Aug 272015

the start of the susten pass

whilst we were in denmark staying with thomas and mie, they mentioned they were coming down to piemonte in italy for a week at the end of august and asked if would like to join them and stay in the villa for the week.

they were going down for a 40th birthday party for one of thomas’ colleagues and bringing thomas’ parents, 2 brothers and sister in law. so it was going to be 13 of us including kids.

we jumped at the chance to head back to italy, which remains our favourite country in europe, it also meant we had the chance to drive from zürich up and across the swiss alps and down to italy. i knew that some of the world’s best roads are in this part of europe so i did my research to find the best of the best and create a route that would be a little longer but take us on an amazing route through the alps and along the passes with the reputations for amazing roads, scenery and steepness!

we were lucky enough to get a VW golf which was a perfect car for the roads, beautiful neutral handling, enough power for the conditions and small enough to throw round the hairpins!

the views were breathtaking and I can safely say the roads were definitely the best I have ever driven in the world, nothing compares to this.

first we drove the susten pass from wassen to innertkirchen, this was the most impressive road and had the least traffic as its not as well known as some of the other passes, then we drove the grimsel pass along side the aletsch glacier and down to brig glis before crossing over into italy.

for me it was the realisation of a life long dream to drive these roads, reinforced by watching clarkson and the top gear mob throw ferraris and aston martins around these moutain passes! it was just as much fun as i imagined, tempered only by the frustration when i caught up with slow traffic with no safe place to pass – the serial offenders were the sad sacks on their hardly davison motor bikes – forced to travel at painfully slow speeds due to the woeful handling and low ground clearance of their iron strides, they hold up just about all traffic as they splutter like a massey ferguson tractor around the corners.

it was also a great sensation to cross the border into italy, the buildings were all a bit dilapidated, the road magically deteriorated and suddenly no one was taking any notice of the road laws – very refreshing after the perfection of switzerland for a month!

of course what improved was the amazing food and coffee! we pulled into a service station to get some fuel and went into the ‘chef grill’ and got yummy panini with mozarella and prosciutto and a €1 euro espresso that was the best coffee i have had since leaving home!

it felt like coming home to be back in italy, and we realised just how much we love this country, its amazing produce, food, coffee and its wonderful people!

Aug 262015
looking down from the castle

looking down from the castle

as mentioned, while we have been staying in hombrechtikon we have spent a bit of time down at rapperswil, which is a very pretty town on the bottom end of lake zürich. it has a lovely old castle atop the hill overlooking the lake and the bridge, and a very quaint town center around the castle and down to the foreshore.

it is filled with little walking lanes between the buildings and lots of funky little shops, cafes and restaurants.

here is a slideshow of images I took during our visits there, hopefully it conveys a sense of the beauty of the town!

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Aug 262015
the view across the diary to the lake and on to the alps.

the view across the diary to the lake and on to the alps.

so after the som family returned from their seattle soujourn we had the rest of the week with them before hiring another car and heading out to hombrechtikon on the north side of lake zürich to house sit christian’s borther’s house for a week.

it was a lovely property with views across the fields to the lake and mountains in the background, the constant clanging of the cowbells reminded us of their presence and the wafting smell of fresh cow poo was ever present in varying degrees! there was a big dairy directley beneath the house and the actual village was just a km or so away.

there were lovely walking and bike tracks all around the area and I got a little bit of desparatley needed exercise!

the house itself was extremely comfortable and we didnt venture too far, very often.

one thing that fascinated me was the bomb shelter in the cellar, although the house was built in the 70’s it was still mandatory to include a bomb shelter when building then – in fact its only recently that it was no longer required – so the most neutral country in europe, that had not been involved in any of the wars in the last 100 years plus, was so paranoid that they prepared for a nuclear holocaust up until recently!

anyway, we had a very peaceful and relaxing time in hombrechtikon, the only times we left really was to go to a town called rapperswil at the end of the lake – but it deserves a blog post of its own!


Aug 122015
aircraft jet streams, dusk svendborg

aircraft jet streams, dusk svendborg

our 2 weeks in denmark has come to an end and we are back in zürich for a while, our time in svendborg with the brieghel family was just awesome. its a special thing when you can just reconnect with friends after a long time and seemingly just pick up where you left off.

its seven years since we last spent time with them, jonas was just a bump in mie’s tummy! despite the long time apart we just fell into such a comfortable and happy space with mie, thomas, ida, benji & jonas. 8 people is a lot to share a house for 2 weeks and feed at every meal, yet it never seemed to be a chore or an issue, (you would have to check with the brieghels to see if that was mutual!).

it was a joy to watch kai spend time having fun and playing with other kids again, something I am acutely aware has been largely missing on this gap year. ida took him under her wing and they went swimming at the pool with other girl friends of ida’s and went to the theatre together and then caught a bus home, she also got him cooking cinnamon snails and translating the recipe into english!

mie’s parents took us to egeskov, an amazing castle with car, motorbike and plane museums, mazes, treetop walks, playgrounds, gardens etc, where the kids had an absolute ball for the day. sal, thomas & i snuck off early to go and visit a few microbreweries on the island and ended up with a couple of cases of delicious beers to take with us back to switzerland.

benji was also wonderful, playing endlessly with kai, and it was great seeing how much his english improved over the two weeks. (not that the same could be said for kai’s danish!)

once again the highlights of this part of our journey was the people and the food – we had some wonderful times with mie’s parents at their summer house, caught up with cindy whom we spent some time with in italy and met friends and neighbors from the local area.

i had another moment of what i describe as confirmation bliss – the welling up of a feeling of intense satisfaction in the moment cominciding with a reflection on the decision to take off for a gap year. i had gone to one of the neighbors to look for the kids, and when i got there i found thomas with them in their backyard – all sitting round a fire pit, chatting and drinking local boutique beers, so i ended up just sitting with them in the twilight, tasting beers, talking about travel, places, people and so on.

other than thomas, people i had never met, but instantly welcomed like an old friend, special.

it was another of those moments where i thought it alone made the whole trip worth it in one instant.

anyway, enough of the purple moments, like all great things, our visit had to come to an end and it was time to head back to zürich so we said our sad goodbyes, tempered by the knowledge we were all going to catch up in piedmont in italy for a week at a villa in the last week of august!

then it was back in the citroen and down the autobahn to germany for a quick night with carl & dorathea in schöneck before heading back to zürich. due to a mis-communication between carl and myself our arrival at their house came as a total surprise – as they thought we were turning up the following week! luckily they took it in their stride and gave us their usual warm welcome.

we ended up doing about 2800km in the citroen, driving from zürich to svendborg and back along with the side trips. my impression of the autobahns is mixed, its wonderful that they have open speed limits and I was constantly reminded of the stupidity of australian speed limits on divided highways, its an amazing experience to blast along at 180+kmh in a modern car – the trouble is that in germany its an experience that is frequently interrupted by being stopped, or crawling along at 15kmh.

the net result is that its really hard to average even 100kmh, thats with quick pee and fuel stops and a very quick picnic lunch on the side of the road in a forest somewhere. there are just too many times when roadworks, heavy traffic or a broken down vehicle brings the autobahn to a grinding halt.

anyway, we are back in zürich, christian and his family get home tomorrow, we will have a few more days with them, then head up to his brothers house which is about 30km away on the north side of the zürich lake, we are looking after it for a week.

then we will drive across the swiss alps and down to piedmont in italy where we are staying for a week with the brieghel family.

Jul 242015

having a beer at cafe les halles, zürich

we have been nearly 2 weeks now in zürich – and i am not sure where the time has gone!

we have really enjoyed cycling around here, oh that australia had a cycling culture like this, no stupid helmet laws, bike paths everywhere, motorists that are considerate of cyclists and lots of facilities for them. its such a wonderful way to explore a city, so much faster than walking so you can cover much more ground, but still with the ability to stop to take a coffee, or a photos, or explore an interesting shop.

zürich is all the more pleasant for having very little traffic on most of its roads, probably a consequence of a first class public transport system as well as being bike friendly, also you are never far from the water with the lake and rivers running through the city.

the weather has been beautiful and perfect for swimming in the river, we enjoyed a day there earlier in the week, its a bit hairy in the water because its flowing quite fast, kai and I were jumping in upstream, floating down and swimming across the current to climb out some steps on the opposite side of the river a couple of hundred metres downstream then walking back across a foot bridge, along the side of the river back to the starting point and then jumping back in again!

we had to get it right because there were pretty serious rapids just downstream of the steps so if we missed the steps it would have been a bit hairy!

sal and i also scored an amazing little vintage wooden cart the other night, we were walking down to have a beer at a local bar when we passed an expensive vintage shop that we had seen previously – i had warned sal that we wouldnt be able to afford anything in such a flash looking shop – but this night they had a collection of stuff outside with a sign saying “gratis for taking”.

the cart was the highlight, although we also took a nice glass bottle as well, we decided we couldnt pass it up so we passed up on the beer instead and i walked the cart home!

as always our visit has been as much about the people as the place, sal and i met a couple of guys up in a park overlooking the city when we went for an evening walk one night. we quite often take a couple of beers and ride or walk to somewhere nice for an evening drink and this night we ended up chatting to aidrian and fabian while having our beers.

they were very interested in australia – if slightly overawed by the wildlife! as we were all out of beer we invited them back to have a couple more at home – where kai quickly roped them into playing uno. hopefully we will have a chance to catch up with them again before we leave switzerland.

i also made contact with joanes, who is a zürich coffee fanatic like myself. he also owns a lovely lever machine, the londinium 1, i contacted him online looking for tips for cafes and coffee roasters in zürich and he kindly asked me to come around to his place for a coffee session.

joanes has a fantastic setup with an unusual versalab grinder – a grinder i have read a lot about but never used, as well as his primary grinder, a compak K10 and of course the beautiful Londinium. we have different tastes in coffee, joanes preferring single origins, lightly roasted and updosed for a bright, fruity and slightly acidic espresso where as i prefer a darker traditional italian roast with the caramel, chocolate, slightly smokey flavour.

none the less i was very impressed with the extraction he got from the lightly roasted single origin coffee from tanzania that he was using, it was good enough to have me considering having a play with this style of coffee when i get home. he managed to avoid the sourness and over-acidity that i usually find with this style of espresso.

we also enjoyed listening to some vinyl on his beautiful hi-fi system, he has a very nice high end tube amplifier and some lovely hand built speakers. good music and good coffee is a fine combination indeed!

it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon and a reminder of the way the internet enables the connections of people with shared interests all over the world.




Jul 162015

zürich skyline

we travelled by train down from frankfurt to zürich, the train was a ‘fast’ train – although not the sort of eyeball tearing fast that some european trains are, but in the finest german tradition it was very punctual! it was a 4 hour trip, and very pleasant really.

trains are so much more relaxing than planes. first of all you dont have to deal with the physics – large airplanes and bumble bees have a lot in common, theoretically neither shoud be able to fly – secondly you can get up and wander around whenever you feel like it, thirdly there are no sanctimonious stewards bossing you around, fourthly you can actually see stuff out the windows. fifthly, you can bring your bike or your dog with you in the carraige, other advantages surely exist, but i cant put my finger on them.

hold on, its coming back to me, you dont have to arrive at the train station 2 hours early, you dont get treated like a convicted terrorist, no one wants to do a cavity search and xray, and you arrive in the center of a city rather than 47.3km or an eleventy billion dollar taxi fare out of town.

two things made an impression on me since being back in europe, i had forgotten how much of it is farmland – most of it is either farms or forest, our misplaced view that australia is less urbanised than the rest of the world is quickly dispelled. secondly, every-bloody-one has a community garden plot, with a shed, where they grow amazing seasonal fruit and vege. otherwise its just lots of forest full of big trees and stuff like deer and ducks. every now and then there is a town, village or small city and then back to farms and forests.

this really blows my mind, how is it we are so backward in things that matter like growing our own food in communal plots? We imagine ourselves as outdoorsy types, stock of farmer peeps, self sufficient and enterprising – yet almost none of us have our own vege plot, WTF? the europeans have totally schooled us on this one.

there is another thing, melbourne and sydney are actually really big cities by world standards, sure we only have 2 cities in australia, and i am not too sure about melbourne actually, but in most of the rest of the world there are lots of smaller cities rather than 1 or 2 bigger ones. (sorry, but brisvegas and boralaide are not cities).

anyway, we arrived in zürich and christian was at the train station to meet us, we immediatley went shopping in the train station as the only shops open on a sunday in switzerland are in the train station and airport, (so working people can have a day off, what a novel idea!) having stocked up on something and beer, we caught the tram back to the som chateau.

the som family were heading off to seatlle a couple of days after we arrived so they were in that blind fugue of last minute packing for a long holiday, none the less they managed to impart all the essential info for a month living in zurich as well as treating us to a couple of lovely meals before buggering off to parts distant.

while they were still here, kai had a ball killing zombies with really big guns while playing xbox with andri and for the most part elena hid from the smelly boys in her room, although she was not averse to topping a few marchers from the apocolypse either! it was really cool seeing kai have someone older to hang out with and play totally inappropriate games with. all part of growing up and becoming a serial killer!

we have quickly discovered that to survive in zürich you need to either be earning a wage here, be a successful criminal, have inherited aunt betty’s diamonds or have recently won lotto. it has a reputation as the world’s 5 most expensive city – i think that is very wrong.

it must be in the top 3 at least, when you add the fact that the ozzie peso buys just 0.70CHF its plain scary. lunch cost us $70 the other day, 2 toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, a small salad to share and 2 beers. an espresso is $8, a day pass on the bus is $13, cherry tomatoes are $28 kilo, nothing is cheap, hell, i gave a zurich beggar some money yesterday and he tipped me, bought me a beer and shouted me lunch – then drove off in his bmw.

so zurich is expensive, but the standard of living is fantastic – for locals! the minimum wage in hospitality is about $50 hr.

what else can i tell you about zürich? its beautiful, being neutral in big wars means your really stunning and really old buildings dont get firebombed to dust by the brits, so they still survive today, many from the late middle ages. there is water everywhere, you are minutes from one of the rivers or the lake itself, it has a world class public transport system, it doesnt actually feel very touristy, no signs in english, no obvious hordes of fat, white skinned yobbos, its full of cafes and resturants, its totally bicycle friendy (yes, i am looking at you australia), so hordes of people actually use their bikes, everyone is better dressed than me, (ok, thats a given where ever we go!), it has lots of green space, parks and forests.

aside from the specifics of zürich, its an absolute joy staying in the som family’s apartment, its large and spacious, all the mod cons, (even a decent coffee machine!), 2 nice balconys and a large common area in the middle of the apartments where the families gather to socialise, play and cook their charcoal bbq’s – just my thing! the internet is super fast, (take note germany!), the tv has some english programs, and we have a forest of yidaki to remind us of home. we will just have to steal bread and milk from the neighbours once the money runs out!

breaking news, kai lost another baby tooth last night, in order to pay the tooth fairy i need to sell my slightly used and soiled soul, all offers in gold bullion please.