Thursday, 5 August 2010

Some more about the holiday

Beringen, Kanton Schaffhausen
Hullo ma wee blog,

Although I posted a few snaps from our recent holiday to Switzerland I had intended to do it a bit more justice, but unfortunately man flu got in the way. Now I feel that it finally really is on the way out perhaps this is the time.

I suppose I should really call it a trip rather than a full blown holiday as it was only for 5 days including travel. We have a holiday to France coming soon and the reason for the Swiss trip was to attend a family get together celebrating Uncle Richard's birthday, nephew Fabian's return from his 1 year student exchange to Washington and to see cousin Veronika { called Vroni } who had brought her two sons from New Zealand to visit their Grandparents on an extended holiday. It was just too good a chance to let slip. As it does these days, money had to be a major consideration and we were happy that we wouldn't be doing anything other than just spending those few precious days with family. To make the most of our budget we checked - that's the royal 'we' of course as it was the Lovely G - what was the most cost effective way to get there and found that it was flying to Geneva, a four hour train journey away from the nearest town to the Lovely G's Aunt and Uncle's house  in Beringen. Normally the thought of a flight followed by a four hour train journey would be enough to make your heart sink, but when it's a place like Switzerland and knowing the highly efficient rail system like we do, a four hour train journey is simply a sightseeing tour from a moving platform. This, and the fact that it would cost only 30% of the price to fly to Zurich meant there was barely a decision to make, even adding the cost of the train we would save a packet.

Our Room top left above the tree.

Our Room.

We arrived at the farmhouse in Beringen near Schaffhausen by 5pm and had the evening with Margot, Richard and Vroni and the two boys; Luke 5 and Shaun 10. Although we had spent a holiday at Beringen with them a few years before, the boys barely remembered us and were a bit reserved for the first while as they watched and listened to the adults chatting and reminiscing, before they began to come out of their shells and I was tentatively asked to come and check out what they'd been doing when playing around the house. As with small boys the world over, a new male adult showing interest and attention in their world is quickly accepted. Throw in a bit of rough and tumble, and by the time we came back into the farmhouse I had firmly claimed my place as the best thing since Methuselah was a boy himself.

Shaun's 'Michael Jackson' nose

Kiwi Luke

Julia - I'm gonna get you!

The house, built by Richard's Grandfather, is arranged over several floors and typically has a barn attached. Each floor has a connecting doorway into the barn's various levels, even one direct from Richard and Margot's bedroom, convenient for early starts in years past. The ground floor of the barn is huge and divided up into several areas for different uses; garage, grain store, wood store and part left empty, although for the celebrations due the following day it had been laid out with trestle tables and benches, the tabletops and the barn beams all decorated with fresh ivy, moss and flowers cut earlier in the day in the forest, vinyards and fields which surround the village. Vroni and the boys were living in the ground floor Granny flat, Richard and Margot have their room on the first floor which is the main living area of the old house - kitchen, lounge, study, toilet, bathroom and bedroom. The Lovely G and I were on the second floor where there are two rooms built into the beams and eaves of the house. This, up the rickety wooden stairs is where we have slept for the last twenty years of visits and, having left so many bits and pieces to be used on next trips, it feels very much like home as well as helping us to travel very light for this short trip. Beside our room is an even more rickety staircase leading to the small attic at the very top of the house which hasn't been used for years. Unlike in Britain the houses are together in the village, making what we in Scotland would call a 'ferm toun' from our distant past. The tradition seems to have lasted much longer here. Oddly too the farm fields are split up and divided across the valley with a farm owning fields dotted here and there. Unusually to me too when I saw them first all those years ago, the fields are very small and unless there is livestock, completely unfenced.

Every house has a unique smell but it would be very difficult for me to describe adequately what this house, and particularly 'our' part of it up on the second floor smells like. It's a heady mix of old wooden beams, old barn and hay, mixed with drying flowers and faint smells of seemingly constantly baking bread from the kitchen below. Add to that the sound of water constantly running into the old trough below our bedroom window and perhaps you can feel the magical pull a place like this can have on you. As in summer the mosquito protected windows are almost always open, you have to add in too the sounds of small village life; church clock marking the hours and half hours across the day and night, tractors, the joiners workshop at the end of the road a couple of hundred metres away, the railway crossing with it's gently distinctive 'bong, bong, bong' alarm when the barricade is down, buses and trucks on the distant road and the sound of Swiss German floating up from the street below as children play or neighbours chat in the quiet of the evening. It's a house that the Lovely G has known all of her life - she first came here when she was just 6 months old - and during that time it's changed very little.

On Sunday, about 11.00am we all went to a local restaurant in a nearby village, were we were met by Richard and Margot's two sons and their families as well as other relatives from the wider family. We had a brunch meal before coming back to the barn where we pretty much spent the rest of the day with family at the tables laid out there, talking, drinking and stuffing ourselves on absolutely gorgeous home made cakes, pastries and desserts, all washed down with copious amounts of wine made right there in the village and dark intense coffee. The heat was intense and we were glad for the shade of the barn and the huge sliding doors that allowed any breeze to help keep us cool as the kids tore around outside on bikes and skateboards until eventually deciding that a quick change and a dip in the trough was called for by the youngest ones. They decided very quickly that the water must be coming straight from the glaciers - it was so cold. It was funny to see Shaun quietly infatuated by his older cousin and how he blushed when she spoke to him or when they played together. She was totally unaware and upset him greatly by proudly telling her Aunt G that she had 'a boyfriend'. It would appear that he is an older man - being nearly 12! Get used to it buddy - they're all heart breakers!!!

One of the riverboats.

On  Monday we spent the day with Vroni and the boys - in Schaffhausen and then on to Stein am Rhein. It was another boiling hot day and we were all having a great time together. Just a well as it was a bit of a catastrophe as far as travel planning went anyway. As we arrived at the train platform to take the train to Stein Am Rhein - the plan was to train up and catch a river boat back down - a lovely journey downstream of about an hour, especially on a hot day like that one - there was a train waiting which I made to get on, only to be told that it was the wrong one.  I was surprised as it was the right time and the right platform and confident in Swiss efficiency I didn't even look. Vroni went to check the timetable notice and just as the train pulled out, announced that it was the right one and that we had missed it! We used the half our until the next one to go to the kiosk and buy coffee and gipfel, a type of croissant. So, delayed by half an hour we arrived  in S.A. Rhein, a lovely town on the banks of the Rhine with a square of painted buildings and a great castle on the hill overlooking the town. After a look around and a leisurely lunch in a restaurant overlooking the riverbank. We then headed over to the boarding point for our trip back downriver to home. After a short wait, which I used to take photos of the river and some of the sights around, boarding tarted and I rushed over to join the gang as they boarded. The crew skillfully prepared the boat and cast off, engines surging against the current as we headed off upriver. Yes, that's right, upriver - in other words, in completely the wrong direction! We had successfully boarded the wrong boat. Luckily the first stop was a short ten minute hop upstream and we were able to disembark and walk to the train station to get a train back down to Stein. As we had a short wait we used the time in having coffee and some ice cream which was much appreciated by us boys. By the time we arrive back in Stein, we had a couple of hours to wait on the next boat down to Schaffhausen, or we could stay on the train and be back in half an hour. We decided determinedly that we would get the boat as it would be the highlight of the day, and we worked out that we could wait a couple of hours and still be back at the farm in time for dinner.

Painted house, Stein Am Rhine.

So we waited, window shopping, drinking soft drinks and just enjoying a laugh about how silly we had been and how grateful we were that it would all end up as planned after all. Two hours passed in fairly quick time and soon we were joining the line in preparation for the boat arriving. Just then the tannoy crackled into life and an announcement came that due to 'technical problems' the next - and last - sailing of the day was cancelled.

How it should have been.........

A panic check of the train timetable showed that we could just make the next train back to Schaffhausen and so we hoofed it back across town to the train station as quick as we could. We made the train with minutes to spare and headed home, hot, bothered and luckily, still able to see the funny side. After dinner it was nice to be able to take my book and a beer to the little spot which is my sanctuary when on holiday here - at least until the boys found me and 'forced' me to play darts and table football with them for an hour or so before bed. It was great to spend time with the boys. It's incredible how 'in the moment' children can be, how totally focused on the matter at hand and how easily they give you the chance to do the same, if only for a short while. We were lucky too that the boys were such fantastic fun and an absolute joy to spend time with. In many ways they made the holiday.

Just needs a beer and a book - oh, and me!

cheers guys!

Johannas Berries.

See you later

Listening to Phil Collins,  'Take me Home'


Morning's Minion said...

I've long since conceded that any over-seas travel for me will be via "armchair".
You've made this trip a lively one.
By the way, I thought J's was the only tribe who could so consistently have adventures of the "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong" variety. Still, one can ventually chuckle and it makes a good story.

The Scudder said...

Hahahaha ,,, Loved your story of the train & boat ride that went slightly awry ... Did you ever read my blog account of May 2009 "The One that got Away " ? We do seem to have some common traits Al !
But you obviously enjoyed your short break ,, looks a lovely spot. Glad to hear the Man 'Flu is almost gone ....

Rebecca S. said...

Your trip sounds wonderful. I really enjoyed your description of the smells of your room in the farmhouse, too. And next you are off to France. Sigh...
Anyway, we have a fair number of Swiss people here, and they build lovely houses with open, airy rooms with wood floors and beams and white walls.
Children can make an occasion, I agree!

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