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Appreciate the humdrum

We all know time is precious, a limited, one-use only resource which should be treasured. But to know something, and to live by it are two very different beasts, so no one can be blamed for slipping into a regular rhythm which doesn’t necessarily encourage moments to stop and smell the roses…after all you see those roses every day, why pause? In the rush of the waking day it’s often hard to find time to to reflect, observe an appreciate, but every now and again life offers a pass to something supremely special…extra time, unexpected time, time which should have been taken up by regularity but suddenly all plans go to the dogs and you’re left with a void. Usually I have all my time planned to the last hour, desperate to make the most of it, but not today. Today the electricity went off at work, it was a planned outage, so everyone knew they would have the morning off; a blissful few hours in which to lie in, read a chapter or two of a book, catch up on that Amazon prime series you’re hooked on, and get chores done. I managed all four before my leisurely stroll to the office via a coffee shop just in case the kettles were still out of action once I arrived. They were. As were the lights, heat and computers. Voila, the morning off became a day off, but now rather than being home with a list of things I ‘should’ be doing, I found myself in town with the blissful possibility of an afternoon of unexpected time. 
There’s almost always something going on in Oxford; this is one of the key benefits of living in a tourist destination. Luckily, as part of a plan to spend each day in this city as though it were the last I had already checked the listings of what was going on this week…the trouble was they were almost all 10-5, there was no way I’d get there after work. But now, free time, no barriers, bliss.

An afternoon of meandering, drinking in, stopping to watch the guy chiselling a piece of stone to go into the floor of the museum…right in the middle of everyone watching the exhibits, I wonder how many people saw him. An hour to appreciate local photographers, time to read the blurb about seeking new members, time to enjoy a coffee and read the last of chapters of that book. Moments to pause and wonder how these buildings came to be…they’re so higgildy piggildy and non-uniform, who designed them? Why so narrow? I visited a college for the first time, Bailiol, and spent time chatting to Alan the porter, a really lovely guy who was filled with stories and random facts about the place. He makes it his task to know all 400 undergraduates by name, so they always have a friendly face to come home to. Porters are some of the best things about a college I’ve found, they’re what students and visitors remember. Alan was certainly LMH quality, and that’s a sincere compliment to both! 

One of my plans for 2017 is to spend more time appreciating this city, live each day in it like it may be the last one of that date spent here. I feel like January 5th 2017 was spent enjoying some of the best of Oxford. Tomorrow the power is off again, I wonder what I’ll get up to this time. 


Let’s get cultured

Thursday afternoon was spent trying to make the most of our Salzburg card, which offers free entry to the majority of museums and sights in Salzburg.

 It’s also valid on the many buses and trams around the city, so the first thing we did was hop on one of those to the central station to sort out my travel to Bordeaux. We all know how well that went, so the next step was back aboard the number 2 to the centre of the city and the many. It was a lot quieter today, without the casual army amassed in the centre. Jen pointed out how many cities we’ve visited have vast expanses of space in the centre of them, without being over crowded by hoards of tourists. She makes a good point…I know it’s autumn, but when was the last time you remember the centre of London being this empty? I’m sure I can’t think of a time at all. 

Our first stop was the Hohensalzburg Fortress, an impressive looking building which sits atop the highest point in the city. The walls are painted an imposing white so they can be seen from miles around. They’re even visible from Hitler’s Eagles nest across the mountains in Germany. Quite the sight!  There has been a structure on this hill since the year 180, with each ruler adding onto it in the architecture of the time. The result is a bizarre mishmash of styles spanning some 600 years. Still quite impressive though don’t you think? To get to the fortress you can either take a winding road, or the more direct funicular route (which is included in the Salzburg card) Jen and I opted for the latter, and were soon jetting almost vertically up the rock face to the gates. The view from the top was spectacular too, you could really see the whole city and the mountains beyond. Wow! 

We opted against the tour, preferring to meander around for an hour or so. I really like a tour sometimes, but when you’re pressed for time the last thing you want is to be herded around whilst people take selfies with suits of armour. My favourite rooms were the kitchens (the fire was huge, must have been the warmest place in the castle!) and this amazing battle scene…

By this time it was gone 3pm and we were both more than ready for something to eat. Luckily at the bottom of the funicular there was a market (the oldest bread market in Salzburg I think, it was all in German!) selling cheesey olive loafs and twists of apple strudel. Delicious! 

The next stop was Mozart’s Birthplace, a humble little yellow (so much yellow here!) house in the centre of the city. Top tip for this place, if you read English or German don’t bother with the free app which tells you about the places as you go around, most of it is written on the walls anyway and the wifi dropped out after the second room so it was a complete waste of time. It was far more fun to take time walking around the rooms which once housed a musical genius. It was very fun having Jen there for that too, as she has read and watched quite a few plays and films about Mozart and so could plump up the impersonal stories and facts etched on the walls with snippets from films which bring the people to life far more effectively. I think it was thanks to Jen that I found the little silk purse he apparently carried with him every day of his life so fascinating, and spent a good few minutes taking in the details of the tiny violin he received when he was five. I’m planning to watch Amadeus when I get home now, and Jen recommends you do too, especially if you’re planning a trip to Salzburg any time soon!

Being the last day of our tour the next stop was a shop to pick up a few souvenirs for friends and colleagues at home. I love wandering around European supermarkets, even though they sell everything you get at home, it’s always more interesting when it’s not in English. Sweets and such purchased we headed back to pack and check trip advisor recommendations for somewhere to enjoy our last meal. We’d heard great things about the beerhalls of Salzburg and so were keen to find somewhere of that ilk. Luckily trip advisor never disappoints, and within 5 minutes walk from our hotel was Die Wisse (lit. The White Woman), a restaurant serving traditional Austrian dishes, beers and wines. They even had a gluten free home brew for Jen, win! 

So ends part 3 of my European tour, it’s been so much fun interailing around with Jen seeing some amazing cities and countrysides together. I’m sure the journey was very different to one we’d have taken as 19 year olds in 2006, but I enjoyed it, probably more for having our own rooms rather than dorms! Man I’m getting old 😛

Anyway, next stop, the vineyards of Bordeaux, what a final act!!

The hills are alive…

Hello from the train again! It’s Friday morning, and the first day we’ve been able to see our own breaths. I write this from the train back to Munich, though it’s slower blogging than usual as blue skies and frosty fields are demanding my attention. The skies have finally cleared enough to show us the imposing mountains which surround Salzburg. They’re beautiful, of course, I’ve yet to see a view of the Alps that isn’t! We’ve been so lucky with scenery on this trip. 

The plan for today was to travel by train to Stuttgart, then onto Paris and back down the west of France to Bordeaux. A total journey time of 13 hours. Unfortunately it would appear there’s been rather a rush on train tickets in the general France area as absolutely everything was sold out….for my ticket, and all others. Perhaps trying to travel in/out of the capital on a Friday afternoon wasn’t the best plan I ever had. But you don’t tend to think about real world things like commuters when you’re travelling. Anyway, all this means I’m off to Munich airport instead, for a far more civilised two hour Volotea (anyone heard of them?) flight to Bordeaux. Will mean I get in for around 5pm, and DG and I can spend the evening together before tomorrow’s wedding. 

Anyway, I’ve skipped ahead! Yesterday was the final day of my adventures with Jen, and we’d saved the best till last as the Sound of Music tour lay ahead of us. It was so lovely to get up and ready and not have to think about packing, moving every day can be a bit of a mission, so we made the most of having a hotel for two nights. The tour (run by Panama) left from Meribel Platz at 9am, where a very smiley and chatty Peter greeted us with a ‘are you our singers for the day? We’re missing two’…’sure!’ We said, and we were off.

Peter, now, he was a tough one to work out…an American Austrian, born around here but grew up along the east coast of the US finally ending up in Florida. None of these facts explain quite where he became the king of sarcasm! He seemed to flip between someone who was full of fun and jollity, singing and dancing along…and someone who truly detested the Sound of Music and would rather be anywhere else. Perhaps he was a super fan, perhaps he thought we were all nuts…I really couldn’t tell you! We liked him though, he had an easy smile and peppered the film facts with interesting tales about Salzburg and pointing out various sights. My favourite was the executioners house “see that cottage all on its own over there? That was the executioners house, no one wanted to live by him!!” Brilliant. 

^^ the executioners house

The Panama tour is a bus tour, with a few short stops here and there so you can take a photo by the lake which almost drowned Gretel….

The famous gazebo….

And the little town of Sankt Gilgen where they caught the train up the mountain for Do Re Mi. Unfortunately it would have taken over an hour to get up to the hills where those scenes were filmed so we didn’t make it to there. I’d say though that if you’re in Salzburg for a few days you should really catch a train out to some of the neighbouring towns where cable cars are waiting to take you high up into the hills. The views must be spectacular. These are the sorts of things I wish I’d known before I got here as I think I’d have tried to extend the stay in Salzburg to give us the chance to go up. Perhaps we’ll come back! I’d say this ‘lakes and mountains’ part was the best part of the tour, Peter told us how the smaller lakes freeze enough in the summer to allow for ice skating and kite skating which sounds very fun! In the summer these hills are famed for paragliding, and hot air balloon rides which to low enough for you to skim your feet into the lake before rising back up again, can you imagine?! 

^^singing along to the soundtrack. Yup, there was singing! 

Many notable scenes from the film were places which had to be simply pointed out from the bus as we went by…the Von Trapp house for example is closed to the public, the avenue of trees where the children climb in their drape dresses is for pedestrians and bikes only with no way to get close in a bus, the abbey is not open to visitors. We learned the main reason for this is that as a rule the people of Salzburg are not SoM fans. Firstly because the movie wasn’t available in German until 1997, and secondly because the plot is nothing like the much loved German original, or the true story, and people are cross! Apparently Hollywood tried to buy the rights to the original plot but were repeatedly denied, so they made up their own version. In reality the family were not chased by the Nazis, there was no Rolf for example, and if you were really to walk to Switzerland it’s a 500km trek! Wowsers. So I suppose you can see why they’re not fans, and wonder why scores of tourists from around the world travel to their city every year (the number of annual tourists is double the population of the city) to try and break into a gazebo and prance around a fountain.

Our final stop was the church where the wedding scene was filmed. The real Maria and Baron were married at the abbey in Salzburg, but as the cast weren’t given permission to film there this stunning place was used instead. I’d said it would be nice to perhaps do a church or two on this trip, and this one didn’t disappoint. From there we had around 90 minutes of free time to explore Mondsee, pretty huh? 

So that was the morning, we packed a lot in, but the afternoon was even busier so I think it deserves its own blog. We’ve climbed into the mountains on my little train now, and the world is encased in cloud. There’s a coffee cart on the way though so time for a caffeine fix and my daily German lessons. Till later, Tschüss! 

Roaming around Salzburg in slightly more than a pair of old drapes…

Our time in Munich was short lived, just enough hours for some delicious Turkish food with the beautiful Krissi, a quick tour of her stunning flat and a good nights sleep. Wednesday awoke with a grey grumble as the pair of us took advantage of amazing showers and some peace and quiet. It was a gentle start to the day. After leaving Krissi’s we had to find our way to the bus stop (having received directions in the back of a car whilst it was pitch black and raining outside) then the S-Bahn and finally to the Hauptbahnhof in Munich. We got there with enough time to enjoy the vast array of coffee shops available (England needs to buck up its ideas!) before finding our way to platform 10 and boarding our train. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one guilty of not really listening to announcements when in public places/on transport…more often than not they’re of absolutely no interest or relevance to you so you learn to just sort of switch off. However, when the announcement ends ‘once again, if your final destination is Salzburg please disembark and board the train up the platform’ you’re very glad your brain decided to switch back into gear!! So pastries went back into paper bags, suitcases came back off of luggage racks and we pelted down the platform to the correct train. Phew! Salzburg here we come!! 
It’s a quick and easy journey from Munich to Salzburg (luckily as I’ll be doing it in reverse on Friday!!) and within 2 hours we were there, quite alive with the sound of music, 16 going on 30 and ready for all our favourite things! Jen had booked us into Hotel Lasserhof, a really lovely place less than 10 minutes walk from the station with super friendly receptionists, cosy rooms and a delicious breakfast. One to remember! Another benefit is it’s also less than 10 minutes walk from the beautiful Meribel gardens which we went to explore after ditching the bags. First Sound of Music location ticked off! This is where they filmed the doe, re, mi scenes skipping around the fountain and up the steps etc. There were quite a few Asian tour groups taking selfies and posing amongst the statues, but no one appeared to be jumping up the stairs or skipping through the gazebos…it was lucky we were there really!! 

Oddly for a Wednesday most of the shops, sights and pretty much anything we walked by seemed to be closed. There were also an unprecedented number of men in uniform around, surrounded by guns, tanks and even boats patrolling the river. Just as we were about to assume there’d been a coup we hadn’t heard about the lady in the (thankfully open) tourist office explained it was a national holiday. Ah ha! Funny how everything makes sense when someone explains it. October 26th is the Austrian day of independence, where they declared future neutrality in all conflicts following the Second World War. Nicely for us this also meant there were lots of people in national dress, displays of music and dancing and also the museums were free admission. Sweet! Neither Jen nor I are huge museum buffs, but if it’s free why not. Firstly we stopped in an extremely Austrian looking restaurant for something traditional to eat. Sadly the waiter didn’t appreciate my attempts to speak German (first time I’ve been told not to try…”please just speak English” he sighed. Long day perhaps.) but he was happy to bring us soup and then dessert so you can’t hate him too much (though still hoping he hadn’t spat in anything!!) We had beef (I know) broth with a cheese dumpling, followed by a sweeter dumpling with rhubarb sauce and apple strudel…yum!!

Energised we ventured into the Salzburg museum and tried to explore as much of it as possible before it closed in 40 minutes. It was largely to do with a history of the town, which has been invaded more times than I’d care to count…goodness knows how the people kept up with which country they were a part of this week, I have trouble remembering Teresa May is PM!! The upper floor was a really amazing ode to music, with all sorts of amazing and intricate instruments on display. It smelled amazingly of scented wood in there, sadly we only found it as the announcements that the museum was closing were ringing out. Ah well! 

From there we got enticed into (I don’t know what’s come over me…first beef, now…) a Christmas shop! The place was filled with incredibly decorated egg shells, in a million colours and styles. Everything from Salzburg ones, Easter, Halloween, dogs, cats, and of course Christmas. I don’t know how you’d choose!! 

Having eaten quite late it seemed too soon to go back to the hotel, but the world around us was growing dark and quiet…what to do what to do…bar? Bar!  A handful of delicious cocktails and too many bowls of free savoury snacks later and it was certainly time for super important paperwork, FaceTiming people at home and then bed. Official Sound of Music tour tomorrow, who’s excited?!


“It’s tough to find a place not to like in Switzerland”

“It’s tough to find a place not to like in Switzerland”

Our train leaves Geneva at 09.42, so we enjoyed a good lie in at Jen’s friends central apartment. With high ceilings and shuttered windows the place had a real European quirkiness about it, and Laura had done an excellent job with the decor. She’s been here for the past 6 years working as a PA, and it was interesting to hear that Geneva suffers from the same sense of transience as Oxford. The walk down to the station took around 15 minutes, and we were soon on our way to Zürich in a corner seat of another double decker train. The views were spectacular, vineyards and mountains, farmlands and lakes which stretched as far as the eye could see, I found it difficult to focus on my book when the world outside was so distracting. I would certainly add Lausanne to my list of places to visit one summer, and a driving holiday in this area is still very much on my list. The journey from Geneva took less than two hours meaning we were soon out in the Swiss sunshine again, finding our way to the Old Town and the City Backpacker hostel where a private room and roof terrace awaited us. Having stayed in dorms earlier in the year I decided I’d had enough of making my own bed and being woken up by everyone during the night, however a private room is altogether more civilised! The beds were made up, we had towels included, and the receptionist even lent us padlocks for our luggage. Excellent. I’m travelling in a new way for me this time, instead of rushing to fit everything in (we could have taken an earlier train, bringing us here in time for breakfast and a walking tour for example) this is a more meandering trip, soaking up the atmosphere and just taking everything slowly. We left our bags at the hostel and headed out to find a restaurant Jen had read about, Titbits. If you’re ever in Zürich I recommend it; its sort of a buffet scenario, where your plate is weighed at the end to determine the price. Everything was vegetarian and deliciously fresh, with a very Indian influence to the spices and flavours. The place was decorated in Moroccan blue, with intricate paper all along one wall, and lots of low square seating. Really quirky, and completely delicious! Ein große hunger frightened off we spent the next two hours walking around the lake enjoying the autumn colours and wildlife, including Lizzie the lizard, who was making a break for it across the path away from the lawnmower. Run Lizzie run! I hope I live by water like this one day, the place must be wonderful in summer; with jettys for swimming, water slides, boat trips and everything else you can imagine. It really encourages an active outdoor lifestyle, not to mention the perfect park for dog walks…bliss!!
We were staying in the middle of the red light district, which led to some interesting shops and window displays scattered about. Prostitution is apparently legal in Switzerland, so that’s something to ponder on. The other shops were mainly independent boutiques and workshops making wares from scratch. Street level windows shone onto benches and machinery obviously creating the products then sold on the shop floor upstairs. Quite a surprise to then sweep your eyes to the next window and see a carrot vibrator dressed up for Halloween…! 

After so much excitement it was time for a recharge. Jen hadn’t slept much the night before so we had a siesta and planned our journey for the next day. If you’re planning to travel around Europe like this I really recommend it cost us around £190 for 5 days of travel (they don’t have to be 5 consecutive days) almost anywhere in Europe. By the time you’ve hired a car, paid for fuel and parking etc that’s much more than £190×2 so this was a good deal for us. You get given a little log which you fill in with the date you’re traveling and the stations you’re travelling from/to, then the conductor stamps it with the date and voila. Apparently if you return your log to the company at the end you get a prize, so that’s intriguing. The ticket also comes with a really handy app (available offline) which shows you all the different route options you have to get between destinations. I was really keen to take the long route to Munich, which involved 5 changes including a 40 minute boat journey. But looking at the weather we opted for the more sensible early train which will get us there directly with no changes. >sigh< sometimes it’s so boring being sensible. 

Tomorrow was another day though and this one wasn’t over yet! With rumbling tummys we ventured out into the night, turned left and walked for around 20 minutes until it became apparent that this led to a residential district with nothing to see and sod all to eat. There was one quirky place which offered tables in old cable cars, but Jen pointed out that once the novelty wore off there probably wasn’t much atmosphere going on. So it was time for an about turn, back the way we came. Decided upon Italian food the first place we came across was called La Pasta…sounds positive! Sadly it’s one of the highest rated restaurants on trip advisor and therefore obviously fully booked. Boo. Round the corner though there was a lovely candlelit place with a good number of free tables and a cheeky waiter. Perfect! How do the Italians make something as simple as pasta with tomato sauce and basil taste so utterly divine? I savoured every mouthful, and in the spirit of our chilled out travelling we stayed there for hours, enjoying three courses at a snails pace with an exquisit bottle of red wine. But, exquisit comes at a price…140euros to be exact. Ouch!! That’s half the budget on one meal…oops! 

Having only just recovered from Sunday’s hangover Jen wasn’t overly keen on discovering the bars of Zürich, and having just spent €70 on dinner I was inclined to concur! We headed back to the hostel (turned out to be just around the corner!) and enjoyed the view from the roof before it was time for showers and bed before midnight…what a pair of Cinderella’s. 

Overnight thunder and lightning swept over the city, keeping me awake for a good few hours. I love listening to the rain, but I wasn’t much looking forward to being outside in it!! The bad weather is forecast to last the week though so best to suck it up and get on with it, at least this time I was prepared unlike in Budapest where I had leaky shoes and no hood to my coat! We’d read that the oldest coffee house in Zürich was not far from our hostel, so this seemed like a natural place to head for breakfast. Talk about a grotto! The downstairs is a chocolate shop, filled with pastries, cakes and truffles. Then upstairs a decadent grand cafe awaits you, with plush red seats and a ceiling full of fairy light covered twigs. I felt a bit like I’d entered Professor Trewlawnys tower.  Pèclard was also very much in favour of skipping the spooktacular decorations in favour of more festive ones. Bleugh!! Jen and I settled into the corner, and were once again amazed as a charming waitress who looked about 16 came and translated the menu for us in perfect English before speaking in German with another group and French with another. I couldn’t even remember ein Kaffee mit Milch bitte. For shame! I wouldn’t have had a clue how to order French toast though so I suppose even if I’d remembered the coffee bit I’d have soon fallen at the next hurdle. Our tour guide (we’ll get to him in a bit) later said that even those who speak fluent German struggle with Swiss German, as it’s so different. So, even though I’m sure I’d have reacted exactly the same in Hannover, I’m gonna claim that as my excuse. Swiss German, yeah. Anyway, the food was delicious, the coffee divine and the atmosphere really unique. Get yourself there if ever you’re in the area!

One of my favourite discoveries when travelling has been a free walking tour. They’re often run by students on a tip basis, so it’s a really good way to discover a little history and some recommendations on places to eat and drink. In Zürich the tour leaves at 11am from Paradeplatz behind Fraumünster. Our guide was Luca, a student originally from Italy, near Milan. Tours teach you to see things you’d have otherwise walked right by, like this archway for example which was used to measure ladies skirts back in the day. If your skirt was wider than the door you weren’t allowed to enter Fraumünster, a strictly Protestant church. Who knew?! 

Luca pointed out ruins of the old town which were found when excavating a basement, explained why women are so revered in Zürich (they saved the town from invasion by dressing up as an army whilst all the men were away fighting another war) and also explained a little about the history of Switzerland, and how things like the multitude of languages and boarders work. We explored both sides of the river, climbed up to the best vantage point to see the city and generally felt like we could leave Zürich having learned a little something. One of the best insider tips he gave us though was Äss Bar, a tiny cafe close to our hostel. Äss Bar’s USP is that everything there is ‘fresh from yesterday’. They visit other bakeries and shops, collecting any unused merchandise and then sell it in their shop for a fraction of the price. The result? Cheap food in Zürich (7francs for 2 sandwiches and 2 cakes!!), and you feel like you’re doing your bit to combat waste you probably hadn’t even previously thought about. Not bad.

The bells were tolling 1 o clock so we once again found ourselves on board a train, single decker this time, bound for Munich. It’s really only going to be a sleep stop there for me to catch up with my friend Krissi and finally see her new house! So far the journey from Switzerland to Germany has been far flatter, with more tall pine trees than tall mountains. The perpetual grey and seemingly never ending fields of apples are probably adding to the less inspirational feel compared with yesterday, but still it’s been a good opportunity to catch up with blogs! I hope you think so too! 

Till next time! 

11 years in the making…

It can take a while for the sun to meander its way down to you when you’re nestled in between mountains, so despite the clear blue sky Saturday morning began with icy breath. I was awake a good few hours before the others, but without the code to the door I opted to make the most of the sofa and coffee rather than exploring outside. I spent about an hour practicing german, and the other reading. Still can barely say more than Ich lerne Deutsche. Ugh. Eventually Mel surfaced as she needed to pop home for some forgotten breakfast bits before we could begin the day. It was a good opportunity to see her cosy little flat, complete with colourful sunglasses for every day of the week. The place consisted of a kitchen/lounge, bathroom and bedroom with a double and bunk beds. It was the perfect size for two, so I couldn’t quite believe it when Mel told me that at times it would probably have slept 6. Staff accommodation is very basic, with as many people sharing as possible. Not sure I could hack that really!! By the time we got back everyone was awake, and ready for the croissants, fruit and cereal we had for breakfast. Mel and Laura would both be driving today, rather than the people carrier which picked us up from the airport, and after everything was cleared away we packed ourselves into the cars and headed down the mountain. What a view! The whole world has turned copper and gold, it’s hard to imagine that all these hills will soon be covered in snowy white! 

Our first stop was Beaufort, a sleepy little town surrounded by Heidi land and big brown cows with bells around their necks. We walked up and down cobbled streets peering into closed shop windows, crossed stone bridges over babbling brooks and eventually sat down for croque monsieur and vinos before visiting the factory where the famous Beaufort cheese is made. Unfortunately everything was in French and only French, so none of us (bar Mel) could really understand the journey from cow to cheese, but it was fascinating to watch the workers turn the huge wheels in order to change the muslin cloths and stamp them before hoisting them into the huge stacks. I bet his hands never smell of anything but cheese! The shop attached to the factory was huge, with all manner of cheese and accompaniments to salivate over. But, should you arrive to discover the store is closed panic not! There’s a cheese vending machine outside, for 24/7 purchases. Amazing!!

From Beaufort we continued up the mountain, torn between straining my eyes left right and up in order to take in the spectacular views and the fact that looking any direction other than straight ahead made me feel quite queasy. At the top of the mountain lay a real visual treat, a deep blue green lake, free from boats and other distractions, just sitting there invitingly, although I’m sure it would have been bloody freezing to actually step in. We spent some time admiring the view, reenacting the lion king pride rock scenes, the usual, then piled back in the cars to go up and over the hill (definitely a mountain) to home. Oddly as we climbed the scenery became less of a craggy rock and more undulating hills, with livestock and homes dotted around. The road down the other side was a vertical Lombard street, a mess of hairpin bends and narrowing straights. About halfway down we met some cowherds driving their flower adorned flock up the mountain. Mel and Laura were mesmerised, it was a first for all of us! 

Shortly after this (accompanied by a Disney soundtrack, we’re such good 30 year olds) we stopped at a supermarket to pick up supplies (Prosecco, cheese and chocolate, all the staples) for later. Unfortunately I barely made it in the front door before discovering a new physical side to myself, apparently these days I get car sick. Gone are the journeys where I could happily sit in the back reading despite the route…after hours of undulating up and down Alps (in the front seat!!) my legs pretty much gave out from under me and I had to sit quietly whilst the girls went and collected all sorts of delectables for dinner. No fair body, sort your shiz out!!

The best cure for sickness? Prosecco in a hot tub. Oh ok then, if you insist. A few hours, 5 bottles of fizz, a tub of olives and a sunset later no one wanted to brave the cold and get out, but a Raclette of cheese was waiting. Tough choices. Mel has been such a wonderful hostess to us this weekend, I’m sure we would have eaten eventually were she not in visitor mode, but I for one was very grateful that she was so on the ball and happy to handle everything. Bread, potatoes, meat, pickles and more all got smothered in Beaufort cheese, Swiss Raclette or French Camembert…eating like queens! And all good queens deserve presents, especially when they’re 30! With 3 out of 6 birthdays falling either side of this trip we’d decided to do presents all together, singing in French (pour Mel) and English (Sarah and Steph) as each birthday girl opened her present. We had three very happy faces, each one thinking they had the best deal; a new watch and magnum of Moët for Mel, Sapphire and diamond earnings to match her engagement ring for Pid and a very delicate silver and diamond bracelet for Steph; huzzah!! 

Life seems to happen later in places like this, so we had time for a game of cranium and to enjoy the fire before we were introduced to Mel’s Meribel family; the team in Jacks and Evo. It was such a snug little place, with live music and plentiful cocktails, I can see exactly why she loves it. This place must be so magic in the winter when everything turns white. Espresso martinis, sloe gin fizzes, a traditional local shot made from a flower which only grows at 2000m, then a coffee and rum combo (half an espresso, a shot of rum, then the other half of the espresso)…it’s no wonder we’re all worse for wear today. Luckily there’s a built in sauna and fresh mountain air to see off the worst of it, with the promise of pizza and gelato in Annecy later. Then Jen and I say farewell to the others to begin stage 3 of the adventure…interailing! Something we first planned in 2006, it’s finally here!!!

Here we go again, again :)

Time for another European adventure! This time the first stop was Geneva, for a catch up with my favourite French-American family. The ever generous (and way too good for me) DF was a gem and offered to drive me to the airport, so a 4am bus became a 5.30 car ride; then a quick hop skip and a jump later and I was watching Tricia steer Tristan’s buggy single handed whilst holding Alex in the other (serious skills) through the crowds at Geneva airport. Always amaZes me how soon you can be somewhere completely different. Alex is getting really big now, but still gazes at me like I have three heads for the first half hour. I wonder if he will always be a bit like Gwyn, slightly cautious at the start of each meeting before the fun can start! Tristan on the other hand was an instant friend, offering a smile within moments. They’re such a cute little family, love that they’re just on the doorstep really rather than the other side of the pond! A stroll through a beautiful autumn park later and we were greeted by a smiling David for some delicious wine and traditional fondue. So. Much. Cheese! 
An hour or so later and David had to run back to the office, so T and I strolled around Geneva for a while before picking up my fave macarons (Thanks T!!) and driving to their house on the hill. The mountains look amazing at the moment, all autumnal and shining. There was a pink sunset too so I felt very lucky! It’s so lovely to have friends with whom you can just sit and chat, or cook, or just do nothing and still have the best of days. Next time I’ll have to come for longer as before we knew it it was gone 10pm and Mel was down in Etaux waiting for me. The UG’s were on their way to Geneva for the real weekend to begin!! 

The journey to and from the airport was quick and uneventful, and in the dark there wasn’t much to see. Mel is a natural at driving on the wrong side of the roads though, and navigating the crazy French/Swiss traffic!! Watching the Alps loom beside us, lit up by a supermoon and a million stars was pretty special though, as we climbed up and up and up past quaint little towns, huge industrial estates and a billion trees until eventually about 2 hours later we were in the alpine town Mel calls home. It’s Pids first ever trip to France (and Switzerland) so that was the cause for many jokes. “I’ve been to Oslo!” She said proudly “Where’s that then Pid?” Asks Jen… “I dunno, isn’t it the capital of Moscow?”…brilliant! Between those gems, and Char’s intimate knowledge of France and French…(“jambon is legs…”, “no it isn’t!”) we had a good trip.

 Our chalet is luxury to say the least, with a spacious kitchen, generous sofa, sauna and hot tub! The rooms were all decorated in the reds, greys and creams I always associate with mountain chalets, with wooden surroundings and carved hearts everywhere. I particularly liked the tobogganers on the lights! Cute!! It was about 2am at this point so everyone claimed a room and we were off to bed.