Month: September 2014

Home Sweet Hauptbahnhof?

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We took a mini-break to Lake Como on the weekend and it was lovely. It’s great to have places such as this within easy striking distance (3.5 hours by train). I feel a tad guilty that we haven’t explored more of Switzerland itself yet, but there’s plenty of time for that. The train journey is amazing. The same route as I took to Milan a few months ago. And it was good practice for entertaining a toddler in a confined space for several hours (result: not great, the 12-hour plane trip on Sunday without HI’s help is going to be nasty).

Lake Como is spectacular. I was actually unprepared for how beautiful it was. According to Wikipedia, it’s been a tourist destination since Roman times and it’s easy to see why. Very dramatic landscape with steep mountains rising on all sides of the lake, which is quite large – it took us nearly three hours to putter on a Ferry from end to end (almost). We stayed in a tiny town called Carate Urio, right round the corner from George Clooney’s house. Mr Clooney was getting married on this same weekend in Italy, in fact. Our invite must’ve got lost in the mail…

Wow it was steep though – there was a road for cars but the easiest access to the water from our AirBnB apartment was via winding staircases down the mountainside between other houses. These little cobblestone walkways seemed quite medieval and were somewhat confusing, especially once it got dark and was raining! Luckily we found our way home on the first night (after eating one of the town’s two restaurants Il Filo d’Olio) without overshooting the mark by too far. Next day I completely misjudged the timing to get down to the ferry dock and ended up having to run for it. As there’s only 3 ferries a day, I was very glad to just make it in time! My baby belly didn’t thank me for the exertion though. Phew. I was quite glad the ferry trip itself was a couple of hours so I had time to recover.

We had lunch at Bellagio – a really pretty town complete with requisite stone staircases up the hill, loads of restaurants, salumerias, gelato shops and souvenir stuff. Because the ferries back were few and far between, we didn’t hang around too long, and were rewarded for our punctuality by discovering a “rapido” ferry departing to Como (the town) at the same time as the one we were planning to catch back to Carate Urio. So we hopped on that and spent a few hours exploring Como as well, gelatos in hand. Headed back on a tiny ferry, which was lovely – stunning scenery all round. (Actually, a lot of the lakeside towns reminded me of Mosman Bay back in Sydney! Maybe Mosman is not quite so impressive…)

So it was a fantastic day that was only marred by the realisation when we got back to the apartment that we had lost Mimi, P’s favourite soft toy. Aaargh, not again!! This is the second Mimi we have lost since moving to Switzerland 😦 😦 But good news, the Ferry Company just wrote back to HI’s email to say they found her, so she will be returned… maybe not in time for Aust, but all good!

Heading back on Sunday, there was some confusion with the trains (an Italian rail strike? hard to tell) but once again, our luck was in and we caught a direct train to Zurich within half an hour of arriving at the main station in Como. Trip back with toddler was again somewhat trying but fine. It was interesting to arrive back at Zurich Hauptbahnhof (HB) and realise it’s starting to feel like “home” – or at the very least it’s very familiar and actually quite comforting. It is a nice station after all, quite large but fairly open and airy and SO EASY to walk right off the platform onto a tram home. I hope I still feel this way when we return from Aus, although not sure Zuri Flughaven is quite as lovable as the HB. (Then again, Tyler Brûlé is always raving about it in his FT column – hmm another local we’re still waiting to get an invite from. I wonder if he attended the Clooney nuptials?)

So that’s the mini-break… now for the maxi!

The Smell of September

Josefswiese Park, Hardbrucke

Josefswiese Park, Hardbrucke

The world has turned.

It’s a little bit darker in the mornings. I’m taking a jacket out with me again as standard.

I’m feeling the flutterings of new life in my belly.

Nothing has changed, but everything has changed.


P has gone from crawling into our bed each morning at 5am to sleeping through past 7 sometimes. He’s also gone from a few weeks of whining and “nup” to everything back to a lovely(mostly) kid again. It’s so hard to tell with these phases – is it us? Is it him? Something else? Even though I’ve done this parenting thing for nearly 3.5 years now, I always forget that each phase only lasts a couple of weeks. The good and the bad.

I’m in a new phase too. I feel different. Things are OK. Somehow I’ve clicked over from raging against my fate to accepting things and it’s so much better (for now!). I am cool with the boy thing too – so much so that I almost can’t fathom why I was so upset.

Even the language – somehow a shift there as well. From worrying if I “could” or “couldn’t” if I was “good” or “bad” at German to realising I just have to learn it. It’s just knowledge that’s there to be gained and I am taking the classes, doing the study. It’s hard but not insurmountable, it just takes work. Work I can do.

Some piece of myself has returned and I’m organising stuff! I’ve been teeing up a few social engagements and going out to things, buying household items and planning travel. It feels good.

I went to this Motherhood Support Group the other night. Only three people of a projected six showed (including the organiser) but it was good to have a small group so everyone could say lots. We talked for nearly 3 hours! The organiser, who is a psychologist, expat and mother herself, said some interesting things about moving cities/countries/continents that I hadn’t thought of before.

When you cut yourself out of the fabric of your life and try to re-establish those threads of familiarity in a completely new environment, you lose so much. The subconscious things I hadn’t realised were smells and geography.

Smell is such a primal sense, not something you think about so often. When you relocate to a completely new place, you lose all those familiar scents of home. Even of your own home. The streets, the odour of your local newsagent, the office, the Tube. It’s very disorienting to be without all these smells. I almost cried when she said this – it’s so true! When I was in the nasty throes of morning sickness, with the bloody churchbells reverberating through my new apartment, I would crawl into bed and think “I hate the smell in here”. It was a completely innofensive odour of clothes, sheets, dust (I guess) but it was different to “home” – different washing powder, different water, new trees, less pollution.

Feeling a chill in the air this week, I found my nose reaching for the familiar Autumn smell of Horse Chestnut trees and fox shit. A smell I actually didn’t like. But it signalled something: London/Autumn/Now. And drawing a blank on that scent was really odd – like walking into an unlit room in my brain. Early Autumn is one of my favourite times of year. What does it smell like in Zurich? I don’t quite know yet.

Geography too. Just knowing the patterns of your local area – the well-trod journey to the train station, the local park, your corner shop. They build reassurance in the brain: I have been here, I know this, I know what I’m doing, I know who I am. Losing that is tough, it takes time to re-build those familiar routes, make new connections to your local landscape. It’s fascinating, and sort of terryfying to think how lost I felt without this. Also explains why my homesickness often takes the form of small yearnings for odd places – a nondescript corner of Castlereagh Street, Sydney. The view of the sky above the railway tracks as you walk down Bedford Street, Newtown past the Hub. My bit of the Thames as I strode across London Bridge to work. The curve of the path through a crappy Tottenham estate where I weekly pushed my newborn child in his buggy…

This week, we also had a lovely afternoon at Josefswiese park at Hardbrucke, where I’ve actually spent enough time for it to feel like a familiar friend now. When we came to Zuri in Summer 2013, with the move still very much up in the air, I took my son to this park and had my first “This is good, we could live here” moment.

I love it there. I’ve fallen in love with Josefwiese! For me, to fall in love with a place is important. It means taking it into my heart, owning it, but also giving something away. It’s that thing of committing, admitting vulnerability…  I now own a piece of that park and it owns me, a tiny part of my heart will be left there if and when we leave Zurich. And I’ll miss it and yearn for it in odd moments. Like my bit of the Thames in London, or that chunk of sky in Newtown.

And soon I’m going home. To one of my homes. Home, home, home. Oh Sydney, I can’t wait. But I’m working hard to make sure I want to come back to Zurich too.