Touring Switzerland's Christmas markets ...

It's not easy to be in the only city that has no snow, after spending the previous winter escpaping to the white carpet of slopes at your back door at every opportunity. When Jules visited from London last weekend, sledging was quickly scrapped from the agenda - and umbrellas got yet another outing. What best to do when you're in the only snowless place? Content yourself with Gluehwein. Its warm, silky texture and spicy, wintery taste are all you need to feel good from your head to your toes. We started with Zurich's market - a pretty poor excuse for one, with it's main market being inside the station (not what I'd call atmosperic) and with plastic-looking stands with white bin bags draped across them to resemble snow. Artistic license isn't illegal, you know, Zurich Christmas Market planners? For an expensive city, Zurich is very trashy, in many respects.

We listened to some out-of-tune singers do renditions of Christmas carols whilst clustered inside the 'singing christmas tree' and then stumbled home to escape the rain. The following day, we visited Basel - with a reputation for atmospheric Christmas markets. It didn't disappoint. On the way, we stopped in Rheinfelden (for a quick dose of wellness at the local thermal bath) and in the village, there was a lovely, creative market. Huge Christmas trees lined the oldy-worldly streets and each had individual character, with decorations made by local children. My favourite had lots of bright pink stars.

Basel didn't disappoint either. One market was beneath the Muenster (the minster) and the cutesy wooden huts were sheltered by a rooftop of trees. Clusters of lights gripped to the branches like snowflakes. Stalls sold handmade crafts, there was an ironsmith entertaining children and a hut where you could design a gingerbread man. Open fires had been lit too, and the whole had a wintery, snug feeling. Below in the city was a much larger market, filled with all the smells of Christmas and indulgence. We sat in a cosy hut for a while to eat some Bratwurst, and warmed ourselves with more Gluehwein. One interesting feature was a carousel converted into a bar, which was slowly spinning while the people inside thought they were more drunk than they were!

The highlight of our tour came on Sunday though, when we journeyed an hour down Lake Zurich to Rapperswil - a beautiful, medieval town at the other end of the lake. Overlooking the unattractive chipboard that the stalls were made from, the market had heaps of character. Lots of different warm drinks were available - our favourite was the Toddy, a version of Gluehwein made with whisky, oranges, lemons and spices. Yum. The town's buildings provided a higgledy piggledy backdrop of crooked rooftops and unsymmetrical church spires. We walked up to the church and looked down across the lake, then enjoyed Roesti for lunch - followed by a very naughty crepe with Nutella. Again, the smells, the buzz, the atmosphere: it all makes Christmas. Jules treated us to some warm chestnuts for the journey home - to keep us in that Christmas spirit.

One night in Davos ...

For a hotel review I needed to write, Tim and I spent Saturday night in Davos. First impressions as we arrived on the train were pretty grim. The valley was sinking in cloud; it was cold and wet. Since we had planned a ski weekend, and there was no sign of snow, our spirits were low. The hotel, however, was stunning. It's brand new and very glossy, with masculine decor in shades of maroon, olive and black. I was interested to learn that some of the wooden panelling on the walls was from restored ceilings of disused mountain huts.

Our room was simply divine. It was huge, with a balcony around at least half of it. It was divided into a bedroom and sitting room by a sleek cabinet, with a rotating flat screen TV on the middle shelf - so it could be watched from bed or the settee. It was all bronze, taupe and mauve, with faux fur throws and cushions on the bed. It's Hotel Grischa, in case you're interested. It had that slightly generic feel of modern hotels trying to resemble the traditional mountain lodge, but it exceeded comfort. We were just disappointed that of its four restaurants, we couldn't eat in any because they were fully booked - not something you expect when you have a room in a hotel.

We ate at a traditional restaurant in Davos, and I had pumpkin ravioli in a cream sauce - it was delightful. In true Tim and Emily style, we did some wellness. The public swimming baths were quite lovely, and had a warm outdoor pool. The only disaster was the swimming pool with people swimming up and down, whilst kids jumped off the diving board at the other end. Talk about lack of health and safety. In the evening we visited a lovely Christmas market and had some tasty Gluehwein. It was selling all kinds of lovely homemade treats, like cakes and jam, as well as homemade crafts with wood and stones.

The following day, the sun finally came out, and we had an energetic walk around the lake, as well as doing some ice skating at the local outdoor rink. I have to say, Davos is one of the least picturesque places I have been. Normally, surrounding mountains can make anywhere look attractive - not Davos. The architecture is modern, ugly and lacking in character. We didn't discover an old town, and struggled to find anz personality about the place. It attracts business people with big events like the World Economic Forum. I can't say I'd ever holiday there...

Nowhere does a Christmas market quite like Germany ...

Best laid plans and all that ... Tim and I had scheduled an early season ski trip for last weekend, but alas, no snow fell. Taking the next best option, we went to Constance in Germany on Friday to visit its Christmas market - and take advantage of the cheap Euro. It is a pretty town, with a large old town and a range of shops. It is tucked beside Lake Constance, where the Rhein flows into the lake. The lake is so big, the place has the feeling of the seaside. There is a rather garish statue above the lake of a muse wearing not much at all, crafted in stone and spinning around. The Christmas market was huge and packed with stands selling all kinds of wonderful treats. Divine smells filled the air. We enjoyed a Moroccan stew for dinner: it was made with vegetables and ginger. Then we sampled Honigmet, a delicious alcoholic honey drink - very warming on a winter's night.

Polaroids of a foreign land ...

When family visit you in a country where they've never spent much time, and that you're still exploring, it's hard to decide how best to show them the essence of the place. Switzerland in a weekend is a tall order, but we did our best. Mum arrived to sunny weather on Friday afternoon, and we walked around the Katzensee enjoying the glorious autumnal chill. We laughed as we watched a girl trying to catch the feisty black stallion, and marvelled as we saw her lead him calmly from the field a few minutes later.

Later in the day, we warmed our fingers around mugs of Gluehwein at the Zurich Christmas market, admired the sparkling Christmas tree at the main station, draped in Swarovski crystals, and enjoyed a slice of the famous Sprungli's very naughty truffle cake. Saturday brought new delights. We drove to the Rhein Falls, Europe's largest waterfall near Schaffhausen, at the northern most tip of Switzerland. So still was the majestic Rhein in shades of deep aquamarine, until it gushed over the cliff and exploded into powerful white spray.

We walked over the railway bridge to a well-situated viewing point on the far side of the platform - only to discover after climbing down a hundred steps that this was one of those natural attractions that somebody shrewd had decided to make a fortune from - and traipsed back up, determined not to buy the tickets. Schaffhausen and its beautiful medieval architecture lured us next. We walked around the kloisters of the monstery as the sun fell behind the horizon, and gasped as we emerged onto the main street all atwinkle with simple but beautiful Christmas lights. In the evening, Tim cheated his way through a game of Uno, while I lost miserably.

And we awoke early on Sunday to travel to the mountains, listening to Robert Burns love songs performed by a folk singer with a haunting voice. Mount Pilatus is an impressive lump of rock behind Lucerne. It gazes down upon the city and lake below. We thought we opted for the easy route by getting the cable car up and walking down, but it turned out that we did more uphill than expected. The views were stunning and the weather crystal clear. Sitting in the camper van afterwards, we warmed ourselves with cups of tea.

Monday morning taught me how obnoxious the Swiss can be. I'm struggling to think of a nice way to describe the larger than life lesbians upstairs - but they stuck a nasty note to the camper van telling Mum and Nigel they hadn't parked properly. And I thought this was only a problem for them because the fat one would struggle to fit between the camper van and her car - but that's not the fault of parking. A diet should sort that out. I should accept the Swiss, since I have chosen to live here. But it is hard not to wish they could all be sent on a manners course in Great Britain when they stare, don't move out of the way on the street to let you pass, and leave nasty notes on your vehicle. Tut tut. There, some snap shots of Switzerland. Seems I'm learning more with each day that passes.

The Lej da Staz


At the Diavolezza


Jet-setting in St. Moritz ...

The first thing that struck me about St. Moritz were the colours. An ultramarine lake is surrounded by deep green firs. The undulating forest stretches upwards to dramatic, snowy peaks above. And the light is faultless. The sky is crystal clear and such a vivid blue. St. Moritz itself is not wonderfully attractive, but for its location clinging to the shores of the lake. It is mostly a sprawl of ugly, high rise block architecture. However, there are beautiful highlights like the Badrutt's Palace hotel, that looks like something from a fairy story. It boasts more designer boutiques than Zurich, and has a high street to rival Bond Street. The only unfortunate thing for us, was that everything was closed in preparation for the upcoming ski season.

Amongst the highlights of our weekend were a trip to the top of Diavolezza ski lift, where you can look out across never ending peaks that look like they've been coated in marzipan and icing; a spectacular journey along the Albula train line, a UNESCO world heritage site that features many viaducts and tunnels; a visit to a vertical mineral baths to recuperate; a stunning walk around the lake; a horse and carriage ride to the Lej da Staz, an indescribably beautiful lake in the middle of nowhere. We had a very interesting tour of the town with a ski guide, who told us only 40% of visitors come for the winter sports. The rest come to see and be seen. I have to say, I would hate a place like that in the high season! I pity people who live like that. She also showed us a very long escalator, which brings visitors from the lake shore straight up to the town centre. We tried a delicious speciality of the area, Nut cake, which tastes a little like caramel shortbread without the chocolate coating. The air felt wonderfully crisp and fresh, but at 1,856 metres above sea level what else could you expect!

Til Schweiger, Roberto Cavalli and a couple of very glamorous evenings ...

The glitziest of celebrities and the most famous of fashion designers were in Zurich last week, for Charles Voegele Fashion Days. The event kicked off on Wednesday with an opening night featuring clothing collections by Penelope and Monica Cruz, and German actor Til Schweiger. He took to the catwalk himself to present his collection. He's one of my favourite German actors, and I could hardly believe my eyes! But it's strange to see celebrities in real life, because you realise they are just normal people. I attended his press conference earlier in the day, and it was strange to be up so close! Thursday night was a more high fashion affair, with Roberto Cavalli himself attending and his Just Cavalli spring/ summer 2012 collection being shown on the catwalk. In the true style of fashion shows, the show started late. The crowd was very fashionable, and the editor of Swiss magazine Annabelle was dressed very glamorously. Roberto Cavalli is a wonderful character and was dressed very stylishly, head to toe in black, and of course wearing sunglasses. Some up and coming Swiss designers were presenting their collections, and amongst them was some very creative talent.



A capital of culture ...

Last weekend, Tim and I had the pleasure of visiting Basel - so I could write a hotel review. Oh, it's a hard life! The city on the curve of the Rhein is smaller than Zurich, and somehow much less pretentious. It buzzes with life and is full of reminders of its cultural heritage. One of my favourite features was a fountain of sorts, made from scraps of old factory equipment and spraying water in all directions.

A highlight of our visit was the Fondation Beyeler - the most amazing collection of art I've ever laid eyes on. It houses works by Picasso, Dali, Magritte, Miro, and, the crowning glory, one of Monet's "Waterlilies" paintings. The paintings are not the only thing that is spectular. The grounds were filled with shades of auburn, gold and bordeaux; rolling hills surrounded us; and the lake was topped with real life lilies. The building was light, airy and a work of art in itself. Our heads hurt trying to understand the surrealist paintings mind you! One of my favourites was a woodland scene, with wild creatures, because it reminded me of Where The Wild Things Are.

The hotel we stayed in, Hotel D, was very comfortable and welcoming. It's a brand new design hotel, so looks modern and trendy with a coffee, smoky turquoise and cream colour scheme. The rooms are very high tech with lots of media equipment that I don't understand! One evening, we went to the Autumn Fair, a big fairground that is set up in various locations around the city. It took me back to childhood walking around the stalls, hearing the screams, smelling the smells and watching children dip their heads into plumes of candy floss.

We went on the big wheel, which afforded spectacular views across the hotch potch of sloping mismatched rooftops in Basel's old town (they have wonderfully long slopes) and across the Rhein. Then I persuaded Tim to go on one of my favourite childhood rides with me - and regretted it! It is one of those trains that goes round and round, up and down, getting faster and faster. I felt I was getting whiplash! A wonderful weekend, and a city to be recommended. Basel is not to be underestimated ...

With some freshly made chocolate bars ... yum


The land of chocolate and cheese ...

Unfortunately, I've the time to write this blog because I'm holed up in bed feeling unwell... fortunately, the last time I felt well, Tim and I were spending the weekend in Charmey, and there is a lot to tell. Charmey is in La Gruyere, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The countryside is pre-Alpine and all around are rolling hills and miniature little peaks; nothing is overbearing and the landscape is very open.

We were staying in a cosy little hotel - all wooden beams and balconies - which is attached to the one spa in the area. We spent most of the afternoon in the spa, which is a very simple building designed to reflect the surroundings. It is all green tiles, huge windows and wooden fixtures.. from so many parts of the spa you can see the mountains, and it is hard to tell where the spa ends and nature begins. It has one indoor and one outdoor pool, both with features including an alpine waterfall and jacuzzis. There were also hammam steam rooms and finnish saunas, and the brilliant thing is, in the French speaking part of Switzerland, you are not allowed to be naked in them. My treat was a massage with chocolate!

The therapist asked if I wanted to try the chocolate beforehand! It was warm, melted and soothing, so the treatment was relaxing.. although I smelt like a giant chocolate bar afterwards, and I'm not sure it's something I'd try again! In the evening, we had dinner in a delicious local restaurant, and afterwards laid on massage beds in the pool, looking at the stars.

Sunday was an exhausting day, but packed with a lot of interesting stuff. We got a cable car up the mountain and admired the surrounding view in sunshine; we also saw lots of paragliders taking off. Then we went to the Cailler chocolate factory (Cailler is owned by Nestle), saw how they make chocolate bars and got to taste a fresh one...yum! Then we went to a cheese factory, because Gruyeres is of course famous for cheese. Finally, we visited the medieval town, La Gruyere. It is perched on a hill, has a castle and is beautiful for wandering around. The castle had an interesting multimedia show about its history, and inside was filled with rooms from all different periods, because relatively recently it was owned by an artist who wanted to preserve it.

Not a region I'd have though of visiting, but very glad we did, and hopefully we'll go back ...

Zermatt: Whirlpool with a Matterhorn view


Zermatt: The Omnia


Our treat: The OMNIA

The OMNIA was our treat on the final night in Zermatt: the rather luxurious hotel that I was to write a review of. It sits on a ledge perched above Zermatt, and has the most extravagant view of the village and the Matterhorn. It's peaceful and quiet, but in minutes you can be in the hustle and bustle below... thanks to a rather nifty elevator in the cliff that leaves from a candlelit cavern and takes you directly to the reception. The rooms have complimetray Kiehl's toiletries, a free third decanter of Bourbon, and memory foam mattresses by Tempur. Everything feels solid and well made, with solid wood panels.

In our room was a wooden free standing bathtub with a skylight above it. The whole interior was designed by Ali Tayar, a New York based architect and designer, and is designed to resemble the traditional American mountain lodge. The hotel had very turbulent beginnings, involving Heinz Julen, who I mentioned in my previous post - he initially designed the interior, but after 7 weeks of opening, the owner gutted the entire building to remove traces of Julen. All very scandalous. Upon arriving, you get a complimentary welcome drink on the sun terrace, and classical music is playing as you enter your room.

The wellness area is beautiful, all in black and low lit, with a pool that goes from indoor to outdoor, and a black marble whirlpool with view of the Matterhorn. Dinner was divine, and we had a cosy little alcove to ourselves. Downstairs is a cosy lobby and library, full of arty hardbacks and with an open fire. Oh, I forgot to mention the staff are all dressed in designer uniforms, very elegant and look nothing like your average hotel staff, Service is top-notch but informal, and whilst the place breathes unassuming elegance, it is very laid back and welcoming. Very very expensive, but I'd say worth it. At breakfast they serve home made croissants.. true pampering...

Zermatt: Kick-biking


Zermatt: The Matterhorn


The Matterhorn and more ...

The Matterhorn is almost a Swiss cliché; you see and hear about it everywhere. But seeing it in real life, up close and personal, it is easy to understand why everyone raves about it. Words can't describe its towering Toblerone like presence, standing alone and above the tiny village of Zermatt. My breath was taken away.. truly. Tim and I spent last weekend in Zermatt, all expenses paid courtesy of a 3,000 word travel article I am writing about this destination. We arrived in beautiful sunshine on Friday afternoon, and after being shown to our hotel, had a village tour. I admit, I had expected Zermatt to be one of those huge ski resorts that has lost all character and been consumed by strip clubs and loud bars. I couldn't have been more wrong.

It has a lovely traditional part, with old wooden houses, and the main street, whilst touristy, has character and local bakeries occupy most spots - as well as of course a few designer stores. Apparently it is the place for celebrities to go and get away from it all, and not be bothered by the paparazzi: above the village is a chic lodge, that costs something like 100,000 per week and the likes of the Beckhams stay there.. allegedly. Below it is a glossy looking hotel, the OMNIA, to whose luxury we were to be treated on Monday night.. more on that later. On Saturday morning we went skiing!

We left Zermatt in glorious sunshine and warmth, and travelled about 45 minutes in a cable car to reach the Klein Matterhorn, where you can ski on the glacier. It was one of my best experiences skiing yet.. my rental skis were very short (good for a beginner), and we were skiing looking at the Matterhorn ahead of us and Mont Blanc far in the distance to the right. Another active moment came on Sunday afternoon, when we went kick biking. This a strange, and seriously pointless, modern sport. You basically go downhill, on a sledging-like track, riding a bike with a big front wheel, a small back wheel and no seat.. yes, as crazy as it sounds. Tim really enjoyed it, but I thought it was a bit silly and I felt very shaky and unbalanced ... an experience I'm glad I've tried but didn't have to pay for.

Sightseeing moments were after a train ride up to the Gornergrat glacier, which has the best classic panoramas of the Matterhorn, as well as an observatory where you can star gaze at night. I was also fortunate to meet some very interesting people, including a lovely couple who run a bakery chain in Zermatt selling Matterhorn chocolates and a "mountain guide" fruit loaf, designed to give energy on the mountains. It has just won an award, and we can understand why.. definite fruity goodness.

Another interesting character was Heinz Julen, who is a Zermatt-based architect-cum-artiste, and has just built a modern hotel/ art gallery/ club in Zermatt called Backstage. Amongst its interesting features are a lift from the rooms into the club-cum-cinema downstairs and a wellness facility based on the seven days of creation. His trademark are unique chandelier creations; one has violins draping from it, and another forks. The hotel we stayed in for three nights was less than impressive, or maybe we have just become too big for our boots. All the staff were 15-year-old trainees, who kept dropping plates and forks, knocking over jugs of water, and had the more irritating English expressions. Lowlights including being served a crust of bread with melted cheese on top for dinner one evening, under the guise of a main course. We had a treat to come though...

An impressive panorama .. on a good day you can see to Mt. Blanc ...




Les Sources des Alpes


Into thermal waters ...

I truly came to appreciate the wonders of my job last weekend, during a three-day visit to Leukerbad, a pretty village tucked into a basin between sheer cliff faces at the heart of the Valais. That I arrived in sunshine, winding up a precarious road in the local bus, was no surprise - the Valais is bordered by 4,000m mountains, which prevents cloud from entering the Canton. The road winds through little hamlets, splashes of colour either side, and Leukerbad isn't visible until you get there. It's a secret wonderland, really. Ancient wooden buildings stand next to 1960's concrete blocks, and quaint streets wind past numerous vegetable gardens. And there is something else special about it too - it is home to 65 hot springs, eight of which are used in the village's array of thermal spas. Therein lay my task - research for an article about this concept of "wellness" in thermal waters.

It was the cliffs that made a first impression on me - they rise vertically around the village, huge jagged lumps of sculpted rock. If you look up, you see a Swiss flag, which looks tiny but is quite big, and marks the vertical ascent of the Via Ferrata, looming high above the village. The hotel was my next treat: a 5 star haven of large, airy rooms, fresh fruit laid out, and luscious bath robes. Heavenly treatment, and a thermal pool that I was dying to jump into. The hotel, Les Sources des Alpes, is the only Relais-Chateux in the world with it's own thermal spring. More on that later.

My first "job" was to ride in a cable car with the village's marketing manager to the top of the Gemmi Pass. This is a famous mountain pass that many literary greats have gushed about, including Guy du Maupassant and Mark Twain. It's a hair-raising ride, as the cable car rises over steep cliffs at break-neck speed. The view from the top, though, is just beautiful. You can see as far as the Matterhorn, and look along a panorama of enormous, snow-topped peaks. In the restaurant at the top, we enjoyed traditional "Rosti" - a dish of chopped up, fried potatoes.

After overcoming my vertigo during the ride down the mountain, it was time to enjoy some "wellness". David Kestens, the marketing manager, told me wellness was about enjoying fresh air and exercise, dining well and topping it all off with relaxation in thermal water. So to the hotel pool I went. The water is high in calcium and sulphate, meaning it is good for the bones. And you literally feel the need to sigh with pleasure as you step into it, and it envelopes every stressed or aching muscle.

Tim joined me later in the evening (having had to spend the day working - ha!), and we went to enjoy our first 5 star dining experience. We dressed to the nines, and felt let down when we noticed a couple wearing tracksuits! Never mind, at least the waiting staff had made an effort. I'll just say, the restaurant has been awarded the gault millau, and it shows. We dined like kings: I enjoyed plenty of fresh bread, salmon served with a courgette stuffed with saffron risotto, then an apricot creme brulee - not to mention the delicious Valais wine, Petite Arvine, which felt like silk in the mouth.

Our nutritious fine dining experience meant we awoke on Saturday feeling energetic enough - or crazy - to decide to walk up the Gemmi Pass. 1,000 metres of vertical, unrelenting ascent. And a truly magical experience. The path zigzags up the cliff, offering wonderful views, and we even saw what we think was a golden eagle dancing in the air above us. After that energetic excursion, the hotel treated me to a complete spa pampering. First of all, I sat in a massage bath, where jets of water course along every sinew and muscle; then I had a salt scrub to detox and cleanse; followed by a full body massage with luscious alpine creams. The hotel spa was amazing. It had a small outdoor pool, with a jacuzzi and a view across the cliffs, then an indoor pool, with the hot spring gushing directly into it from little fountains. The nicest thing was, it was so quiet. There was hardly anybody staying there, and it felt like true relaxation. The hotel was so quiet and calming - you could really escape from the stress of the city there.

Let me skip to a highlight of the following day. We visited Leukerbad's two largest public spas: the first, the Burgerbad, is all about fun, laughter and roller coaster slides into the thermal water. The other, the Lindner Alpentherme, is more grown up and designed for relaxation. We made like tourists and walked between the spas wearing our bath robes - we got away with it I think, because they had 5 stars on! At the Lindner, we had a very special "Roman-Irish Baths' experience. This is a two-hour treatment designed to warm the body and cool it again slowly, as you make your way between saunas, steam rooms and pools of different temperatures. In the middle you have a scrub with coffee granules, then a soap brush massage, involving soap being brushed into your skin, and rinsed off with a splash of warm water and a massage. The climax of the treatment is plunging into a pool of only 8oC! The only snag: you have to be naked. Tim and I were terrified, but actually, it was more pleasant than we expected. You quickly get used to the sensation, and the number of people in the complex at any one time is limited to about six.

I feel I've blabbered on enough now, so I guess you'll have to read my article to find out more ... I could go on for pages. But it's safe to say, this is a lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed.



The homeowner...


Valaisian cows...


Stripy cows, scary masks and serene beauty...

Imagine a place where glacier-encroached mountains reach for the sky, where the air is crystal clear and the cows are... stripy! That is the Loetschental in the Valais, a relatively unknown region of Switzerland (in fact, I know all about it now having reviewed a Valais guide book at work.. but that's irrelevant). Kandersteg is the golden gate to the Valais.. at least, it is the point where mountains block the road and the only way to pass from one region to the other is to drive your car onto a train, which then takes you through the wall of mountains. We emerged at the other side into a tranquil valley of impossibly high mountains dotted with tiny hamlets of log-cabin style huts.

Our residence for the night was a mountain hut at Leuchernalp above the village of Wiler, reached by a short cable car ride and then a climb up a ladder to the hut - well, not really a ladder, but it was steep! The hut, though basic, was super cosy and we were lucky to have a 16 plank bed room to the four of us - I should mention, we went with my editor and her husband. All wood panels, cave-like bathroom and a heavenly view. The sign outside the hut tells you in 7 hours you can cross the high mountain pass to reach the valley above Kandersteg!

Our first day took us on a 10km walk along the valley, but high up in the mountains. Apparently, this is in the top ten epic walks to do in the Valais. We wound through fields and forest, accompanied the whole way by breathtaking scenery. We even treated ourselves to a slice of apricot pie.. oh yum! Back at the hut, we watched the sun set over the mountains. Some of them were draped in cloud and the sun cast a golden shimmer across them, lending them a volcano image.

I'll mention two strange things about the Valais right now: the cows there are black, with a wide white stripe around their bellies. And they're fluffy, so they look really soft and gorgeous. Point two: the people put scary masks and sometimes full size models of monsters outside their houses to ward off winter. These resemble the Tirolean Krampus, are crafted using real animal hair and teeth, and man the balconies of fancy ski chalets, terrifying more than just the winter weather.

On our second day, we awoke to the sound of cow bells and breathed in fresh air sitting on the sun terrasse, our gaze mesmerised by the Weisshorn, a huge snow-topped mountain visible from the hut. After a hearty breakfast, we journeyed towards winter. Well, it felt like that and again, was incomparably beautiful. We walked further down the valley and up towards the glacier. The river in the valley bottom was gushing aggressively with ice blue melt water, and looked so refreshing compared to the blazing heat we were walking in. Patches of shade were few and far between. After a few hours walking up the valley, we reached the Anenhutte, a very smart mountain hut that served delicious traditional food such as bread with mountain cheese. Tim and I shared an apricot tiramisu, which was delicious. Unfortunately at the end of the day we had to head home, but I can say with all honesty, the Valais is one of the most beautiful parts of the world I have ever seen...

Tango to British Cheese...

Zurich has it all. It's a cosmopolitan centre, where, as an 'outsider', you can happily walk around without being stared at. I have to say, though, one of my favourite things so far is 'Im Viadukt'. This is a trendy part of town, where the old viaduct arches have been converted into shops and now house fashionable boutiques. Tim and I were lucky to discover that the Spanish culture shop, El Social, offers free taster Argentine tango sessions and so went to sample this exotic dance yesterday afternoon. In a nutshell, we discovered we are as bad at dance coordination and hip movement as each other, but we had fun in the meantime.

Our instructor was very Argentine, and led us through the steps with an impossible swing of the hips. He made the dance steps look like movement; we, by contrast, looked like we were clomping around the dance floor, very much a la John Sergeant. We managed not to fall over though, and by the end could go forwards, backwards and sideways, and even fit in some cheeky turns. Afterwards we had a look around the shops. There is, wait for it... A British cheese shop there! They even stock Wensleydale and Isle of Mull cheddar! Tim was delighted to sample some, and we ended up coming away with a chunk of Stilton. How very delicious. And so refreshing, after the Austrian attitude of 'ugh, all British food is disgusting'.

Another interesting shop, though not my cup of tea, is called Freitag. It stocks bags made from old truck tarpaulins, and each one is completely unique. Very eco-minded, but super expensive and they stink! The shop is funky, though, and in old truck containers. You can climb to the top of them all and look out at the view, but they rather unnervingly sway in the wind and as other people climb the stairs... Next week, I will be sampling a free yoga session at Im Viadukt. Switzerland may be expensive, but they certainly offer benefits..

A swim before breakfast...

Last weekend Tim and I had an idyllic start to our weekend. We woke up early to sunshine, got ourselves mobilised quickly and set off for the Katzensee, our local lake. We called at the little family-run bakery on the way to buy some pains au chocolat for breakfast and then sat by the lake to eat them, followed by a very refreshing early morning swim. It was a great sense of satisfaction to have swam and got out before all the crowds arrived for the day, and a brilliant morning for the Geist!

The Clifton Suspension Bridge after a storm...

A painting I did recently...

Finally, I'm a real writer...

I have just finished my first week at work and it has been absolutely wonderful. First thing is, I can't believe how lucky I am to be able to walk to work. Despite a few rainy days I've felt that, even though I'm sitting at a desk all day, I'm getting plenty of exercise and fresh air. Everybody I work with is lovely and I feel I can learn a lot from them. I have already been given various responsibilities. I've written a book review of a guide to the Valais, in Switzerland. I have also done a couple of news articles and a bit of copy for the website. I'm excited about the relaunch of the magazine, especially because I will get my own fashion column. I started doing research for it yesterday, and the idea is that I will interview up and coming designers in Switzerland. I can see that I will absolutely love working professionally as a journalist.

In other news: Tim and I went to the cinema last weekend, and it cost about £20 each.. Oh Switzerland! I'm sure upon return to Britain I'll feel like the prices resemble Indian ones!

Fields of gold, Farmyard apples and Friendly locals...

Whilst I find the cost of living in Zurich somewhat unreasonable, there is a lot about the culture here that has made a superb impression on me. I went for a walk around the block today. The weather was beautifully sunny with a cool breeze and I love that within five minutes of leaving our apartment you are in the countryside. One of the first things you see is a golden field of sunflowers stretching towards the horizon. Then you walk past fields filled with grazing horses, apple trees dotted along the road, long fields of maize and can see the local lake, the Katzensee.

I stumbled across a farm selling bags of apples cheaply and then a little bakery where I bought a delicious typically Swiss cake. It looks a bit like a pie and is filled with a nutty honey mixture. These items were very cheap, and I realise it's the supermarkets that overcharge. Another thing is that locals here are very friendly. People in passing say hello, shop owners take a moment to chat to you. And that is so very different to my experience in the Tyrol. It's a really lovely area...

Just where else in the world could you do this?

A few days in, I already understand why Zurich always rates as having such high living standards. When Tim got in from work yesterday, we moseyed down to our local lake and had a swim in the evening sunshine. It was busy, but the water was clear, the views beautiful and I can't imagine a better way of chilling out after work. Today the weather is glorious again, and I am going to spend the day writing my book.. oh heaven...

And just one of our new (temporary) flat...


This is the one and only time you'll see me smiling whilst standing next to such a big spider...


My walk to work...


Just landed in the country of mountains and chocolate...

They say first impressions count. For me that's good then. Switzerland is just as beautiful as everyone says. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been apprehensive about moving here. It seems to be a country that nobody really knows much about; it has a language that has the same name as one I studied, but that I absolutely cannot understand; the locals have a terrible reputation as being cold and unfriendly; and that is to say nothing about the cost of living, and me on a terrible salary. However, after Tim collected me from the airport yesterday and took me to our new flat, my worries were completely gone.

Our new flat - temporary for the summer - is spacious, airy and painted in bright colours making it cheerful. It has a positive aura. Only a short train journey from the city and yet in the countryside, it is just a perfect location. We are surrounded by rolling hills, fields and trees - and just down the road is a lake, where we can go swimming after work. Since I landed the weather has been beautiful, apart from a dramatic thunderstorm last night. I can't understand the locals and I would be lying if I said the food was anything less than unutterably and ridiculously expensive, but something tells me it will all be worth it. I feel incredibly blessed that I can live here with Tim, and climb onto the first step of the ladder leading to a career in journalism. Could I have it any better?...
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