Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chocolate, chuckling and chatter

So there I was, coughing with my mouth open, hands not available to stop the germ-laden spittle from shooting out and splatting the window. 

The driver behind us saw my red wheezing face staring back at him with shock. Why on earth was this woman seated in the back of her car, hatchback flap open, simultaneously hugging and sitting on an enormous IKEA flatpack?

Because the car was too small, it was an uphill journey on the way home with a risk of the box sliding back towards Vernier and we had guests arriving, that’s why.

First up was Taka, father to our much-beloved but impossible-to-take rabbit Skipper. With the impressive – and many opportunities to mock – title of Manager of Emerging Technologies, he’d been sent to Paris and Sweden to hobnob with similarly-titled cyber smarties from other companies. A three hour second-class train trip was all it took for him to arrive, tired but typically Taka, late at night. 

The next morning it was a relief to hear that he found the bed very comfortable.

Being Good Friday and the first week of Sapphire’s school holidays, all of us were on hand to show him the sights of Geneva. A walk to the UN, a stroll around the lake and into the Old Town with a final, not-negotiable browse in some tacky gift shops. When you’re the father of two girls under the age of ten, bringing back a souvenir is mandatory. Luckily he had the hard-earned wisdom of Sapphire to help him select a soft St Bernard and cow (complete with pink udders) backpacks to cram into his suitcase.

You know you’re a hopeless whitey when it only takes half an hour of 13C weak spring sunshine to burn your nose and neck. The dog and me sat outside while the others climbed the St Pierre cathedral tower and my usual magnet for direction-seekers was still on fire. No less than three different couples asked me where the

1) oldest house in Geneva was;

2) the entrance to the Reformation Museum; and

3) which direction to the tram stop in Rive. 

I smugly report that I could help all of them. Shame that none of them warned me about my sizzling skin in return. 

No sooner had we farewelled Taka on Saturday morning than the sheets were whipped off the bed, bunged in the washing machine and draped over the dining table to dry in time for the arrival that afternoon of the Fraj Family. 

I’d worked with John-boy over twenty years ago in London as we tried our best, in a busy office filled with Aussies, Kiwis and Northerners in flat caps and broad accents to pull TSB bank out of their bad lending quagmire.  We even bungy-jumped together on a boozy winter weekend in Normandy, France, that resulted in AJ Hackett himself shortening the cord so that we didn't smash our heads into the frozen river below.

Several hours later, Sapph and I took the bus to the airport to greet the Fraj Four – John and Rebecca and their two daughters Francesca and Alexandra. As soon as we spotted them, we phoned Love Chunks who drove in our spunky but only-holds-five car to pick them up as Sapphire and I found the number ten bus to take us back home again.

Perhaps it’s a clichéd thing to say, but there are some friendships that you can pick up where you left off, even if, in our case, that was five years ago in Adelaide. The girls have grown and all the parents’ hair is greyer, but the jokes, reminiscences and effortless conversation hadn’t changed.

Dinner was fondue, whether they wanted it or not. They, like myself once, were polite but possibly not that enthralled by the idea of eating a badly-done memory from the 1970s when it was suggested to them – that is, until they tried it. Instant adoration ensued with every single drop of melted cheese disappearing quicker than the ears of an unwrapped Easter bunny. It must be the combination of the homeland, the right cheeses (Emmental and Gruyere) and the atmosphere of Geneva’s oldest restaurant (try 400 years) that wins everyone over. Even celebrities and diplomats eat there – old, mismatched plates and plain furniture but the right mixture of ingredients and location. Being attended to by the, frankly, gorgeous Remy the waiter who makes Brad Pitt look like a hog with halitosis was another plus.

The rest of the holiday is now a bit of a blur. A carbon-copy of Taka’s day in Geneva (but the weather far less warm and a lot wetter), a boat trip to Chateau Chillon and Montreux; Chateau Gruyeres, cheese on every meal on offer everywhere; the Cailler chocolate factory and a long meandering drive through lush green farmlets, tiny villages and the scenic background of the snow-capped Swiss alps always in view. Stoically suffering through the dreary cold and rain at Neuchatel and Yverdon but hopefully also actively imagining how lovely they’d look in the summer..... 

Then there was a train trip to Berne – chosen because it was a direct route and somewhere we hadn’t been before. It was truly worth it – a very historic city that has six kilometres of 15th C buildings with covered walkways and is famous for bears, Einstein (who lived there for two years when working as a patent clerk) and rather ornate fountains. 

Another day was spent ‘relaxing’ (code for ‘all the girls want to have a sleep in’) and shopping (‘the girls want to find chocolate to take home for their friends’). We were successful on both counts – I think the Frajs’ took home around 8kg of the Swiss stuff at the risk of blowing out their luggage limit as well as their waist bands.

Throughout the past fortnight my flu hung in there but I did my best to cough discreetly away from anyone else, honk quietly (well, for me, ‘quiet’ is less than a hundred decibels and not blasting a hole through the tissue) and generally ignore it which is why, after everyone’s left and the house is festooned with washing (the tops of the doors were wiped clean in order to drape damp bed sheets on them), it seems to have returned for another bout.

Still, a few quiet days of housework, blog writing, searching for quick and easy (and paid) writing gigs with Milly at my feet and eating some fresh-from-the-UK Creme eggs will sort all that out.

I miss ‘em already. The friends, not the Creme eggs!

Oh okay.... and the crème eggs.


Ann O'Dyne said...

hope you are well rested now X X X

Kath said...

Yep, I'm getting there - planning on having a quiet week this week and back to full on from Monday.

drwife said...

I think my next holiday will be to your house...you must be an amazing hostess with all these people breezing in and out. Feel better!

Kath said...

Thanks Drwife - I don't know about 'amazing' but hey, if you insist...

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

Just realised that I wrote my last blog post spelling "Creme Eggs" incorrectly all the way through.

How embarrassing! Even worse, I lost Brownie Points over them AND they are manufactured in Birmingham, which is about 15 miles from where I was born and lived for 18 years!

Still like them though.




Andrew said...

Busy times. I was wondering if you ended up in hospital with your flu and now I find you have have swanning around all over the county and entertaining all and sundry.

River said...

Apart from your flu, that sounds like a really fantastic holiday! The fondue restaurants sounds marvellous, nothing beats good cheese and excellent ingredients. The fanciest place in the world is no good if the food is ho-hum.
I like the photo of you all riding the bear.
Can you buy a foldaway camping washing line anywhere in Geneva?

The Elephant's Child said...

I am so glad that you are back and hope the flu is a distant memory. The friends that you can pick up where you left off are the ones to cherish.

Kath said...

Plastic Mancunian, your disrespect to Creme Eggs was noted - but also forgiven as you were too busy striving to achieve the mysterious 'brownie points'.

Andrew, 'swanning' is probably right as we did see a few of the actual birds setting up their nests by the edge of the lake.

River we have a terrific clotheshorse plus a clothes rack that hold two loads of washing, but for sheets, nothing beats an arrangement of chairs, the dining table *and*, as my recent discovery, being draped over doors. All dry within half a day!

....and yes, I realise how boring that makes me sound, but there's few things as satisfying as clean washing all done and put away within a day.

They sure are, E-Child.

River said...

I agree with you, wash, dry, fold and put away all between dawn and evening. I'll have to try that over the door trick myself.

wilbo43 said...

So you visited two of my favourite Swiss spots, Chateau Gruyere and Caillers Chocolates. Envy, the former being a very unique little town. I am now going to make myself a cheese sandwich however sans chocolate.

Jackie K said...

That all sounds just wonderful. I loved Berne when I went to Switzerland as a teenager.

Anonymous said...

Did you fill up on the free samples at the Cailler factory? I disowned my family there, given their appalling greed :) But it was so hard to resist - now I want their dark chocolate with orange!


Kath said...

River, the door trick is a handy one - just wipe the tops clean first!

Wilbo43, they're rapidly becoming our favourite spots too - then again, we've only seen about 3% of what Switzerland has to offer so far....

Thanks Jackie K. Berne was utterly beautiful and we have some wonderful photos that Sapphire took that I'm considering getting enlarged and framed.

M - yes! The kids came out with FULL pockets!

Pandora Behr said...

Hope you're on the mend and all rested up, though appears you had a lovely time with your visitors.

Your blogs make me miss Europe all the more.

Hannah said...

Nothing like old heart-song friends to make a day seem incandescently bright, even if it's technically grey outside. Lovely post, Kath!

diane b said...

Thats the best thing about Switzerland there is always plenty of fabulous places to take visitors. I too love Berne. We always take pictures of the baby eater fountain. Ghouls aren't we? Let us know if you ever visit Thun. A boat trip from Thun to Interlaken is beautiful. Thun is Bill's (Wilbo43) hometown.

Cat J B said...

Mmmm, creme eggs! Love 'em!

And a cheesy fondue...my favourite foods I think, cheese and chocolate.

Take care of yourself now that the place is quiet....lots of sleep, extra vit c....kick that flu.

(ps, very annoying comment mod' is off hehe)

Anji said...

Sounds like you could take on a job as a tourist guide.

You might be interested to read my post about Bern and bears - the comments are the most interesting bit.


Kath said...

Feel much better today thanks Pandora after a migraine felled me once and for all yesterday. The rest that MUST be taken, methinks.

Thanks Hannah. There's something about laughing so hard at a corny 'in' joke that is priceless, isn't there?

Diane_b, Thun to Interlaken is most definitely on our MUST DO list for this year!

Thanks CatJB and glad that you removed the comment moderator, too. You will end up with spam, but it does make commenting (by real people, such as my good self) a lot easier.

Kath said...

Thanks for the link, Anji. We did see the new bear enclosure which isn't in the old bear pit, but alongside the river. Three honey-coloured honeys looking pretty pleased that they've landed themselves the best vantage point in Berne.

Nuttynoton said...

what good hosts you are and tour guides, despite your cough and recovering from flu! Hope you are having a well earned rest.
Like the sound of Thun to Interlaken, still have lots of Europe to explore.
Oh and the chocolate factory delicious, ate too much liked the coffee one best, my colleagues just loved the chocolate we brought back home from Geneva.
lovely post keep them coming

Kath said...

Thanks Nutty - hosting is one of the biggest reasons we here!