Swiss Christmas Statistics

In past years, I have talked about Swiss Christmas traditions and how things are still fairly low-key compared to other countries (and since I write in English, probably in particular compared to the UK, US and other English-speaking countries). Our main supermarket chain has published statistics that certainly appear to support my theory. Don’t we love to feel we’re right?!

The supermarket I’m referring to is Migros, originally a family-owned company that is still pretty traditional in many ways, and with a “conscience”, as far as that is possible in the world of corporations. Since it’s my favourite place to shop, I have no qualms in being complimentary about it! Great training schemes, support of cultural efforts and progressive with organic and other products are all part of the pros, along with a very fair price policy. Plus a free weekly publication – on recycled paper – that often has interesting articles and a very Swiss approach, possibly contributing to keeping the Swiss Swiss, I have to say.

So this week, some statistics about what the Swiss like to give as presents for Christmas!

1. something homemade :)

2. toys

3. gift vouchers

4. books and paper goods

5. clothing and accessories

6. days out, e.g. zoo

7. cosmetics or perfume

8. tickets for concerts, theatre, cinema etc.

9. food and sweets

10. cash

I was pleased with this list, not least with the no. 1 spot, as I think that is something that comes from the heart, whether you love or hate or are ambiguous about the result! Lots of experience gifts there, too, or useful things, much of which shows that it’s the thought that counts and not the clutter… and to my surprise, electronics did NOT make the top 10.

It was nice to see that although 90% of Swiss will have a tree up, a whopping 64% will sit and craft the decorations with their children – that is very encouraging indeed! And lo and behold, apparently 73% will go to the trouble of making gifts with their children – this reflects something we also always tried to do (and I’m delighted to say we still often get homemade gifts from our adult children – and of course, grandchildren!). Another high percentage statistic is that 76% of households will have an Advent calendar and be counting down to Christmas Eve – when 82% will be celebrating with grandparents :). It seems that family values and a sense of simplicity still reign. Thankfully.

Last year I wrote that there is not really a typical Christmas menu in Switzerland – Migros says 41% will have a “traditional” meal – “mostly Fondue Chinoise”, something of a correction on my views!

We will, once again, be combining Swiss and English Christmas traditions to accomodate everybody’s tastes, and I can say this much, our gift-giving is largely within that statistical ranking!

IMG_3939And now onto the next section of December reflections…

12. White – a beautiful seasonal posy I received as a gift, including a brilliant white, 4-bloomed amaryllis :) IMG_393013. Comfort – food and a family spaghetti feast! IMG_395314. Stripes – after spots above, onto stripes! I loved that all these greedy little ponies were feeding at the same time, with their neatly groomed and trimmed tails lined up tidily… IMG_396915. My favourite camera – ooh, spoilt for choice! iPhone or iPad?! I have no photographerly ambitions and am more than happy snapping away with my ever-constant companion, the iPhone 4S. However, on this occasion, I used my iPad mini and was very much aware that the quality, especially with the colours, was vastly superior to that which my iPhone delivers! (Meersburg on Lake Constance in June 2014)IMG_0258We are now into the 3rd week of Advent and more than halfway through the Advent calendar, as well as only two weeks short of the end of the year… definitely December reflections!

A little bit of winter sun

This is why I have a crystal lamp in the living roomIMG_3982Doesn’t it leave pretty rainbows and reflections everywhere?! Love it!

And of course it only does that when the sun is low and shines brightly at a specific angle. Which it is doing today – IMG_3983 IMG_3985 IMG_3994No, not a Swiss Nessie, but Alina diving for stones…even in December!IMG_3999One very happy bunny of a soggy dog found a stick to run round with and chew on…

Enjoying it while it lasts!

(Oh, and that Icelandic wool? THIS is the colour it is when the sun shines… IMG_3981

A mixed bag of reflections

Moving on.

8. Sunset – we’re spoilt for them, whether we are in Brittany, in the mountains or just around town! This is one I caught as I left the vet’s, recently, a November sunset… IMG_38659. Diagonals – a great opportunity for me to talk about my new cosy, cuddly, light, warm, lofty and simply comfortable new shawl, so very simple… and yet. The wool was a gift from (non-knitter) friends who went to Iceland last summer and took the trouble to bring me some longed-for Icelandic wool, so thoughtful of them and of course, an opportunity for me to fall in love with a completely different sort of wool than my usual supersmooth and soft merino wools! Icelandic wool is still a very authentic product, not exactly scratchy, but hairy, and incredibly floatily warm when worn… IMG_3814 - Arbeitskopie 2I went with a super simple pattern, Nordic Wind by cabinfour (Ravelry) and reversed the colour graduation – all in Ìstex Lett Lopì in shades of grey.

As you can tell, I am enthusiastic about this product and set about discovering how to get more of it, dying to try different weights. After some scouting of the webs and horror at the price of P&P from the rest of Europe to Switzerland (I know, we’re in the middle of it, but it doesn’t count!!) and not wanting to actually import wholesale amounts (though who knows…!), I eventually discovered the solution – order directly from Iceland. To my utter amazement, my order of Saturday arrived today (Thursday) and I’m over the moon – sadly the photo in winter afternoon light doesn’t show the lovely heathered light blue, but definitely watch this space! Well done, Icelandic December post :OIMG_3978
IMG_397910. Reflection

on turning 50 recently… as one of my best friends said, it’s been a painless transition! But it does give food for thought for all that. I think most of my reflections are pretty sunny, as that tends to be my disposition! I just feel extremely lucky, really.IMG_4039So, I do have to talk about how we went about celebrating my 50th! I have mentioned here before how much we like the Graubünden/Grisons area in the mountains of eastern Switzerland and how we usually spend some time there every winter, at a tiny resort up above another small resort… and up even higher than that, through the woods on a forest track, there is a little cluster of houses perched in a clearing and that is Avrona. The remote Gasthaus there is run by a lovely couple, Peter and Helen Witmer, who treat guests as if they were family, such gracious hosts. To my delight, my husband secretly arranged for all our daughters and their partners/family, to be in Switzerland for the weekend of my birthday, and also invited a couple more people along, too, for good measure, and we took over the Gasthaus! This little old farmhouse is still very authentic and so prettily and simply decorated that it’s just a lovely place to be. In addition, they cook a marvellous surprise 3-course menu if you reserve to eat there, which we have done in the past, but this time we got to stay overnight, too, in their 7 homey rooms with a lot of personal touches to make guests feel comfortable. A wonderful time was had by all, time to chat, stroll over to look down the Clemgia gorge, watch chamois grazing, drink hot chocolate… and eat!! Huge thanks to my husband, our family and friends and especially Witmers, who made it all possible!! IMG_3899IMG_4033IMG_3976So that last one is to show that I learnt something while I was in Avrona – one of the small personal touches was home-made blueberry cake made in a way I’d never seen before, with the cake mixture (I made one up using yogurt) poured into a flaky pastry base. Although we brought some home, I didn’t take a picture, so made one of my own to see how it went: delicious!! I hope Frau Witmer doesn’t mind me copying her cake, but it’s the best compliment :) In fact, this is already the 2nd one I’ve made, it’s so popular…

11. Favourite photo of 2014

IMG_0338Taken by my daughter and son-in-law in Brittany in August 2014. Simply outstanding. 

And that concludes today’s rather long post!!

PS Scherenschnitte – Papercutting

I have just seen that the papercutting exhibition I wrote about back in the spring (http://thelittlewashhouse.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/falling-into-obscurity-and-some-art/) has been extended and will be shown at the Landesmuseum Zurich (www.nationalmuseum.ch) from January 9th – April 19th 2015, so plenty of time to arrange to see it if you’re interested!!

Meanwhile, one of the local banks is using illuminated papercuts as their Christmas decoration… very attractive and in its own sweet Swiss way, understated!IMG_3891 IMG_3892I wasn’t able to avoid the reflection of the glass, sorry!! 

 

December reflections

Even though I’ve missed the first few days, I do like this idea of December reflections that Susannah Conway has initiated, www.susannahconway.com/2014/11/lets-close-out-the-year-in-style/ so I will at least try to join in a bit!!

1. Drink – easy, my friends went to some trouble to find me cherry juice for my birthday, knowing I like it and it’s never available around here! Apparently not that easily in Germany, either…IMG_3922

2. Lights – well, at this time of year, I’m spoilt for choice but having just inserted a new set of lights into some pretty lanterns in a dark hallway, I think they qualify!IMG_3923

3. The Best Day of 2014 – there were lots and I’m very lucky, but I think the weekend for my 50th has to be top of that list! So happy to be in Avrona (www.avrona.ch) :) IMG_3905IMG_3915Those two dots are chamois grazing just outside the inn… even in Switzerland not too common an occurrence! Anyone interested: avrona.ch and there will be more about it here soon.

4. Red – another easy one for December! This would be my supersimple Advent wreath this year, using some of my Hergiswil glass (www.glasi.ch/de/) -IMG_3925I am nothing if not indecisive (I like to keep my options open!) so I do have a second candidate for “red”, which has given me much pleasure in 2014: my Braven 600 speaker received last Christmas. I adore the sleek design and matte red colour and the sound is excellent, too, just right in our small house both for music and audiobooks. We had some trouble with the on/off switch that my clever husband managed to fix, and apparently that is its weak point. Otherwise, highly recommended (and this is not sponsored by anyone!).IMG_39245. The poinsettia is known as a “Christmas star” in German and the flowers aren’t really flowers but leaves, so that is my choice for today! IMG_39446. T is for…  anTique lace, which enables me to update my last post about the knitting “recipe” found in Great Aunt Joyce’s little book. I managed to work out what the old-fashioned knitting code was – X means knit 2 together, it seems, at least, when I then applied my solution in practice, I turned out a nice little swatch (albeit at a much too large a gauge – it’s intended for fine cotton and tiny tiny needles as an edging for baby things). IMG_3928And I have a use for the pattern, too – all will be revealed at a later date (it’s going to take a while to do all that lace edging!) but at this rate, it will something of an heirloom :).

7. The best book of 2014 – hm, I’ve read a lot this year but have also been disappointed by some books, which I didn’t expect. So I think I will nominate Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, which made me grin delightedly (manically?) throughout, it so well catches the tone of P.G. Wodehouse – well done, Sebastian Faulks! I would beg Hugh Laurie to do the reading of it as an audiobook – he and Stephen Fry epitomise Jeeves and Wooster to me and Hugh also did a wonderful job of Alexander McCall-Smith’s Professor von Igelfeld stories, which are an absolute riot! jeeves_and_wedding_bells_600

IMG_3946Today is the 2nd Sunday in Advent, so two candles are burning…

 

Playing catch-up

Before I embark on the seasonal type of post, I have realised with some horror that six weeks have passed and nothing to show for it on the blog front. Of course, you know I’ve not been sitting twiddling my thumbs all that time and that being busy has prevented me from being here!

It’s been an unusually mild autumn in many ways, making things like taking the boat back up the lake “to bed” for the winter a lot more pleasurable. IMG_3803

I spent the second half of October in England, granny-sitting my mother and granny once more after a hugely successful operation that has restored my mother’s innards and from which she recovered very well and incredibly quickly. I’d say this was proof of that, wouldn’t you?! IMG_3750Halloween was unusually warm this year and she had a lovely time scaring the little children that came knocking on the door (as their mothers curled up with laughter at the end of the path!)… only a teenage vampire didn’t seem very impressed! They did get some ghoulish goodies to make up for the fright. Maybe the word went round?

My friend and I had an outing to a lovely farm shop complex near Lichfield at Swinfen that we’d not been to for a few years. After a lovely lunch in the Pear Tree Crèperie, we browsed the pretty little shops – everything from a knitting shop (Knitique), a kitchen goods shop, Christmas ornaments, clothing, bridal outfitters and curios boutique, as well as some good solid English furniture. IMG_3740 IMG_3739IMG_3732IMG_3734Among the many great, funny and wise sayings (“Mr. Right, Mrs. Always Right”…) I couldn’t resist snapping this one: IMG_3737A lovely family visit to see my granny’s cousin led to lots of reminiscing, of course. As a result, her daughter produced a hand-written notebook of her aunt’s with all sorts of traditional recipes and tips on preserving fruit and so on. A little further into the book, I came across some knitting gems, which sent me into squeals of delight: IMG_0356 IMG_0354…leaving me with the challenge of trying to recreate these patterns, which use a very old-fashioned manner of charting that I first need to decipher! But I already have a use in mind :) For the time being, I did finish this pretty little shawl for my friend’s birthday IMG_3816 IMG_3817

Still on the subject of knitting – my granny made this little top many, many years ago, probably in the 1930s, when Fair Isle was all the rage after the Prince of Wales was depicted wearing something similar: IMG_3764bb_tab_edward_d1I can just imagine this with a floppy-bowed blouse and a neat wool skirt and I’m sure it looked very smart! How great that it’s survived all these years with nary any damage.

Back in Switzerland and another family birthday, as well as another family tradition – my husband delights in the “bird season” and got it off to a great start by making the most delicious and succulent St. Martin’s goose. It was a hit with the kids, as each sat clutching a drumstick and sipping on Kinder champagne… IMG_3825St. Martin’s Day (November 11th) is the beginning of the holidays where we are. The legend says St. Martin of Tours (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_of_Tours) was betrayed by geese – who are excellent guard animals. He was hiding in a barn, away from those looking for him, wanting to make him a bishop (this honour was later forced on him!). For this reason, it’s traditional to have goose on or around this day and in some places, there are still lantern parades to celebrate. We have the lantern parades, here, usually with a hollowed-out  swede or turnip, something that most Kindergarten and primary schools do at this time of year. Parents attend a craft evening to make the lantern and socialise, then the following evening, streetlights are switched off and the police hold up the traffic while a sweet chorus of singing children carry their lights through the village or town (keep your matches or lighter to hand – the little tea lights will inevitably need relighting many times, especially on a rainy night!!) and then finally, back at the school, there will be hot soup and fruit tea for everyone… RäbeliechtliWhich leads us neatly into Advent!

 

Taking a detour

So. Not only am I taking a detour back into summer, here, well September, but also documenting a detour we took on our way home from Brittany this summer. Our usual route is pretty much engraved on our brains and usually takes 10-12 hours – we head east past Rennes to Le Mans, pass Chartres, skirt Paris and then head back down past Auxerre to Beaune and back up to Basle… those placenames mark the étappes we record back to our families for reassurance that the journey is going well. On the whole, we do the trip in one fell swoop, though we did once stop and spend a memorable July 4th in Paris (parking under the Hotel de Ville, lunch on the rive gauche,  then through the Louvre – dog bathing included in the fountains! – and all along the Seine to the Tour Eiffel and later the ride back on a bateau mouche… :)). Then there was the time when my tired husband missed the motorway junction west towards Brittany and we found ourselves down at Orléans and on a surprise route overland to Le Mans… but I digress!

For over 20 years, we’ve been saying we ought to take a detour through the Loire valley, famous for the many châteaux built all along it. When it came to it, we were travelling with a dog and a cat and when confronted with the real possibility of doing this, the question was, which one should we choose?!

Happily, we chose Villandry. At Le Mans, we turned right and headed down to Tours – travelling through France just blows my mind when I think of how much travelling was done  back in mediaeval times and how long it all must have taken, and yet the history books cheerfully tell us how King A/Queen B, Pope X went to C, then D then Z and more often than not, all his entourage and/or troops, too…and back again. What hardy people they must have been. It seemed rather convoluted after Tours, since the map said that Villandry is just a short way west of Tours on the route back to Brittany (Angers/Nantes)! However, once you are off the motorway, the countryside is delightfully green, lush and the villages so French that the drive is a very pleasant one, including the village of Villandry itself. Interestingly, the village is almost integrated into the castle grounds. Fortunately, it has kept its mediaeval form and skyline and the modern age seems far away, as it nestles in at the bottom of a small hill, with the castle walls pushed up against it, the castle hardly any higher (though at the other end of the grounds) but with a belvedere up above it affording a view over the whole and over the (surprisingly?) flat Loire valley – I hadn’t expected to be able to see so far into the distance.IMG_3584As you can see, the weather was perfect, the visitors few and just in case, you know, dogs are allowed in, on a lead, of course! The other surprising bit of info is that the gardens don’t close – entry is until 7 pm and you can stay as long as you like, though once through the exit turnpike, you cannot re-enter. Wow!

IMG_3597From the belvedere, this is the overall view of the gardens, which are breathtakingly beautiful – especially for a formal garden and geometry-loving person like me!! There are 6 hectares of gardens: in the foreground are the gardens of the heart (tender, passionate, flighty and tragic), as well as those representing the coats of arms of the families/regions, fleur-de-lys and music – we didn’t have time to visit the castle itself but I’m assuming the representative rooms look out onto these intricately shaped and traditionally hued gardens, which are elegant and pretty and suit the architecture’s pretensions (the building itself is mainly renaissance with a façade altered in the mid 18th century in the style of Louis XV, but covering many periods from the mediaeval keep to the classicist orangerie and terraces…). These “top” gardens appear to always have constituted the ornamental element. Beyond them on the lowest level are the kitchen gardens, a labyrinth of colour and shape and giddy array of luscious fruit and veg (at this time of year, anyway!); these were recreated in the 20th century, after earlier estate owners had, in the early 19th century, followed the English fashion for landscaped park gardens and taken out all the earlier beds.

All the land up to the village church had been added to the original estate, so that the gardens now extend up towards the safety of the hill, too, and in the centre of that photo above, I was enthralled with the effect of such simple and yet exquisite planting – waist-high geometric box quadrants planted with lavender and sea-lavender and punctuated by tall yew topiaries in disc-like shapes that allow a peek beyond. Three simple white stone fountains at the intersections of these gardens cool the air slightly, enough to be noticeable. The whole was originally irrigated from the pool on the top level of gardens, the Water Gardens, now a sunken pool in the shape of a Louis XV mirror, with simple fountains on either side and plain grass “beds”, all surrounded by lime-tree-topped banks with walkways below them. Towards the village are a few newer gardens – a play on sun and clouds, a children’s garden, a labyrinth without any deadends and a herb garden to complement the return to the kitchen gardens complete with more low fountains and bowers, vine-laden walkways (the grapes hang low enough for a tall man to only have to tip back his head to grab a grape!), knee-high espalier apples (enormous) and pear-trees straight out of a nursery rhyme. Apparently, if you are there when they harvest, the produce is given away for free!

So, time for some pictures to round off the Villandry experience… IMG_3602 IMG_3610 IMG_3613 IMG_3616 IMG_3621 IMG_3623 IMG_3633 IMG_3637 IMG_3643

 

Energised, and after letting the pets out for a stroll through the pumpkin patch, we headed back to Tours and this time, intentionally towards Orléans, skipping Paris on this occasion to use the brand new, empty, motorway that connects the A10 with the A6 and homeward bound…

 

PS They also seem to have known that Sophie was going to be waiting nearby (the car neatly parked under some shady bushes with the windows open a little, I hasten to add!!)… IMG_3606 IMG_3689 - Arbeitskopie 2