Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rees family trip to Europe - part 1: Switzerland

A couple of weeks ago I started blogging about our October/November trip to Europe. I skipped this bit so now I will go back and cover Part 1.

We set off from Hobart at 1pm on Monday 3 October, carrying 2kg of Cadbury chocolate to Switzerland, for my Aussie brother-in-law Chonk. Chocolate to Switzerland. We were flying via Abu Dhabi – perhaps we should have brought those guys some sand as well? The chocolate was much appreciated though. We had two big backpacks borrowed from Imp and Ed, and a daypack each. Travelling reasonably light.

A security man at Hobart airport remarked on my Bones McGhie shirt, but called him Stewie, (maybe thinking of this guy)? We flew with Etihad, so our stopover was Abu Dhabi. It was a 14-hour flight by A-380 from Melbourne. The boys watched screens the whole way. I turned everything off and tried to sleep but to little avail, so I was a bug-eyed zombie in Abu Dhabi. I bought a Snickers and a nashi pear with A$10 and got 14 dirhams as change.

We had three hours there which mostly consisted of walking down corridors and watching people on TV talk in Arabic about suddenly-ex-England-manager Sam Allardyce. I got lost trying to get out of the bathroom and walked into a prayer room. Each toilet cubicle had its own little hose.

We had a practically empty 787 Dreamliner from Abu Dhabi to Zürich, so we all had room for a bit of a snooze. We landed about 6.30am on 4 October and were met by Elf's little brother Edwin, known by wife and friends as Eddie but among his wider family as Chonk. The airport was quite empty; we were all quite freaked out to see a policewoman with a black submachine gun.

Typical house in Oberwintherthur
The drive to Winterthur took about half an hour, and was the first look at Europe for the boys and I. The first thing I noticed was how houses and other buildings are piled up on a squarish footprint, without wings or extensions or setbacks, which is probably a more efficient shape to keep warm. (Many things in Swizterland are based on keeping warm).

Irma, Eric (7) and Bea (9) were very excited to see us and the next few hours were a big catch up. The weather was crisp but fine so I went down to the local soccer field and tested out Eric in goals. He is a very good goalkeeper. His mate Steve came out of the nearby flats to join in; Steve is Ugandan. There are a lot of refugees here, but I think that's pretty normal now in Central Europe. The kids are put in a special class at a normal school to accelerate their German, then integrated when they are ready.

St Arbogast's
Enlargement of the church over time.
The next day Irma took us for a walk up the hill nearby to the very old church of St Arbogast, where she and Chonk were married. It dates back to about 900AD, but was built over older Roman foundations which are still visible in the gardens. It has beautiful and unusual murals from the 1300s. They were very happy to find a house so close to it. They assured us that you eventually get used to the bells ringing on the hour through the night.

This area is Upper or Oberwinterthur, called Oberi for short. It's quite affluent, and very tidy. There is one untidy house and Irma told us it belongs to a quite wealthy man who owns a lot of property, but he just likes to keep this one very old house this way for some reason. It has original Swiss double glazing, with a couple of inches between the two panes.

The only shabby house in Winterthur
Graves in the yard at the church were well tended and often had little gardens.
People often move into apartments near to their loved one's graves.
The Oskar Kokoschka style type on this stone is the best.
Part of the mural that goes back to the 1300s. Its being restored now.
Looking back at my journal, we had a very busy time for our first full day in Switzerland. The kids had a half day at school, so when they got home we all took them to meet Chonk at Cosimo's Pizza. (I had a Falken lager from nearby Schaffhausen which reminded me of Boags White).

After lunch Chonk went back to work and Irma drove the rest of us to The Rheinfall; an amazing place where the big and powerful Rhine River comes crashing down a series of steps. We parked and entered through the grounds of a castle built on the edge of the cascade, then down a steep path to a cave where we could stand right by the torrent.

Both sides of the river here are Switzerland but the border is quite twisty - we briefly drove through Germany on our way here.

Elf gets up close. I think I took this from the mouth of the cave.
Cousins colonise a cow
We came back up to the entry level in a glass elevator. Until recently this was a private experience for the owner of the castle and their guests. It was a sensory thrill, so much more than I was expecting. On the way out we bought some roasted chestnuts from a vendor - this was my first attempt at speaking German and it was very halting. But we got the gear, in a special paper bag with a spare pocket for the shells. They were doughy.

Next we piled back into the car and Irma drove us on to Stein am Rhein, which sounded interesting; an old town of painted houses. Again it was so much more than we expected. Very old buildings with incredibly intricate paintings all over them, amazing type, really bizarre imagery and all in remarkably good condition.

The Sun Guesthouse

Through the gate into the old town of Stein am Rhein

Looking back at the gate. 

The town hall..

.. and the church beyond. There is another gate on the right here where traffic
comes into town, on a bridge over the Rhine from the 'real world'
Looking back towards where we came in. There is a castle on the hill in the distance.
We loved it so much that we resolved on the spot to go back again. On the drive home through the autumn countryside we saw a lot of corn, a lot of tractors, grape pickers, green grass being cut for hay, and fields of sugarbeet. We slowed down to pass some cows and heard their big clanky cowbells.

The next day we had planned to go into Zürich. We had an early flight out to Inverness in the morning so we postponed Zürich and had an easier day exploring downtown Winterthur. It is an industrial city that has a very separate identity but it is increasingly a dormitory for Zürich. Elf and I and the boys walked from Chonk and Irma's to the old town centre, which took about an hour. We were semi-lost most of that time but it all worked out. There are a lot of half-timbered buildings, and again everything is astonishingly neat.

We went into a cafe and I again tried my German to order coffee. I was terrible. So I asked if the young lady spoke English and she did - we found that just about everyone did. And just about everyone apologised for their English which was always excellent.

We went into the Stadt Kirche (City Church) for a look. Its bigger and fancier but not as old as St Arbogath's. 
An interactive bible

I pinched this pic of the City Church from Wikipedia because its a lot nicer than ours.

This is Eric. He is a mercurial engineer in the making. Handy with tools,
quite a goalkeeper and smart as a whip. He has particularly cottoned on to Marcus.
His older sister Bea latched onto Michael. They are both interested in languages and maps
and spent a lot of time together creating their own lands and alphabets.
Bea was very helpful in teaching me German.
 So the next day we were off to Scotland; this was our first of three stints in Switzerland.

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