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 ...
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