Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Summer in Switzerland

Switzerland.  Where do I start with Switzerland?
We came here primarily to visit friends.  Friends we made in the St Kilda Botanical Gardens 4 years ago when the M Family were living in Melbourne for Mr M's work.  Originally only intended to be in Melbourne for 6 months they ended up living around the corner from us for over 2 years.  We both had small boys six months apart, Big L (their son) and the Z man often played together in the park and Mrs M and I often ran into one another at the local cafe, so a friendship was born.......which in turn brings us here to Switzerland.
The generosity and hospitality of the M family has been overwhelming. We have loved exploring 'their' Switzerland and getting to appreciate what they love about this country.  They live in Biel, (or Bienne, Switzerlands largest bilingual town),  north/west of Bern on the incredible Biel lake. We were greeted with homemade apricot & hazelnut cake, apparently a Swiss specialty.  Since then home cooking, bike riding and swimming have all been part of our daily summertime routine here.  The weather has been 'hot' which was totally unexpected, 32-35 degrees everyday...and humid. So, being close to the lake has been a blessing and we have enjoyed experiencing summer Swiss-lake-style.  The M's also have a new addition to the family and Little L, who is 1, has been an absolute joy to meet.  She is a smiley faced, strong willed, fair haired Swiss sweetheart, who we have all grown rather fond of.  Big L & the Z man, unable to speak the same language, have done remarkably well communicating in the universal language of play. There have been moments of frustration but for the most part they have managed to communicate brilliantly through this medium.
In between days of down time chilling out by the lake with our friends we have taken some fantastic day trips.
I was about to say that the trip to Bern would be on the top of our highlight list for Switzerland so's almost impossible to pick one thing.  The LF in particular LOVED Bern and we both took great delight in floating down the Aare river (check out a BBC clip of the notorious Aare swim here).  The starting point for the Aare swim is at the Marzili riverside pool a brilliant free outdoor swimming pool at the foot of the Parliament buildings.  It was so much fun that we were compelled to return the next day sans Zman (thanks to Mrs M, Z man was happily Geo chaching back in Biel) and do it all again.  The colour of the Aare in summer is so inviting.  Being glacial water flowing from the alps the temperature is a refreshing 19 degrees. I even dared myself to jump in from the bridge on my second return!! Whoohoo, so exhilarating.  If you ever make it to Bern in the summer time be sure to put it on your list and take your togs.
We took a day trip to the beautiful medieval town of Gruyere, the land of cheese.  Where, we dipped into a cheese fondu, toured la Maison du Gruyere cheese factory and wondered around Chateau de Gruyere.  It's a gorgeous pedestrian town which reminded me a little of San Gimignano.  That night we stopped off at Mr M's parents for dinner in the Swiss countryside where we each made our own homemade pizza and ate alfresco while the kids jumped in and out of their blow up pool. We learnt about the ATC, discussed Mumma M's novel which she is writing for her grandson, took a tour of their impressive vegie patch and consulted the 'flat lady' (iPad) on matters far and wide.  They have a traditional Swiss tiled stove in the living room which I fell in love with....though it's probably not so practical for our Australian house. It was a lovely evening and wonderful insight into the lifestyle of an interesting and welcoming couple.  The drive home at sunset was rather spectacular too.  Beautiful pink skies highlighting Swiss fields and stunning mountain ranges.
On Saturday we drove to Schyinge Platte 2076m (near Interlaken) where we caught the cog train halfway up and hiked the rest of the way taking in the sensational mountain ranges of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau as we climbed. It took us 2 hours, with 3 children on a 35 degree day.....there were a few serious melt downs ..... but we made it! (To all my lovely hike buddies...Switzerland is officially on the bucket list....along with Norway.... and the Camino de Santiago.)  
There was SUP boarding, a small incident with a shop lady resulting in some serious 'shizen', summer sewing, silly sniggers every time we drove past Wankdorf, recipes shared, loaves of Zopf eaten, plenty of Nutella and more lakeside swimming.  We ate all our meals outside on their deck except the very last, when thankfully the heavens finally opened and relieved us of the humidity, so we retreated indoors.  We stayed a week and we were so generously accommodated by the M's.  A big thank you goes out to the whole family.  Big love. We'll really miss our mealtimes and afternoon swims with you guys. xxx

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The verdict on Prague

My advice on Prague is WAKE UP EARLY BEFORE THE CROWDS (7-9am) and visit St Charles Bridge, the castle and the old town square before you are jostled along the street like a discarded coke bottle bobbing down the Vlatva river with no control but to go with the current.  The crowds are oppressive here in Prague.  There are overflowing bins with McDonalds, KFC, name it they have it.....and by mid afternoon a glance at one of the overflowing bins indicates the amount of 'rubbish' these crowds are consuming. It's a little disheartening and certainly takes from the charm this city oozes.  The big name chains have set up in some of the most beautiful buildings in town and I was saddened to see a Hardrock Cafe is one of my favourites.

That said......take the right approach and Prague is still incredibly charming.

We hired a private tour guide for 2 hours (our maximum with little legs) to take the 3 of us off the beaten track as much as possible.  My advise to anyone going to Prague would be to spend the extra money on a private tour. Alena, our guide, was fantastic and the tour felt like a Sunday morning stroll with a family friend.  Born and bread in Prague with a 6 year old boy of her own she took us on a tour which was to satisfy the Z man as well as us. We toured the Historical Town, feeding the swans stale bread along the banks of the Vlatva, visited the Vojanovy Garden, Valdstejnska Garden and Kampa Island taking in some of the controversial work of famous Czech sculpture David Cerny.  Take a peek here, his work is bound to make you giggle.  We ended the tour on Slovansky Ostrov where we hired a  paddle boat shaped like a fast car and spent an hour sunning ourselves on the Vlatva eating our ham and cheese rolls, communist Czech our guide informed us (apparently picnics were all the rage).
The LF was keen to try the worlds strongest beer X33 so we headed off to the Two Little Bears or U Medvidku micro brewery for a taste. On the way home we stopped off at the Museum Kampa, the contemporary gallery which we loved not only for the impressive work but for the additions to the building and images of the Prague 2013 floods.  On Saturday night we took in a concert at the Black Light Theatre Image which Z absolutely loved.  He insisted on sitting in the front row and laughed the whole way through, especially entertained by the mime.  A definite highlight for everyone.

It is a stunning city, well worth a visit.  If you ever do visit please be sure to head out early before breakfast, lie low in the middle of the day and avoid the main square, castle and St Charles bridge for the most part.  Once we got this figured out we really enjoyed ourselves in the quieter parts of town.

Next Switzerland. xx

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Farewell Denmark

Farewell Denmark.  We really have loved our stay.  Sjaellands Odde in the region of Odsherred has been our home for the last week and the beauty here has really captured us.  It is not just the place.  It's also the Danish people so warm and eager for others to enjoy the best of their country that's made it a great place to relax in.  Our summer house is about 150m from the beach down a little dirt track, our deck is as large as the house itself and the weather has been kind making both pretty blissful. Having a hire car and the freedom to explore without relying on transport has also been a treat. The LF is doing a sterling job sticking to the right hand side of the road (thanks LF I am glad it is you doing the driving).  A hire car has also meant local radio stations and one song in particular which has followed us from country to country.... Daft Punk's, Get Lucky. We can't seem to escape it.  In supermarkets, cafes, on public transport, blaring from passing cars, it's everywhere.  Our time here has been slow and we have embraced filling our days with 'nothing' wholeheartedly.  The real highlight of this leg has been about the 3 of us relaxing together, playing table tennis, board games, cooking, music, walks, swimming and sleeping in.  I totally recommend a pit stop like this for every (traveling) family.

Next we are off to Prague. A city that makes me nervous with anticipation. Again, it's been over 21 years since my last visit. The Czech Republic was still part of Czechoslovakia and it was only 3 years previously that the Velvet Revolution had caused the collapse of the communist regime.  I so loved the city full of post communist charm. I expect to see change, A LOT of change. There was no McDonald's (hooray!), only 2 bueauro de change in the whole city, and very few tourists.   We were billeted out by a man at the train station to stay with a family, in Skalka.  The family rented a room to tourists who arrived from Berlin on the overnight train. Tourism hadn't really kicked off. The nightlife was near impossible to find...yet find we did.  Nightclubs hidden down side alleys in the deserted bunkers of impressive old buildings. You paid for a beer jug as you were security frisked on the way in and it was self serve at the trough after that. Rounding every corner was like walking through a dream. The buildings so spectacularly beautiful. Entering the post office and the department stores we had to apprehensively navigate our way through thick red velvet curtains, a hangover from communist times, unsure what we would find on the other side.  I'm holding my breathe, hoping to be charmed again.  Time will tell.

PS. 21 years ago when I was backpacking around Europe I remember the song that followed us then was this one...... Have you had a song, for better or worse, follow you on a trip?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The summer house in Sjaellands Odde, Denmark

We hired a 'Summer House' in the Odsherred region north west of Copenhagen.  It has been one of our best decisions to date.  The area is stunning.... although I think most of Denmark is pretty incredible (next time I would love to head to Thy).
It is so relaxing here.  Our days consist of beach walking, table tennis, board games and once a day we take a car trip to explore the local region for an hour or two.  Z and I braved a swim in the ocean and we even managed to coax the LF in with our squeals of was freezing.  The dune walks have been blustery and wild but it's fun spying the gorgeous summer houses hidden in the trees.
The three of us have loved our time here and enjoyed the time off from traveling, sightseeing and generally being on the go.  Even though we have planted ourselves in cities for at least a week to 10 days in most places it takes a fare amount of organisation to find the closest supermarket, navigate rail systems and find your way around with a 5 year old in tow.  Being here with little to do has been such a welcomed reprieve, one we have all relished.
My friend A, who we stayed with in Norway, is arriving today to stay a few nights.  We are all looking forward to the table tennis championships which will no doubt unfold and sharing this space with friends.  I love the feel of holiday houses....the mix-matched crockery, well worn floorboards, board games, saggy beds and the general ease.  Sound systems are basic, TV's non existent and kitchens sparse.  It's often too the place where the best memories are made ........ making a mockery of our well equipped homes and overstuffed cupboards!

Other things I have loved so far;
the Rorvig flea market
these slippers at Salka Valka
the early houses of Friis & Moltke
the idea of this holiday hideout
a meal here
practicing The Art of Eating Chocolate Mindfully
& doing.......... very little. xx

Saturday, 13 July 2013


We spent four days in Copenhagen staying in a fantastic apartment on Nansengade.  It was a beautiful apartment belonging to a family of 4 who took the opportunity to spend a week up on the coast while we rented their place.  There was such a great feel to the home and we enjoyed just hanging out there, cooking meals and playing in the communal garden, 5 floors below.  It was close to the Norreport station and in total a 15minute train ride from the airport, door to door.  Everything in Copenhagen was within walking distance.
We did a canal tour on the first day to get our bearings.  Copenhagen is such a beautiful fusion between old and new.  
We especially enjoyed the Playhouse, by architects Lundgaard & Tranberg, where we were privy to an informal opera in the foyer as part of their summer festival.  Z thought it was absolutely hilarious and couldn't quite understand why boys would really want to sing like that??  So seduced by the building and the sunshine we ate lunch at Cafe Ofelia overlooking the harbour.
We landed in town at the same time as the Jazz Festival so the streets were awash with roaming performers & crowds of people at the many stages scattered about the city. We watched a great performance by the Reverend Shine Snake Oil co. outside the Rundetaarn. We also spent a gorgeous afternoon in the Kings Garden (Kongens Have) surrounding Rosenborg Castle listening to a free concert while playing yatzee amidst the sun loving Danes. It was pretty blissful and Z was in his element grooving to the tunes with me while the LF took a nap and rested his weary foot.
The Copenhagen Sand Sculpture Festival was also on along Havengade featuring 30 international artists & 17 sands cultures.  Some as large as 10 meters tall and built from 3000 tons of sand.  They were all based on theme 'Mythes & Legends' and detailed some very interesting viewpoints on current society!
The Tivoli Gardens were so beautiful.  It is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world and more like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory than an amusement park. We took our own picnic and spent an evening here reliving our childhood.  The LF and I taking it in turns to ride the roller coasters with the Z man, who has developed an insatiable thirst for fast rides.  He definitely inherited my thrill seeking tendencies and not the LF's tummy turning nauseousness when it comes to adventure parks.  I wanted to ride on the tallest carousel in the world but unfortunately the Z man was about 10cm's off riding this and as I had a companion ticket I couldn't go it alone. It's definitely on the bucket list.
We took a stroll around the Botanical Gardens, ate breakfast at Kalaset conveniently located on our street, enjoyed the bounty on offer at TorvehallerneKBH a brilliant international market eatery around the corner from our apartment, made an obligatory stop in at the Marimekko store, walked the many pedestrian shopping strips (which reminded me a lot of Dublin) and visited little independent stores down around Laederstraede.  I had to close my eyes and keep walking past some amazing clothing stores, not much more can fit in that suitcase of mine. I wanted to bring back a set of Malene Helbak's Fjord inspired cylindrical jars.  I took an evening stroll, while the boys were at home resting, along Sortedams So and up through Norrebro.  The light a this time of day was stunning (9.30-10pm) and the people on the streets were full of good cheer and salutations.  It made me so happy. I know it sounds like a cliche but it was one of those moments that lingers with you for a lifetime.  Everything was perfect, in that moment.  

Oh, Copenhagen.  We leave you with wallets lighter and hearts larger. xx

Find my previous post on Copenhagen here, the 'unLike' Copenhagen guide here or Visit Copenhagen page here for more info. 


Thursday, 11 July 2013

A good time, not a long time.

We arrived in Copenhagen late on Monday night and right from the get go people have been remarkably friendly, assisting us on trains, sidewalks or shops whenever we've shown the slightest hint of uncertainty. We were told by a couple of Swedes in Berlin that the Danes were polled as the happiest people in the world.....but also have the shortest life expectancy. So Danes are here for a good time, not a long account of a couple of Swedes anyway.
We REALLY love it here. Most places we go we can imagine ourselves living in for a year or two tops but Copenhagen is one of those city's that IF we were ever to leave Melbourne I could definitely see us living in.

It's way too early. Z fell out of bed. I've been awake ever since. I thought I'd do a post but I'm too tired to write. The boys are both sleeping. Softly snoring. The sun is shining brightly.... already, it's 5am.... and I'm heading back to bed. Night x

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

An interview with Sherry Walling from Parenting Reimagined

I was recently contacted by Sherry Walling, a clinical psychologist, from Parenting Reimagined about doing an interview, for her weekly podcast. I was surprised by just how nervous I was setting up for this interview. The doubts of whether I had anything really worthwhile to contribute crept in and I literally had to sit through all of those doubts and just talk..... about our adventure. It was an interesting experience. Sherry was so calm and very curious and the conversation flowed on from there. Here's a link. Thanks Sherry for the opportunity to share.

To all the people who have emailed me about my posts while we've been away..... a huge thank you. There have been old and new friends and every message has been a pleasure. xx

The bomb of Bad am.

The LF survived his big night out on the town however he did come a little unstuck at Park am Gielsdreieck where it all ended with one badly sprained ankle after falling off a balancing beam.  Ouch!    The brave lad hobbled home and up the 5 flights of stairs in absolute agony.  Needless to say things are going somewhat slower around here as a result. Here's to a speedy recovery LF.... and lots of Arnica cream (this cream is the American Express of creams to me.... 'Luckily I never leave home without it!').
Back to the park though.  It is huge with 2 great playgrounds, one with a very civilised cafe for the grown ups.  You can hop off the train at Mockernbrucke and walk all the way through to Yorkstrasse.  On the edge of the park there is the German Technik Museum, which is meant to be awesome but unfortunately we didn't make it there.  Next time.

Z woke on Friday morning adamant he wanted to go swimming so we headed off to Bad am Spreewald in Kreuzberg on the train only to find it was closed for repair.  After a coffee and croissant at the gorgeous  Morena Cafe. We toiled over 'Where to from here?' and found the bomb of all pools,  Stadtbad Schoneberg.  This place is my idea of European swimming heaven.  With huge glass windows on 3 sides it looks out onto a park on one side and the courtyard of a big old apartment block on the other. The upstair lap-come-diving-pool is incredible. From the entrance you watch peoples legs kicking through a small window which shows the pool above.  If you find yourself in Berlin, with or without kids, a visit here is such a tonic.  After the graffiti laden streets and at times in-your-face-vibe, it was a welcomed reprieve.

Other places we lapped up:
The most incredible Vegetarian Vietnamese Restaurant, Chay Village, in Schoneberg (right near the pool).  If I could cook like this I would gladly become a vegetarian.....again.  Amazing.
The beer garden located very conveniently around the corner, Kurhaus Ponte Rosa, something Z and I found on one of our walks.
Brio Cafe Bistro & Kaffee Bar, both in Graefestr. Kreuzberg were on our favourite list.  Z loved the park at Honenstaufen Platz around the corner.  On Saturday morning they have a great little organic community market where you can get your organic booty and a great coffee while the kids play.  
Ankerklaus is another fun place to go for a drink especially if you can find a seat out on the balcony in the sun.  We took Z's newly purchased 'Rush Hour' (3Euro from the flea market) and sadly one of the pieces skipped off the table and landed in the Urbanhafen.  
I made my way out solo on Sunday to the Boxhagnener Platz Flea Market, while the boys stayed home to rest.  I must say I prefer these smaller flea markets to the bustling and very popular Mauer Park flea market (another great smaller market is situated at Arkona Platz within skipping distance from Mauer). It was a beautiful day and there is a great water park....well, water park is probably too grandiose a term for the centre on Boxhagener Platz.  Perfect for summer sun shenanigans.  There were no shortage of vegetarian eateries around this part of town and I did get my smoothie fix (which I am really missing!) at Funk You. A raw, vegan, juice bar which was doing a roaring trade.  For the crafty's Wollen looked like a friendly place for picking up wool and purchasing handmade knits, unfortunately it was closed on Sunday, as most things in Berlin seem to be.
The sun was shining and it was so liberating to be wandering the streets alone so I headed for Treptower Park with every other sun loving Berliner out for a stroll. 
My friend BM, who lived in Berlin, made us a list of things to do and see.  High up on the list was a beer garden situated on the edge of a playground on Landwehr Kanal in Kreuzberg, 'genius' as she put it! We spent an hour or so in the beer garden while Z man played and we read copies of ExBerliner which we had picked up for free at the Toast & Jam vintage market earlier that morning.  The 1.5km walk along the canal either side is beautiful with another great park on the east at Schlesischer Busch.
We continued up the canal all the way to Badeschiff hoping to check out the swimming pool.   Due to the Fashion Festival they were hosting a rave so we thought better of entering.  Not really our thing.
On our last day we discovered Marheineke markethalle a fabulous indoor market place for every foodie fancy.  If only we had found it earlier!  Across the road is a slice of traditional Austrain heaven Felix Austria for hearty goulash and traditional stodge.  We enjoyed our last lunch there sitting out on the street in the sunshine, sad to be leaving.....and yet rather pleased to be seeing the clean streets of Denmark.

There was so much more to do......  10 days was wonderful but a month is definitely needed in this town to 'almost' scratch the surface.  All in all we have loved our time in Berlin.  It get's the vote as Z's favourite city so far, with Paris coming a close second.

Next Copenhagen. x


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