A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009




The little town of Meran [German] or Merano [Italian] spreads across the valley at an altitude of 300m, with majestic snow-covered peaks rising up to 3000m all around. These views are from our windows!
It has a very Bavarian feel about it, especially since it was part of Austria until the end of the 1st World War. The German language seems to predominate, which makes communicating a little easier, as David still remembers a little German from his student days. It is a famous spa town, like Baden-Baden, and was in its hey-day 130 years ago when Empress Elisabeth [Sissi] of Austria frequented the town for its health-giving climate. They boast 300 days of sunshine a year here, and a stable, mild Mediterranean climate throughout the year. In summer the public gardens are full of sub-tropical plants. It is indeed confusing to the body to bake in the sunshine coming through the apartment windows, then to walk outside in minus 3 degrees covered in many layers of clothing!

We are staying in a Hapimag timeshare resort building on the 5th floor with stunning views across the valley and of the snow-covered mountains around us. The two-roomed apartment is comfortable and modern, and they provided a modem on request, which was great, so we could stay in touch.
The house-keeper fortunately spoke English on our arrival, but otherwise English is hardly spoken or understood and we have to manage with a very crude version of German-Afrikaans. Still have to try to learn more Italian for when we visit Venice and Rome later. Though how those intentions will pan out go depends on the weather. We've realised it will be almost impossible to sleep in the van, even at these temperatures, so hopefully it will warm up by the end of next week, and we'll find space in campsites near Venice and Rome - although it seems there are very few open during winter in these areas. It will certainly test our philosophy of "living in the present"!

The courtyard below us is obviously pleasant in summer, but at the moment the swimming pool is frozen solid with at least an inch of ice! IMG_1276.jpg
A tree in the middle, covered in ripe persimmons, yielded Scrumping Dave a couple of it's delicious fruits under cover of darkness! It's incredible to see heavily laden persimmon trees in many gardens - so near, and yet so far!
The next morning, Sunday, we woke to the pealing of church-bells all over town, which continued for several hours. We then wandered down into the centre of town and found ourselves in the midst of an extensive Christkindlmarkt along the banks of the Passira river. Lots of decorated wooden chalets selling a variety of regional foods, exquisite Christmas decorations, glüwein, hot foods, cheeses, salamis, cakes, honey etc. Just as well we're on a tight budget otherwise Sandi would have stocked up on the tempting foods for months!
These decorations had wonderful aromas as they were made from star anise, cinnamon sticks and other spices

These decorations had wonderful aromas as they were made from star anise, cinnamon sticks and other spices



The Kurhaus, now used as a conference centre

The Kurhaus, now used as a conference centre

An artwork constructed out of mosses and other natural substances

An artwork constructed out of mosses and other natural substances

The cold air definitely stimulates the appetite, so it wasn’t long before we succumbed to this variety of glüwein called Krambambuli - hot, spicy red wine with a few squirts of dark rum sprayed onto the top of the mug - delicious!
Later we tried the local "Forst" beer and rolls with wurst mit sauerkraut Yum!
We bought some of the regional specialities, speck and spinatknüdeln and spekknüdeln, to cook in the apartment. Sandi boiled these filling little dumplings [Canederli Tirolesi] in salted water, and made a scrumptious broth to eat with them. She decided we would eat them for breakfast - though we're not sure if this is when they're meant to be eaten, but we needed to put something hot in the bellies before venturing out for the day.
About to tuck into a hearty breakfast of spinatknüdeln und spekknüdeln

About to tuck into a hearty breakfast of spinatknüdeln und spekknüdeln

Lunch of salami and Mortadella, cheese, etc. and bubbly.
We've fallen in love with the wafer-thin slices of Italian pancetta, which are totally scrumptious, whether eaten at breakfast, with eggs, or at any other occasion!

Over the course of the week we explored the little town with many large villas and hotels dating back to its golden era. The architecture is predominantly "Bavarian". Sandi was quite struck by the colours of houses when we entered Italy - ochre yellow, rich pumpkin orange, and unusual mossy-lime green. Wonderful to see colours other than grey and brown, which is all we've seen for months. The weather is crisp and very cold with the skies blue and sunny. All around us Europe is experiencing plummeting temperatures [10 degrees less than usual for this time of year] and heavy snowfalls. Looking at CNN weather news it's clear that we're in the ONLY little spot in Italy that is not covered in snow - even London is under 4 inches of snow. Ooooh - and we're heading up to 1200m at Ponte di Legno on Saturday, with an 1800m pass en route!
The Passira river tumbles over rocks as it rushes through the town to join the Adige river, but the water is frozen solid where there would normally be little eddies among the rocks at the edge.
An ice-rink had been constructed on the Piazza Therme and the little ones were using these aids to help them skate!
Many shops shelter under ancient arcades, and the streets are narrow and cobbled.
The Duomo of St Nicholas dates back to the 13th century and is a fine Gothic construction.
IMG_1270.jpgIMG_1269.jpgThis enormous lock is on the inside of the main door

This enormous lock is on the inside of the main door

Further up the river there is a bridge called the Roman bridge, although it was built in the 17th century.
Tucked into corners in the streets one may come across a personal shrine such as this.
On the Thursday we decided to take the plunge and spent a couple of blissful hours in the thermal baths. They are full of radon which is apparently radioactive! but therapeutic. It is exhilarating to swim outside as well, when your body is in water at 37 degrees, but your head is in air of minus 3 degrees! Lots of bubbles and pummelling and relaxation.
We are starting to get into the Christmas mood with some decorations we couldn't resist buying at the market.
This artist lady made lovely frames and ornaments with mosaics of cracked glass.
Tomorrow we head off to Ponte di Legno for 10 days, and according to the weather forecast we will have new snowfall of 3cm tomorrow, and a white Christmas next week! Time to get out the snow-chains!

Posted by davidsandi 08:49 Archived in Italy Comments (0)


It was a tough 12 hour journey from the Vendeé to Morges [our Marc & Jocelyne refuge], partly due to rain and darkness. We had planned to stop over in a lay-by to sleep for the night, but decided at 4pm to push on, as the lure of sleeping in a warm bed was strong. We arrived in Morges just after 10pm and we slept like logs for 10 hours! This is the sunrise over the Mont Blanc that we woke up to!
Mr Stubby developed a wheel vibration at 65mph on the way, so Marc made an appointment for a wheel alignment check with his mechanic. The mechanic pointed out that the front tyres had worn erratically, so we ended up fitting two new winter tyres, which should help in the snow - even though it burned a hole in the purse!
Views from the apartment over to Lausanne in the distance,
and over Lac Leman to the Alps
Francois and Marion and Anne Christine came for supper and Jocelyne fed us exceedingly well as usual: starters, 2 helpings of main, 2 of dessert, followed by chocolates, bricelets and coffee! Our waistlines are ever expanding, which was not helped by a similar experience the next day when Christian came for lunch!
Christian enjoying his "Ostrich egg" dessert; Pèches avec crème vanille

Christian enjoying his "Ostrich egg" dessert; Pèches avec crème vanille

We walked down to the shops for some specific last minute Swiss items
and came across these black berries along the way [no idea what they might be]
On the Friday evening Jocelyne took us into Lausanne to the Christmas market at Place St Francois. The lights were gorgeous and the vibe was good as everyone stood around drinking vin chaud. Sandi found a delicious cornet of Spanish churros.
Jocelyne and Sandi with the Cathedral lit up in red, which you can just see in the background

Jocelyne and Sandi with the Cathedral lit up in red, which you can just see in the background

Sandi about to milk that Swiss cow!

Sandi about to milk that Swiss cow!

Marc reckoned that we would not be able to cross the Brenner Pass from Austria into Italy with the van without winter tyres all round, so recommended that we go via the Simplon Tunnel. One has to drive the vehicle onto a train which takes you through the tunnel, but the height restrictions looked as if we were not going to fit! Anyway David measured the van again and reckoned that we would actually fit without having to let the tyres down. If we didn't fit, then our choices were to negotiate the high passes of Brenner or Grand St Bernard or drive around the coast via France [a very long detour!] We wanted to catch the 10:30 train as the next one after that was only at 13:30, which would mean that we would get to Merano in the dark.

We set off rather anxiously in the dark at 07:30 on Saturday morning for the two hours to Brig. There was snow on the ground at Brig, but fortunately the roads had been cleared. We bought our ticket and drove on to the train with our mirrors folded back. At last we could relax!
While sitting in the van on our way through the tunnel for 20 minutes we made sandwiches for our breakfast, and we out the other end before we even finished chewing. The remaining 5 hours of the trip down, from the Alps via Milano and up the valley to Merano was easy, as it was mostly on autoroutes, with umpteen tolls to pay along the way [not as expensive as the French ones though!].
Buongiorno Italia!

Buongiorno Italia!

Posted by davidsandi 22:46 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)



The much anticipated visit from our South African friends living in Scotland, Bernie and Estrelita, finally dawned. We picked them up in Niort and headed back to La Maison in the gathering dusk, very ready for Sandi's fine pot of minestrone soup and baguettes that were waiting for us. Plans for the weekend included meals with as much regional cuisine as possible, and taking in some local sights and activities. The weather was not kind to us, but we managed to duck into a cafe for a meal or a drink when the rain came down.

On the Saturday we headed off again to the street market at Fontenay-le-Comte. IMG_1052.jpgIMG_1051.jpg
We bought a Tarteau fromage, a local speciality, just because it looked intriguing. It tasted like a very bland, light, baked cheesecake, and is apparently best eaten with preserves.
After browsing the market we walked the Route de la Republique looking for hats for Bernie and Estrelita, because they fancied Sandi's chic little Parisian cap, eventually retreating from the rain for a coffee.
We then found a cosy restaurant near the market where we had a good 2-course lunch.
We peeped into the church on the town square.

We had heard that there was to be a Christmas market at Vouvant on the Sunday, which we visited, but unfortunately it was underwhelming.
What proved more interesting was a cafe offering vin chaud. We then came home and made more vin chaud and all got cooking in the kitchen.
Sandi has always liked violets and found violet syrup in the supermarket, which is divine when added to champagne!
Here is the mistletoe we picked on the way home, which looks good with the holly.
Sandi was fascinated with the raindrops on the window.
We had raclette for supper and Bernie enjoyed it so much she licked her plate clean!
On their last day we took them to see the local nursery which seems to specialise in topiary,
and old olive trees.
Having eaten like gourmands all weekend, it was sad to see it come to an end, but the memories linger on.

In our last week at la Maison it rained almost constantly. David got very frustrated trying to ascertain where the water was leaking into the van. After sealing the whole windscreen area, it still leaked! [hoping that when Bob returns he will have a brilliant solution] The other nagging problem is the big speakers which keep wrenching free of their moorings every time we go over a bump. Sandi has come up with the idea of creating a sling for them to rest on which we think is going to work!

Sandi produced a series of profound quotations for David to ponder while he sprinkled the porcelain.
Max and Claudette keeping warm near the woodstove.
Claudette became more and more sociable and ended up sleeping on our bed most of the night [and day too!]
Minnie discovered that the best way to warm one's belly is right on the radiator.

After raking up 15 large bags of leaves from the quadrangle, sweeping the house and mopping the kitchen floor and chopping loads of firewood, we were ready for the owners return on Sunday evening. We liked Bob and Bear [Francesca] immediately and bonded with them at once. They have spent the past three months motoring up and down the Florida coastline in their boat, which they are hoping to sell. They surprised us with a monster hamper of English Christmas goodies, including mince pies and mini Christmas puds, as a “Thank you” present, as well as two gorgeous porcelain kitty mugs [from the cats!]
Bob, Bear and the Tinsel Strangle

Bob, Bear and the Tinsel Strangle

The next day Bob tackled the tricky van jobs with David, and together they managed to sort out the gas flow to the heater. It turns out the tap was hidden and in the “off” position, but this was only discovered after all the gas lines had been disconnected and blown out with compressed air! Then the window leak was sorted [we hope] and the recalcitrant speakers finally bracketed into position securely.

We were taken out to dinner at Mervent as well as to a Chinese restaurant the next day in Roche-sur-Yon where we met some good friends of theirs.
What's good about Christmas when you can't eat these?

What's good about Christmas when you can't eat these?

We were offered a 7-day sit in Rome [2 dogs, 3 cats] from 30 Dec to 6 Jan, but it didn’t work out for us, so we declined after 3 days of frantic Googling. Parking the van securely was the obstacle [Rome being notorious for crime, congestion and parking problems], as the only place we could find was a campsite, outside the city, at great expense – €300 for the week – and we’d not even be there to use the facilities. And that’s even before the cost of public transport to get around, food, etc. We’ll get to Rome at some other stage, and accept that this was not meant to be for now.

Finally there was time for a quick kiss under the mistletoe, before we bade our sad farewells.
Leaving La Maison was an emotional experience for us, as we had just made some new friends, and of course, missing the kitties is the biggest lump-in-the-throat thing imaginable. So strange not being be-catted, especially at night, for the first time in 7 weeks. We feel very blessed to have had this experience.
IMG_1166.jpgMax saying goodbye

Max saying goodbye

One final golden sunrise before we bid la Maison Neuve "adieu".

Posted by davidsandi 09:03 Archived in France Comments (0)


On a sunny day we headed down to the coast, about 1½ hours away from La Maison. The skies were clear and full of plane trails.
We passed through Chantonnay and around Roche-sur-Yon down to the seaside town of Sables d’Ollone. We walked along the harbour quay, passing dozens of tempting restaurants and cafes, along to the magnificent beach, where several people were swimming.
We then meandered back through the pedestrianised shopping area, but all the shops were closed as it was lunch-time [David reckons it's the best time to take Sandi shopping!] We happened upon this charming little street with shells decorating all the walls.
By now we had worked up an appetite, so searched until we found the most appealing menu. We had a scrumptious lunch of langoustines, seafood paella, poisson et coquillages facon bouillabaise, duo de pot de creme and Baba au rhum.....delicious!
Then we drove back home the long way, via Luçon and Fonteney-le-Comte.

One morning we found Max lying on the sofa looking very poorly. He had a dead mouse next to him, which he had not eaten, which was unusual! Over the course of the day he seemed very lethargic and refused to eat. We eventually decided to take him to the vet as we thought that perhaps the mouse was poisoned. It was also a possibility that he had had a severe fright, or a narrow escape from dogs or a car, as his fur was matted in places. As soon as we produced the cat box he perked up, so we decided to watch him overnight. He started drinking some milk and later some food, and spent the night recuperating in this old pram in our bedroom. By morning he seemed back to his usual self.

We had heard that the market in La Rochelle was even better than the one in Fonteney-le-Comte, but we had to wait for 2 weeks before the weather cleared with the promise of a sunny day. We set off in thick mist in faith that it would clear, which it did. It took about 1 ½ hours to get there, but once there we enjoyed browsing the large outdoor market as well as the indoor stalls.
We wandered through the old centre of town to the old harbour and the quay-side, where we enjoyed a good plat du jour in the sunshine.
The old city gate and clock on the quay.
In the town centre, the shops are protected by ancient stone collonnades, to keep the shoppers dry.
Just look at the temptations the Patissier puts in his window!
On the way back to the car park we came across this beautiful carousel.
Later we tried to drive over the connecting bridge to the island of Ile de Re but turned back when we saw the toll was €9, and since we've already paid out a small fortune for French tolls, with more to come, we decided to capture the experience digitally!

Posted by davidsandi 03:03 Archived in France Comments (0)


The Vendée countryside is very pretty with expansive, finely ploughed agricultural lands, trees displaying all the shades of autumn, and lots of sturdy cows.
The country lanes are very quiet and even the villages seem to be hibernating. The houses are functional and floral gardens are almost non-existent; certainly nothing like the beautiful colour-filled gardens of the English. There seem to be quite a large number of retired English folk living in the area, and we have met some of the neighbours. One of them, Jane, explained the possible origin of the many large crucifixes to be seen dotted all over. Apparently, they were erected about 50 years ago to commemorate successful missions to convert the heathen in foreign continents.
We were puzzled by these parasitic bundles growing in many of the trees, and were later enlightened that this is Mistletoe!
The town of La Chataigneraie [la chataigne is a chestnut] is about 14km away with this grand example of a French chateau on the way.
It has a superb supermarket, Super U, with the most mind-boggling selection of cheeses, regional wines, patès, chocolates, baguettes etc, and other foods that we hadn’t even dreamed of! Cheeses, thick cream [crème fraiche epaisse] and wines are cheap even by SA standards, but fresh fruits and roast chickens are expensive. Apparently there are over 1000 types of cheese made in France [including an array of goat and sheep cheeses, which makes David very happy!]
The mini trolley is definitely not big enough for what we want to buy!
Celery this big makes Sandi very happy!

On our first Sunday we went to the nearby village of Bazoges-en-Pareds. Pareds comes from the Latin for "land of grassy valleys". The history of the village goes back 6000 years! We visited the Dongon, which is a medieval castle built in 1380. With spartan rooms on 4 floors and a outside parapet around the top, it is more like a fortified tower than a residence.
The view of the village from the open parapet.
The adjacent castle garden has been reconstructed along medieval lines, and is divided into 16 squares, each bordered by chestnut hedges. The squares are divided into areas for vegetables, medicinal plants, aromatic plants, and plants used in witchcraft. To the right one can see the round dove-cote.
Beautiful, but toxic Aconite flowers.
On the side there is an orchard [where we scrumped a few windfall apples and pears] and a large round dove-cote. It was built in 1524 and owned by the Lord of Bazoges, as only noblemen were allowed to own a dovecote. Every pigeon hole represents ½ a hectare of cultivated land owned by the Lord. When he sold off some land he had to block off the required number of nests.

One Saturday we went to the street market in Fontenay-le-Comte, which is a little town about 30 minutes away. The market was both outdoors and indoors and full of bustle and atmosphere. A big clothing section as well as foods; cheeses, olives, patès, honey, fish and shellfish.

One day, while shopping in Chantonnay, David decided to have his hair cut [Sandi's attempts at hair-cutting not being quite up to par!] The hairdresser was happy to accommodate him without a rendezvous, but he got tongue-tied trying to explain, in his best French, how he wanted his hair cut. She hauled out a catalogue of young, dashing men modelling different hair styles, which made it even more difficult! Anyway she got on with it, gabbling in French, which was hard to keep up with while sounding intelligent, and the outcome was a little shorter than intended!
Decorative cabbages, which Sandi loves, in the streets of Chantonnay.

The nearby village of Mouilleron-en-Pareds is proud of its good patisserie and of being the birthplace of Georges Clemenceau. The streets were full of lovely autumn colours.
We took a frosty walk up on the hill to look at the old windmills [which give the village its name] and the views over the countryside.
One of the mills now contains a tiny, round chapel!

After several days of rain we found two crops of mushrooms growing in the garden.
They looked like the brown mushrooms we buy in the shops, but to be sure David took one to the pharmacie to be identified. Unfortunately the young pharmacist didn’t really know, and wasn’t prepared to say whether we could eat them or not. One of the English neighbours, David, said he would eat them, so we decided to have some for supper. They were delicious, but Sandi stayed awake most of the whole night, just to make sure we didn't stop breathing. A few days later we took some of the second crop to another pharmacy in Chantonnay, and the older pharmacist had no hesitation in giving us the OK. So we picked the whole crop with glee!

On another sunny day [there have been only three in two weeks!] we drove to the little village of Vouvant; reputedly one of the most beautiful villages in France. It is an old village on a hill surrounded on three sides by the river Mere.
The Melusine tower forms part of the old ramparts.
The Church of Notre Dame has a high ceiling, but is without much adornment, except for the Norman carvings around the door.
From there we went for a walk in the Forest of Mervent-Vouvant and saw plenty of holly, some plants even sporting a few bright red berries on the tallest branches. We couldn't resist bringing a few sprigs back to grace the kitchen table. The forest was originally owned by the lords of Mervent, then in 1674 became the Royal Forest; it is now a national park.

Posted by davidsandi 08:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

LA MAISON "House-and-Cat-Sit", VENDÉE

We spent 2 days travelling from Morges to Vendée and finally arrived at our French house-sit in the Vendee at 18:00, after stopping overnight at Bourges in the only campsite that is still open at this time of year. After checking in, the van suddenly refused to start, because we had been charging the leisure battery all the way, and the van battery had run flat. Our spirits sank, as we hadn't even got through the booms yet! So there we were - so near to our pitch, and yet so far. David hauled out the leisure battery and tried to boost with it, but eventually, in desperation David called the RAC for assistance. By dint of luck, prayer and invocations of all sorts, Mr Stubby started again, after a 30 minute rest, and David could cancel the call-out. We were so relieved that we treated ourselves to a superb meal at a French restaurant we came across, after wandering through the old part of town.
We also had a look at their superb Gothic cathedral, St Etienne; it must have the tallest nave we have ever seen, very stream-lined with no frilly bits, but quite breath-taking!
This old clock and astrological time-keeper has been going for hundreds of years.
The cathedral also looked stunning at night
This time "Molly" our temperamental satnav managed to steer us clear of the toll roads, but retaliated by sending us across some tiny country roads. Due to this confusion, and the extra mileage clocked up, we suddenly realised, with trepidation, that our fuel situation was lower than anticipated. The next village had no garage and nor did the next. The next one had tennis courts, so surely they would have fuel? Nothing! By now we were really below empty, so David asked for guidance in his best French, only to be told that the nearest fuel was another 15km away. With no alternative and the imminent prospect of running out on a deserted country road we set off. After a very long and stress-filled 15km, and many prayers, we at last found fuel, and the van sucked in 5 litres more than its capacity! Whew!!

With the unexpected delays, we finally reached our destination, as darkness was falling, and a rather concerned looking fellow came out to greet us. The British couple, who were the in-situ-sitters for the month before we arrived, gave us the hand-over rundown, and we finally met our three furry charges - face-to-face. We felt we knew them well already though, from photos and parental communications during the arrangement period.

Our first thoughts on seeing the place were: Wow, this is to be our house-sit for the next 7 weeks, and what a fabulous place it is! The approach is down a long, rough driveway through the fields, which opens out into a wide gravel area, surrounded on 4 sides by a very old French farmhouse with barns, cellars and 3 gites [holiday apartments].
The view of the house from the side
Ducking through the front arch, [in fact David has to duck through all the doorways!] one finds oneself standing on the entrance floor of undulating, large white flagstones. The white plaster on the walls is crumbling in many places, and patched up in others. At the entrance to the main house, where the plaster is still intact there are marvelous painted murals on both sides, which could date back to 12-15th century. Although faded, they are still distinct, making one wonder what stories are attached to their history.
Remnants of trompe l’oeil brickwork are seen in the recesses where the plaster has not yet crumbled. Next, one’s eye is drawn to the stone stairway leading upstairs, which is so foot-worn that one has to balance on each step! In fact, one's sense of balance becomes dodgy, especially when coming down the steps.
Note the hole halfway up the stairs: it provides a clear view of the front door from the toilet under the stairs, apparently through which invaders could be shot in days gone by!
The sitting-room [salon] upstairs and the bedrooms all have thick, gnarled, wooden beams, sagging under the weight of the terracotta tiled roof, with small dormer windows pushing bravely through. Plenty of opportunities here to knock oneself out! Which both of us managed to do, with great pain!
The stone walls are mostly about 1m thick, and one corner room has narrow slits [now little windows] through which the farmhouse could be defended if under attack.
The many rooms and attics are an Aladdin's Cave of books, old furniture, bric-a-brac, memorabilia, and antiquities - including this full-size suit of chain-mail standing in the corner of the back-kitchen. Quite creepy to some, no doubt, but highly amusing. Fortunately the spirits wandering about are all very benevolent - so we weren't spooked in any real way!

The TV show "Cash in the Attic" would have a lucrative field day here!

We spend most of our time in the enormous farm kitchen, which boasts a wood-burning stove-oven that is used both for cooking and heating the room [although there is central heating too]. The aromas and sounds of wood and bubbling food pots, rain on the windows and flagstones, along with the comforting vision of the three cats [Claudette, Max and Minnie] snuggling down on the comfy kitchen sofa beside the stove, make for an idyllic experience.
The “snug” is a tiny room, which also has a wood stove and has Sky TV [limited channels though] projected enormously onto the wall for viewing pleasure. After being TV-free for so long it's fun to watch again, especially since there's a new season of Strictly come Dancing and the X-Factor on at present. The three gites and the swimming pool are all locked up and “winterised” until the summer returns.

There is a herd of white charolais cows grazing lazily outside the windows on most days, dubbed Les Blondes by Sandi
and the chestnut and walnut trees have finished dropping their crop, which lays out like a picnic blanket below.
The pears and apples are still dropping their fruits; unfortunately the pears don’t taste as good as they look, but the apples have been divine just baked with raisins and cinnamon in the wood-stove, or enjoyed as traditional tartes au pommes, which Sandi has been producing with gay abandon.
We didn’t dare to taste these exotic looking mushrooms, which were later identified as Magpie inkcaps and toxic!
At night, under a clear, star-speckled sky, everything is still, except for the occasional hoot of an owl, a far-off bark or two, the occasional moo from one of the bovine girls, and the purring of cat "engines" - but also very often we're serenaded by the elements, as the wind howls, a shutter bangs, and the incessant rain drums diverse rhythms on the rooftop and skylight, as we snuggle under the duvet. From our bedroom window we occasionally witness a spectacular sunrise!
On Sundays the calm is interrupted with sporadic gunshots as the farmers go hunting.

Of the three cats that we are looking after, Claudette, the mother, is quite shy and took about 3 days before she came in to feed in our presence. But she's warming up to us rapidly.
Max and Minnie, her adorable children, are very friendly and happy to sleep on our bed at night, or one’s lap when trying to write on the laptop [and frequently they squat right on the keyboard when our backs are turned - with crazy results at times - deleted files, screaming screen etc!],
or settle on the "stylish" pink velour seats of the van in the hope of going on an adventure!
Minnie is usually the naughty one and will sometimes tear around the salon and hide under the chair-throws upstairs, or scarper in behind the lining of the kitchen sofa, taunting her brother with her fabric-draped, writhing antics. She doesn't usually like being picked up, but will allow Sandi to cuddle her on occasion.
Max, gorgeous, indolent and abundant lad that he is, came to supervise the gathering of walnuts, but preferred to curl up in the walnut basket and take a ride home.
Their favourite tinned food is lapin [rabbit], along with dried tuna and salmon pellets, which they seem to go through rather quickly, since they ignore other wet and dried food left here for them. So it's frequent trips to the store for more bags of seafood goodies! They're also all most partial to milk, and whatever tidbits are in the offing. You must be able to tell by now that we're besotted with these highly individual purr-factories.

Although we have had some sunny, clear days, the weather has been mostly grisly and cold with plenty of rain. In fact, the rain that started on our arrival, broke the dry spell since April. This is immaterial to us as we have plenty of work to do on the computer, and otherwise, as well as also needing the time to catch up the backlog of this travel blog. It's great being able to read in bed for several hours, and enjoy a patisserie with our morning tea - such a lazy treat. We have developed a dangerous taste for Pains chocolats au amandes!
Daily there is kindling to be chopped for the fires, food to prepare on the wood-stove and DVDs or TV to watch in the evenings [in between spells of other work-related activities]. Life doesn’t get much better or slower than this!

Sandi has surpassed herself by conjuring up the most delicious meals in the big, yellow-painted kitchen. Much of it is done on, or in, the wood stove/oven, but even with regular stoking it does not reach a very high temperature, so everything slow cooks, which seems to enhance the flavours! We have had Swiss fondue, raclette, tartiflette, roast duck in orange, minestrone, prawns in garlic butter, Hollandse biefstuk, tartes au pommes, au abricots, au pruneaus, au poivres et chocolat, etc.
Raclette and bubbly for lunch....can one be more Continental?
Tarte au pruneau [plums]
With her hair pinned up and wearing an apron in the yellow farm kitchen, it brings back fond memories of long-ago days, on the small-holding in Sunvalley where we lived 30 years ago, where Sandi spent many hours revelling in her culinary skills.

Posted by davidsandi 08:20 Archived in France Comments (0)


On Thursday David connected up the battery and we took off on a day trip to Gruyere, on our own. Beautiful scenery all the way and an interesting cheese-making demo and exhibition at the Gruyere cheese factory.
The automated cheese-turning machine turns and salts thousands of cheeses daily

The automated cheese-turning machine turns and salts thousands of cheeses daily

Separating the whey

Separating the whey

Sandi was fascinated by this automated self-cleaning toilet seat at the cheese factory

Sandi was fascinated by this automated self-cleaning toilet seat at the cheese factory

The loo flushes within seconds of getting off it, the seat spins around, getting spritzed and wiped along the way, and all it doesn't do is wipe one's nether bits!!
Off course we had to have an obligatory Gruyere cheese fondue in the fromagerie restaurant before heading up to the village of Gruyere itself – in the freezing cold wind and 3degC temperature.
After that we took the long route home, via Chateau d’Oeux and the Col de Mosses Pass, climbing high into the mountains, with frost on the grass verges of the road, and snow capping the mountain peaks.
Several family members were aghast at our prospects of driving the van up snow-covered or icy passes without winter tyres or at least snow chains. So our project on Friday was to acquire some chains; either to rent or buy second-hand. These proved not to be viable options so we bought some new ones at Jumbo superstore for only €35. David decided he needed to try them on, as this was a totally new gadget for him, and to struggle under freezing conditions with frost-bitten fingers on a high mountain pass in a blizzard, was not a pleasant thought. One is supposed to slip them behind the wheel without jacking the car up, but because the rear wheels are twinned, they would not slip between the wheels, so David had to jack the van up, and presto! no matter how he and Marc wriggled and pulled they would not fit. He eventually decided they were too small and had to exchange them for bigger ones which fit easily. So now equipped with snow chains, and the compulsory luminous jacket, tow-rope, warning triangles and fire extinguisher we are ready to tackle any mountain pass!

Friday evening Loise and Laurent invited us to a movie and pizza in Lausanne. The pizza and the beer [brewed on site] were good, and not too expensive, but the same didn't apply to the movie. [A movie ticket costs SFr18 which = R126!] This little excursion added to the deepening dent in our poor old budget!

On Saturday uncle Christian invited us all to dine with him at his regular restaurant, where he lunches 3x a week with several other well-to-do retirees. As we were enjoying our desserts, cousin Jean-Marc arrived on his Harley Davidson from Geneva, to chat.
Daniel and Liz drove us out to Berne on Sunday. We had wonderful panoramic views of the old city from the Rose Garden,
before descending to one of the bridges over the Aare river to join the crowd looking at the new bear cubs from Russia, which are in a newly created garden next to the river. We wandered up the main street admiring several fountains, the sheltered colonnades, and waited for the town clock to strike three. The figurines have performed their routines daily for hundreds of years!
We were then treated to a yummy traditional lunch of bratwurst, potato rösti and apple strűdel.
We stopped in front of the Bundeshaus, the seat of the Swiss Federal Parliament
before wandering around the old part of town.
The doctors trying to emulate the entwined serpents of a fine caduseus, spotted on a nearby wall.
The Munster St Vincent is a Gothic church dating back to 1421.
IMG_0744.jpgThe famous Tympanum ceiling in the foyer

The famous Tympanum ceiling in the foyer

Mermaid being throttled by the gargoyle!

Mermaid being throttled by the gargoyle!

IMG_0753.jpgThese interesting fellas belonged to the Guild of roof artisans

These interesting fellas belonged to the Guild of roof artisans

On our return, Daniel's kids joined us and we all had supper together.
Phillippe, Sandi, Daniel and Alexandra

Phillippe, Sandi, Daniel and Alexandra

David and Stephanie

David and Stephanie

Liz and David

Liz and David

Phillippe, Stephanie and Alexandra

Phillippe, Stephanie and Alexandra

The family, especially Marc and Jocelyne, have been incredibly loving and kind during our 10-day stay, and we feel enormously blessed by their nurturing.

Posted by davidsandi 10:16 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)



We arrived in Morges, Switzerland, to stay with family, Marc and Jocelyne Wanner [David's uncle and aunt], at about 7pm – after a long trip on the Autoroute from Paris. We programmed Molly [our GPS] to avoid the toll roads, but after a detour through Fontaineblue she steered us back onto the autoroute and we ended up with another €35 toll GRRR!!!!!!
We stopped in an aire for lunch of baguette, wine [Sandi only, not driver Dave], and pomegranate.
Sandi's passion for pomegranate remains rampant.
The countryside was fairly flat, with occasional chateaus.
Armed with some "pad kos" we crossed the Jura range of mountains, which was displaying all the autumnal colours and flurries of falling leaves. Wonderful Jocelyne had a great supper waiting for us and we flopped into bed early-ish, to sleep the sleep of the road-weary travellers.

The Swiss weather was pretty warm for the first few days and David was quite happy in slops and shorts. On Thursday we basically loitered indoors for the morning, to catch our breath, then popped in to visit tante Henriette for tea, and back home for yet another scrummy dinner.
A clear view of Mont Blanc from the balcony

A clear view of Mont Blanc from the balcony

Jocelyne and Marc feed and wine us so well we’re going to be many kilos heavier by the time we leave! At this point we had best explain that lunches and dinners are not events that just fill the tummy. They are social and gourmet events, usually interspersed with consultations with the French and English dictionary, as we all play at wordsmithing!! Often there is a starter, like grapefruit, or special cured meats, followed by a cooked meal of fish, meat or chicken with several veg, and often salad too – plus wine twice a day. Then there is dessert – 4 choices of ice cream or home-made chocolate and/or raspberry mousse [so far] and biscuits, then fresh fruit, peanuts, then coffee and Swiss chocolates!! Sandi manages to pace herself, but David simply cannot say “No” [surprise, surprise]! We’ve worked out that we spend 4-4 ½ hours at table each day [breakfast 1hr+, lunch 1 ½ hrs, dinner 1 ½ -2 hours]!! We find we are exhausted at night, because of all the fine French we try to absorb, as well as the heat. The flat is very warm +- 25 deg C [so we keep popping onto the balcony for a welcome breather, where the temp is at least 15 deg colder], and keep our bedroom window open all day and night to cool the room.

We were invited to dinner at Liz and Daniel [David's cousin] on Friday evening. Liz is from New Zealand, and the whole family – papa Daniel, and 3 gorgeous kids; Alexandra [in matric], Stephanie and Philippe [both studying Economics at Uni] - can speak English, so chatting was not a strain. Trying to understand the nuances, and contribute to French conversation, when there are more than 2 people chatting, can be quite taxing! After a delicious meal, Liz produced a regional speciality for dessert, just to finished us off. tarte au resin.

On Saturday we strolled along the lake, Lac Leman, under clear skies and sunshine, enjoying the last of the dahlias planted in profusion along the promenade. Of course Sandi took a zillion shots with the new camera.
We came across a tree full of these strange fruits.
We even found some highly fragrant musk roses, which instantly brought back visual and olfactory memories of the glorious Bulgarian Rosa damascena.
The hedges full of bright berries were another favourite.
Then another dinner at the flat that night, with Francois [Marc & Jocelyne’s younger son]and Marion, his partner. They were invited for Sunday night, but surprised us all by arriving 24 hours too early!
On Sunday – brunch with the Wagnieres – Loise, Laurent and baby Ellia, and the parents, cousin Eric and Corinne. A divine coffee-shop experience in the village of Echallons [Maison de Ble et de Pain], where everything is locally produced and one can watch the bakers doing their thing while eating scrumptious yoghurt, viande seche, cheeses, patisserie, breads, jams and bottomless cups of coffee, tea and/or hot chocolate, with tarte au crème to finish.
After that we took a trip up Mt Pelerin to a special viewpoint to see a panoramic view of the region, walking up through a forest to a lift station, which takes one up to the top of a tower overlooking sheer beauty.
Vineyards along the lake
Then a short visit to Loise and Laurent’s home in a lovely rural village called Apples, before heading back to Morges for more food!
Loise and Laurent's beautiful daughter, Ellia

Loise and Laurent's beautiful daughter, Ellia

By Monday the weather suddenly changed and the daily temperatures dropped by 10 deg. We took a rainy and misty trip up into the Jura mountains for a cheese fondue of note at the Maison Dent de Vaullions, before a quick visit to Marc and Jocelyne’s dear little chalet next to the Lac du Joux.
We even spotted an original bricelet machine hanging from the rafters!
We took off on our own the next day, which was clear and sunny, but frosty, with the help of a Mobilite public transport ticket, to visit Lausanne and Ouchy.
We took a quick walk down to the Morges market in icy cold weather and bought some sunflowers and walnuts for M&J.
We were amazed to see a sign board outside a shop, advertising some hearing aid or other, with our dear friend, the lovely Dalene Morriss’, picture on it! Wow, her model shots have appeared all over the world!
We walked back for another family lunch, this time with uncle Christian and his cousin Christiane.
David accompanied M & J for the afternoon, while Sandi stayed in the apartment to complete some Council work which had a deadline, while Christiane was given a lift back to her 4 storey home in central Lausanne. She has an elevator in the house to take her to the top floor of the house where she lives. There are 3 apartments on the other floors, which she rents out to tenants. The afternoon proceeded with a visit to tante Marie, in a nearby old-age home,
followed by a 5pm painting exhibition where Marion had some paintings for sale. The snacks were very colourful, including this pain surprise which is a hollowed-out loaf, made into sandwiches, which are then stacked back inside.
On our return the amazing Jocelyne effortlessly whipped up yet another great meal, in time for a 7.30pm dinner-date with Anne-Christine [Marie’s spinster daughter].

Posted by davidsandi 10:15 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

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