Before the last snowflake melts

I thought I should share a few last impressions before spring comes sweeping in.

And you know what spring can bring… and if the past is any indication at all of what the future entails, it’s about to get pretty seriously crazy.

We let loose over New Year’s in Lenzerheide Switzerland, where the snow was fresh, deep and still falling. Snow angels, snow fights, snow rolling, sledding, digging, building, musing, watching, listening. It was pure joy. We even stuck our heads in to try some headstands. On New Year’s eve we sent up paper lanterns to bring us good luck in 2012.

I am wishing for peace and meaning this year, and starting off the year with close friends and family was a good, although intense, place to begin. As I work on searching for some of my basic feelings, those sticky disruptive ones, that bring me deep within myself to feel the rhythm and energy, I am learning to let go and trust that they will lead me in the right direction even when they seem in contradiction to the personality that I imagine myself to be.

It’s a new road with, what feels like, a whole lot of snow. Good thing I have a strong Aunt who is good with a shovel!

More snow fell up in Schluein than I have ever experienced in my whole long Canadian life. It was wet and thick and presented such a tempting challenge just to walk through… even though the clear intention was to get stuck and have to roll around even more in it. Mia, Nora, Tilmann, the dog Ruby and I spent an afternoon playing and digging to our heart’s delight, until we had a 3-part tunnel and a serious snowball fight completed.

Note that the tree behind Lisa and Tilmann in the above pictures is the same one… just a few hours later in the second picture after the sun came out and the snow plow also came to clear the driveway.

pure mischief preceding the 3 tongues

Back in Zurich, there were a few crystals of frost that would briefly change the light of the city, creating a sparkle in the mornings where the shade would linger while the green would strive hard to fight back.

The warm sun has certainly arrived in Zurich, but I’ll still be dreaming of the winter wonderland in the mountains for a while still.

December distractions

Checking back through the pictures from December and finding some gems to share. Lots of cool things that pulled me forward into the holiday spirit.

(Yah, a month too late, but who doesn’t want to revisit warm candles, rainy markets, fluffy snowflakes, and decorating a Christmas tree with Nora!)

So December was a particularly rainy month. I visited no less than 4 lovely Christmas markets and was rained on through all of them. Here I visited Schaffhausen, near the border to Germany where the famous Rhine Falls tumble down. The famous Munot fortification at the top of the village has beautiful light pouring through into an open circular stone room. I can only imagine that it used to be filled with activity – people, arms, horses, fire. However, now the room is filled with an eerie green light and the walls echo with every group that walks through.

Looking for oncoming attacks, or checking up on my grapes
Within Munot

Back in Zurich, a few flakes of snow did fall and one last party in our rented room kept us dancing in the warm glow.

And for the first time (that I noticed) the Nutcracker Ballet was playing in Zurich! An old family tradition that I was able to keep up even here. The performance was lovely, and the Opera House was outstanding, just as I would imagine an old European theatre.

Opera House Zurich

And, as always, December was filled with new and touching music. The artists as young men presented ‘the mermaid’. They had previously written 6 songs specifically for the story of the Little Mermaid, and presented with professional sign language translators to perform a concert for the deaf.

Visuals and artistic translation to bring the musical soundscape into the eyes of the deaf

Benji, singer of artists as young men, also played a special Christmas concert with our friend Chregi, of the fridge, at a local organic grocery store. Amazing music in front of organic wine. Yum.

Shortly after I made a quick trip to Schluein to see Lisa, drop off gifts, and decorate the tree. I left dry, grey Zurich and entered into a strikingly white wonderland of peaceful falling snow.

I was free to be a 3-year old with Nora as we chose our favourite decorations for the tree, danced to the Nutcracker Suite, and ate Christmas cookies while watching the snow pile up. I secretly wished the snow would pile so high I would be stuck there until Spring…

But Christmas was within days, and more lights, singing and traditions were to follow…. this year in Germany!

Autumn sights in Zurich

After a few last attempts to hold onto summer (see: Saturday afternoons by the lake), the bright oranges, reds and yellows around Zurich started to tell the story of cooler nights, foggy mornings, and the crisp breeze causing people to get cozy and bring out the winter comforter. It is definitely autumn!

Late summer sun at the lake

With the fog lifting up by the afternoon, the bright blue sky has been an exquisite complement to the symbols of the season: late harvest plants, lingering flowers, plump pumpkins, and the changing of the leaves. I’ve been walking around the ‘m0untain’ near my apartment and marveling at the final stages of summer blending seamlessly into one of my favourite times of year. As a self-declared jacket addict, this is a great time of year since I’m assured of the need for a great long spy trench coat and a cozy wool scarf before venturing out.

pursuing sun

gardening yoga

And as the growing season wraps up, the plot farmers are hard at work preparing their garden for the winter crops and bringing in the last of the summer’s. This, of course, means pumpkins are ready! To fully embrace this I biked out of Zurich to a nearby you-pick farm called Jucker Farmart. Here they not only display the winning pumpkins in the annual ‘biggest’ competition, there are also pumpkin-made displays with a new theme every year. It just so happened that I decided to visit the farm when the theme was particularly original: Switzerland. Yep, we are talking about displays complete with a gigantic cow, Heidi, the Matterhorn, an alp horn and more made from various shapes, colours and sizes of pumpkin. You couldn’t help but smile at the fun displays, the history and symbols they chose, and the faces of the kids who were totally entranced by the pure quantity of pumpkins and all their alien forms.

700 kg winner and contenders

The three-canton vote to unite Switzerland... in pumpkin form
Pumpkin carver

And along with pumpkins, also comes apples. And in Switzerland they make a fresh pressed apple juice, mixed with pear as well, called Most (pronounced Moescht)

pouring fresh Most into bottles

And one final impression from another ‘mountain’ above Zurich (they are really more like hills but have the name of -berg, meaning mountain. Hmm… they don’t quite look like the mountains I know) looking out towards the Alps and the surrounding towns. The sun was setting and casting a glow that lit the oranges of the hill and the purple of the horizon.

Naomi non-visit

Or, alternatively: French train failures

Or, in the end: Solo mission along the Jura Crest

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.

Hiking up the 'white stone' cliff

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’.

blue white green- crest colours
Looking along the ridge
Typical ridge pasture

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!

Black Forest Cake- chocolate, marshmallow, and cherry

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.

My home in the hills
Breakfast buffet
Sweet pick-me-up

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 🙂

Into the sun

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.

Creux de Van

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.

Looking back to the beginning

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 🙂

Alps peaking up

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.

Final road home

Next time, Naomi will come too!

All the boys in a year

Some feedback on the previous post- do I only have female friends?

Well no, not entirely. And some of the male ones are particularly hilarious and should be showcased more often.

Therefore, a selection of the top from the last year

Always laughing

Paco, from Mexico, always always always has a funny story to tell. He is up for everything and is the gentleman of the crowd- though it hasn’t worn off on the others yet. Dislikes: tortillas and hot food. Likes: cold weather. We are not actually sure of his Mexican authenticity.

Gypsy boy

Beni, a fellow engineer with an especially critical/ ambitious nature, but enjoys a good party. Here he is recovering (it is around 6 am) from a circus themed party hosted at his house. He was an elephant trainer and carried a huge stuffed elephant around all night. Beni survived but I’m not sure about the elephant.

Bird watcher

The inquisitive eye here belongs to Nico, an environmental scientist with a passion for birds and history- perfect for our mountain hikes, or when roaming through old European cities (like Vienna or Paris!)

The artist

The lead singer of ‘the artists as young men’, Benji is Swiss but with Indonesian roots. He is my one Swiss friend with whom I can use all the ‘Anchorman’ jokes and actually gets them! Also a wonderfully creative singer, again check out their myspace (I’m a shameless groupie)

Tall tree

And finally another band member, as well as boyfriend, and beginner bagpiper (though not about to be introduced into the band setting anytime soon), Tilmann from Germany. Survived my mom’s soups in Canada and even picked up some yoga, now is on a mission to teach me trees- this one is an oak!

A more balanced picture? I’d say so.

Still packing, still in flux. Soon to be more normal… hurrah

All in a year

Phew, it was tough coming back to this blog. It certainly has been in the back of mind for a few weeks now, and tickling my interest for a few days now, and suddenly in these hours after a very successful yoga class (7 people, new record) I feel it is time to dive back in.

The last months have been a whirlwind, as is the usual forecast for Zurich – partly inspiring, with a slight chance of spontaneity, but the evening looks clear for opportunity. I have been spending my time in about 4 locations (geez I should really get out more):

1. ETH (aka school) part-time with only a few classes, but enough to keep me busy and engaged in student life

2. Poyry (aka work)

3. ETH (oh yah, again) this time as a research assistant helping with this year’s case study (see the school page for last year’s details)

4. The ‘ new room’ which is the wonderful new shared space I am renting with a handful of other people. On a weekly basis it sees 2 yoga practices (by yours truly), 2 band practices (post rock chill:, dozens of garden sessions as we try to tame some wild blackberries and ravaging invasive species and some pet chickens may be next on the list, and finally a wonderful veggie barbecue or two.

Between it all, I try to sleep.

Oh and look for a new apartment.

Which I just found!

So the scenery will be changing, thank goodness, but it is still right in between all my 4 hangouts, ideal. This is what I have been looking at through my window for the last year, with more or less clarity.

my clock tower

I am happy to move on from this, though I have conquered the task of sleeping through the quarterly bells.

But moving always brings back memories of the journey, which is deeply important to me. And nostalgia hit me this week as I began to pack up what has only been 2 year’s accumulation of Swiss-ness. But I thought to bring you along for the ride and share a few of the picture moments over the last year.


To start, some typical Swiss landscapes and villages. This is the village of Scuol, in the beautiful Engadine valley in South East Switzerland. Famous for its fountains with naturally occurring minerals (I think they are high in iron), with an almost carbonated flavour! If anything, being in Switzerland makes you feel healthy- whether it be the fresh air or sparkling waters.

River crossing

Got good use of that backpack in the last year (Thanks, Lisa!). A few camping trips after Scotland, involving some painfully cold mountain water but all worth it for the best camp and cook site. I spent some great time in the mountains before heading to Burkina, which possibly made the transition even more extreme. More on that later…

The valleys are deep and long here, straighter than what I know from Canada and much more inhabited. You can never really get lost in the mountains here, which is certainly an advantage, but it also means that you have to make the extra effort (i.e. freezing foot spa therapy) to get away from it all.


Certainly can’t beat the flavour of warm food after a long hike, or that tingle on the skin as you crawl into a tent and you are finally out of the elements. The sensation is addictive as it is one of those rare moments when I feel totally free and capable of surviving on my own… at least for one night!

My maple heritage

An outstanding Maple, alone in a mountain meadow, standing strong as the moss creeps up. I found this tree on a hike that went awry when I lost my way and ended up going straight up to find the path again. As I dragged myself up the steep ascent, I came across some friendly cows, a few goats, a hidden waterfall, and finally the path again. This was a few days before I left for Ouagadougou, I like that this adventure was somewhat foretelling of what I would experience in Africa.

The sun beats on

Less than 3 months in Burkina Faso, but a world of experiences. I took this picture, above, on one of my trips into the country side where we were visiting the project villages. It was just after a brief but pounding rain storm in the afternoon, and as the sun set the air was crisp, a rare smell down there as everything is seeped in the tradition of heat. I distinctly remember sighing with this thought and thinking that this place has a soul that reaches so much further than I knew.

Snow search

Back from Burkina and into the winter… well almost. A lack of snow made for a lot of walking in the dry hills.


On that same ski trip we did eventually get some snow. My lovely friend Maja from Croatia with her youthful energy and openness. One of the many smiles that I know so well now.

Sun bathing

Another important character in my circle, Andrea from Canada. She is all-trusting and always in when I want to go on an adventure. She was brave enough this time to venture off the trail when we were going snow-shoeing. I’m no expert by far (memories of Troll Falls with Ellen and Jess come to mind) and we had to cross 2 ravines under my command… oops… not so easy when your feet are 3 times as big. But we survived and even found some sun in the end.

Mountain art

Nature creates some surprising forms. Here the old stumps get snow damps as the wind whisks around the trunk.

tea pause

I thought I should mention that I drank a lot of tea in the past year. Current favourites are Bengal Spice and Sage leaf.

sunlit curls

Family, one of the deciding factors why I came to Switzerland. Not only do they provide the laughs, the hugs, and the support that we all need, but they are ridiculously photogenic 🙂

Monkey Mia
mirrored concentration
Mother and daughter

One of my favourites of the year, capturing the goofy humour these two share. Sadly with moving, Caylin and I move apart, but we promise to have some girls dinners every once in a while too!

summer in the city

I currently live, that is before I move, in a particularly diverse neighbourhood of Zurich. That is saying a lot considering the political swing with regards to foreigners. Since I have been at this address, I have gotten to know a few of my Eastern European neighbours, heard hilarious stories about the Persian hairstylist and got tips from the Philippine grocery store owner on how to make a good wok. The street behind my building is the legal prostitution zone (don’t worry mom!) and there are several designated graffiti spaces along the river path. This is just like Zurich, fun yet still in order and under control. In the end, for the foreigners, we get to have a lot of fun as we carve out our own place in the city.

Beautiful Bea

Another smiling face from the very first days in Switzerland. Bea, from Holland and working in Zurich, is my go-to for everything, literally. One of the strongest and most independent young women I know, we have spent many long nights with a glass of wine trying to understand…

Laughing Lore

Another great smile in Zurich. My friend Lorena from Mexico and her sister with great humour and identical laughs. The international crowd is ever pushing the buttons of the Swiss, hehe. Lore lives at the edge of the forest and we have begun the barbecue season amongst the trees up there. And to end this post, one of the recent barbecues in the forest included the fire show below.

Fire dance

What a great year! Better get packing and start off the next one knowing where my socks are!

Highlights from June

Regular classes were finished, but we were all still busy with our short ‘block’ courses. I was finishing up the case study (see the school page) and others were on educational adventures to the forests and nature reserves in Switzerland.

It was great to be done the bulk of the year’s work, and there were certainly a few celebrations as it was well into barbecue weather. So a few photos can capture the aspects of what my friends and I did in June, outside of the extra school work.

Flowers were in full bloom quite early, and the number of roses astonished me. As you walked through the streets you could catch little whiffs of floral scents from the various trees and shrubs in the city. I often saw locals collecting the wild flowers along the river to bring home. In this respect, the city has a thriving natural environment.

First signs of summer

One weekend I went up to the mountains to be with Lisa, Freddi, Nora and Mia. We went up to an old ruin near Flims (along the face of the Flims stone) for lunch. There were spectacular views over the valley which was checkered with forests, farming fields, and grazing land.

Meeting of the Rhine rivers

 I hadn’t been for a few months and it is amazing how this curious babe can change. As sweet as ever, Nora is now walking and babbling but hasn’t quite grasped her 4 languages that she is hearing (German, English, French, and the local language, Romansch), but it is coming.   


The other young lady in the house is Mia. Strong-minded, bright and detail oriented, I foresee an engineer in this girl. Sigh 🙂


The two sisters- I loved how Nora stared at Mia, with full trust that the chocolate bar would end up in her mouth.

Bonding through chocolate

Since I have known her, Nora has loved textures. She will happily sit and feel the grass and leaves. Sometimes she finds a flower and plays with the petals.

flower girl

As the weather inevitably got nicer, the get-togethers were always outside. I discovered the inner courtyard of my building and the free barbecue stove. We’ve had a couple of evenings there now, with kids and cats playing around us in the warm evenings as we enjoy out white wine spritzers and cream cheese stuffed mushrooms.

backyard barbecue

A few last photos from other days and nights.

candle light
bike by art

This final one is the old viaduct into the city centre, and is now part of the bridge for the trains entering the centre. I just catch a glimpse of it from my bedroom. I hear this is being done in other cities as well, but the space below the bridge has been renovated into retail and restaurant space- very funky and a great use of prime real estate in an area full of young people and parks. Each store is numbered, to enhance the simplicity of the concept.

viaduct stores