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Quick, get the potty…

3 Sep

Stein view from potty

I hadn’t planned on potty training whilst on holiday.  Particularly a holiday which involved three hotels, a rented house and numerous journeys on trains, buses, boats and cable cars.  However, after successfully potty training Dickon earlier in the summer, he caught a nasty bout of swine flu and seemed to forget everything he’d learnt.  By the time we left for our holiday, he was doing standing-up-wees in the loo again, but with frequent accidents, and refusing point blank to sit on a loo, even with a special seat.  Added to this is his terror of hand driers and dislike of dirty loos, both of which makes it very hard to get him through the door of a public toilet.  So, with a heavy heart, I decided to dig our ancient Tommy Tippee Potette (travel potty) out of the cupboard and add an extra bag to our mountain of luggage.

So for the benefit of those who are planning a trip to Switzerland with a less than continent toddler, here is what I learnt:

  1. Our old-school Potette has an alarming tendency to collapse without warning when it’s placed on a slightly uneven surface.  Luckily Dickon is only alarmed by loud noises, not collapsing potties.  I don’t know if the newer models are better, I hope so.
  2. When you run out of the official Tommy Tippee Potette inserts, a small drawstring bin liner is just as good.  Don’t try and do it on the cheap by nicking the fruit bags from the supermarket.  You will find out too late that they have small holes in.
  3. Dickon was sufficiently intrigued by the idea of watching his wee hit the track to develop a fascination with train loos.  This meant frequent, lengthy trips to the loo on every train journey, accompanied by loud squeals of excitement.
  4. We didn’t come across any dirty loos in Switzerland, and we tried lots.  Everywhere was sparkling clean, even in railway stations, so we gradually persuaded him to enter public loos without a screaming fit.
  5. dog poo binSwitzerland’s frequently placed dog poo bins are very useful for throwing away the contents of the potty.
  6. The dog poo bins also all have bag dispensers which come in very useful for wrapping up damp clothes when you have run out of nappy sacks.
  7. Washing clothes by hand in a hotel sink and a toddler who wets himself at least once a day are not a happy combination.  On the plus side, I got good use out of my travel washing line.
  8. With reference to point 7, a few drops of lavender oil or tea tree oil added to your sink of washing makes everything smell a lot better.
  9. Do not carry a bag of poo up the mountain for an hour in the hopes of finding a suitable bin.  You are expected to carry all your waste off the mountain and after you’ve carried it all the way down again it will smell horrible, masking the beautiful smell of the resinous pine trees.

On the whole, I think I would rather potty train a toddler in the comfort of my own home with non-collapsing potties and a washing machine to hand.  However we survived the experience and I sincerely hope that by the time we leave on our round the world trip Dickon will be fully continent.  Still, at least the view from the potty was good.

MILK!

2 Sep

cows going to higher pasture

Switzerland is not a country for the lactose intolerant.  The cows with their clanging bells are a national symbol which can be seen everywhere.  Not only do they dot the mountainsides, but any spare piece of green in the towns is also home to a cow or two.  And it’s not just real cows, their images are everywhere, from the full size souvenir cow bellsfibreglass cows outside the dairy, to TV programmes about mountain life featuring cowhearders and the ubiquitous miniature cow bells in souvenir shops.

All these cows are dairy animals, and milk in it’s various formations is the basis of most meals.  There’s ‘cheese cutlet’, which is a fried, breaded slice of cheese – not a dish for the faint hearted; rosti and spatzle (similar to gnocchi) covered in melted cheese, raclette, alpine macaroni cheese (with a side of apple puree), and of course the famous fondue.  Milk is yoghurtalso turned into yoghurt, which comes in myriad varieties, none of which are sold in tubes, or other novelty containers; butter, which is used to fry rosti, caramel sweets and of course chocolate.  The supermarket chocolate aisle was at least four times as long as the cereal aisle.  And that’s including the famous Swiss bircher muesli.

The most bizarre milk product we came across is a fizzy drink called Rivella, which is flavoured with lactose.  It has a slightly floral taste not unlike elderflower.  It’s very sweet, like most fizzy drinks, but refreshing, and comes in three types, full fat, diet and the variety with green tea added, which I thought was the nicest.

heating milkCheese is not only something to eat, it’s a form of entertainment too.  In true ‘Come Outside’ fashion (for those of you without access to CBeebies, this is a programme about Auntie Mabel and her dog Pippin, who fly around in a spotty plane finding out how things are made), we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Appenzeller cheese factory.  We learnt all kinds of interesting facts about cheese and played on a giant cheese slide.  As days out go, it was a corker.

cheeseIt would be wrong to talk about Swiss milk without mentioning goats.  We saw fewer than I expected, having read Heidi umpteen times, but we did see a few, some of which we fed at the Heidi museum (of which, more later).  We also tried a few of their products, the soft, fresh, salty cheese was delicious but goat mozzarella was a bit more challenging. The goats milk had quite a strong flowery taste, which the children proclaimed disgusting and refused to drink.

But it is the cows who are the real stars in Switzerland.  Their presence can be felt wherever you go, from the sound of melodiously clanging bells heard in the unlikeliest of places, to the sight of milk churns cooling in troughs of icy mountain water as you walk past the milk shop.  Every time we saw one, which was often, the children would shout ‘COWS’ and it was a true highlight of our holiday when, whilst hiking on our last afternoon, we met a herd of cows being driven up to a higher pasture.  They were friendly gentle creatures, who all gave us a sniff as they ambled past on their way up the mountain.  It was a fitting end to a wonderful holiday.milk churns

This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesday. For more travel food stories, head here.

Gnomes of Zurich

21 Aug

Switzerland is as stunningly beautiful as the tourist brochures suggest and we have been enjoying noticing all the differences between here and Britain. Some things aren’t so very different though. The Swiss are as keen, if not keener, than us about gardening, with every house sporting magnificent window boxes, neat rows of vegetables, apple trees and lots of gnomes. This incredibly design conscious nation apparently has the odd lapse in taste.

Appenzeller gnomes

We’re all going on a summer holiday

16 Aug

On Tuesday we are going on holiday to Switzerland, and I am as excited as a small child the night before their birthday. It will be the first time I have been somewhere new since our honeymoon in Costa Rica eight years ago.  I get the same thrill from travelling to an unknown country as others get from buying a really expensive handbag. It is hard to define exactly what it is about travel that I find so exciting and satisfying but it’s not usually about visiting the famous sites or tourist attractions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely looking forward to watching the cheese making demonstration and visiting the Heidi museum, but I also love the everyday stuff like visiting the post office or listening to the local radio station. Some of my best travelling experiences have involved doing everyday things.

Getting a haircut or a shave. Hairdressers and barbers are often gathering places for the local community, so it’s a great way to meet the locals. I once had a haircut in a small logging town in the Malaysian jungle to help pass the time while waiting for a train. As a tourist, I was an object of curiosity and attracted most of the female population of the town to the shop, where they gossiped excitedly about me, while I communicated the style I wanted in sign language. I had a surprisingly good cut. Steve has had some memorable shaves all over the world. In Jaisalmer crowds of small boys gathered to watch, in Bologna the barber’s shop was grandly panelled and the white coated barber anointed him with fragrant oils. The most memorable shave was in a small fishing village in Turkey, where the local men sat discussing the football scores, while the barber removed hair from Steve’s ears with a burning taper. He turned down the offer to do the same for his nose.

Visiting corner shops. I love exploring foreign corner shops and discovering what products they stock and how they are packaged. The ultimate corner shops have to be the Japanese Combinis, with their immaculate layouts and bewildering array of products; from coffee in a tin which automatically heats up when you open it, to sock tape, for keeping your socks at exactly the right height (really!).

Reading magazines and newspapers. Even if your understanding of the country’s language is minimal, there is much to be said for reading local papers or magazines. In India I read at length about film stars and celebrities and discovered what qualities are expected of a future wife. In Japan, the teen fashion magazines taught me exactly what height my socks should be pulled up to (see above).

Buying music. I love the idea of this, but I’m often not terribly successful. In Thailand I asked for recommendations from a 10 year old and ended up with bland pop that could have been from anywhere. Trying to avoid bland pop in Malaysia, we ended up with a tape (I know I’m really old) of a 1950′s crooner. We still have it in the car, but it doesn’t get played very often. I thought I was finally on to a winner when I bought a tape of Liberace playing the piano when I visited his house in Las Vegas. Imagine my disappointment when I played it in my Walkman for the first time on the train out of Vegas, to find that there’d been a mix up and I had country and western music. And it wasn’t even Dolly Parton.

Eating street food. It really is the best kind of food, and you get a free cooking lesson watching it being made. In Morocco, the only decent foods we ate were the steaming bowls of lentil soup with a shot glass of olive oil poured on top and the freshly made yoghurt, both from tiny hole in the wall cafes in the souks of Fez and Marrakesh. The one ‘fancy’ restaurant we ate in was a supremely depressing experience with no other diners, bland food and monosyllabic waiters.

Watching TV is an activity I love at home, so it stands to reason I’ll love it when I’m abroad. I’ve watched late night philosophical debates in France, sumo matches in Japan, Bollywood movies and adverts for paneer in India, and a strangely gripping, mid 1990′s Italian talent show with singing kids and acrobats. Hmm, maybe Simon Cowell likes watching TV when he’s on holiday too…

Using public transport. Admittedly, this one doesn’t always go to plan, like the time we took a five hour local bus trip in India and it was so hot the candle (for power cuts) in my backpack melted. But what would a holiday be without a story about chickens on the train and chai bought from the platform vendor? Sometimes the public transport is so amazing it puts ours to shame. On Japanese bullet trains, the stewardess bows on entering your carriage and all trains are punctual literally to the second.

I think the reason I find travel so exciting, is it brings out the child in me.  Everything is new and therefore worthy of exploration and an everyday task, like buying a picnic, becomes strangely exotic.  This will be the first time we have taken the children on a trip like this.  I hope they enjoy it.

Heidi, chocolate and choo choo trains

19 Mar

Heidi and Peter outside Heidi's house, Graubünden

This summer we are taking our first proper backpacking trip with the children, to the land of Heidi, chocolate and railways.  This trip will be the first time any of us have been to Switzerland, which is exciting in itself, but it will also be a sort of trial run for our big trip.   We’ve travelled with backpacks before, but usually to stay with family.  This time, we’ll be carrying everything we need on our backs, travelling entirely by public transport and staying in a few different places.

As we’re only going for a couple of weeks, I’m going to plan most stuff in advance.  So far, I’ve booked a week in a self catering apartment, and a night ‘sleeping in straw’ on a farm near Maienfeld, where Heidi lived (ok, so Heidi is a fictional character, but the book was set here.)

‘Heidi’s House’ is given a very scathing write up by both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, but I’m guessing the authors don’t have children.  The museum is a recreation of an alpine hut of the period, where you are allowed to touch everything and try out what it would have been like to live with the Alm Uncle, you can even feed goats.  It seems to be an ideal place to take small kids.  

For the railways part of the holiday, we’ll probably get Swiss Rail Passes and hop on and off the scenic routes like the Glacier Express and the cablecars up into the mountains.

I’m working on the chocolate aspect of the trip, but I’m sure plenty of it will get eaten!

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