What a blast it has been. A beautiful week in France followed by an extravaganza of people and places in Switzerland. This evening is the first time I’ve had to really contemplate the massive two weeks that have just been. I had forgotten just how much happens in short space of time when travelling. In addition, there has been swirl of emotions visiting the significant people and places from my personal history.
France was charming and refreshed our souls as well as our knowledge of a nation with a vast and complex history. Catching up with my late-uncle’s best friend/adopted brother in Versailles was a highlight. Touring the beautiful chateau of Versailles while reminiscing about my uncle who only recently passed away was magical especially as he loved France as his second home.
We were treated to divine hospitality and great laughs throughout France. After Paris and Versailles we were thinking we could eat no more cheese nor drink more wine but this was obviously not true, because in beautiful Beaune, Burgundy we were treated to more great food, wine, cheese and knowledge of the local area, we held our own just fine. Hosted by a warm and delightful French family (with children the same ages as ours) we toured the local vineyards of Burgundy, the old town of Beaune and ate meals that stretched until the wee hours, accompanied by great local wines of course.
We drove out of Beaune with full bellies and tired from the frivolity but with a warm feeling from our time with our wonderful hosts. We were thinking that we might have some recovery time in Switzerland – perhaps a light green salad for dinner? No way! As soon as we hit the ground in Switzerland, it was four consecutive days and nights of catching up with old friends and my host family from my exchange year in 1990-1991.
There were hugs and kisses (In Switzerland you must kiss each person THREE times), introductions of partners, husbands and children and lots of reminiscing and laughter over yet more delicious food and wine. It was especially rewarding to see our children having a great time with all the other kids despite no common language. Newly introduced partners hovered around the BBQ or on the soccer pitch with the kids and the European summer finally arrived. Seeing the kids so happy, a huge sense of relief swept over us as we realized that they would probably be ok in Spain when we finally get there.
The other day, my son, after listening to me jabbering away in French for two weeks, asked me how I learnt to speak French. It was a proud moment when I was able to reply: “By spending a year living here and going to school just like you are about to do in Spain.” He then replied: “So will I be able to speak Spanish the way you speak French at the end of our year in Spain?” I could see a new motivation emerge, transforming his fear of the unknown into possibility. It was a great moment indeed.
On our third day in Switzerland we were treated to an afternoon of sailing on friends’ small yacht on Lake Geneva. The weather was stunning with Mont Blanc visible in the distance however most were too cautious to swim in the icy cold waters, except me of course!! Something about being overseas turns me into a show-off and it rarely works out well. In this instance I was keen show how Aussie girls aren’t afraid of the cold and thought it would be fun to be towed along behind the boat at full sail. I grabbed the life ring attached to the boat and jumped into the chilling water with full applause from the five children aboard…then the rope ripped off the life ring and left me stranded in the middle of the freezing lake, at which point I could hear a chorus of laughter from the children as the boat sailed further and further away. Luckily my knight in shining armour (hubby) was captaining the vessel and managed to turn the boat around and save me within ten minutes. Hypothermia had not yet set in.
Later that evening we celebrated the return to Switzerland at our friends’ house and invited a host of other people who had attended Collège de la Planta in Sion or had lived in Valais during my exchange year of 1990-1991. Adults and children drifted around the garden and house and I caught up with old friends while hubby and kids made new ones. It was quite a spinout for me to have all those people together in the same place. Once again, it was past midnight when we four stumbled into bed.
After a week of frivolity and going to bed very late, our circadian rhythm (including that of the kids) was out of whack and we did not wake before 10.30am on any morning. Now that we are in the fresh air of the stunning Alps in Valais, which is where I actually lived for a year amongst the towering, snow capped mountains, we are trying to slow the pace down a little.
When we entered the valley of Valais and I saw the enormous mountains and the familiar names of the towns, I became quite nostalgic. Twenty-three years ago, this had been a place of great challenges as well as great times and now I was returning with my own family to show them a part of my formative history.
I was emotional to see my host sister again after so many years and to meet her partner and three daughters, the two youngest of who made instant bonds with our two kids. Who would have thought all those years ago when I was 16 and my host sister was 19 that we would be here together again with our own families? It was touching and heart warming.
Today as we walked for two hours in the high mountains, through melting snow packs and summer alpine flowers at 2,300 metres altitude, my son saw and touched snow for the first time, my daughter overcame her fear of rock falls and avalanches while climbing very steep mountains, and I admired both the beauty of the mountains and my young family. Sharing these experiences with them, while tough at times, is magical.
Tomorrow I will show my family the city of Sion and the school I attended as an exchange student and the following day, sadly our last one in Switzerland, we will go on another mountain adventure with my lovely school friend. We will end our time here with a farewell Valaisan raclette and more wine of course! Oh the “belle vie” of France and Switzerland!
A postscript to thank everyone for their generosity and warm welcomes these past two weeks in France and Switzerland. Thank you to: Bernard and family, Jean-David and family, Anouk and family, Elisabeth and family, Albertine and Xavier, and Jennifer and family. You are all wonderful!