Five years

The 10th February 2020 marked five years since my dad, Michael, died. On that day we gathered as a family to scatter his ashes in Encounter Bay, South Australia — one of his favourite places.

We chartered a small boat and chose a spot just on the seaward side of Wright Island — referred to simply as “the island” in our family. Dad visited Encounter Bay ever since he was a boy, and rowed to this little island countless times in the small but heavy wooden dinghy that his grandfather built, often with us kids huddled on the sandy seat. Once there he would leap out, pull the boat onto the sand, and search the rock pools for cowrie shells while we peeked under rocks to spot fairy penguins. We would climb together around to plum-pudding rock and marvel at the dangerous pool of sucking seawater, white with foam, that roiled next to it. I would always ask Dad to recount the story of when he fell into that pool and miraculously survived. The gulls would shriek over our heads and we would stand on the little beach and look back to the mainland and spot the family house from far away.

This time was different and sad, of course, but the big rock and the gulls were still there and the sun lit up the salt spray as we motored past in a very different boat. We went for a small cruise to Granite Island, then out to Seal Rock — far too far out to sea for our little boat to ever get to, but an easy motor in the larger boat we had chartered. Then we turned and took a course back past the island to find the right spot. There, near his favourite island, we scattered Dad’s ashes into the calm sea. They swirled and sank gently into the deep blue, and before they disappeared from view they caught the light and sparkled like clusters of stars.

January 1, 2021
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The long trip south

The move from Switzerland to Australia approached with an accelerating flurry of administrative tasks, packing, and farewells, and when, suddenly, we were all strapped into airline seats, the idea of a 13 hour plane flight was a welcome excuse to sit still for a while. In the weeks before we left Bern we arranged a metric Gantt-chart-worth of tasks: we gave away as much as we could, informed Kanton Bern of our departure, ended contracts while respecting notice periods, and went through the frustrating process of getting an Australian passport for Felix.

Getting a passport required a trip to Geneva to visit the consulate.

One cold January morning I used a friend’s pressure hose to clean our bikes to Australian-customs standard, and the water froze to the concrete around me. We maxed out our luggage allowance in duffle bags and cases and arranged for the CFF to pick them up and take them to Zurich airport for us in advance. Expecting a van, I was surprised when the luggage pick-up was by a lone bike rider who cheerfully loaded up our six giant bags onto his (not electric!) cargo bike and rode off into the winter night.

Our container being quickly packed.

Moving day arrived, and we threw open our apartment to a group of burly movers who made unbelievably short work of packing our things into the 20-foot container that sat five floors below on the street. Tanya and Felix wandered Bern while I drove multiple car loads of remnants to the recycling depot. Then we watched as the truck drove away with all our things to be put on a ship and sailed to the other side of the world. We were left with an overnight bag each, a stroller and a portacot. I went back for a last look at the apartment and all that was left inside were clumps of dust, a small rock Tanya picked up somewhere, and one baby’s dummy. I put the dummy and the pebble in my pocket and left.

A dusting of snow on a market in Zurich on our last morning in Switzerland.

We took the trip one step at a time. The first night we stayed in Bern so that we could get the apartment cleaned and returned to the real estate agents the next day. That evening we caught a train to Zurich and stayed the night near the airport. Exhausted already, Tanya and I sat on the kitchen floor of the studio we stayed in and drank alcohol-free beer. The morning came and we caught a last train to the airport to collect our bags, get them checked in, and get onto the plane. Felix was a champion traveller, although he declined to spend a lot of time sleeping in his little cot. The trip passed in a blur as these long plane flights do.

Felix had the best deal with a fully lie-flat bed.

We chose for our break in Singapore between flights to be extra long, so we could have a sleep and recharge. We also had the opportunity to take the shuttle train between terminals, that runs through the Jewel Changi Airport and past its enormous and impressive indoor waterfall. Soon it was time to board our flight to Sydney and we were on the home stretch.

Selfie on the plane.

Arriving in Sydney was a very strange, bittersweet experience. The early morning skies were murky as we descended, and when the aeroplane doors were opened warm air tinged with bushfire smoke came into the cabin. Although we didn’t realise it then, our timing was fortunate in the extreme. We arrived after bushfires had ravaged the east coast of Australia, and we left Switzerland just before the coronavirus ravaged Europe. On the morning we landed in Sydney, though, our priority was just to rest and try to process what just happened.

An appropriate first lunch back in Australia.
September 12, 2020

Merci la Suisse

(It felt right to write this one in French. An English version is below).

J’ai beaucoup d’émotions variées maintenant que j’ai quitté la Suisse. Il est même difficile à croire que Tanya, Felix et moi sommes vraiment partis, et j’attends toujours qu’un jour bientôt — peut-être la semaine prochaine ou la semaine d’après — nous allons repartir dans un avion pour y retourner. Mais c’est pas le cas, et on a bien commencé une nouvelle vie en Australie. Il me semble que le monde a beaucoup changé pendant les sept ans que j’ai habité en Suisse, et ça veut dire que même si l’Australie est familière, il est aussi très différent d’être ici de nouveau. Peut-être c’est plutôt moi qui a changé.

Pendant ces années en Suisse j’ai vécu du malheur et de la joie. Mon père est mort et mon fils est né. J’ai solidifié un changement de carrière pour devenir scientifique. En Suisse j’ai appris plus que j’aurais pensé possible, dans la vie professionelle et la vie privée en mésure égale. La chose la plus importante est que (même s’il est façile à dire), c’est hors de la zone de confort où se passe la magie — ce qui est vrai quand on est en thèse, quand on apprend une langue, quand on attaque une pente raide à ski, et quand on fait des grandes aventures. En parlant des aventures je penses automatiquement aux montagnes, et les Alpes me manquent déjà. Mais je suis très heureux d’avoir bien profité de leur proximité à Lausanne et Berne. Les aventures qu’on a eu en Suisse étaient monstre bon, énorme, que du bonheur! Le ski, le velo, la rando, et surtout l’alpinisme sont maintenant des passions à vie. Maintenant, de retour en Australie, le caractère des aventures va sûrement changer — et nous avons Felix, un univers entier en soi, et la plus grande aventure de toutes.

J’ai tellement adoré habiter en Suisse pendant ces sept ans — pour les villes charmantes, les trains et les téléferiques, les cars postaux, le vin de Lavaux, l’efficacité de la vie quotidien, la science, les lacs brillants, les montagnes, les langues variées, et, bien sûr, mes bons amis. J’ai passé beaucoup des moments incroyables avec ces amis, qui m’ont beaucoup appris sur les joies des Alpes (et de la bière). Même si je ne reviens pas la semaine prochaine ou la semaine d’après, j’espère qu’un jour je puisse y retourner pour revoir mes amis, faire des nouvelles aventures, et encore une fois voir les couleurs du lever du soleil éclater sur la neige d’un glacier. Merci infiniment, la Suisse, et à la prochaine.

I have a lot of mixed emotions now that I’ve left Switzerland. Actually, it’s difficult to believe that Tanya, Felix and I have really left for good, and I have the constant feeling that one day soon — maybe next week or maybe the week after — we’ll hop on a plane to go back. But we won’t, because we’ve started a new life here in Australia. The world seems to have changed a lot in the seven years we lived in Switzerland, which means that although Australia is of course very familiar it feels strangely different to be back here. Maybe it’s really me who has changed.

During these Swiss years I lived through both pain and joy. My father died, and my son was born. I finalised a career change to be a scientist. I learned more than I thought possible, in both private and professional spheres. The most important thing, I think, sounds trite: it is that it’s outside your comfort zone where the real magic happens. But it’s true, whether in a PhD, or learning a language, or launching down a steep ski slope, or on any great adventure. When I think of our Swiss adventures I think automatically of the mountains, and I already miss the alps. But I’m so happy to have taken advantage of their proximity to Lausanne and Bern. The adventures we had in Switzerland were just incredible, and skiing, biking, hiking and especially mountaineering have become lifelong passions. Now, back in Australia, our adventures will surely take on a different character. And we have Felix, who is an entire universe in himself, and the greatest adventure of all.

I adored living in Switzerland these last seven years — for the beautiful villages, the trains and cablecars, the postbuses, the wine from Lavaux, the efficiency of life in general, the science, the shining lakes, the mountains, all the languages, and, of course, my amazing friends there. Even if I’m not actually heading back in the next couple of weeks, I hope that one day I’ll be able to return to Switzerland to catch up with my friends, head out for more magic time in the hills, and to once again watch the sunrise colours light up the snow on a glacier. Thanks for everything, Switzerland. See you next time.

Switzerland peaks and cols

On Allalinhorn (4027 m) after climbing it via the Hohlaubgrat route.

One of the greatest things about living in Switzerland was being able to spend so much time in the mountains. Tanya and I spent many, many happy weekends hiking, mountaineering, skiing and biking in the Alps, particularly in beloved Valais but also in the Bernese Oberland, Graubünden, and the mountains of neighboring France. As a way to keep a record of what we got up to I made this list of peaks and cols that we climbed (plus a couple of huts that were significant destinations in themselves). If I blogged about it I’ve linked to the blog entry, and if we took a “summit selfie” that’s the photo I have used.

April 13, 2020

Last months in Switzerland

In a move that still feels unreal, Tanya and Felix and I left Switzerland and moved to Australia in January this year. Tanya and I lived for over seven years in Switzerland and it was a most wonderful experience, but it was time to move closer to family in the southern hemisphere. I plan to write more later about leaving Switzerland, so for now this post is a round-up of what we got up to in our last few months there.

We went a couple of times to Grindelwald to see the mountains of the Bernese Alps.

Wetterhorn (3692 m).

As autumn fell we appreciated anew the autumn colours in the countryside and in Bern.

We went for a last (for now!) trip to the beloved Saas Fee, where Felix saw falling snow for the first time.

Felix and Tanya in Saas Fee.
The view from the top.
Allalinhorn (4027 m).

We went to Lausanne to catch up with friends and see Lac Léman. It was cold and the sky was etched by jet trails.

And we went to Valais for Tanya’s birthday weekend, to one of our favourite valleys, Val d’Hérens. There we saw the Dent Blanche riding high above cloud, went up to Arolla to see the Aiguille de la Tsa and the Pigne d’Arolla, and wandered the cold valley for a couple of days. It was with considerable sadness that we left the valley and watched as the tall mountains slid so quickly out of view.

Dent Blanche (4357 m).
Wrapped up warm in the snow.
Valais – “gravé dans mon cœur”, as they say.
Felix and Tanya in Les Hauderes, Val d’Hérens.

We also caught up with lots of amazing friends, packed all our stuff, and sent it to Australia. And on a sunny winter day we left our little apartment in Bern and set off for a very long journey to be closer to home.

The view from our balcony in Bern — Mittelhorn, Schreckhorn, Finsteraarhorn, Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau.
April 11, 2020
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Tanya and I are beyond thrilled to welcome our beautiful son Felix Michael Raupach to the world!

Brand new.

Felix was born on his due date, in September, at the beginning of the Swiss autumn. It looked for a few days like he might arrive a little late, but in the event labour kicked off in the middle of the night and he was born safely in the early afternoon, right on time. Tanya was incredibly strong and brave.

This was the fairytale view from the maternity ward. We were extremely well looked after and supported.
At home.
Out walking in Bern.

I don’t believe in miracles in the ordinary sense of the word, but I do believe in miraculous things. And Felix is miraculous — he is perfect! He has bright eyes and a smile that lights up the room, he has determination and an amusing sense of timing, he’s very patient with us and he surprises us with something new every day.

Early days and two months later.

Since he was born, the leaves have turned and fallen and our lives have changed entirely, and all for the better. Our days are filled with making sure Felix is happy, and he makes us happiest of all. We’re delighted with him, and we love him very much.

November 24, 2019
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Chamonix and Val Ferret

At the start of August, Tanya and I took our summer holiday, and we spent a few days in Chamonix. Chamonix is a special place and still holds a mythical status in my mind. We caught the cablecar up to Planpraz and walked up to the Col du Lac Cornu.

Mont Blanc and Planpraz.
Tanya the unstoppable!
Lac Cornu.
Mythical summits: l’Aiguille Verte and Grand Dru.
Moody Mont Blanc massif.
Tanya and Mont Blanc.
A peek of the Mer de Glace.
Chemin lacet.
What a trooper.
The weather got a bit moody as we got back to Planpraz.
The cable car to Le Brévent.

We also took the little train to Montenvers to see the Mer de Glace. It was depressing because the glacier has melted terribly.

The Mer de Glace.
The view up from Chamonix at sunset.

On the way home we stopped into a favourite haunt in Valais – Val Ferret, just on the Swiss side of the Mont Blanc massif. Val Ferret has been the backdrop to many happy days in the mountains, whether it be walking in summer, autumn, or (early) winter, ski touring in the valley or to its edge to peer in, or on two avalanche safety courses. It was excellent just to spend an afternoon there soaking in the atmosphere of the big hills.

September 1, 2019

Summer recap, 2019

So what happened in the summer of 2019? Well, Alex and Steph came to visit and we went on a hike from Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen, and there were flowers:


Tanya’s parents Cathy and Greg came to stay, and we drove across various mountain passes:

Tanya in Italy.
Simplon pass.
Simplon pass.
Between Simplon and Brig.
The source of the Rhône.
The building you can see in the previous picture.
Cloud rolling over the Grimsel pass.
In the cloud at the Grimsel pass.

We also spent a great couple of days in Kandersteg:

Mountains at the end of Oeschinensee.
Above Kandersteg.
Tanya among the rhododendrons.
Looking up in the direction of Schwarenbach and Gemmipass.
Ski jumps in summer.

There were impressive thunderstorms in Thun and in Bern:

Rainbow in Thun.
Mammatus clouds in Bern.

And we did some great hanging out in Bern!

September 1, 2019

Atlantic flight

Although I am conscious of the environmental damage of flying, so I try to reduce how often I do it, I still adore the window seat in a plane. This summer I went to a conference in Los Angeles, and on the flights there and back I was lucky to get the most incredible views, mostly of vast and wild and frozen northern landscapes. Here are some pictures from the window. (The emissions from these flights were offset through myclimate).

The east coast of Greenland – 63°12’37.9″N 42°10’19.1″W.
The frozen north of Canada.
Sea ice on Hudson Bay.
Lake country in northern Canada.
Los Angeles – 33°57’32.6″N 118°16’51.1″W.
Plane storage at Victorville – 34°36’45.1″N 117°22’45.1″W.
Flaherty Island in Hudson Bay – 56°08’59.5″N 79°23’55.6″W.
Sunset over the north of Canada.
August 28, 2019
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Croatia II: Dubrovnik

If you can get around the heaving throngs of Game of Thrones fans, Dubrovnik is a really lovely place to visit. The highlight for me was walking around the town on top of the walls that fortify it, which you can do in an unbroken loop. From the walls you can see over the town and the ocean, spot cats lounging in little streets, and watch the ships coming and going from the harbor. Here are some photos from Dubrovnik.

August 27, 2019

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