Fly vs. family round 1

It was the peak of the Maltese summer. The scorching hot midday sun prompted siesta time. We were sitting on our sixth floor hotel balcony with the patio doors wide open, watching people amble about their day on the street. Our phones were inside the hotel room: we were all together on the balcony, who else would we need to contact?

We had just settled in when the fly came in. It audaciously buzzed past us on the balcony, into the room, taunting my dad. My dad leapt out of his chair and chased after it at top speed, dodging a collection of suitcases and shoes on the floor. The fly feinted left, my dad feinted left. The fly flew up, my dad poised himself ready to strike, ready to Obama that thing.

My dad’s adversary was smart. It flew a few laps of the room haphazardly, my dad leaning over the bed to get to it, moving the furniture aside lest it was damaged in battle. No such luck. The fly was smart. My dad had to change his technique. He grabbed a hotel sized beach towel and snapped it back, creating a draught big enough to dislodge the fly from its frenzied flight path. Snap. The fly, dazed from the sudden gust of wind, flew away from the gust, onto the balcony and into the street. Most probably to terrorise another unsuspecting family.

My dad, feeling quite pleased with himself, calmly folded the towel, returned to the balcony, and took a victory sip of iced water whilst closing the patio doors to prevent other flies from wreaking havoc on our relaxing afternoon.

“If the windows are closed the flies can’t get in.” he explained quite logically.

It wasn’t until we wanted another bottle of water from the fridge that we realised the patio doors didn’t open from the outside. The realisation sent a wave of panic through us. We suddenly needed the bathroom or were completely famished (our last meal was four whole hours ago).

This is when we morphed into Prison Break mode. We tried brute force, simultaneously pushing and pulling the handle. When that didn’t work we set about searching for tools to pick the lock with. The tools we had were rubber flip flops, a small stone and a chair. Whilst my family was in Prison Break mode, I morphed into Spiderman/Mission Impossible mode, planning my six storey descent of the vertical drop, running into the reception and saving my family. My vision quickly dissipated when I couldn’t scale the stone wall of the balcony itself (in my defence it was 3/4 of a person high).

We resorted to drowning person mode, waving down anyone who might listen – but it was the peak of the siesta.

After what felt like an hour of muted frenzied waving, we were tired, hungry and almost ready to give up. We were saved by a bemused resident in the building opposite who had watched the whole affair unfold with a bottle of beer in his hand. In my dazed confusion I could have sworn I also saw a bowl of popcorn by his side. It appeared he had called out his wife to watch.

Thank goodness it wasn’t a sea-facing room.

The hotel manager unlocked the door and through stifled laughter, told us to come in quickly: another fly might come in.

–Neha

Neha in Zurich

The first myth I want to dispel is that Switzerland is boring. Completely disagree. Switzerland’s peaks, lakes and culture are enchanting. For the first time we found ourselves not wanting to walk or cycle or drive to see a long list of places on a pre-planned bucket list. That was what travelling was to me but Switzerland turned my preconceptions on their heads.

We stayed in Küsnacht, a small suburban town along Zurich lake, about 30 minutes by train from the main station. Küsnacht is a relatively affluent town, very quiet and great for relaxing. It was so still it felt like a retreat. The silence was interrupted by the distant sound of gushing water from the local waterfall (no, really) when the wind was blowing in the right direction.

Our hilltop views afforded us unforgettably serene views of Lake Zurich and when the sky cleared, a snow capped mountain range in the distance. My lasting memory of this trip will be sitting out on the veranda, feet up, mug of tea in hand. I was once told that the only thing that could silence me was an unforgettable view: the Swiss mountainscape did it.

Our weekend began with a traditional meal at Restaurant Hochwacht on mountain Pfannenstiel. I had Swiss rösti with wild mushrooms paired with the country’s own Petit Arvine wine. We have been searching for the wine in London since but to no avail as yet. The food is simple and perfectly Swiss but what captivates you (as does most of the country) is the view. The restaurant is accessible only by road and is perfectly placed near hiking trails through the forest. If you’re an outdoorsy adventurer, the country is calling.

Quality of life is a big thing in Switzerland. On Sundays everything shuts down: cafes, shops and restaurants. Speaking to locals, we realised it is quite common to ski, hike or sail for the weekend, or drive the short distance to France or Germany.  Our friends would begin their mornings swimming in local lakes before work. What I loved is that embedded in the culture is commitment to looking after you. We did however speak to Mo, a cab driver who took us home one late Saturday evening who had spent twelve years in the city and spoke four languages but felt that Swiss culture was so strong and unyielding that he felt the need to suppress his cosmopolitan identity. It certainly made us think: a strong culture is quite something for tourists and the affluent but does it alienate those with different perspectives?

Day two was a trip to Luzern in the north where we hopped on a ferry to take a cogwheel train up mount Rigi. Luzern and Rigi are both very touristy but absolutely worth the visit. The cogwheel railway winds within inches of cliffs and trees which are easily a few storeys tall, it’s tough to decide which scenery to take in. Behind you the lake fades out of view and to the side there are cows and wooden huts, just like on the postcards. Rigi Kulm, the highest point of the railway is nearly 1,800m above sea level and on a good day, you can see snow capped mountains close enough to touch on one side.

If you hike a little further, you’re rewarded with what feels like a bird’s eye view of Zugersee Lake. From the top of the mountain the wind carries with it the faint ringing of cow bells which I found difficult to reconcile in my head. Affixing cow bells is a Swiss institution but it must be infuriating for the animals.

Finding it difficult to tear ourselves away from yet another spectacular view, we spent most of the day on Rigi. In the evening we explored Luzern’s old town. The town was hosting a month-long Summer Music Festival which meant street food and pop up performances which we loved.

I liked the city for the cosmpolitan buzz but old town wasn’t what I was expecting. We ventured away from the water towards cobbled streets and ornate doorways. It didn’t feel as authentic as Olbia or La Maddalena Old Town (take a look at my post on Sardinia).

I have to mention Swiss trains. They’re double decker, clean, spacious and very comfortable. Try multiplying our London Underground by 10. Actually, 20. There was a mini jungle gym at the back of the Luzern-Zurich train which blew my mind. Commuting may even be a pleasure in Switzerland, this in itself was a revelation to a TfL commuter.

The final day of our trip came with a consolatory promise to return, although to a different part of the country. After our fourth cup of tea on the veranda we decided to venture into Zurich town. There is plenty to do and see, it is easily worth a day trip.  We meandered through Old Town (beautifully rustic), sat in St Paul’s Church and happened upon Teucher which is the Swiss version of Charlie’s chocolate factory. My advice: try the raspberry ice cream. I still remember it. What I loved about the the town is that you can lose your bearing as you wind along the alleyways and cobbled streets.

We ended the trip quite aptly sitting in silence (again) by the river Limmat whilst all four churches in Old Town rang the hour in.

Swiss splendour is almost entirely outside, and far above sea level it seems. Prepare for those cobwebs to be swept away from the lofty heights of the mountainscape and prepare for a new appreciation for silence

 

Colombo matrix

Food: 1

People: 1.5

Ambience: 1.5

Sights and activities: 2

X-factor: 1.5

Total: 7.5