Grosse Scheidegg

Grosse Scheidegg is a mountain pass between Grindelwald and Meiringen in the Bernese Oberland. It’s a climb of about 1600 m, in an exciting location, with only local cars and busses allowed to use the route, and this all makes it an extremely attractive target for cyclists. Tanya and I were not remotely immune to its charms, and decided to ride it.

Early on in the day.

The weather on the day in question was forecast to be clear in the morning and then to degrade to storms later. Not wanting to tangle with any kind of alpine convection, we set out super early on the train from Bern. Much to our surprise nearly all the bike spots on the train were taken; clearly the first train is the cyclists’ choice. We rode from Meiringen south-west to Grindelwald, so as to maximise our time facing towards the looming mountains.

Near Rosenlaui.
The world’s most inviting cycle path.

As we climbed higher the road got steeper and the mountains more magnificant. At one point a fox appeared with a lonely call that sounded like a forlorn bird; he walked carefully but boldly past us and continued on his rounds.

Postbus warning.
Tanya near the top.

At the top of the pass, we were right next to the mighty Wetterhorn, and the rest of the Grindelwald valley came into view, and the Eiger and its north face were there with Mönch behind, and it was a brilliant sight.

Tanya at Grosse Scheidegg.
The postbus heading back the way we rode up.
And another postbus heading down to Grindelwald; Eiger and Mönch behind.

The ride down to Grindwald was a wonderful long descent and a beautiful rest after the hard climb; we whisked past fields with cows and wildflowers and waterfalls in the distance.

Looking up at Wetterhorn.
Grindelwald cows (and valleys).

We finished the day by pedalling down to Interlaken. Grosse Scheidegg was a spectacular climb and a great challenge in a wonderful region. Can’t really ask for more!

Looking back to Wetterhorn after passing Grindelwald.
June 12, 2018
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Spiez to Zweisimmen

Tanya and I have been hitting the cycling recently. A couple of Sundays back we rode from Spiez to Zweisimmen, where we were turned around by rain (and took the train back to Bern). The ride was a beautiful jaunt following the Simme river up the valley.

Tanya and hydro power.
The Simme.
June 11, 2018
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Caves Ouvertes Vaudoises

A few weeks ago I went with friends to the annual Caves Ouvertes Vaudoises, where you can sample wines from any cellar door in Vaud after buying your “passport” glass. We went to Lavaux, which was gorgeous as always, and the contrasts were brought out by stormy weather that stalked Lac Léman. Here are pictures.

I never noticed this before, but if you zoom in on this photo you can see little people working the sails of the boat.
June 11, 2018
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Five lakes ride

In central Switzerland, there’s a train line that runs between Interlaken and Luzern, that carries panoramically-windowed trains around various lakes and over alpine passes. It’s a spectacular trip, and last weekend Tanya and I forewent the train and rode the best bit by bike. We took the train as far as Brienz, and cycled the rest of the way, which amounted to a ride of 80 km.

The train map – before we hopped off and rode the rest of the way.
Start of the first climb.
After the first climb — rolling country.

The route passed by five lakes. We started at the Brienzersee (Canton Bern), rode up the valley to Meiringen, then over the Brünigpass (into Canton Obwalden). The second lake was the Lungerersee, which was quickly followed by the Sarnersee, where we stopped for lunch (I ate a sarnie). At the Alpnachersee we crossed into Canton Nidwalden, and then reached the fifth lake, the Vierwaldstättersee, which is huge and multi-fingered. Vierwaldstättersee is the lake that Luzern sits on. Its name in German means “four forest-state lake” and indeed there are four cantons around it (the French-speakers went totally literal but forgot the forests, and called it Le Lac des Quatre-Cantons). We crossed into the canton of Luzern as we got towards the city and finished our ride. From Luzern we took a boat across the lake to Kehrsiten-Bürgenstock, where we stayed the night.

Lake two, the Lungerersee.
Tanya on the Vierwaldstättersee.
Vierwaldstättersee brilliance.
Arriving at Kehrsiten-Bürgenstock.

At the lake that night we decided it was one of those times where a swim was required. Lake Lucerne is supposed to be a particularly mild temperature, but when we jumped in we found it was still absolutely freezing and I could barely stand it. It was refreshing to say the least! The next day we went riding again; this time we cycled up to Engelberg, which was a good climb into fantastic alpine scenery.

Pilatus (2118 m).
First kilometres around the lake.
Arriving in Engelberg.
The view from Engelberg.
My trusty steed.
Engelberg scenery.

Just as with ski-touring, cycling up a hill really leads you to enjoy the descent. We zipped down back to Lake Lucerne, to Beckenried, where we notched up 60 km for the day. We took the boat again to return to Luzern.

A slick of yellow pollen on the lake.
The fantastic face on the bow of the boat.

To finish off our weekend, we got takeaway pizza and beer to enjoy next to the lake; Tanya strapped the pizza to the back of her bike and we got to the lake while it was still piping hot. It was an amazing couple of days of incredible scenery, lots of good exercise, and pizza to finish it off. Que du bonheur!

Tanya’s pizza service.

From snow to pollen

Amid getting back from the Southern Hemisphere and moving house, Tanya and I took the slightly inadvisable step of going skiing for a weekend at Saas Fee. It was the last weekend that the pistes were open and there was a huge street party in the village on the Saturday night. We gave the party a wide berth, but it seems like it was a big event: early in the evening passers by were already drunkenly singing at us, and the next day the streets smelled of beer and the ski slopes were much quieter than normal.

Eww.

While there is still lots of snow in the mountains, spring has definitely arrived in Switzerland. In Bern it’s pleasantly warm and we have started to explore the region by bike, which is a lovely way to see what’s around. What’s around turns out to be — surprise! — super pretty countryside with the Bernese Alps towering above. We rode from Bern out across small hills to Riggisberg, and also out to Worb.

Bern station at sunset.
Climbing to Riggisberg.
Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau above Thun and the Thunersee.

Moving to Bern hasn’t kept us away from the familiar wonders of Lac Léman: we went to the Cully Jazz festival for an evening, and went for a Saturday ride across Lavaux.

Then we went for a bigger ride from Thun to Interlaken along the north side of the Thunersee. After climbing steeply up to a balcony area, the route followed small rolling roads high above the lake. At one point the road was closed due to rockfall, so we had to drop to the lake level, but were saved by a convenient funicular which whisked us back up to the path after the blockage.

There is so much pollen around this spring that after these rides around Bern we would return to the house painted yellow by the stuff, and the lake at Thun has so much pollen floating on the surface that it is forming interesting clouds at the shore and large streaks that can be seen from a great distance. Spring has definitely come to Europe.

May 13, 2018
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Mystery Bay

Keytie and Anna’s wedding was held in a special part of the world – here are pictures from Mystery Bay on the South Coast of New South Wales.

May 13, 2018
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Anna and Keytie’s wedding

The reason Tanya and I were back in Australia in April was to go to the wedding of my incredible sister Anna to the amazing Keytie. Their marriage was held at Mystery Bay on the South Coast of New South Wales, which was as magical a spot as the name suggests. The ceremony was under a coral tree within sight of the beach and the ocean, there were parrots everywhere and the banksias were all in flower. Our brother Alex played piano and sang for Anna and Keytie’s entrance, and Mum read out some of Dad’s lyrics as part of their ceremony. After the ceremony, we ate amazing food and partied into the night. Anna made all the guests an incredible screen print to mark the occasion. It was as lovely a celebration as there could ever be, for the loveliest of couples.

Wedding signage ready to go.
Keytie and Anna’s entrance.
Proud and happy Mum.
Alex.
Anna and Keytie giving a fantastic speech.
May 13, 2018
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Lightning trip to NZ

In April, Tanya and I made a very special trip back to Australia, and because we were in the “neighbourhood” we stopped in Christchurch on the way to catch up with Tanya’s lovely family there. We went to an England-vs-New Zealand cricket match. It was my first time at a cricket game, even though watching on tv was a summer staple when I was growing up. At the oval it was very difficult to see the ball, but it was a great atmosphere and there was beer, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Cricket’s a wonderful game with rules that I enjoy trying to explain to people from outside the Commonwealth. This particular game ended in a draw a couple of days after I left the country.

Our flight in to NZ went right over Aoraki/Mt Cook, so we got to see lovely glaciated mountains.
At the cricket.
The Waimakariri river looking stunning.
May 10, 2018
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Moving to Bern

After more than five years living in Lausanne, Tanya and I have moved to Bern! Bern is one hour and six minutes from Lausanne on the train, but is a world away in other ways: it has a different language, it’s in a different canton, and it’s well on the other side of the Röstigraben.

Switching Swiss cantons when you’re not European turns out to be almost more difficult than arriving in the country in the first place. We had to provide a ream of documents to the cantonal authorities, many of which were database extracts that cost money to acquire. We provided notice to everyone we could think of that we were moving, because you can’t just up and leave. Rental law in Switzerland is a double-edged sword: as a renter you have lots of rights and can generally stay as long as you’d like to in a rental property. But to leave you need to provide (in our case) four months notice of leaving on the exact anniversary of when you first moved in. If not, you can leave, but it’s your responsibility to find a replacement renter — or keep paying rent. We found a replacement.

Moving day itself was an experience. You can book car parks in Lausanne specifically so you can put a truck right outside your house when you’re moving, so that’s what we did. But, trouble in paradise: on the morning of the move there was a car parked in the middle of our spot. I did the officially recommended thing and called the cops — this is Switzerland after all and parking in someone else’s spot is not a minor thing. The police said they would get in touch with the car driver, but couldn’t, so eventually three policemen on motorbikes arrived and moved our reserved parking spot five metres down the road (and helped me parallel park a giant truck). We were away.

On moving day, Audrey and Nikola helped us shift furniture and we profited for a coffee in the van.

We put all our stuff in a storage box in Bern for a couple of weeks. The storage box website confidently stated that more than 95% of their customers overestimated the amount of space they would need. We fell into the minority. Our box was tiny, but just fitted everything once we had played tetris with our belongings for a while.

Centimetres to spare!

When we first got to the storage place I backed the truck into a loading bay, and found it was so tight a fit that the door was sure not to close. After taking one load of stuff to the storage box we returned to find that the door had closed automatically, leaving only millimetres of space between the front of the truck and the heavy door. Delirious with moving blear, we laughed like maniacs at our luck that nothing got damaged.

Make that millimetres to spare!
Tanya with our stuff; this was at the end of a long day.

After the moving of belongings came the cleaning of the house; Swiss standards are high and we spent an entire day and into the night cleaning. The house empty and cleaner that we’d ever seen it, we stayed the night at a hotel. I accidentally left my bag in the storage locker in Bern and ended up arriving at the hotel with clothes unceremoniously in a plastic garbage bag; the man at the counter kindly did not comment. Coincidentally, the hotel was the same one we stayed in when we arrived in Lausanne so many years ago, and being there again seemed a neat bracket to our time living in this fabulous city. Five years ago I was wrecked from a 30 hour trip from Australia, and this time I was exhausted after a full weekend of moving house. A lot has happened and many things have changed in between those two hotel visits, but for Tanya and me our European adventure continues as we move north to Bern.


Snowy times

2017/2018 was a bumper ski season in Europe. It snowed lots the whole season. Plus, we had a blast of polar air that sent temperatures down to -10 degrees on the Swiss plain, which was followed by heavy snow – more snow than I have seen in Lausanne while I’ve been living there. Tanya and I did our best to take full advantage of the snowy conditions by going skiing. We went to Saas-Fee a lot, as is now our habit: Saas has become to me one of those special places associated with good times, ranked with the Blue Mountains in Australia for chuffed-feeling and awesomeness with friends, but with lifts and après ski bars instead of sandstone and meat pies. Here are pictures of snowy times in Switzerland this winter.

Our street in Lausanne, filled with snow.
Snowy Lausanne.
Saas-Fee looking amazing.
That’s a lot of snow in Saas-Fee village.
Visp train station.
Visp.
More Visp.
The always-classic view from the top of Saas-Fee.
Saas-Fee glacier views.
4000m peaks, and blue sky, in Saas-Fee.

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