Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day Seven - Romainmôtier

The village of Romainmôtier may be tiny (only 400 people live here) but it has one big feature: it is home to the oldest abbey in Switzerland. The abbey, originally built in 515, was replaced by the current church building in the early 11th century, with the Cluny monks, who built the church, remaining there until they were relieved of the building during the Reform.

The energy in the church was amazing. It was a honour to be able to visit and walk the same stones steps that countless monks trod upon on their way to prayers. How many pious men, I wondered, knelt down in this church with heads bowed low? How many eucharists were celebrated to the glory of God? How many fishers of men spent a spell resting weary feet in the same spot Grumbles decided to perch? How many faces were raised up and bathed in the brilliant light filtering through the stained glass windows?

In Australia our settlement history is so new, and feels rather gauche and raw compared to the centuries of ancient yore on display in seemingly every corner of this stunning land. Having grown up on a dairy farm in Victoria, I never imagined I would find myself delicately tracing the letters etched onto a Roman headstone that has stood proud and tall for centuries in a Swiss abbey.
It really is such a privilege to be here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day Six - Poires avec Monsieur Claude

One of the nicest things about staying on a farm in the middle of the jolie Swiss countryside is that if you don't feel like catching a train into the nearest village/regional centre/city you can instead loll around, soaking up the gentle sunshine and occasionally rousing yourself to help le fermier de la maison faire la moisson (help the farmer to bring in the harvest).

Everywhere you look are tractors cutting down the corn crop, orchards filled with trees laden with fruit, and pumpkin getting bigger by the day in la jardin potager (vegetable patch). Monsieur Claude, who owns the farm with his wife Martine, has taken great delight in getting Grumbles to help him with his daily chores. The two of them have already spent many happy hours feeding the chickens and picking the ripe fruit from the trees. Despite the fact that Grumbles speaks no French and Claude does not speak English, all you can hear is a constant stream of chatter from both of them, punctuated regularly by burst of giggles and guffaws.

The only downside is that I am beginning to run out of recipes which might use up the copious amounts of poires, pommes et noix (pears, apples and walnuts) that Claude keeps giving to us!

Still, who could resist him and his lovely fruit? Pas moi!

Day Five - Ependes

You know what - I'm pretty darn sure that I could live in Switzerland. The people are friendly, the country is criss-crossed with charming lanes, the next village is only a short stroll away and everything is SO DANG PRETTY!

Take the wee village of Ependes, for example. It has everything that a picture perfect Swiss village needs, except for a shop, but who needs a shop when every house has a vegetable patch, is surrounded by uber-fertile farmland, and has a charmante mobile food van which stops in town every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday with essential supplies, such as cheese, bread, vegetables and in my case the best chocolate eclair I have even stuffed into my ravenous maw.

We've only been here a few days, but it already feels like home.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day Four - London to Geneva

There's an old adage that says that if you must travel, travel in style. There really is no better way to see the world than from the comfortable seat of a nice, fast train. So bright and early we set off to catch the Eurostar from London to Paris. Watch out good citizens of France, here we come!

The trip on the Eurostar went quite well - Grumbles began to complain of travel sickness again, but thankfully held it in this time. We made it to Paris a mere 15 minutes late, and then set off to make our connection to Geneva. We'd allowed ourselves a comfortable hour and a half to make our connection at another station - what could possibly go wrong?

Murphy and his damnable law decided to creep on in at this point and pay us a visit. Firstly we got stuck in a taxi queue, which sucked up a good 20 minutes. No probs, still an hour and 10 to go. Then the taxi ride itself, through the CRAZY Parisian traffic took another 30 minutes. I'm not sure which was the scariest bit: the 6 lane roundabout merge than almost saw our taxi origami-ed between two trucks bent on going in the opposite direction to us, or the accident caused by our driver when trying to park at the station. Still, we were all intact (physically - my nerves were beginning to ever so slightly fray) and had 40 minutes up our sleeve to find our tickets and then board the train.

What we hadn't counted on was the rabbit warren that was Gare de Lyon. We hauled our suitcases and Grumbles down corridors, up escalators and then down more escalators, following the little arrows that promised billets (tickets) around each corner. When we finally found the ticket concourse, it was diagonally opposite the door we had entered in, and we'd wasted 10 precious minutes running all over the place. Still, the queue for tickets looked relatively small - we had ourselves 30 minutes still - we would be fine. I would simply cross my legs and wait to find a toilet after we had collected our tickets.
I hadn't banked on how long it took for everybody to buy their tickets. We stood in that seemingly never moving queue, becoming more and more nervous as the minutes ticked on by and ever so slowly people would shuffle forward to stand at the ticket desk to haggle away. 20 minutes... 15 minutes... 10 minutes... finally with 7 minutes until departure I was able to lunge forward and bark at the poor woman "Parlez vous anglais?" "Yes" she sighed, and then I thrust our booking confirmation email at her, waited with tapping toes for her to print out our tickets, then snatched them of her hands and raced for the platform. Truly not one of my finest moments. I'm still cringing with shame at my lack of manners.

However, we made the train, and I as soon as it started I raced for the loo. Coming back to my seat I felt much more composed: we were on the train, and the world was good again. This feeling of peace lasted until a loudspeaker message broke the relative silence of the carriage, screeching a stream of urgent French that seemed to last forever. One of the few words I caught was the repeated mention of plastique explosif. After the announcement the whole carriage was full of uproar, with much muttering and gesticulating in French. We lent forward to the charming French man who was sharing our seats, and asked him what was going on.

"Ah!", he said, "It appears that somebody has left some boxes on the train wrapped in plastic, with no information accompanying them. The train stewards suspect it may be a bomb, so they are diverting us to another line so les police, les soldats et les pompiers can meet us."

Police! Soldiers! Firemen! Holy Schmoly! It's the works! When we arrived at the diverted-to station, we were all made to get off and take our luggage with us, crossing the train tracks and assembling in the town square. Soon the good police of France had figured out who the packages belonged to (some poor schmuck tourists who were obviously clueless about normal sorts of luggage, like um suitcases rather then broccoli boxes wrapped in plastic then covered in sticky tape) and we were once more on our way.

However our way was not as quick as we originally thought it would be: instead of a nice 3 hour trip we now had 6 hours ahead of us. Merde!

We started off industriously enough: colouring books, puzzle games, I spy. Heck, we even grinned for the camera:
But it wasn't long before total boredom set in...

... and then some of us succumbed to total exhaustion.

At 9 that evening we arrived in Geneva. Don't even think about popping the champagne and letting off the fireworks: we still had another hour long train ride to Yverdon-les-Bains.

Finally we made it, and after saying a very quick hello to our gracious hosts Bjorn and Leonie we crashed into bed, wondering what adventures tomorrow would bring. I really didn't mind - as long as there were no bloody trains involved!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day Three - London

We made it! Tired, and totally jet lagged (bed at 7 o'clock anybody?!), but here, in fine old London Town. I've always wanted to visit the world of Robert Browning and E M Forster, of Samuel Pepys and Sherlock Holmes. Even, nagdammit, the world of Richard Curtis and here I am. Hoorah!

We started off the day having a very fine hotel breakfast (note to self: if you eat too much of the cereal, Jorthy, you won't have room for the chocolate croissants!) and then stepped out to see the world. We though that we'd meander slowly through Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, turn on the spot at Piccadilly Circus and then find our way back to the hotel.

Unfortunately we picked the same day the London SkyRide was on, so we shared our route with an estimated 60,000 cyclists. D'oh! Still, if we craned our necks just so we could make out the main attractions in between the thousands of yellow clad cyclists.

One of the things that struck me the most was the statues dotted about the place. So many gallant acts, acknowledge forever in the finest bronze that His or Her Majesty at the time could afford. We saw the incredible homage to Nelson in Trafalgar Square, commemorating his victory over the French. We gazed awestruck at the Angel of Peace Descending on the Chariot of War in Wellington Arch, before smiling fondly at Wellington himself astride his noble steed Copenhagen.

We also saw some other, more interesting, statues. One in particular stuck in my mind. It was Erected To Commemorate The Glorious Heroes Of The Machine Gun Corps Who Fell In The Great War. I stood for a moment, letting the horror of what these men went through sink into my mind. I then lifted my eyes from the inscription to be faced with another kind of horror. The horror of the Most Unsuitable Statue Ever:

What the heck were these people thinking? A naked man holding a sword? How the hell does that commemorate the poor lads who perished in the worst possible way? I stood there, flabbergasted, before taking some pictures, and before long was befriended by a nice English chap.

"Take a look at this!" I blustered to him. "Those poor lads died in the war, and all they get for giving the ultimate sacrifice is a naked man statue. How does that work, I ask you?"

My new friend mused upon this for a moment, and then said "Well, at least they gave him a big sword!"

"Fat lot of good that would do him!" I replied. "Would you like to use a sword whilst naked?"
"Um, no, not really", he answered, before moving quickly away from the crazy Australian tourist. Still, they did encircle the machine guns in peace wreaths. If that doesn't get the message across that war is bad, then I don't know what will.

After that we meandered through the Green Park, which was lovely. Apparently it used to go by the name of Upper St James, but all that changed when King Charles II was busted by his wife giving a pretty young housemaid flowers from the meadow (and a bit more besides!). The Queen was so ticked off that Charles would be giving flowers to another woman that she ordered every single flower to be ripped from the ground, so he wouldn't be tempted to such foolish behaviour again. Hell hath no fury like a Queen scorned and an entire team of gardeners at her disposal!

After all that walking it was time to head back to the hotel. With views like this out of my window, I may never ever leave.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day One - The Never Ending Flight

So, I'm sitting at home, taking nice deep breaths, trying not to watch the clock and freak out about how soon the flight is. I mean, people fly all the time, right, and nothing ever happens to them. The chance of dying in a plane crash is far less than the daily risk involved in getting in a car. So I'll be fine. Because I can't even drive a car, which makes me practically risk free! I'll be totally fine. Absoluuuuuutely hunky dory.

Then the phone rings. It's Quantas customer service. The flight has been delayed, they report, and thought that as we were travelling with a child that we might want to know.

Well, Quantas, that's all very decent of you, but that now gives me an extra hour to freak out in. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!

Dear reader, I recovered. Even though we sat at the airport for another two extra hours, watching flight after flight take off before us, and trying to induce Grumbles to take a nap (completely unsuccessfully, bien sur). On a positive note, I ran into my cousin Denise, who was taking a holiday to Malaysia with her family. On a bum note, I was eating my dinner at 1 in the morning. It's a topsy turvy world.

Still, we landed in Hong Kong with no trouble at all. The key to not melting down during take off is to (a) have a small child to attend to, and thus divert all your freak out abilities into stopping them from freaking out and (b) cola flavoured Chuppa Chups. Since the original flight was delayed, it put our second one out of whack also, but the wait was only an hour, and then we were off once more.

We made it half way through the second flight before trouble struck. Sure, we were bored, and our vegan meals supremely unsatisfying (note to airline staff: Jorth cannot live on fruit alone!), and sleep just wasn't happening, but generally things were good. Then Grumbles announced that she didn't feel very well.

"Do you think you're going to be sick, honey?" I asked, wiping down her face with a washcloth.

"No, just a bit funny in my tummy!" she answered brightly.

"Well, thanks heavens for that, because throwing up on an aeroplane would really be...."

The rest of my sentence was lost in the sudden grab for a sick bag. I got it under her chin just in time, as she chucked and chucked and chucked. In between moving her hair back from her face and muttering encouragement, I gazed at the bag in dismay, certain it was going to burst or leak or just fall apart from all the liquid. Miraculously it remained intact, and I handed it to a poor steward as soon as I could.

And where, I hear you asking, was the mightly Galumph during all this drama? Hogging up the bloody toilet, that's where!

Exhausted, Grumbles fell limply asleep in my lap, as I glanced nervously at my watch and calculated that we still had 5 hours left of the flight. Thankfully, she broke the monotony by awakening twice more and chundering away. Who wants a quiet life, eh? However, I shall give credit where credit is due: she didn't moan, squeal, sook or carry on in any way whatsoever. Once she had done her business, she would just lie back and smile at us. The head steward came over and told her in a very campy clucky tone that she was just a marvel, and an absolutely credit to her parents, which cheered us all up immensely. The warm fuzzy feeling lasted until we touched down, where I breathed a huge sigh of relief: we had made it and Grumbles had finally stopped vomitting.

We all stood up to collect our carry on luggage, and exchange pleasantries with our fellow passengers whilst we waited to disembark. "My dear!", squarked one old English bird sitting behind us, "I had no idea the wee one had even been ill! What a blessing you have there!"

"Thank you!" I smiled back. "She's been great, hasn't she!"

Then Grumbles threw up all over our shoes.

Welcome to England!

Friday, September 18, 2009

To Do List

1 - Do a gazillion or so loads of washing so everything is clean and ready to be packed. CHECK.

2 - Learn useless French phrases: Ma mère est sous la table, bien sûr! (my mother is under the table, of course!) CHECK.

3 - Mildly freak out about getting on a plane. CHECK CHECKITY CHECK

4 - Feel resididual guilt about the carbon emissions from aforementioned plane, then figure since we haven't owned a car for 6 years, and walk and bike everywhere then we have a few carbon points up our sleeve that we'd surely be entitled to splurge? UM, SORTA CHECK

5 - Warn the good citizens of England, Wales, Germany, France, Switzerland and Denmark that la famille Jorth are coming? NO WAY, WHERE WOULD BE THE FUN IN THAT?!!

Keep an eye on the blog, fellow blogging comrades, as I'm planning on posting on the road. How excited am I? SO EXCITED THAT I MAY START BLOGGING IN NOTHING BUT CAPS, THAT'S HOW EXCITED!