The boat that rocked ...

From one love to another, and with an enjoyable visit in between, I can't complain about the last few days. I had a busy week at work writing up my hotel and restaurant review, my interview with Vanessa-Mae and a feature about the creative directors of Bally, all of which was enjoyable. On Thursday evening Julian, our friend from Innsbruck, arrived for a few days. He's always good fun and very positive. The weather was kind, and we enjoyed a glorious walk around the neighbourhood. It finally feels like spring in Zurich and we enjoy waking up in daylight and hearing the birds singing.

We also went on a cruise on Lake Zurich. The horizon was so still and clear we could make out the snowy bulk of distant mountains and the sun illuminated the lake in pearly azur. A group of pensioners dressed in eclectic and crazy outfits (trees, arctic explorers, poodles) and carrying trumpets and drums were also on board. Our cruise was accompanied by their rowdy, cheerful Guggenmusik - the traditional music played for Fasnacht in Switzerland. It is deliberately off-key and quite jarring, but equally uplifting. The lake shores are lined with enviable properties - old-worldly aristocratic style, each with a boathouse and some with their own private beach. After the cruise and as the sun was setting, we journeyed to the top of Zurich's local mountain, Uetliberg. Clouds were coming in, tinged in gold leaf. A spectacular explosion of burnt reds and oranges filled the sky and we gazed at the view. Now we are in the Tyrol for our winter holiday. Our journey was accompanied by snowy fields and dramatic peaks. All around the apartment is deep snow. Today we sledged and gorged on hot chocolate and rum. We can't wait for some skiing. It's nice to be in our home away from home.

Some snaps from Saas Fee ...


Frozen waterfalls in Saas Fee...

Saas Fee is tucked between towering peaks at the end of a long, winding valley. Like the white witch's frozen realm of Narnia, waterfalls are moulded in static motion the whole way along the mystical road. Nestled into the mountainside at the end of a long track lined with Swiss Pines and deciduous larches from Saas Fee is the Waldhotel Fletschhorn. It is unassuming from the outside, looking like another mountain residence. The unassuming building is a Relais & Chateaux property with a restaurant managed by the Gault Millau Chef of the Year 2007, Markus Neff.

Our room had elements of English country style: a bleached wood ceiling, crisp white walls and a pretty chaise longue. It had a divine walk-in wardrobe that I could do with at home. Complimentary toiletries included homemade soap.. very cute. The corridors of the hotel were art gallery-esque: wide and empty apart from huge canvases evoking icy glaciers and frozen lakes, sunsets over the mountains in winter and snow in wintery cities. There were rather cute lamps crafted in driftwood and pebbles illuminating large, creative rugs on the wooden floor.

The restaurant was decorated simply, but the food was exquisite. I had a six course fish menu, featuring steamed lobster and red mullet fillet. We ate for about three hours and enjoyed delicious wines from Canton Valais in the process. One of the highlights was the homely service. The hotel and restaurant are owned by a very talented trio, all of whom excel in their fields. One of my favourite delights was the homemade hot chocolate. Co-proprietor Maren Mueller explained it is made by grinding up real chocolate in the way the Spanish juice oranges. Simply naught indulgence - yum. At night, velvet darkness cloaked the hotel in the wooded clearing and the air was perfectly still. It was total, pure solitude - and heavenly. (

On Saturday we burnt off some calories on the pistes around Saas Fee. Most of them are very steep - so steep as to even make Tim nervous, and that's making a statement. However, we found a lovely little blue for me to practise my parallel turns. The weather was crystal clear, and Saas Fee is surrounded by these amazing, pure white peaks from all angles. It's a petite resort too, so ugly tower blocks don't dominate the view. We lunched at the Spielboden, a new mountain restaurant also owned by the Fletschhorn trio. It looks like your average ski canteen from the outside, until you venture inside and are greeted by a well-stocked wine fridge and staff wearing fur caps a la Davy Crockett. I enjoyed a delicious fillet of sea bass on mediterranean vegetables served with some very indulgent, buttery, homemade pasta.

We lunched for a long time, took in the splendid view and learnt that in summer, friendly marmots frequent the restaurant. Fredolin is the head marmot, and he sometimes ventures into the kitchen! Late in the afternoon, we took the lift to the top of the mountain to try a long blue run up there. The view was of neverending snowy mountaintops that prodded the sky gently like pins in a pin cushion. Late in the day though, the expanse of glacier up there was a little intimidating. The drag lift seemed to go on forever, and we saw not a soul. The freezing wind bit our faces, until eventually we reached the top of the piste.

A silvery-blue light lingered on the piste and the sun had disappeared behind the high wall of mountain. I began to ski down, while Tim took photos. I heard a huge roar, and looking beyond the lift to my left saw a huge wall of snow break off the ice wall next to us and avalanche down in a powerful, tumbling mass. At first, I was in awe. It was like you see on the TV. Then I realised it was heading straight for me. I don't think I've ever panicked so much. I yelled for Tim, tried to ski back up the hill. By the time he got to me and saw I was trembling, the avalanche had stopped about 50 metres from us. All that was left was a calm pile of snow, visibly out of its place.

 Sunday was gentler. We sledged down a beautiful, gently winding and softly graded track. It wove through woodland and open ground, offering stunning views and plenty of stopping points. The sun shone, the air was clear, the journey was magical for we were the only people there. It was a pretty end to our weekend in Saas Fee... until on the way back to the hotel we were attacked by a group of tearaway children celebrating Fasching and dressed in the most disturbing costumes that make you believe you have slipped something naughty. They whipped us with feathers and sprayed confetti in our faces, while the band drummed their drums and puffed life into their trumpets. We were shedding confetti all the way home ...

A bus ticket charged with memories...

The other day I put my hand into my coat pocket and my fingertips touched upon a scrap of something: an old wrapper, crumpled paper. I pulled it out and unfolded it. I was an old bus ticket. I examined it, expecting it to be a recent one - only to see the year 2007 on it. It was a ticket from Innsbruck, bought during my Erasmus year. I smiled. That says two things. The first, I don't empty my coat pockets often enough (well, it was a coat I wore often on Erasmus and haven't much since). The second, one surprise find can bring back so many happy memories. There I was in a dirty train station near Basel, holding a bus ticket and envisioning all the spectacular places I had the good fortune of spending so much time. I remembered all the beautiful places that city bus took me to.

One of my first memories of Innsbruck was taking the Nordkettenbahn to the top of the Nordkette and being completely gobsmacked at the sheer nature of the view (a view that never stopped taking my breath away): those never-ending rocky peaks, pricking the sky then gracefully gliding down towards green valleys and the sprawl of the capital of the Alps below. I remembered many a fond hike to the little mountain restaurants dotted across the Nordkette, on snowy days when the crystal air nipped my nose; on autumn days, when the leaves rustled around my feet; and on sunny days, when there was no escape from the warm rays.

And those alpine pastures, full of colour, and fields drifting away dreamlike to the sharply rising and dipping horizon. I found myself asking Tim why we ever left. But life had called us. We lived a surreal existence, one in which we could escape from the fumes of the city to the wilderness of the Alps within half an hour. After three years of fond memories, it was time to move on. Now, in Zurich, we have a different life, new challenges. It is freezing cold.. but very beautiful. We have just been for a walk in the rolling countryside in which our flat is situated. The fields stretch out lazily under a white blanket, and many a field is filled with horses wrapped warm in blankets and steam rising from their nostrils. It is beauty of a different kind. It reminds me of the Cotswolds, or those pretty villages in the rolling hills of southern England...
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