Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Swiss Exchange Week 4 and 5 - Crans-Montana and Venice

My time in Switzerland is very quickly passing by, I feel like it was just yesterday that I arrived, and now I have only two weeks left in this beautiful country. I remember being so freaked out by the idea of spending two whole months here, but now I'm certain that two months just isn't enough.
The past couple of weeks have been winter holidays, and I've been fortunate enough to have two amazing trips; one to Crans-Montana for a little bit of skiing, and another to Venice.

We arrived in Crans-Montana on the 27th. I took the train up, and it was absolutely beautiful. First we travelled alongside lake Leman, and the weather was reasonably nice, so I had a great view of the swiss alps. Eventually though, we passed the lake and journeyed into the mountains. I had originally planned to nap for this part of the trip, but once I saw the stunning snow-capped mountains, there was no chance that I would give up that view for sleep. 
My host family have an apartment in Montana, and ski there very regularly, so they knew all the good restaurants to take me to, and all the good ski slopes. My first night we went to a traditional swiss restaurant, and I had my first rosti (basically a swiss hash brown) which was extremely delicious. I loved all the decor, the cow bells and red, checkered table cloths. 
 Our apartment had the most beautiful view of the swiss alps from the living area, and from my room. picturesque fur trees covered in snow. I took a photo out my window everyday.
 On our first full day we skied. I was so nervous, because I'd only been skiing once before on a school trip, five years ago. However, I managed the bunny slopes without any dramatic falls, my host family were very impressed with how quickly I picked it up. Over the course of the five days I skied four times, each going a little higher, and a little steeper than the last time. I had one skiing lesson which immensely boosted my confidence levels, and once I felt in control I really enjoyed myself. I scared my host mother to death with my 'need for speed', but I was having the time of my life.
Of course there were many spectacular wipeouts, most of which I managed to do sliding backwards down the slopes. But I managed to end the trip with minimal bruising, and no broken bones!

Crans-Montana is beautiful, I loved the view when I could ski high enough to see it! You could see the matterhorn at the top, although I'm not sure if it is in this picture.
The next big trip was Venice. We had one day after Crans-Montana to somewhat recover before we were off again. This trip was very eventful and fast paced! We started off our travels with insanely turbulent flights. We flew Geneva to Zurich, and the Zurich to Venice, which took much longer than planned because of weather delays, Our first flight was like nothing I've ever experienced before. We had a veeery shaky take off, but the captain kindly informed us that the plane was handling everything just fine. Even so, there was no point throughout the flight where passengers could get up from their seats. One lady and her kid ignored this a got up to go to the bathroom and the air host literally yelled at them to sit down! Stress levels on the flight were very high, people were puking all over the flight, each lurch sent the cabin into a mini frenzy. I didn't actually notice any of this as I was sitting at the window seat, and actually found the flight pretty enjoyable, kind of like a roller coaster. The most thrilling part of the flight for me was when we were struck by lightening. The bright, purple flash and loud pop noise on the side of the plane made me jump. Once we landed the entire cabin joined in a round of applause and breathed a sigh of relief, that was until we were informed that Zurich airport was shut down due to bad weather, and we had to wait on the plane for half an hour. And then we had to wait another three hours until our next flight took off. This was much longer than our intended hour and 15.
I didn't know what to think of venice when we first arrived. I had imagined it to be very sophisticated, much like Switzerland. Some things did feel very glamourous, like the water taxis, glittering Christmas lights, and designer boutiques. But to me the city seemed like it didn't fit together. I thought the small little alleyways, crowded footpaths, and rundown buildings didn't make sense. The whole place was disorganised to me. But my host family go to venice almost every year, and I know they have good taste. I made it my mission to find out what it was about venice that my family couldn't get enough of.
On our first day we visited Murano, which is part of Venice, but separate from the main island. Murano is known for glasswork. They have a big glass factory, that you can tour, where they make all sorts; from pandora beads to life size sculptures. The winter holidays are reasonably quiet for Venice, so rather than seeing the glassworkers making junk (and then shattering it right away) I got to see them making what I believe was part of a chandelier. It was very interesting, and I think very worth the trip.

On the evening of the first day I asked my host family what they really love about Italy. One of the main things my family appreciates is the carefree, joyful character of italians; the men don't work too hard, they eat good food, they laugh, they talk to anyone, they play little games with tourists. Suddenly the city made sense to me. I had expected it to be so similar to Switzerland, and - consequently - was disappointed when it wasn't. Once I better understood the italian culture, then I loved Venice, it fits with the carefree, happy nature of Italy. How interesting that countries so close to one another can be so very different! 
 The next day we tackled the big tourist attractions; Basilica di San Marco, Campanile di San Marco, Rialto bridge.  These are popular for good reason, they are absolutely stunning. The Campanile has the most stunning view of the entire city, the gold mosaics and huge domed ceilings of the Catholic Church are unmissable. Unfortunately you can't take photos in the church, however it is unlikely to be something you will forget!

 Our last day was the gondola ride, which to be honest, I thought was overrated. You got to tour the city a little bit, and I guess it's at a different angle, but I didn't find it to be a highlight of the trip at all. Of course, venice looked beautiful, it was particularly romantic because of the fog that settled in that morning.
I wish that I had more time to explore venice some more, do some really serious shopping (although I did manage a fair amount in three days), and stuff myself with even more italian food. I'm sure that this will not be my last time in Venice. Once again, it's a spot I can't wait to bring my family and show them where I've been!
My trip to Venice made me realise some of the things I love about Switzerland. The swiss people are so prim and proper, you will rarely see a swiss person snacking, everything has a place, almost everyone has a gym membership and uses it regularly, and the style here is amazing. The country inspires me, and I have made a few new years resolutions based on the sophisticated culture. I can't believe i only have two more weeks!

Amesmames xx

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Swiss Exchange Trip Week 3 - Geneva and a Swiss Christmas

I never considered myself a traveller. I always wanted to go places and see things, but it's not something that would define me. However now that I'm overseas I'm starting to realize how addictive it is to be immersed in a different culture, and fall in love with language, food, and traditions, maybe I am becoming a traveller.
There are many positive things I can learn from the swiss culture, I'm thinking of healthy eating habits in particular. I thought that I would come here, eat bread and cheese, and put on weight, but the lifestyle here is so much healthier than in New Zealand. I almost never see anybody overweight. I've found everybody is much better about not snacking so much in between meals. In New Zealand we tend to eat all the time, constant snacking, often just out of boredom. But here you go from meal to meal, maybe with a few crackers in between, and its perfectly fine. Fast food is much more expensive here as well. At lunch time it's cheaper for me to pick up a salad from the supermarket than a burger from McDonald's. It pretty much forces you to eat healthier, and I am not complaining.
The positive lifestyle habits that I'm picking up from Switzerland make me excited to travel the rest of the world and see what else I'm missing out on.
This week was the last week of school for the year. As a little reward myself and a few other girls went on a girlie shopping trip in Geneva. Geneva was insane, very vibrant and busy. This was partially due to the fact that we went two days before Christmas, but I can tell Geneva is an energetic city. The streets and stores were packed with shoppers and street performers. While that's not everyone's cup of tea, I loved it.
Shopping in the vibrant city centre with the clear, blue lake on one side and pretty bakeries on the other was beautiful. The lake was much less polluted than I imagined it to be, it was a very striking blue colour. Actually the whole time we were there I desperately wanted to jump in, despite the chilly temperature.
And the shopping was so good. The stores are massive, and so much better than those in New Zealand. I have a new favourite store, Mango, which unfortunately is not available in NZ, but is in Australia. Everybody is so stylish here, at first I found the big oversized coats and statement pants a bit grungy and not up my alley, but the longer I'm here the more I like them. I will definitely return to Geneva for some more shopping after new years.

This week was our last week of school for the year, and basically one big lead up to Christmas. It felt so strange though, at home I would finish school at least three weeks before Christmas, so I couldn't help but feel that there were still a couple of weeks until the big day. We did all the christmas-y things: decorated the house, wrapped presents, and made Christmas cookies.
It's been very strange, in many ways it looked more like Christmas here; the towns were more decorated, and it's winter here, but I'm away from all my family, so it also felt much less like Christmas.

Everything is done differently for Christmas here. We opened presents on Christmas Eve after a big dinner of Fondue Chinoise - Chinese Hotpot - a very popular choice for Christmas Dinner. We opened stockings on Christmas day, and then said goodbye to all the family. But back home we would go to the beach on Christmas Eve, and maybe drive around to look at light displays, and open our presents early on Christmas day before breakfast. Dinner would be a big roast dinner. 
So this year was different, but very cool. I was away from my family, but got to experience a completely different kind of Christmas in another country, 
I hope everybody had a very merry Christmas this year.

Amesmames xx

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Swiss Exchange Trip Week 2 - Basel and Saint-Cergue

I'm two weeks into the trip - in other words quarter of the way through - wondering where the time has gone! I LOVE it here! Over the past week there have been so many moments where I stop in awe at how amazing this country is, and how lucky it is for someone to live here. I don't think I could ever get used the moment when the clouds clear for just a few minutes and everywhere you look are stunning, snowcapped mountains.
I've settled down both at home and at school, and feel completely comfortable in the cutesy town. The school is very different to mine at home. The days here are much longer, but often have massive breaks for lunch. The longer lunch breaks are great, it means my friends and I can buy some nice bread and cheese and explore Nyon for an hour or two most days. 
Nyon has some super cool ancient ruins (as seen above), a castle, and other little heritage buildings which I find so amazing. We don't have very much history in New Zealand, so coming here and visiting castles and ruins that are literally hundreds of years old is so insane to me. Just imagine all the people who stood in the exact same spot looking at the exact same lake, mountains, and buildings over the past thousands of years.
I've also very much enjoyed the shopping here. There are lots of stores - like H&M, Zara, Zebra - that we don't have in Christchurch, or have only just gotten, so they are still very exciting for me. Everything is in walking distance from school, so it is super easy to pop out at lunch time and have a spree.
I knew it was going to be cold here, but I still packed lighter jackets like my leather jacket, which I can now see was unnecessary as it's too cold to wear a leather jacket by itself, and too annoying to layer under coats. I'm considering sending a box of things back home now so that I have more room in my suitcases on the way back to NZ!
During the week I get to explore Nyon, but the weekend is when it gets really exciting. This weekend we drove to Basel for the night and visited the extraordinary Christmas market in the evening, and the rest of the city the next morning.
Basel is located in the north of Switzerland, right on the French and German borders. The most widely spoken language in Basel is swiss-german, although it is hugely multicultural, I heard all sorts of languages while there. The public transport in Basel - Trams, busses, and biking - is much better than public transport in NZ, and makes it very easy to navigate the busy city.
Basel was beautiful, and completely different to Nyon. It has much more of a gothic style, which kind of freaked me out at the start. Despite the gothic building style, though, the houses were all very colourful and bright. The city itself was very vibrant, and lively.
 The highlight of the trip was the insane christmas market. The stalls went on forever. You finish one block of christmas decorations and sweet treats and think you've finally reached the end only to discover a whole unexplored street of stalls. It was very busy, and very beautiful. Every stall was a decorated, wooden hut covered in christmas lights. I could have happily stayed there for hours.

The next morning we once again visited the centre city, this time in daylight which has a completely different vibe. We munched on pretzels and roasted chestnuts and pottered through the pretty little streets and huge gothic church, the Basel Minster.

I loved this pretty street, on the way to the Basel Minster.

The trip was busy and went very quickly. One day in the future I would love to come back to Basel, and spend a longer time to visit all the historic buildings and museums. 
The next day me and a friend took a train up to Saint-Cergue for the afternoon. Saint-Cergue was breathtaking. There was so much snow! In some places we were literally wading through thigh-high snow! I've never really experienced powdery snow before. Christchurch snow is very wet/icy. I thought it was so impressive. We ended up lying down in some field watching the thick flakes float down on top of us (Which did get us wet, but we had already waded through the thigh high snow, so....). It was so peaceful, if I wasn't slowly freezing to death I would have stayed there till dark.

real life icicle!

I feel crazily happy at this point in time, I feel that every good thing that could happen for me on this trip so far has happened, and I am incredibly grateful to have this opportunity!
Check out my instagram to keep up to date with my mini adventures throughout the week, and more day to day stuff. Only four days till christmas now!

Amesmames xx

Swiss Exchange Week 4 and 5 - Crans-Montana and Venice

My time in Switzerland is very quickly passing by, I feel like it was just yesterday that I arrived, and now I have only two weeks left i...