eat, I still managed to way overeat which isn't surprising considering we enjoyed - cheese puffs & caramelised walnuts (I'm sure there is a more glamourous, French word for cheese puffs but I don't know what it is!), crab soup, asparagus & poached eggs, salmon & ravioli, veal cannelloni, mango sorbet, tropical fruit cake (it sounds so simple but was divine! Best cake I've had in ages) and just in case we weren't full enough, a lavender creme brulee... I must say, the lavender creme brulee was interesting - it smelt nothing like lavender but the second you put it in your mouth, as I said to Mitch - it tastes like I'm eating bath water & lavender bath salts... But in the best possible way! It was unusual but surprisingly tasty!

The next day we took another leisurely drive around the region, stopping at a lovely lake which was entirely frozen. There were swans 'ice skating' on it and people playing ice hockey & figure skating much to my surprise as there is NO WAY I'd skate on that ice. It was thin and melting as it was a warm 10deg that day! I was even able to just wear a tshirt and cardy outside - yes, I've finally acclimatised to winter over here!

Crossing the border back into Switzerland was somewhat interesting... It was a customs point we've never driven through before and there was a big line up despite it being a Sunday afternoon (unlike the rest of Europe where you just drive into a new country without even realising it, Switzerland has customs & border control). They were searching cars and Mitch and I just looked at each other and went great, we could be here for awhile... We have NL licence plates which generally means you are more likely to get questioned and/or searched because some things that are tolerated in Holland are illegal elsewhere. We reached the customs officer, he stared and stared at our plates, Mitch rolled down his window and said bonjour, we kept slowly driving and then the hand went up - he suddenly clicked on the number plates. He spoke no English and kept asking us if we speak German. We struggled on with the language barrier and managed to answer his questions and he did let us through without any hassles but it was the first challenging border control we've experienced - well, except the first time we drove into Switzerland and we had our vignette stuck up with sticky tape in the wrong spot and thankfully the customs officer was really lovely as he told us he was meant to give us a 200 CHF fine but decided to let it pass. We stopped at a medieval village in Switzerland for lunch where, as usual, everything was shut - even including most of the restaurants. The town was quite cute though and we eventually found somewhere to eat before heading back to Martigny.

Mmmmm... All this typing about French food has made me a bit peckish - already can't wait for the next trip back into France to enjoy some more tasty treats!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Life in Switzerland: 2 weeks in...

2 weeks down; 6 to go - not that I'm counting or anything :P We've now been in Switzerland for nearly 2 weeks and it's been... interesting so far. I don't know if it's the hormones speaking, but I have to say - I'm homesick for Holland. I miss our lovely (spacious) apartment, my bike, our town, Albert Heijn and despite the miserable grey, rainy weather that is so typical in Flatland at this time of year, I just really miss the place in general. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy ourselves while here, it is improving now that I'm getting into a routine and finding my bearings.

We are living high up on the side of a mountain overlooking the tiny town of Martigny. The views are spectacular and it's a picture perfect location but quite isolated up here - there are no shops, no people really, just the birds, snow covered alps, cows, vineyards & nature... It's been very relaxing but it has made me crave a busy city - yes, Martigny makes Nijmegen resemble a hectic, bustling metropolis. Luckily we have friends living only 20mins down the highway so that is a HUGE help!

When I say we are living on the side of a mountain, here's what I mean - these are some snaps of the views from our front door...

Despite the fact that I've decided that for me, Switzerland is best as a holiday destination (I still love the country, I really do - it's just quite a shock to the system after living in Holland for nearly a year), I am loving a few things. The sun - oh my, it is SO strange to see the sun shine every single day! It makes it feel less cold and miserable even though temps up here on the mountainside can get rather chilly, the sun just brightens things up. I'm also loving the mountains - obviously so different to Flatland.. :P Who knows - maybe after 2 months I might really enjoy living here???? We'll see.

Mitch and I decided that we are going to make the most of our time here and travel somewhere new every weekend. Groceries here are REALLY expensive (ie chicken is approx $40 AUD / kg) and the choice isn't fantastic - so on our first Saturday here we took a little roadtrip into neighbouring France so I could practice my CARREFOUR warcry and stock up on some essentials at a more normal price. It was a really beautiful drive along the French side of Lake Geneva, through the pretty town of Evian-les-bains (I really want to go back there - it looked so nice!) and lots of random little villages situated along the lake with the alps in the background. This was definitely the most scenic Carrefour we've been to yet - alps on one side, lake on the other and it had a great selection - we came home with a boot full of meat which we had to attempt to squish into our teeny freezer!

On the Sunday we had a nice picnic in the sun with our Aussie friends. It was such a gorgeous, sunny day and was topped off perfectly with a visit to Lavey-les-Bains. I had heard about this place from our friends and it well and truly exceeded my expectations. You can't really take cameras in (it's a weird set up) so I don't have any photos but the website shows a little bit of it... It was SO relaxing - although it felt a little weird to be leaving the house with a bikini and a ski jacket, it truly felt like summer as we were swimming in this gorgeous outdoor pool (with its whirlpool, massage jets etc) in the midst of snow covered alps. With saunas, a hamman (all obviously no good to me at the moment), colour therapy, a UV room and deck chairs in heated glass rooms with views of the mountains, it was worth every penny. I can't wait to go back again!!!!

Hmmm... I wonder where we'll go on our next few Swiss weekend adventures???

Friday, February 11, 2011

La petite bump - 13 weeks

I'm now 13 weeks in and the bump is definitely growing... Not huge yet, but stroopy is big enough for me to farewell my skinny jeans and make the transition into maternity pants - oh so comfy and not half as unattractive as I had been imagining (that is, until my shirt rides up and that super trendy elastic waistband appears).

I've gone from a non-existent bump (well, except my little 'stroopwafel' belly :-P ) at 4 weeks...

To this little bump at 8 weeks...

To this noticeable bump at 13 weeks!!!! It's been wayyyy too cold so far to wear my usual dresses & boots but in the last week, the weather has warmed up nicely and I'm loving being back in some nice comfy dresses - ones that show off the bump, of course :-)

It's been an interesting journey so far - having a baby, our first baby, in a foreign country where things are done quite differently to Australia can be somewhat daunting at times. And to top it off, I'm spending 2 months of this pregnancy in another foreign country - Switzerland! This is going to be a well traveled baby before he/she is even born.

Since spilling the beans to family on Christmas Day, the weeks have disappeared ever so quickly - other then a few days here and there of nothing but throwing up and feeling rotten, I think I fared fairly well in the first 12 weeks. My energy is finally returning and I'm feeling more human again - I can even look at photos of our Christmas holiday in Les Houches without wanting to be sick (for a while there I was associating snow with morning sickness - even looking at Christmas photos made me feel ill). Time truly is flying by already and I know that August is going to be here before we know it - I can't wait though :-)


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