Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Some of the many lovely things about Switzerland

1) The flowers! The Swiss are very good at their window boxes and other containers with flowers. If I have a tiny criticism, it's that they seem to think that scarlet and pink go together, which I don't. However, there was such general floriferous whoofing that it hardly mattered. This is Murten. Hint for future wealth: take out shares in Swiss geranium farms.

2) The roofs. I do like red roofs in beautifully random shapes. (Daughter 2 points out my inconsistency in that I'm not very keen on red bricks. Which is true. But I might, if they were in such lovely cluttered patterns. And it's a mellow red.) This is also Murten.

3) The turquoise water. It's really that colour. Something to do with minerals dissolved in them. My brother will no doubt give me the scientific explanation but it's very pretty, whatever the reason. This is Bern. We in Edinburgh tend to pride ourselves on our beautiful town centre but I have to admit that Bern's is - well - pinker and bluer and greener. We tend to go for grey, stern and lowering. (Lowering as in threatening, overcast, rather than bringing down.)

4) Mountains. We too have mountains, but not quite so everywhere and not with pretty pink and white towns so close by. Our mountains are magnificent but you wouldn't go there to increase your social life. We go more for isolated derelict cottages and occasional villages with grey roofs. And sheep.

5) Cute little churches - mainly at the highest points of already quite high villages. As one of our party remarked, you'd need to be really keen to pant up the hill to these churches.

6) Smooth hillsides. These fascinated me. Though the chalets on the hillsides usually didn't have fenced-off gardens, it looked from the trains as if the grass in between them was smoothly mown. Which didn't seem very likely: rather hard work. The landscape looked like a painting, with the flat grass, the shadowed trees and the musical-box houses. As we travelled around, however, we often saw people cutting the grass (which wasn't actually quite as short as it looked from a distance) and then raking it up, presumably to use as animal feed. Is this right? Does anyone know?

7) Red. They are very fond of red, on their flags, tourist souvenirs and yes, more flowers. These are begonias. Our growing season isn't long enough to achieve this effect.

8) More mountains. This is the early morning view from our balcony in Thun. Rather impressive.

9) The lots and lots of views, such as this one from a rack railway up to the...

... Reichenbach Falls, where Sherlock Holmes fell to his death (or didn't). They were a bit unimpressive, actually. Mr L thinks that they've been somewhat diverted for the sake of hydroelectricity. Niagara they're not.

Look what Daughter 2 did while we were away. It's the first time she's had short hair since - well, since she was 1.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Another pretty picture

This is Basel. We were standing on the bridge over the Rhine, generally admiring the scene and particularly admiring the tiles on the church roof, when we noticed some people swimming. 

Can you see them? Little heads bobbing about in this fast-flowing river which has big ships forging their way up it? This - presumably - very cold river?

We were surprised.

The Swiss are amazing linguists, which is just as well because if you've ever heard Swiss German, you'll know that it doesn't sound anything like the German one learnt at school. And then in some places the language is French (fairly normal-sounding French) or, occasionally, Rumantsch. So I'm in awe of the ability of everyone - from the ticket collectors to the chaps selling you a sandwich - to speak good English.

Well, almost everyone. Maybe not the person who wrote this for one of our hotels:

Welcome at the hotel Holiday. You are our guest! About you is going everything. The whole year. See the region of the Lake Thun in all its beauty, enrich cultural or just enjoy. Because we know, the most beautiful moments results not by random.

It is possible for the washing and ironing of the guest laundry.

Little sew we finish off patching's within 24 hours - price after expense.

I'm not really criticising this person because his/her English is about as good as my German. (I may be flattering myself.) But if I were going to write a notice in German and put it in every hotel room, I think I might just get someone to check it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Stunning view number one

Well, you know what it's like. You spend a fortnight sitting on trains, looking idly at beautiful bits of Switzerland (well, actually it's almost all beautiful) and then you get home and you have so many million things to do that you don't have time to blog.

But anyway: we were on 49 trains and a bus. Some of our party were really quite train-geeky. "Oh look!" would go the cry. "This is 39.8 coupling! And it's joining a Federal wagon to a Confederate!" (Or words to that effect.)

And people would crowd round, exclaiming, "I've only ever seen that on the Geneva line!" and write things down in their little notebooks.

Meanwhile I'd be examining the window boxes and wondering how they get their geraniums to bloom so prolifically.

Must get on.

(We didn't fall off a cliff, by the way.)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Still not quite gone...

We're nearly organised. The house is clean and tidy, the beds are made up for the visitors, the instructions are completed, there are various informative yellow sticky notes attached to various things and we're more or less packed. You have to take a lot of socks for 18 days away. The fridge is fairly empty; there's room in the freezer for the catsitters' food; the last of the washing is done; and I think all the bins and wastepaper baskets are empty. 

I've thrown away all the flowers even though there were a few days' life in them yet - apart from this orchid sprig, which I broke from a plant by mistake a few weeks ago while trying to attach it to a stake. It's lasted amazingly well and still looks fresh, so I hadn't the heart to bin it. 

Son-in-Law 1 brought the little ones round for a final play and cuddle and meal, which was lovely. Can't believe I'm not going to see them again till the 24th. What was I thinking

Luckily the other grandparents are coming to stay with them tomorrow and Nanny is staying for a whole week, which will be lovely for all concerned. Have fun, Nanny and Gramps!

By the time we return, Scotland will have had a referendum for independence from the UK. The idea of living in an independent Scotland has a romantic appeal and it would be nice to feel more at the centre of things than we do - living up here, a long way from the south and its London-centric views. But the horrible news of the suffering caused by nationalism and sectarianism makes separation seem (to me) not a good idea at all. So friends are going to proxy-vote for us, against independence. The polls suggest that it's going to be quite close so presumably there will be a lot of unhappy people, whatever the result. The heart sinks somewhat even for Scotland, let alone the other places in the world which are torn apart by such enmity. 

Well, I'm off to finish packing. Thank you for all your good wishes, bloggy friends. I hope that railway line keeps steady as we cross it. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Going, going...

This year we've been away an unusual number of times: visiting Daughter 2 in London, meeting up with the extended family in the Lake District, visiting my aunt in Norfolk, house-swapping in York and now we're about to go to, and round, Switzerland on a train.

This is all very nice and fortunate but it's a bit exhausting - having five times to leave the house all pristine for the catsitters, with updated instructions about the idiosyncrasies of the house and the cat, and to pack at the same time. But nowadays I also have to leave my babies behind! The other holidays have all been short ones but this time we'll be away for two and a half weeks. I'm going to see them tomorrow; on Thursday we'll have to clean and pack; on Friday we're off to Daughter 2's for the weekend; and then we're off on our train journey on Monday. We return to London two weeks on Monday and then get back here on the Tuesday so that's nearly three weeks without the little ones. How will I survive?

I have a list of things to do tomorrow and Thursday:

Phone Grace about Zumba.
See grandchildren.
Lay out clean bedding so that the catsitters can change their bedding mid-holiday.
Take stuff to charity shop.
Update instructions.
Organise cards for various family events.
Plant plants I bought at Breezy Knees.
Clean house.

Actually, that's not as bad as I thought it would be.

I've already crossed off:

Cut grass (actually Mr L did that).
Buy pants and socks (I didn't have enough to last out).
Buy jacket that actually keeps out the rain (at least, let's hope it does).
Do ironing.
Go to Morag's.

Then of course there's the extra thing that I remembered earlier today while having coffee with friends and told myself to add to the list when I got home.

If only I could remember what it was... .

We will be going along a railway line which did this on August 13. The travel company says it got mended within three days. I'm not convinced that three days was enough to mend it sufficiently. So if this is the last blog post, you'll  know why... .

Saturday, August 30, 2014


The other week Daughter 2, Son, Daughter-in-Law, the grandchildren and I went to the Botanics. It was sunny but had been raining earlier. We were on our way to the gate to go home when we came across this soggy piece of grass and Grandson began to run about on it, fascinated by the way that he could make splashes fly up.

He kept on running to and fro,

 and back again
 and back again

and back again, really concentrating on his feet and the way the water, though hardly visible before he got there, splashed up when he ran on the grass.

He was so busy, really interested in this strange phenomenon.

He got remarkably wet, well up his thighs, but didn't notice.

When he started getting wet arms too, we decided that it was time to go.

He did have a lovely time.

Yesterday and today I've had a very similar experience - splashing my feet while stamping - but on a friend's carpet. It was less fun. She's in France and phoned us just as I was about to make the evening meal yesterday to say that the chap that comes in to feed her cats while she's away had discovered water dripping copiously from the flat above hers. We rushed round. We and another friend frantically mopped water while the chap upstairs turned his water off at the mains but it was a losing battle since there was clearly a lot of water in the ceiling space which kept on dripping into the many buckets and other receptacles that we put on the carpet. The carpet was absolutely sodden before we got there, as was the lovely parquet flooring and, worse, it had started to leak through to the room below - our friend's flat is on two floors. We took out all of the furniture and moveables that we could and discussed the possibility of moving the carpet, but it's a big room and a big rug and it was exceedingly heavy - too heavy.

Meanwhile the chap upstairs phoned his insurance company and the other friend phoned the home owner's insurance company and they both got precisely nowhere. If you have an emergency, needing strong men to heave a heavy sodden carpet out into the street and install a dehumidifier on a Friday after 5pm, you can forget it, it seems.

We gave up and, having done all we could, came home again at 9pm laden with dripping towels and bedspreads to wash (poor old Mr L was seriously needing his dinner by then) and then returned this morning. The water had stopped dripping but of course nothing had dried much. Then the chap upstairs got his plumber to come and he discovered a corroded pipe, which he fixed, but this involved more water leaking down for a while.

Our friend's daughter arrived at 1pm - she had been in France too but was coming home today anyway. The insurance company had agreed to send chaps down once she was there and could assure them that this was necessary. She had to be quite forceful but they did send men, who took away the dripping carpet and installed a dehumidifier, but we had to mop up puddles on the soaking parquet and I took away a new load of sodden towels (the same ones that I'd washed and dried the previous evening).

Water. Great in the right place. Horrible in the wrong one.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth

Though York is a lovely town to wander around, there are also some wonderful gardens not too far away. A few years ago we went to Breezy Knees, a plant nursery with acres of beautiful - mainly herbaceous - planting round about it. We went back there this time. I did think that most of the best blooms would be over at this time of year but actually there was still lots of colour, such as this wonderful splash of sedum and phlox above.

Herbaceous perennials (which die down every year and then come again the next) are my favourites and though much of my own garden is planted up with these, they're always better in a big space (which I do not have). All gardening books tell you to plant herbaceous plants in drifts - usually of five plants - but alas, this requires huge beds and large vistas.

Look at this: a whole area planted up almost entirely of penstemons of different shades of pink, red and purple with - entirely counter-intuitively (or at least counter my intuition) - some yellow or orange montbretias. I don't like orange and never have orange flowers in my garden - it's the only colour I ban - and wouldn't normally think that yellow would go with pink. But somehow this all looked stunning. It's a bit like patchwork, I'm beginning to see: you don't have to like all the bits of material individually to enjoy the way they combine into a whole.

And I deeply coveted these dahlias. My one dahlia got entirely consumed by slugs or snails this year. I wonder if the gardeners here take stern measures against the slimy pests, or is it just that there are so many flowers that the beasts can't keep up?

Another day we went to Harlow Carr, the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Harrogate. The actual site here is more dramatic than that of Breezy Knees, which is more or less flat. Harlow Carr sweeps down from the road into a valley and then up again into woodland. This time it was more obvious that some of the more spectacular plants had flowered earlier in the season but it was still wonderful.

I loved the colour of these cone flowers, which I've twice tried to grow and never managed to persuade to come back after the winter. I must try again.

Lovely sweeps of planting.

And here's what seems to be this year's very pretty fashion, the wildflower meadow. I hope the wildlife likes it, apart, of course, from the slugs and snails.

Oh, how I love gardens. Soothing, healing, cheering. Lots of hard work, of course but in these cases it was all done by someone else.