May 31: The World’s Longest Staircase

In Berner Oberland, a region of the Canton of Bern in Switzerland, lies the Guinness Book of Records’ World’s Longest Staircase.

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Looking back at the terminus, heading straight up. The stairs are to the left of the track

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A glimpse of what’s to come

With 11,674 steps going steeply to the top of the Niesen mountain, you’d be a fool to consider a running race on them, wouldn’t you?! But on June 6, crazies of all ages will huff and puff their way up in the 14th Niesen Stairway Race. I wonder if they ever stop and have a look at the amazing view behind them?

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Somewhere around the middle I think

At all other times, people aren’t allowed to walk on the steps, because the funicular train goes up and down at 15-30 minute intervals – apparently it gets a bit tight in some sections. For any of my hardcore running fans, do you fancy entering in 2016? I’ll cheer you on at the start and have a cold drink waiting at the finish! ๐Ÿ™‚

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A clear view on the way down

The funicular was built 1906-1910 and takes you to 2362m. The first section of 2111m takes 14 minutes to complete, with a steepest gradient of 66%. You switch to another train for the second section, which is 1388m long, takes 12 minutes, and has a gradient of 68%.

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Leaving the top station

The Niesen, also called the Swiss Pyramid because of its shape, is about a 45 minute drive south from Bern. We caught the funicular (no surprises there!) to have brunch on top today. It was Leo’s birthday present from our neighbours last year and we were shocked at how full it was! Sunday seems to be a popular day to sit and watch the clouds whiz by. It’s also popular with the paragliders who constantly fly past the viewing platforms and over the restaurant.

Below is a gallery of our photos and here’s a link to the Niesen official photos (some lovely shots in there in clearer weather).

Wishing you a wonderful day.

May 30: Physical and mental #2

Woke up with the worst hhhhh…ayfever (you thought I was going to write hangover, huh?), so spent a few miserable hours in bed feeling sorry for myself and waiting for the tablet to kick in.

It wasn’t all a waste of time – I listened to more episodes of a thoroughly intriguing podcast called Serial. Being behind the times is a recurring theme in my life – this non-fiction story/series, about a Baltimore journalist trying to find out if a convicted killer is in fact innocent – was released to great acclaim in October last year and I’m only just getting around to checking it out. Highly recommended when your eyes are so puffy from hayfever that you can’t read a book! Or when you’re doing the dusting, or knitting etc, or can’t sleep at night and don’t want to turn a light on. I can’t wait to find out what happens! This definitely ticks the mentally fit box!

Once I was ready to venture outdoors, we put up the tent near the pool with help from Liliane’s friends Fritz and Lotte. Now all we need is clean water (once it’s warmed up a bit more).

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Many hands make light work

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An action shot from the working bee after-party!

I also mowed a small section of lawn that couldn’t be accessed last week because of a parked car, and then whipper-snippered further down the hill in that area. I don’t like mowing there because the mower gets quite a lean-on, on the edge of the forest, so I had to clean up the edges a bit. It was important to do it today, so it’s nice for when Rene comes home from hospital tomorrow – his operation went so well, he’s allowed to leave earlier than expected. Good news! (Hope I haven’t jinxed it now.)

And in other ‘good news’, here are some articles I’ve enjoyed this week:

My blogging friend Freda (am I allowed to say that, Freda?!) from livesimplysimplylive recently posted this ballet-influenced exercise routine which I’m looking forward to trying. Her blog has many interesting and inspiring musings and themes, and many calming photos.

Improved flexibility and balance have been high on my list of “wants” for 2015 and this article reinforces the need to bend and stretch, reach for the stars

Despite the disturbing headline, this is a wonderful, heart-warming story of true love and having to go to odd lengths for the same rights. I hope countries around the world soon follow Ireland’s lead.

Ariana from paris-to-go has completed one month of washing her hair just with water. See the results and read her thoughts about being chemical free here. Very inspiring!

And presto! The reason for the holes in Swiss cheese has been discovered!

Wishing you a wonderful day.

May 29: Physical and mental

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Outdoor dining! Our first for the year

A short post for today (because I’m writing this on the 30th, because I ran out of time yesterday, because I drank too much wine :))

I cleaned Liliane and Rene’s house in the morning, then Pastora came over after she finished work, and we cooked a chocolate cake, then had some beers, then Jaime arrived, then my Leo arrived, then Pastora’s Leo arrived, then Liliane arrived, and then the party started.

It was so lovely to sit outside until 11pm, in the relative warmth (had to put jackets on at about 8.30pm), soaking up the sunshine and twilight, enjoying a barbecue on our terrace.

A morning of physical fitness (it appears I’ve lost one kilo this past month) and a wonderful afternoon with friends for mental fitness = a great way to end the week.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

May 28: Caving for a craving

Another beautiful sunny day meant more outdoor work, and outdoor work without breakfast or lunch meant one hungry beast come dinner time.

Rene went to hospital this afternoon for a scheduled visit – he’s having an operation on his neck tomorrow afternoon. This is his sixth hospital visit/operation since I’ve lived here (three and a half years). The first four were for his hip – what a debacle that was. This operation will hopefully alleviate some headache problems he’s been having.

So before he left, there were things to do. (Hopefully he’ll be back by the middle of next week, touch wood). I spent four hours with the jet hose cleaning the stone tiles around the pool. Four hours – on one ‘small’ job! But it was needed to get rid of three years worth of grime. I’ll do our terrace and the back of the big farmhouse on Saturday.

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You can see where I’ve cleaned – the two and a half rows on the right

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And this is what it looks like now. Cream stones rather than green

I was soaked and covered in black grot by the end. I had little stones up my nose and in my ears and my glasses were smeared grey. My arms are also slightly sunburnt. Slightly …

That’s not the only thing hurting my arms. Have you ever used a Kรคrcher jet spray machine? Those things pump out some serious water and the nozzle weighs quite a bit when in action. My arms were still sore from scooping and snipping yesterday so they are going to weigh a tonne tomorrow! How will I get over that? By cleaning Liliane’s house, of course!

And now to caving for a craving … I called Leo at about 5pm and asked if we could drive straight to McDonald’s when he got home from work. He was shocked – that’s not part of the fitfor15in15 plan! This is the first time I’ve had McDonald’s this year. It could possibly be the first time I’ve had fast hamburger food for an entire year. But he didn’t put up a fight and boy did we enjoy those babies! I was so hungry, I could have eaten my arm (if it wasn’t so burnt! ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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Hello Alps! You’ve been hiding behind the clouds for too long! Taken by Leo at 6.30pm

Leo cracked me up when he took the photo, above, for me. My substitute iPhone4 is very, very, very slow and we’re still waiting to hear what’s happening with my iPhone5, which was sent for repairs last week following the black screen of death. Leo asked why I wanted him to take photos with his phone, and I explained the quality would be better. He then said, “You’re suffering from a bad case of missyourphoneia!” I told him that joke, in a language that is still sometimes foreign to him, deserved a hug (I suffer from misophonia). Very clever boy!

Wishing you a wonderful day.

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Missyourphoneia! Burgers! Yeah baby!

May 27: Five hours in the garden

Today was a busy, do-it kind of day, as opposed to yesterday’s nothing kind of day.

First off yahoo, the sun came out!!!! so it was time to scoop the leaves out of the pool to prepare for summer fun. In the next few weeks, it will be cleaned with a power hose, old water out, clean water and chlorine in and then final ingredient – just add people.

Rene kindly ‘made’ me a pair of gumboots from an old pair of fishing waterproofs, which came up to his thigh. They’re really old and he never uses them anymore, so he cut them off just below the knee. Because they were about five sizes too big, I wore a thick pair of socks and a pair of slipper kind of things as well. But I was dry and clean, and in this mess, that’s all that mattered …

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Gumboots at the ready …

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… let’s clean this thing!

The leaves and algae/gunk on the bottom were quite think and the smell was pretty foul too. Leo came home quickly on his way to a meeting, so he snapped some pictures to prove I stood in that cesspool.

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Had to block my nose!

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Dumping the leaves and getting a little sunburnt

I forgot to take an after photo, but all the leaves are gone and plenty of the gunk/gunge is still floating on the bottom but at least it will flush out easily with the jet hose.

Then Rene mowed the lawn and I whipper-snippered a large section behind the garage, where the forest is creeping closer and closer.

It’s amazing how fast the time goes when you’re working outdoors. I definitely gave my arms a good workout, scooping and snipping. And there’s a bit of colour on the back of my neck and arms. Oops!

Speaking of colour, here are my little garden photos at long last.

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Pinks and purples and one red one

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Lots of colour in the pots

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In the corner near the herb garden

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Geraniums and snapdragons on the kitchen window …

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… and geraniums on the unused, north-facing balcony

Wishing you a wonderful day.

May 26: A nothing kind of day!

Well, rain and more rain. It seems the more rain that falls, the less motivation I have!

I finished The Goldfinch today (thank goodness! My review is here) and watched some French Open Tennis. I hardly stepped out of the house all day … and ate a lot … not good.

But tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya … it’s going to be sunny apparently. A rip roaring 18 degrees (I’m currently wearing my winter slippers), woo hoo! It better be a long, hot summer when it finally comes around … brrr … or should that be grrr.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

Here’s a photo of a Fire Salamander I saw near the garage in June last year. I wonder if he (or any of his family) will be back in a few weeks’ time.

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A friendly Fire Salamander

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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Donna Tartt’s third book divided critics but still won the Pulitzer Prize

“Maybe sometimesโ€“the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?” Boris, p. 835.

Well, I really don’t know what to say about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt … apart from thank goodness that’s over.

The subject matter is … depressing. The main character, Theo, is depressing. What happens to him is depressing. His outlook on life is depressing. His self-loathing is depressing. His best friend, Boris, is a maniac, drug-addicted alcoholic whose psychotic ideas of a good time are really destructive … and depressing.

Please don’t read this book if the weather’s bad and you need something to do. The rain exacerbates the depressing depression.

At 864 pages, it’s too long; there are slabs of ‘intellectual’ waffle and navel-gazing which could/should have been cut for the sake of brevity and the reader’s sanity. It felt like Tartt was trying too hard to be smart and clever and life-changing. My eyes started glazing over towards the end.

The story is about a stolen valuable painting. Just hand the bloody painting back and stop all this agonising and soul-destroying angst. It just didn’t wash with me and I felt it was never really explained well enough as to why he thought he had the right to keep it.

What also didn’t wash was the mix of Theo’s sensitive and destructive sides. In the first half, I struggled with the believability of this really being the mind of a teenage boy, because he was incredibly clever and deep one minute, and the next a complete buffoon.

Some others also found the whole experience less than enjoyable, despite it winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014. I really don’t understand how that happened. Not that I’m a literary critic, but wow … I’m shocked!

The characters of Welty and Hobie were wonderful, the rest you wouldn’t waste ten minutes on at a backyard barbecue. I did enjoy the random way Boris talked, I could hear his Ukrainian accent in my head, and clearly see him when he was raving on about 10 unrelated stories that somehow had a connection, so I tip my hat to Tartt in that regard.

But it’s really disappointing when you love an author’s debut novel and expect a similar reaction again. Tartt’s first, The Secret History, sucked me in hook, line and sinker. For me, The Goldfinch sucked; this book, it’s storyline, was a stinker.

May 25: No Monday Runday

It rained pretty much all day today, so not much to report. We didn’t put the tent up near the pool and there was no chance for Monday Runday. Doesn’t look like it’s going to be much better tomorrow either! I’m taking it as an opportunity to recharge my batteries.

I had a terrible night’s (lack of) sleep with hayfever, and didn’t wake up til about 10am. I did finish potting the geraniums (photos to come when it’s not raining), we watched silly programs on television, I read my book and Leo cooked dinner.

We ended the night watching Samuel L. Jackson and Emilio Estevez in National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, which I’d pretty much forgotten existed (odd, because I love that sort of humour). Hot Shots, with Emilio’s brother Charlie Sheen, is one of my favourite films.

Lines from Loaded Weapon which stand out for me for their cheesiness include a heated conversation between Estevez, who wants to find out who the bad guys are, and Jon Lovitz. “Give me a name!” “Weren’t your parents supposed to do that?” ๐Ÿ™‚

And I also chuckle when Jackson is showing a t-shirt, which has a photo of a woman (Whoopi Goldberg) on the front, to a guy. Jackson explains they’re looking for information about her. When he sees the t-shirt, the guy asks, “Is that her?” “No, that’s a picture.”

And on those bombshells, I wish you a wonderful day!

May 24: Exercising my confidence

It’s been quite a few months since I’ve been on the Vespa, because of winter and so on, so this afternoon we went down to the local gardening store and I did a few refresher laps of the carpark.

I did three days of lessons last summer and rode it quite a few times around our neighbourhood (haven’t ventured into the city yet) but I lost some confidence in the last session when I dropped the bike coming to a slow stop.

No fitfor15in15 physical exercise today, but I mentally exercised my brain and nerves. I’m sure it will all come back to me (not that I ever had it in the first place!) and a few more lessons would be good as a confidence booster.

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Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

Leo was very patient, standing on the sidelines watching me do figure-eight moves. I have real issues with tight right turns. Tight left turns, no problem, but being right handed and turning sharply right causes some problems – the nerves come and I don’t have enough speed and then I get the wobbles, and the nerves come and so on and so forth in a circle.

But hopefully I’ll master it. I’ll never be Valentino Rossi and that’s fine! Leo asked if I wanted to ride home with him as the passenger – no way!

We finished the tv series Luther tonight. Unfortunately, I have to say “don’t bother”. We then started watching more of Derek, by Ricky Gervais, which is a comedy about the title character working in an old people’s home. How can a show be so funny and make me cry from sadness in every episode?? It’s brilliant. His mate Kev is really starting to annoy me, I love how blunt and honest Douglas is and Hannah holds it all together. Well worth watching.

Hopefully the wind stops enough tomorrow so we can clean out the pool and get the communal outdoor area set up. It’s a public holiday here tomorrow too, so Leo will be in charge!

Wishing you a wonderful day.

May 23: Eurovision Song Contest, yeah baby!

Well, the extravaganza that is the Eurovision Song Contest delivered once again. Australia’s first entrant Guy Sebastian has a new legion of fans. The whole show went long but it wasn’t too tacky and I actually liked quite a few of the tunes.

After all the build up, Eurovision 2015, live from Vienna, Austria, is over. I think this is the second or third time I’ve watched the whole show (normally in Australia I’d watch just highlights). I won’t give anything away but I will throw out my favourites.

Obviously Australia, because Guy was great and he did himself and the country proud. Australians have been massive fans of Eurovision for over 30 years, watching the bright lights and strange songs with a mixture of bemused appreciation, disbelief and wonder.

So, in a very sporting gesture, Eurovision extended an invitation for an Australian to perform at this year’s 60th anniversary. If we won, the contest wouldn’t be held in Australia but a country of our choice. I think the experiment worked very well. Big shout out to #guysebastian for being a great ambassador (like I know him!?! ๐Ÿ™‚ ahahahaha)

Second favourite was Sweden, then Latvia, Belgium, Norway and Montenegro. Least favourite Albania and the UK.

The wind was mental today, so plans to be active outdoors were blown away. But it was a great day, eating good food and generally recharging the batteries. I hope you’ve had a chance to do that too.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

Here’s a photo from the archive – while my friend Gabby was in Switzerland last year, Pastora and Leo invited us to their house for dinner. Pastora can’t stand olives, even looking at them used to make her feel sick, but she went above and beyond to produce these amazing ladybird hors-d’oeuvre/fingerfood munchies for our visit!

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Ladybird’s waiting to fly into our mouths. Pastora’s handiwork from 2014