Friday, 29 July 2011

There Is Only Light

So as you might have guessed from the pictures this week, we were in Paris and we actually went with my parents. Mom had really wanted to see Paris, and Dan and I shrugged our shoulders and decided to tag along with Mom and Dad even though we'd been there on our honeymoon in 2009.

Was it too soon to return? Well, I'm fairly certain that no one is going to be lying on their deathbed gasping that they've been to Paris too much. At least no one I want to know. So yes, we visited that great city again and it wasn't too soon.

Turning a corner and unexpectedly looking up to see the sky being dominated by that infamous iron giant doesn't get old. Initially when you see it, it's almost a burden upon your senses, how loudly the steel twists before you, refusing to let you look anywhere else. But the more I stare, the easier it becomes for me to accept Monsieur Eiffel's creation as something quite delicate; a tower of caramelized sugar that's been spun. Sitting within the folds of its expansive arms, on a bench at dusk, feels like being at the center of a heartbeat.

It's completely unique.

Well, unless of course you are maybe one of the dozen or more travellers I overheard commenting: "It just looks like the one in Las Vegas, except this one's bigger."

But I don't have a lot of stories about Paris. The city just has its own voice that is louder than mine. Which is not to say stories aren't to be had, but it's really more fragments of a conversation.

It was in Versailles that I tripped on a cobblestone, and as I felt myself falling face first to the ground, I couldn't decide if I was going to protect my teeth or my camera. I opted for my teeth and my lens cracked. I spent twenty minutes in agonizing despair, until I realized that when I had bought that lens, the sales girl convinced me to shell out even more money to buy a protective filter.

Fifteen minutes later I was flagging down some men who were face-lifting Versailles' facade, and we were all rummaging through their tool box, English and French respectively flying, looking for something that would allow me to pop the damaged filter from the lens. It popped. We all laughed. The lens was fine. A story to be told. Hand shakes and hugs to these two men who have no idea the great favour they did for me.

Likewise, a rat in the metro scampering ahead of me. Running to catch its sewer drain. Gross, but also funny.

The flu my dad came down with that was so bad, he spent 98% of our time in Paris, confined to his bed at the hotel.

The smell of hot urine, wafting up from the underground.

Loud nights at cafes.

Escargot.

A steak. Cooked to perfection. It's juices running all over my plate as I, like a carnivore, soaked my baguette in those flavourful drippings to greedily devour every last morsel.

Wine.

Accordion music.

Cathedrals, but mostly their gardens.

Trinket sellers and peddlers of roses.

Sunsets on the Seine.

Boat dwellers.

Glass pyramids.

Napoleon.

Salted caramels.

More red wine.

A bridge of locked hearts. The keys tossed away.

Shakespeare & Company.

Pistachio ice cream.

Early mornings at cafes.

Espresso; chocolate croissants; eggs.

Vendors who bustle and banter in the early morning light, drawing up awnings and opening their neighbourhoods.

Flower markets; vegetable markets; fruit stands; cheese stands; sometimes the smell of the ocean rolling in with the fish merchants; always the smell of bakery air.

And at the centre of it all, muffling your stories, is the beat of the city.

You are here. You are here. You are here.

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There is only light.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

All The World's A Stage

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They Danced Until We Were Watching

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They Performed Until We Were Laughing

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They finished to the sound of thunderous clapping.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Thursday, 21 July 2011

There Are Worse Literary Characters To Be Compared To? Right?

This past Christmas I was feeling quite Holly Homemaker (as that time of year is prone to do to me), so I tied on my (huge) red apron and set to work baking gingersnaps.

For me, the perfect Christmas cookie is the gingersnap and I like to make a healthy batch or two (or five) anywhere between November 1st and December 24th. This past year after making my third batch of cookies, it really was too much for Dan and I to eat them ourselves, so I felt the festive glow of goodwill towards man, and the next frosty morning I packaged some of the cookies and sent them with Dan to work where he could share them with his co-workers.

When Dan got home that night I eagerly pounced, asking if his Swiss colleagues had enjoyed my Canadian cookie. They....HADN'T.

Internet, I may be a lot of things (bad at math, confused about the decline of the Backstreet Boys, unable to properly say the word 'statistic') but deficient in the kitchen? Well, in the timeless words of Kevin McCallister, I don't think so. And I'm not afraid to admit it! My gingersnaps are not only good, but hot damn they're great!

I couldn't believe people hadn't liked them. I mean after all, it 'tis the season to be jolly so JUST SHUT-UP AND LIKE THE COOKIES OR YOU'RE DEAD TO ME.

Perhaps a bit of an extreme reaction.

I formulated that maybe the reason they didn't like the cookie is because it contained molasses, and as any North American expat living in Switzerland will tell you, it's hard to find decent molasses here. And don't even tell me to go to the Migros, because that isn't molasses. I don't care what the jar says. No, no, I am talking the good stuff; that black, thick, liquorice gold that adds a warm heat to any baked treat is hard to find. I had to hunt high and low and when I did find the exact molasses I needed, the lady selling it to me argued that what I was buying should not be used in baking. That I should only eat it on bread! That there's too many minerals in it for baking! You crazy Canadian, don't you know ANYTHING?! You're making my head explode!

(Okay, she didn't call me a crazy Canadian, but my intentions to use the molasses in baking were making her head explode. She was honestly beside herself trying to explain what a mistake I was about to make.)

Anyhow, the molasses were exactly like what I would have bought in Canada, and they went in the cookies. So perhaps these Swiss aren't used to real molasses in baking and that's the reason they didn't like the cookies? Maybe? Do you think? That's definitely the reason, right?! Well no matter the reason for their dislike of the cookies, I may or may not have been carrying this rejection around with me for the past seven months and I may or may not have resolved that they will never again taste another delicacy from my kitchen.
Cut to this past Monday, and Dan and I have met up for lunch. Somehow the topic of those cookies came up and I got a bit...p'd off. Reacting in such a manner that would suggest only seven minutes had elapsed since the initial rejection, and not seven months. But then do you know what Dan called me?

He called me a little Voldemort because I couldn't let it go!

Can you believe it?!

I did the only reasonable thing possible: I laughed. Laughed so hard I started crying. Because seriously, I am a little Voldemort sometimes and the comparison was so unexpected. And true.

Then I did the next reasonable thing possible: I went home that night and baked my lemon blueberry streusel muffins for Dan to take to work with him the next day. Sort of a peace offering to end a cold war his co-workers didn't even know they were participating in.


I prepared these with tender loving care, only cursing occasionally they they better bleepin' enjoy these muffins because whenever this big of a mess is made, the end results are always delicious.

Oh yeah, I'm sort of the messiest cook around.
But in my defense, my Aunt Marge always told me that the best cooks are the messiest cooks.
And also, to only marry someone who will clean up after you.
Aunt Marge was a sage woman.

So did they like these muffins? Well according to Dan they loved 'em. I can't decide if he told me this to preserve my teetering mental sanity, or if they actually did.

But what am I saying?

Of course they would have liked these! What is not to like about them? They're lemon blueberry muffins that have a cinnamon streusel topping. So for now I have decided not cast the Avis spell on them, sending forth a flock of crazy brown birds.

(What? Did you think I'd use a worse spell? Please. I'm not such a crazy Voldemort as to threaten the Avada Kedavra curse on people who don't like my muffins. I save that one for people who don't like my roast chicken and gravy.)

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

We're Swimming In The Rain. What A Glorious Feeling, Just Swimming In the Rain.

This post is out of context.

It's not a sequential retelling of Mom and Dad's time here. In fact, this post contains the details of their last Saturday in CH, before they left on Monday. But I just didn't feel that it was right for you to go another day without seeing my very favourite picture that I took of Mom and Dad while they were here.

And I can't just show you the picture.

I have to put it in context.

Even if that means the details of our adventures together are out of context.

Comprende?

So on the last weekend that my parent's were here in Switzerland we realized that they had taken every single mode of transport that Switzerland has to offer, except the boat. And since Mom and Dad were smart travellers and bought the Swiss travel pass for their time here, there was no reason they shouldn't have taken a boat ride yet because with their pass IT'S FREE.

Our Saturday dawned sunny and beautiful, so The Man With The Plan Dan (he seriously plans the best trips), decided we'd all take a boat ride around Thun lake, and then we'd hop off the ship at Merligen and go for a swim in their outdoor pool. Merligen holds a special place in Dan's nostalgic heart, because as a kid he and his brother spent about 80% of their summer days in that pool, splashing around with friends. He was excited to show us this little pool perched on the edge of the lake, and it was decided we'd all go for a swim.

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This was our ride.
It's over a 100 years old.

We headed down to Thun were we hopped off the train, crossed the road, and boarded the ship.

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We snagged some killer seats at the front, and kicked back for our three hour tour.

(Okay fine, it was more like an hour tour. I won't mix anymore Gilligan's Island comparisons into this post. That would be out of context.)

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The lake views were stunning...

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..times two.

We criss-crossed the lake for just over an hour, enjoying coffees and carbonated apple juice, before reaching Merligen.

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Everyone ready to jump in and have the best time of your life!
Yay!

Okay, that was only the kiddy pool. Here's were we actually swam.

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Super kick-ass, times a million!

But as you can see, the sun was fast disappearing at this point. As Dad was just on the mend from a bad flu that he'd come down with earlier in the week, he and Mom decided that they'd just relax under the trees while Dan and I got our crazy on and jumped into the cold waters.

I jumped in.

Then got out again.

Immediately.

And never went back.

It was cold, okay. I'm just a delicate flower.

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Dan loved it though...

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...times two.

The best thing about this pool is that you can jump straight into the lake.

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Like a bridge over frigid waters...

Dan hopped into the lake a few times, and kept telling me it was so awesome and I definitely had to go in too because it was the most awesome thing ever. And also, it was awesome.

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I chose to simply take his word for it.
I only jump into lakes when the sun shines.
And even then it needs to feel like it's beating down on me through that hole in the ozone.

Dan paddled about for awhile while Mom, Dad, and I hung out under the trees just relaxing and avoiding the rain. Because yes, it had started to rain. And yes, Dan was still swimming.

But then it began to thunder, and everyone had to get out of the pool and lake.
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It's raining...raindrops...

And as we were waiting for Dan to get changed that's when I took my favourite picture of Mom and Dad, ever.

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Mom and Dad

- The End -

P.S. Do you like sour Skittles? Or is that question out of context?

Monday, 18 July 2011

A Dingo Ate My Baby! (Except, It Was a Bird And It Ate My Lunch)

On Friday I had lunch with Melisssa the Awesome (that's your new name, Melissa) and her awesome husband Ed. We ate at the Tram Depot (a brewery restaurant here in Bern) and specifically we sat out on the patio so we could overlook the river.

Even though I ordered garlic and chili fettuccine, I instead received a roasted vegetable spaetzle covered in baked cheese. Yeah, I totally didn't correct them when they placed the wrong order in front of me because 'holy beneficial mistake Batman', that lunch was way better than the one I actually ordered.

And you know who else loved it?

The birds.

As I was spearing a little spaetzle dumpling, one bold little brown bird dared to go where no bird had gone before: onto the edge of my dinner plate.

When it first came to roost on my plate, I believe I started to utter the phrase 'What a daring little bird!" Except, the only word I got out was, "Wha--" before that brown bird had snatched a spaetzle dumpling and took off with arrow-like speed and precision.

Melissa, Ed, and I stared at each other across the table before cracking up laughing and continuing on with our meal (while I cautiously prodded mine looking for lost feathers and/or creepy crawlies). But we didn't get too much farther, because that bird came back and it brought its friends.

There was a planter box beside our table, and one bird hopped onto that box and strutted up and down eyeing our table and plotting his diabolical move to steal our lunch. And have you ever really watched a bird that's watching you? It's unnerving. They don't just stare at you, beak to nose. They twist their head 180 degrees, left and right, to alternate staring out at you with their left eye then right eye.

Left eye.

Evil stare.

Head twist.

Right eye.

Evil stare.

Head twist.

I thought it couldn't get any worse than that, but then it did. Then that bird rose up into the air, flew at my head and just beat the air around my face like he was trying to intimidate me into throwing my whole lunch at him. Except this little bird didn't count on one thing: I was hungry and I don't let anyone touch any food of mine that's covered in baked cheese! So my retort was to let out a little yelp, then move my plate away whilst throwing my body over top of it to protect it from this thief.

Melissa shooed the bird away, but that little winged demon flew back to his planter box where he angrily puffed out his chest, opened his beak as far it could go, and made a big display of showboating. LIKE HE DIDN'T REALIZE HE WAS ONLY A LITTLE BIRD, AND WE WERE HUMANS WITH SHARP AND POINTY CUTLERY. We let him continue to puff out his chest, stretch open his beak, and showboat since anyone with that big of a Napoleon complex just needs to be ignored.

Except that bird wouldn't be ignored, and he flew at my head about three more times. I felt the beat of his wing against my cheek at one point! The beat of his wing! Each time I let out a little yelp, tried to keep my food away from him, and used my other hand to try and knock the bird away from me.

Internet, people down the table from us were taking pictures.

They were.

Finally, I got a bit proactive and as he started flying at me one last time, I grabbed my napkin and hit him with it, mid-air. And you know, I still feel really bad about that. I felt the paper napkin make contact with him, and I hope I didn't give him a paper cut on one of his beady little black eyes.

Because even though he was a greedy terror who has now turned me against all little brown birds for ever and always, it's not like I can blame the guy. I mean, who wouldn't prefer cheese covered spaetzle to bugs and grubs?

Sunday, 17 July 2011

I Prithee, Hurry Thyself To Ballenberg

I am not exactly sure why I chose to title this post using Old English, because I am pretty sure that the Swiss never have and never will speak Old English as part of their daily vernacular.

But I just needed to convey to you all that Ballenberg is old, and you should go there.

Now before I go any further, I am going to make a disclaimer that this photographic journey was a giant fail on my part. The pictures I took don't really show the diversity of Ballenberg, because as I can be prone to do, I got sidetracked. Specifically by taking pictures of animals. And carousels. Sure, sure, this doesn't mean you still aren't going to get an awesome idea of how splendid Ballenberg is, but since Ballenberg is an open air museum dedicated to walking you through the past, through both the agricultural and architectural diversity of Switzerland's different regions, well....you're not going to see that.

But just you wait, because I have pictures of piglets and roosters to come! Can I get an A, for awesome!

We went to Ballenberg on the first Friday that Mom and Dad were here. At this point they weren't quite as jet-lagged, and it was safe for us to venture more than twenty minutes away from their bed. Ballenberg has a huge promotional push going on right now (at least here in Bern) so Dan recommended that we should travel down there and check it out.

As mentioned, Ballenberg is an open air museum, and for any Canadians in the know you might try and liken it to Barkerville. But whereas Barkerville is a goldrush town that has been carefully preserved, Ballenberg instead is a huge architectural landscape that is specifically focused on teaching visitors about
the everday life of the Swiss men and women who farmed and traded, centuries ago.

The museum is divided between Switzerland's different regions (The Bernese Oberland, the Jura, Ticino, the Valais, etc...) and it is a walk and a half to traverse the entire park, but it's worth it. Each different region on display has original homes that have been transported to Ballenberg, and have been kitted out in authentic period furnishings depending on the age of the home. In instances where the curators haven't been able to find authentic furniture to match the period of the house, the interior remains empty.

The houses on display in Ballenberg date from the 1600's to the mid 19th century, and in addition to educating visitors about Switzerland's architectural diversity, Ballenberg is also a functioning agricultural community. There are gardens, native farm animals, cheese huts, grain milling, and bread making. Also, you can buy all the bread, cheese, and sausages that are made on site, from traditional recipes.

Honestly, it really is something to see, and it's now a toss-up for me about what's a better attraction: Ballenberg or Barkerville? On the one hand, at Barkerville you can pan for gold and buy the most delicious sourdough bread and beef jerky, but at Ballenberg you are actually allowed to walk through the old houses, and there's piglets.

Tricky.

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When you enter the park, you start in the Bernese Midlands.
Their houses were a thatched-roof construction, and there's an active bee hive.
These bees could sting you.
There are no signs telling you not to stick your paws in the honey pot.
The Swiss operate on the 'common sense' system.
Quite refreshing.

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On display here are the different styles of dress for the different regions.
I would have rocked that rooster doily like nobody's business.

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This is the inside of a reconstructed Apotheke.
When I said you could walk through these buildings, I was serious.
There are no barricades.
And everything on display is not secured.
So if you are a tragically lame social zero, I guess you could steal.

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Pretty

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These dudes provided some mood music.
And a view looking back over one teeny, tiny, part of the West Midlands display.

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Thatched roof!

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A trade display, specifically hat making.
Also, a close-up of what a thatched roof is comprised of.
Imagine how raw and chapped your hands would have gotten, twisting that straw.
Ouch.

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Ye ol' dirty laundry.

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You can buy smoked sausage and other goodies in here.

And now comes the part where I got majorly sidetracked, and stopped documenting all the architectural diversity. For the rest of the day. It should be noted that at this point, we hadn't yet explored even a quarter of the park.

Fail.

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Pork Butt(s)!

Can you blame me, though?

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Hens don't stand a chance when he ruffles his tail feathers.

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The word you're looking for is: AWWWW!!!!!

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Piglet says: I love you, Mom. Don't be sow-er.
(Get it! Get it! Can I get a high five from the 4-H crowd!)

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Billy the goat.

And you guys, Ballenberg is home to the cutest sheep EVER. But they were all hidden away in the forest and I couldn't get a good shot of them. Go to Ballenberg, just to see the sheep. Guaranteed you will fall into a sugar coma from the sweetness.

So, bring a friend to drag your helpless body off the path because otherwise you'll get trampled by the horse and wagons that go by.

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Why do kids get all the fun?

I finally remembered to take one last building picture as we were leaving the park at the end of the day.

Oops.

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House from the Valais.

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Pretty, version 2.0

Friends, if you are interested in social history, if you care at all about how people used to function before they had cellphones attached to their ear, speed dialling for take-away, while driving home to their egomaniac sized houses, hy thyself to Ballenberg.

I promise you won't hear Old English, but damn you'll see some cute animals and walk through some capital 'O' old houses.