Sunday, May 7, 2017

Swiss Knife Valley

Switzerland is famous for many things: chocolate, cheese, yodelling, mountains. But one of its most international exports is the Swiss Army Knife. We visited the Victorinox Visitors' Centre in the canton of Schwyz (one of the founding cantons of Switzerland) to learn about this quintessentially Swiss product.

On the shores of Lake Lucerne in Brunnen

Part of our visit entailed the assembly of our very own Spartan Swiss Army Knife, one of the best-known models. It was designed by the founder of Victorinox, Karl Elsener in 1897. It has since served as the standard model for the range of officer's knives. We assembled 27 individual parts to complete our Spartans, and then engraved them to make them one-of-a-kind. The blades of our knives say "self-assembled in Brunnen" so they are distinct from a store-bought knife!


Daniel adding the big and small blades onto his knife,
and then hammering and clamping the iconic red cover.

Original blade, engraved knife, and a limited edition Alox knife.





Lucerne

Lucerne is a city in central Switzerland which we visited as part of Daniel's Swiss-themed 33rd birthday. We enjoyed a stroll along the banks of the Reuss River where it meets Lake Lucerne and marvelled at the architecture and the famous bridges spanning the river.

The Jesuit Church built in 1666 with the Alps behind

The most famous bridge is the Chapel Bridge, erected in 1333, which is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, as well as the world's oldest surviving truss bridge. It is 170m long and has a water tower in the middle, which has been used as a prison, torture chamber, and municipal archive throughout the centuries. Today it is a tourist gift shop...


The iconic Chapel Bridge

A restored 17th-century painting depicting the history of Lucerne

Sunset over the bridge

Us on the Chapel Bridge

Another famous wooden bridge is the Spreuer Bridge, the oldest timber bridge in Switzerland, which was completed in 1408. It overlooks the Needle Dam which regulates the water level in Lake Lucerne through an ingenious system of the removal or insertion of needles (wooden pins). The design was developed by Poiree in 1859 and was only renovated in 2007. The main 'needle' is still operated by hand.

We also took a stroll along the Musegg Wall which forms part of Lucerne's historic fortifications. There are nine towers along the wall, four of which are open to the public. We climbed up two of the towers to see some views over the city. The Zyt Tower was particularly interesting as it houses the oldest clock in Lucerne. It is possible to see all of the inner workings of the big Swiss clock, which has the privilege of chiming the hours one minute before all the other clocks in Lucerne.


Spreuer Bridge with three towers of the Musegg Wall in the background

View over Lake Lucerne and the Alps

Another compelling site in Lucerne is The "Dying Lion of Lucerne", one of the world's most famous monuments. It commemorates the heroism in 1792 of the Swiss soldiers who died attempting to protect the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution. Mark Twain described the lion as "the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world". Having seen it, we agree. It is incredibly moving.

The Lion of Lucerne

We loved our trip to Lucerne, especially enjoying the temporary rush of being in a big city with bustling sidewalks and restaurants. We enjoyed a sundowner on the banks of the Reuss to celebrate our trip to the centre of Switzerland.


Restaurants along the river bank

Sunset over the city


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter in Southbroom

We took a two-week spring break to visit our families in South Africa for Easter. I headed to Southbroom where I caught up with my parents and their new border collie puppies, Jinx and Jess. My brother, Debby and their daughter Penelope flew out and I got to meet my darling niece for the first time! She is perfect :)

Jinx the puppy with The View

Penelope's first Easter Egg hunt with Swiss chocolate eggs!

Fun at the MacBanana Adventure Golf

Aunty V and Penelope bonding over books and Duplo

We visited the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve for a day, where we saw zebra, wildebeest, bontebok and impala. Oribi Gorge is a canyon in southern Kwa-Zulu Natal, cut by the Mzimkulwana River. We bravely crossed the suspension bridge on quite a windy day, enjoying the spectacular views over the gorge 400m below us.

The suspension bridge

Beautiful view over the Mzimkulwani River

It was a lovely family trip and a wonderful catch-up with everyone from around the world.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Spring in Switzerland

Spring in Switzerland is beautiful, full of rejuvenation of life and spirit. We love seeing the new growth and flowers appearing around our village and on the trails at this time of year.


Spring flowers near the bus station

Sunrise over our spring garden

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Skiing 2017

We didn't have great snowfall this winter, but I bought my first pair of skis and ski boots and I was determined to hit the slopes in style. I managed to get in some skiing in the Portes du Soleil, first on the annual school ski camp at Champoussin and surrounds. The sun was out everyday, but it meant that the snow melted each day and froze at night which made for icy conditions on the pistes.

The Dents du Midi

My favourite blue slope

The village of Champoussin
Looking over into France

Later in the season I went back to the Portes du Soleil with some friends, this time to Champéry. For the first time ever, I skied across an international border, from Switzerland into France! The only difference was that the prices were in euros :) We also took a chairlift to the top of the "Swiss Wall", the hardest slope in Switzerland, but I chose to descend safely on the chairlift. Maybe next year...

The Swiss Wall

Avoriaz, a major ski resort in France

To finish the season, I went with my friend Scott to a resort closer to home: La Dôle in the Jura. Daniel and I have been hiking here in summer and it's always interesting to see the landscape in its winter colours. I don't recognise it at all! The conditions were a little slushy, but I did some proper off-piste skiing for the first time and it was good to end the season feeling confident on my skis. Unfortunately, on this trip I fell of a chair lift for the first time, did an embarrassing face plant at the top of the slope, and they had to stop the lift to get me out the way. Fortunately the only thing hurt was my pride so we were able to keep skiing!

View into France from the top

View into Switzerland (and then France) from the top

We ended the day with a blue cheese fondue in front of the fire!


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Winter in Aubonne

Each year when the snow arrives, it's cause to celebrate. This year, Daniel woke me up early one Saturday to show me the soft, quiet snow that had fallen over night and transformed our village.

Aubonne winter wonderland

We forged the first fresh tracks in the snow
through the old village gate.

Snow on our regular trail

When there's snow, we have to build a snowman!
Meet Bobby Bonhomme.


Things didn't end so well for him, à la Calvin's house of horror!

Ice on the Aubonne River

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Swiss Christmas

Our village knows how to celebrate Christmas. Each year, the villagers adorn their front doors with an array of beautiful Christmas wreaths. Ours is third row down, third from the left, handmade by me!

Joyeux Noël!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Geneva

We spend most of our leisure time getting outdoors and exploring the mountains, but we have neglected some of the more urban attractions Switzerland has to offer. And so we decided to spend a sunny Monday in Geneva, the so-called "capital of peace" as it is home to the UN and Red Cross.

We were impressed with how very clean the streets of Geneva were. We strolled through the high-end fashion shopping district and saw first hand how Geneva qualified as the third most expensive city in the world!

A clean city centre
A bit further uphill and away from the lake, we arrived in the more historic Old Town. At the heart of the old town is the Place-de-Four, the oldest square in the city. We saw St Peter's Cathedral and then headed down into the grounds of the University of Geneva to see the Reformation Wall. This 100m-long wall was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Calvin's birth and it honours the main individuals, events and documents of the Protestant Reformation. It is built into the old city walls of Geneva. At the centre of the wall are four 5m-tall statues of Calvinism's main proponents: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox.

St Peter's Cathedral

The Reformation Wall

The main Calvinist proponents at the centre of the Wall

After exploring the old and modern parts of the city, we made our way down to Lac Léman to stroll along the promenade where the Rhône leaves the lake. There we saw the Jet d'Eau, one of Geneva's most famous landmarks. Five hundred litres of water per second are jetted to a height of 140m, with the water leaving the pump nozzle at 200km/h! The first Jet d'Eau was installed in 1886 a little further downstream from its present location and the present fountain was installed in 1951.

View from the lakeside promenade

The Jet d'Eau - I can see this from my classroom!


During out visit, the Geneva Lake Festival was taking place and the waterfront was packed with stalls, arcades and mobile restaurants. We stopped off at a wine bar to enjoy a glass of champagne in Switzerland's most international city.

A wine bar at the Lake Festival

Cheers!


Monday, August 8, 2016

Rochers de Naye

The Rochers de Naye is a mountain in the Swiss Alps overlooking Lake Geneva near Montreux. It lies on the watershed separating the Rhone and the Rhine. The summit is accessible via a charming cog railway, the highest railway in the canton of Vaud, but we took the other option: on foot!

The route 

We followed the Via Alpina trail (#1 on the Swiss trail system) up from Montreux, and the round trip covered 29km and 1580m of climbing. The first part of the route, just coming out of Montreux, passes through the Gorges du Chauderon.

The Chauderon Gorge
As the route continued up the mountain, we were treated to beautiful Alpine flowers and spectacular views over the lake. There are several activities at the top of the trail, including a marmot sanctuary, a restaurant, accommodation in Mongolian yurts, further walks along the ridge line, and ski slopes in winter.

A Chemin de Montagne

View over Lake Geneva

A good day to launch a paraglider

The steep ascent near the top

The railway station and marmot sanctuary at the top

Furry marmots!

It was a tough day out, but it's always a pleasure to see a new part of the Alps!