Delicate yellow and pink blossoms are popping up around Zurich. Piercing through the crisp air, grey fog and the dark concrete, I am reminded of the changing season in a most gentle yet impatient sort of way. It is definitely not yet Spring here. But those tiny early flowers are definitely gracefully impatient to show their selves.
However, my heart is still in a winter sleep. Patient, it demands little of colour and form. Luxurious round piles of sparkling snow, the sun reflecting diamonds on the surface. An ever shifting sky of blue and grey, and maybe even glorious and surprising gold from a low sun. Nights spent indoors, around a table, with a candle and wine glasses, simple darks and lights. And of course, a little chocolate to make it through the cold.
Schächental (translated, ~ shadow valley)
Weissberg (translated, white mountain)
…well we didn’t always stay inside at night, when the lights and darks were happening outside in the sky.
A few stories to tell but I’m limiting myself to two pictures each (for now) from my latest locales. Hopefully this short taste also passes as an explanation for my brevity.
Fes, Morocco. A welcome immersion back into reality after a 4 day conference on phosphorus (i.e. my thesis topic) at an over-the-top beach resort on the Moroccan coast. The off-season calmness drew my travel pal, Desiree, and I right into the depths of the old market, the Medina. We wove our way through the smallest pathways, around donkeys carrying amazing loads, dodging school children and the tourist hounds, sipping freshly pressed orange juice (the one and only medicine in my opinion), and saturating ourselves with the scents of their world. I can still close my eyes and feel it.
Recovering from the flu (hence my love for the OJ), frequent breaks were needed. Upon arrival in a breath-taking Koran school in the middle of the Medina, we took a sweet seat to gaze at the Arabic scriptures forming patterns upon patterns of beautiful symbolism. The colorful tiles also playing their part in reminding about different aspects of Islam, you find the 8 pointed stars in blue and green all over Fes.
Late flights leading to missed flights leading to layovers and a whole lot of ‘airport appreciation’ time- needless to say my trip to Japan was a little bumpy. Safely arrived and fighting the fuzz of jetlag, I am finding myself enjoying the extreme foreign-ness and also the incredible closeness of Japan. The people are so kind and accommodating, even if it is a forced sincerity, I will never complain of someone who constantly smiles to complete strangers. On the other hand, I’m not in a majorly touristy city. A few things are written in ‘English’ letters, however mostly not. I’m at a loss as I walk through the streets and in restaurants- what is that store even selling? can I eat this thing? Yestarday I went to a restaurant that looked beautiful, and it was. I somehow mimed a vegetable and got a delicious salad. A British guy and Japanese girl started up a conversation and I found out I was actually at a French restaurant. I would never have guessed. I’m on my toes now, trying to catch non-language signs. We’ll see how it goes. My airplane food was a fun introduction- who doesn’t love flower-shaped vegetables?
And if all else fails, food-wise, I can always turn to the trusty vending machines on every corner.
Oh yeah, I’m also here for more phosphorus research. I swear!
The setting: Canada day weekend, though not as strongly celebrated on this side of the pond, go figure. Two old Canadian friends on different sides of the Alps. Mad email/ skype conversations to plan a weekend getaway to the French Pyrenees. Plans made approximately 48 hours before the adventure is set to begin.
Insert unforeseen French holidays, and the result is an attempt to squash all North American style spontaneity. Sigh, all the trains were booked, and thus Naomi and I were unable to continue our tour of the world’s mountains together.
Undeterred, though terribly sad that I would miss Naomi, I set about preparing for a different weekend getaway- a 5 day hike along the Jura Crest. This ridge runs along the north of Switzerland from Zurich to Geneva. National hiking trail # 5, an area I always wanted to visit even though it is only a ridge within the flat ‘upper land’ of Switzerland. No dramatic mountain valleys, but an impressive expanse of uplifted rock providing gorgeous rolling hills, lake views, and quiet high altitude pastures. I was intrigued.
On the map, I planned to do the stretch from Weissenstein (translated: white stone) to Ste.Croix, along the section of the ridge to the north of Bielersee and Lac de Neuchatel (note the language change!) in 5 days. My final destination being a rather famous cliff pictured on all of the Swiss hiking websites. So I had to see it, which was a good enough reason to keep on walking. This was key, as indeed the motivation all had to come from within…. this was going to be a solo mission.
So with a full backpack- tent, sleeping bag, mattress, plenty of food, and what seemed like a handful on unnecessary ‘warm’ clothes, I started out early Thursday morning. The train runs along the ridge, more or less, all the way to Geneva, so I had my first impression early on of the uniqueness of the ridge jutting out from the yellow and orange patchwork of agricultural fields and dark green forests in the country-side.
To get up onto the ridge, I faced a grueling but beautiful ascent up the Weissenstein. The trail dates back to 1664, so I’m told, and the stairs are carved into the rock. To add an ounce of safety, steel wire has been added as a railing. Even without a backpack, the trail is demanding as it heads rather straight up, but is cheek-to-cheek with the white quartz-limestone and provides a magnificent backdrop for the fluorescent summer leaves.
Once on the ridge, I made my way West, over a few summits now and again, walking through many many cow pastures and glancing down to see the Aare river, and eventually the Bielersee and Lac de Neuchatel. And about the language change- this is the area known as the Roestigraben between the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland (here is a map from an older post). I didn’t see any noticeable ditch to mark the change, but my greetings along the trail switched from ‘Gruetzi’ to ‘Bonjour’.
The walking was my favourite part. If my feet could have gone longer (or my back, hips or knees) I would have walked until sunset. The weather was perfect, the brilliant blue skies, the scent of the blossoming flowers, the clanging of the cow bells. It was a fully absorbing experience. And meditative as I slowly made my way along, up and down, checking the map every so often, and seeing almost no one on the trail.
On Friday it was Canada day, and the evening weather was fine! Lazing around on the grass, drawing, writing, reading- what a lovely way to spend it. I was lucky enough to pass through a little tourist spot earlier in the day and picked up freshly baked bread and some of the biggest cherries I have ever seen. So in honour of my country birthday, I made a typical German cake. Happy Canada Day!
Each night I spent in the tent. Heading off the trail some distance, out of the way, and preferably with a plentiful supply of strawberries. But with the lovely open blue skies, the nights were shivering cold, down to 7C. Even with 2 pairs of pants (one merino wool!), 2 shirts, a scarf and toque, I couldn’t keep warm enough and often woke up to shake myself warm or cover myself with more layers. Because of this I cut the tour down one night, and skipped a section by train to be able to still make it to my destination. A bit of a disappointment but none the less part of the challenge of going it alone I suppose.
Well I don’t often end up with pictures of myself on this blog, usually I’m on the other side of the camera, but I took quite a few photos this whole trip, and a few even with camera pointed back at me. This one I particularly liked for the way the eyes are framed by the shadow and hat (note! and scarf). I also don’t look exceedingly tired like I do in the later ones 🙂
Finally on the Sunday I made it to the end- Creux de Van! After 3 days of walking along lovely hills and pastures, I was craving something a little more dramatic, a little more Alp-like, and look what I got.
This canyon is essentially on its own within the crest, and is a huge attraction as on one side you have a magnificent cliff dropping into forests, and on the other an incredible few back of the crest, the lakes… and maybe even some of those Alps off in the distance.
Even with the lovely weather, the far distant Alps were also covered in cloudy haze, until Sunday when they appeared the entire stretch of the horizon. With Mont Blanc being the most impressive, I could almost see Naomi on the other side 🙂
Though it did have to end on this high note. I descended back down to the Lac de Neuchatel to catch a train back to Zurich, passing through the fields that I had looked onto for the last 4 days. Taking a last deep breath of the Jura air, enjoying the sun on my face, and the weight of the pack, I was left with a lovely contentment of a mission complete and an amazing experience.
Back in Zurich but still thinking fondly of the snow, and mountains, and trees and friends back in Canada.
The first 3 weeks of the trip were spent in Victoria and exploring Vancouver Island. It was wonderful to spend time fully relaxing with my parents- eating pancakes, drinking tea, watching for the sea otters, and playing cards. We all fit nicely into each other’s schedules as the yoga and golf and choir continued on smoothly. Fortunately for us ‘foreign’ types, there were plenty of great experiences to be had, even in January. Robbie Burns night, for one, where my Dad and his pipe band were the main act, filling our ears and eyes with their melodies and foot high feathered caps, respectively. We even got to dress the part. Very appropriate after the Scotland adventure.
A meal of Neeps, Tatties and Haggis, as well as the history of the scoundrel, Robbie, completed the evening.
As well, we had to see some of Victoria, including the breakwater, Government street, the Royal BC museum with its collection of themed exhibits, and a good number of beaches.
Tilmann and I also made it North of Victoria to ski at Mount Washington, hug some amazingly big trees, and collect our thoughts at some desolate beaches.
And of course, some family time. A late Christmas meal with old friends, and a short day trip over to Saltspring Island. We took the ferry over to Saltspring, on an unfortunately grey and misty day. We missed the views of the other islands, but did find some tasty sea food, an eclectic hardware store, plenty of sea gulls and island dwellers (of the cheese producing and raw chocolate type!)
And of course, my twin spent the weekend for Robbie Burns too! Claire and mom below.
From the island, the trip continued to Vancouver for a few days of mountains, parks, ocean, and even a bald eagle! Calgary was the next stop for a visit with many old friends. Such great conversations, a super bowl party, and even caught the end of a chinook! One highlight- dressing up with the girls for the texas themed party.
Onto Toronto and Montreal. More friends to discuss about the world, life after school, love, quinoa and where we are all heading next. Amazing how a year and a half doesn’t really create much space between these old friends.
Thank you to all who housed me, drank tea with me, shared in the experiences and inspired me for the upcoming year! You are all in my heart, even on this side of the ocean! To those I missed, there is always room to visit in Zurich!
From mountains to beaches, on bikes and ferries. Victoria & Vancouver- Check
Calgary, Toronto and Montreal still to come…
A few mysterious views from the Pacific coast in the meantime
A warm hug to all the wonderful people I met in Victoria- you made for such a warm reception, even in cool January. I’m honoured to have heard your stories, singing, laughing, yoga groaning, and wishes for the rest of my trip. Until next time…
A brief weekend adventure to Amsterdam. No real plans except to wander around the canals, eat pancakes, avoid herring, drink hot chocolate, and soak up some Van Gogh inspiration. At the end of the weekend, all these goals were fulfilled and more. A few of the quaint sights below
All these little houses are 30 feet wide, and 200 deep! Makes for an interesting composition as each aims to stand out against the rest but with similar elements throughout.
On the only sunny day all weekend, we went inside and spent longer than expected listening and seeing the story of Van Gogh’s life. Well worth the visit for the timeless colour and expression of his paintings.
After the museum, and our last stop in Amsterdam: colour and expression through cake at a fun little cafe.
The marketing theme for the city is iamAmsterdam. Can’t say I felt Dutch after the visit, but for a few brief days I was swept away in the style and magic of this city built in some senses ‘with’ and in another ‘against’ nature. I’ll leave it to you to decide on which side their recreational drug laws fall…
Before taking off for the field trips, my house mates and I had an intense weekend of trying to be a little local, as well as a lot tourist .
Saturday at the big market of Ouaga- my female house mate and I bargained hard for some jewellery, scarfs and leather sandals. The 10 men that accompanied us were always aiming to please as they searched the far corners of the huge market to find the exact belt, design or print that we desired. It was an intense 5 hours of people calling and pulling us into their stands. We were continually brought into ‘confidential’ council while negotiating prices. And we did well not to get too flustered and remain calm and patient… A success for the 2 ‘blancs’, I feel.
Sunday was a tour out of Ouaga to the village of Tiébélé, close to the Ghana border in the south. An amazing traditional culture of house building involving unique shapes based on marital status, and painted designs on the inside and out, also with symbolic meanings. I will make a post on it all when I return, but for now a few quick glimpses of what we saw.