Snow season, sad season

Winter in Nyon is depressing. It took me until just recently to wrap my head around why we are all cranky and depressed by the time February rolls around. For two years in a row, we have hit that month and spent the whole time talking about how much we hate it here and want to leave – often with no good reason. Well, some good reasons, but mostly no good reasons. Now that it’s summer, it’s easier for me to look back on things from my state of happy, sunny days and realise the problem was the weather, not us, obviously.

In Ottawa, the winter is long and cold. But it’s bright – even the short days are offset by at least one or two days of full blue sky, shining sun, and sparkling snowfields. Heck, the nights aren’t even what I would call ‘dark’, since the snow keeps the light even through the evening.

In Indonesia, the equal 12h-12h days on the equator do seem shorter, and we always missed the evening light. But there was a regularity to the schedule that kept us on track, with lots of sun in the morning to keep us going even through weeks of dark, rainy evenings.

Somehow it’s the worst of both worlds here. We get the short days AND we get the dark, rainy evenings (and mornings), and then the fog rolls in. And that’s it. Weeks and weeks of misty skies, barely-there sun, and depressing dampness. It’s dark when you get up, dark when you get home.

This year was slightly better since we got about two weeks of snow to break up the monotony of grey. We tried to make the most of it, although not being skiiers and having a fussy sportscar that can’t drive into the mountains put a cramp in those plans. We built snowmen, buried into the snow like wolves, went for walks in the winter wonderland fields, and even managed one nice trip into the hills for a sledding trip with friends.

Moral of story – please set an alarm to remind us about this post in about 6 months. So maybe we can make it through the next winter without as much agonizing depression!

Strasbourg snow & Swiss cheese

While my parents were here, we decided to do a little tour. Last year we went to Italy, so I figured we should do something in the other direction – and since we had such a lovely time in Strasbourg last time, I thought it would be nice to go there with them. Unfortunately, it was a bit chilly and snowy! Somehow we managed to arrive over the few days that it wasn’t sunny. But that didn’t stop us, we still enjoyed a fantastic few days.

The main sight is of course the cathedral, which was just as beautiful as the first time we saw it. We also took the same little train trip, as well as a boat tour around the canals. It snowed while we were on the boat, and then something happened to the motor so they had to take us back early. We went to re-book the trip, but it was taking such a long time that we got reimbursed instead. Free boat trip! I also dragged my dad to my favorite game store, where I bought a discounted game that was some kind of unholy union between steampunk and Risk  – it was too complicated for us to figure out (in French)!

That day was also my mom’s birthday, so we booked a nice dinner at the Kammerzell House restaurant. You think sometimes these kinds of famous places are charging for more of a touristy experience, but actually the food was very good, with a great wine list, and the servers were really attentive. It was lovely.

On our second day, we toured the zoological museum, which was small but really interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many weird taxidermied animals in one place. There were probably a thousand birds, many of them misshapen and hilarious. Easily a highlight of the trip!

On the drive home, we followed the Alsatian wine route part of the way, stopping in the medieval village Riquewihr for lunch. This was probably the most adorable little place I’ve ever seen, with ancient cobblestone streets winding around rows of colorful sloping houses. We had lunch, ironically, at a Swiss-style restaurant. But it was nice.

Back at home, I took my mom and the kids to the Cailler chocolate factory. They had been asking for weeks to visit, and the week after Easter seemed like a good time (and there were plenty of chocolate sales to be had). We also stuffed ourselves with cheese in nearby Gruyères, where my mom had raclette for the first time – even though I had made her a homemade cheese fondue the night before and we had sworn off cheese for eternity.

Too soon it was time for my parents to head home. I’m sure they’ll be back again soon!

Tuscany towns – cookies and more

The great thing about being in Tuscany turned out not to be just the heavyweights, Florence and Pisa, but the other wonderful little Tuscan towns around the area. We made it to two others that were perfectly charming and not as overwhelming – Lucca and Volterra.

Lucca is one of the best preserved medieval towns in the whole province. It managed to survive the centuries of war and destruction that most other areas suffered under, and as the regional capital for many decades, it has a lot of lovely buildings, churches, and piazzas to enjoy. It is also now known as the place where most European toilet paper is made – this was the most exciting thing for the kids, although we didn’t make to the TP factory… But we did eat lunch in an old Roman amphitheater, wandered the winding streets and fortified walls, and ate some disappointing gelato.

Volterra was my favorite. Although we arrived on a rainy mid-morning, we spent a few hours wandering this hilltop town boasting more ancient churches and adorable twisty alleys. It’s known, among other things, for its alabaster and some unique cookies called Ossi di Morto cookies (bones of the dead). They were surprisingly similar to the texture I would imagine dried up skeleton bones would actually have… After a delicious lunch at a cafe, it was time to go.

We also managed to fit in a day at the beach. The air and sand were hot, but the sea was cold, cold, cold. So, of course, only the Cayas were in there (well, B and the kids), and a random other kid from Northern England who was so happy to swim with someone else because his parents refused to go in. Soon we headed back up over the Alps, just in time for a last snowstorm of the season.

Winter holiday highlights: Ottawa

Our Christmas holidays were lovely. It had been over a year since we last visited home, and even longer since we had seen winter! The plan was to spend almost a month relaxing in Ottawa with family and friends, making the most of wintry days playing in the yard and wintry nights sitting by the fire.

We headed out of Jakarta on an early Saturday morning, laden with suitcases full of gifts and only the bare necessities – since none of our current wardrobes were at all suitable for the weather in Canada. Luckily we had managed to buy some long pants and a few sweaters in Bogor, so we could at least make it from the airport to the house when we arrived. But wearing socks for the first time in two years was a bit weird.

The flights were relatively smooth, other than a few panicked hours in Hong Kong when we thought our flight would be late and we would miss our next connection in Vancouver. But it turned out fine, and the 35 hours passed like a breeze. A very long, very boring, incredibly painful breeze filled with hours of cramped seats, terrible movies, inedible food and whining children. But we made it.

Our first week home was also filled with boring things like visiting the dentist. Twice, for the family members who had a cavity. Three times, for those with two cavities. And we battled jet lag for quite a while, waking up to watch movies at 2 in the morning. Ah, who am I kidding – it was the holidays – we probably would have done that anyway!

It snowed just when we arrived, and the kids were so excited. We took them tobogganing. J cried the whole time, complained that LittleB was “throwing sand at her” and went to play at the snowy swing set instead. LittleB face-planted at the bottom of the hill and sprawled there for the rest of the time. BigB smacked his knee on some ice riding down the hill on a kiddie saucer and limped for the rest of our trip. But I had a good time, though!

Obviously the big ticket item was Christmas. My sister and her family came to stay as well, and we had a busy schedule of visiting friends and family throughout the week. Christmas is always a busy time for us, since we have so much family in the same city – and we have to carefully plan our days to get in a dinner and presents with all of them. The upside is that we get dinner and presents with all of them. We also visited an old-fashioned Christmas village, where we got to meet Québécois Santa, see thousands of Christmas lights on old-timey buildings and eat toasted marshmallows at the firepit. We also managed to see a number of good friends.

Before we left the city, we decided to do some tourist activities so we didn’t feel like we had wasted our entire vacation sitting around drinking Bailey’s (that doesn’t sound too bad, actually). Of course, on the week we decided to take the kids to the museums, they were all closed for annual maintenance. We did manage to visit the art gallery for an M.C. Escher show, which was very neat. But it was on the coldest day of the year so far (-37 C with the windchill). We made the poor kids walk about 10 minutes to the gallery – that was a mistake. J started crying uncontrollably and LittleB had a panic attack when he saw BigB’s mustache getting ice on it. But we stopped for beaver tails and hot chocolate, which every Ottawan knows is the only cure for a cold day in Canada. Everything worked out fine.

The night before we were meant to leave, the whole family came down with a stomach bug. We managed to change our flights at the 11th hour and got a whole extra weekend of time. So we headed over to the Nature Museum to see the dinosaurs and stuffed birds and stuff. We also managed to squeeze out a few more restaurant trips and extra goodbyes.

Too soon it was time to head home for real, to the home that has all our stuff. The highlights I carried home with me, other than a bunch of new underwear and kids’ medicine: easy shopping, nice restaurants, driving on the wrong side of the road, new babies, craft beer, personal space, silent snowy nights, ham, and bacon.

I think my only regret is that I didn’t get any one-on-one time with my sister. Our kids kept us both busy, and we had too many family gatherings eating up our days and nights. Luckily, we just planned a last-minute Thelma-and-Louise trip to Paris in a few weeks, so I guess that worked out for the best!!

We miss you, Ottawa. See you next time!