Life in Switzerland, Part 1 – Cows

For some time I’ve thought about describing some of the ‘nuances’ of an expat living in Switzerland, but never quite got around to it. (It’s amazing what self-isolation can do to you!*) So here is the first in a series, which may run and run, depending upon what life here throws at me (and Jude) during the year. I hope you will find it interesting, or at least a little different to life wherever you may be. 😊

Regular readers may recall that we live in a small village, called Evolène, which lies at almost 1,400m or 4,600ft in the Val d’Hérens in the southern part of Switzerland. We describe it as authentic, as the traditions that have gone on for eons are still continuing today. In particular the Val d’Hérens breed of cow is almost revered around here (quite rightly of course), due to its uniqueness.

There are several small farms in and around the 6 villages at the top of the valley (the other 5 are Les Haudères, Villa, La Sage, La Forclaz and Arolla) and each farmer has only around 8 to 12 cows. (This compares with about 100 per typical farm in the UK). In the winter, since we’re under 1 to 2 feet of snow for most of the time, the cows are kept in their sheds until the Spring/early Summer.

Sometime in June, when there’s a spell of good dry weather, the farmers will come to cut the grass in the fields. The whole of the Commune is divided up into hundreds of small plots, each legally owned by different people, but it seems each farmer ‘owns’ the right to cut the grass on many different plots. Rather curiously, these plots are not always adjacent to each other, so it can lead to a sort of patchwork of cut/not cut grass. (See pic 6 below).

Every year, 2 ladies come with their grass cutter, go through our small field and cut the grass in the 4 plots below. The total size of these 4 plots is only about 20 yards by 70 yards (max). So it’s farming on a small scale by anyone’s standards. How many plots these 2 ladies cut altogether, is a mystery. When these ladies came the very first time, just after we’d moved in, we thought we must have upset the locals as they disappeared without touching our grass. We needn’t have worried as our plot is used by another famer…

Almost exactly 2 weeks later, Johan, the farmer who lives just below us, comes to cut the grass in our field and many of the other plots around and about the neighbouring chalets. The grass is then left for a day, before being turned or tossed around by a sort of spinning machine (and/or by hand) and a day later it’s ‘rowed up’ to be scooped up into the back of a truck. Every little blade of useful hay is gathered up by 2, sometimes 3, helpers raking into line any stray bits which have escaped or were not rowed correctly. Below are a few pictures of the machines and farmers in action on various plots in the valley.

At the end of June, once the snow has disappeared from what’s known as the ‘alpage’ (i.e. that area of lush meadow between the higher villages and the rocky mountain tops), the cows are all taken up to graze for the summer. This is known locally as the Inalp or transhumance, which I joined in with once and blogged about here.

At the end of September, all the cows are brought back down to their respective farms to get ready for the winter again. However, there are often several days of glorious sunshine to be had. So the farmers, Johan again in this case, places an electric wire or fence around the fields he uses and then brings the cows up for the day – usually around 10am. (The sun has reached the fields by then). Around 4pm, he, or someone from his family, then leads them back to the sheds.

All of this brings me neatly to this video of the cows arriving for the day and crossing our small field. (I would call it a garden but we enjoy the cows coming so much, we have resisted the temptation to ‘do something with it’ and have left it in the capable hands of the farmer to use. 😊

*Footnote: Our 10 day isolation period ends today (though I understand the UK has now been taken off the Swiss ‘red list’!) Glorious weather is forecast for the next few days, so ‘normal service’ will resume tomorrow… 🤗🎆👍

Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Valais, Switzerland

The 15th August is normally the date when the Mid-summer Festival takes place in our village. But this year, for obvious reasons, it was cancelled. So we were not treated to the helicopter rescue of the dummy which had fallen (or was he pushed?) off the rockface, nor the stream of vintage cars. And the usual procession, of the villagers demonstrating the traditional arts and crafts, will have to wait until next year.

So, I decided to have a wander through the village and take some photos to show you what our village looks like during the summer. Normally the main street would be packed from one end to the other but, this year, there were just the usual weekend and holiday visitors. It was also nice to see the locals dressed in their traditional costumes, simply relaxing and enjoying some time with their families.

If you would like to see an example of what we all missed, here’s a post of the Mid-summer Festival from 2016.

Note that the last two images, courtesy of Wiki, position Evolène on the map of Switzerland and the canton of Valais and give some facts and figures about the Commune – just in case you wondered… 😊

Swiss Trip to the North (part 3)

For the second half of our holiday, we drove over to Schaffhausen, primarily to see the Rhine Falls – but more of them later…

On the way we stopped off at a small village called Kaiserstuhl, which sits on the Swiss side of the Rhine and border with Germany. So we took great delight in walking over the bridge into a different country. Indeed, although we had planned to stay wholly in Switzerland during our trip, we were encouraged by not being challenged at gunpoint on the border (in fact we saw nobody), so we decided to take the direct route to Schaffhausen from there. This involved going into or, rather, through Germany not once, but twice. (Such is the weird shape of the border in that area, that there is even a small German enclave completely inside Switzerland, called Büsingen am Hochrhein). Maybe it was because we crossed the borders at lunchtime, but we didn’t get stopped once.

Having checked in to our hotel, we again went for a wander around the town. I can certainly recommend a visit and I hope my pictures do justice to both of the locations we visited.

Interesting footnote: Although Switzerland was not directly involved in the 2nd World War, Schaffhausen and the building in the last photo in particular, was bombed on 1st April 1944. This was apparently due to a navigational error, caused by bad weather conditions. Wiki says that it was mistaken for Ludwigshafen am Rhein, as it sits on the north side of the Rhine. Four million dollars were paid in restitution and, the writing on the front indicates that, the building was rebuilt in 1945.

Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival

Like most of you, I’m pretty much confined to barracks for the duration of this Coronavirus outbreak.  So I thought I’d dig into my archives to find you some interesting items to cheer you all up (and to give me something to do of course! 😊)

For the first in this series, I’ve gone back to January 2006 and 2008, when I visited the Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival.  As you will see below, the balloons on display are many and varied, with some incredible designs.  The colours are so vibrant, especially in what was bright sunshine, I just had to take a lot of photographs.

Stay safe and healthy.  And a big THANK YOU to all those who are working tirelessly to keep the rest of us alive and well.

Evolène Carnival 2020

You could never accuse the Swiss of not knowing how to throw a good party.  Today was the last Sunday of the annual winter Carnival in the village, which starts every year on 6th January.  (So that’s at least 7 weeks of celebration!)  Today, the programme promised music and a procession of the main characters, namely the Peluches (who wear masks and sheepskins) and the Empaillés (who also wear masks and a rather large sacking ‘suit’ stuffed with straw).  In addition several people attend wearing fancy dress and there’s a huge amount of confetti, either thrown, usually by the children, or cannoned out from the top of a bus… (See pic 18).

Mike’s Music Monday #41

I’m pretty sure that it’s still the pantomime season in the UK.  So this “Fresh” video by Kool and the Gang is a great way of celebrating this wonderful British tradition.

“Oh no it isn’t” I hear you say…

“Oh, yes it is!”  I reply… 🤣😂

Oh, how I miss Berwick Kaler at the York Theatre.  He was an institution.

Mdina, Malta

My apologies for not publishing a ‘real’ post for a while but, like many bloggers it seems, I’ve been busy doing nothing in particular.

Anyway a few months ago now, my wife organised a trip to Iceland with her friend Kate, so I had a look for something to do while she was away.  Naturally I wanted to find some warmer weather and I looked at the AIMS marathon calendar for some inspiration.  To my delight I discovered that the Malta Challenge Marathon was on at the same time.  It consists of 3 races over 3 days, covering a 10 miler, a 5k then a Half marathon.   So I entered, arranged all my travel and set about getting fit.  My training was going really well (even running while I was away in Finland and Mykonos) and I’d managed to get up to 20k in a respectable 1h 50 mins, so I figured I was ready…  That is until my final training run, the Saturday before I left, and my left calf seized up yet again!  (Insert a suitable curse or emoji here).

Thankfully I had another reason to go… My father spent some time in Malta after the War, as a Signalman on a minesweeper and he had mentioned enjoying some time ashore down a street which he called “The Gut”, but is actually called Strait Street in English.   So when my wife and I went to Malta / Gozo a few years ago, we searched for a copy of a book by George Cini, called Strait Street.  We couldn’t find an English copy anywhere, so I got in touch with George and managed to get hold of a copy to give to my dad.   During my email exchanges with George, I mentioned my dad’s book and he suggested I present a copy of it, personally, to the Fondazzioni Wirt Artna (FWA), which is an organisation dedicated to preserving the history of the island.  And so that was also arranged…

So, like London buses, you don’t hear anything from me for a while and now a few posts of my, sometimes very wet, time in Malta & Gozo, beginning with the Mdina…

 

Southern Finland

The remainder of our holiday was spent on the Finnish mainland.  After catching the ferry back from Brändö, we drove up the west coast via the beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage town of Rauma and then on to Yyteri beach, which is one of the longest sandy beaches in Scandinavia at around 6km.  From there we turned east to our base for the next 4 nights, which was a self-catering wooden lodge, or chalet, next to Lake Vesijako.

We returned to spend 2 more nights in the delightful city of Turku, which is the oldest town in Finland, with stops en route at the towns of Lammi and Hämeenlinna

Some other things I learnt during this trip (which you might also like to know):

  • As well as having thousands of islands, there are 100’s if not also thousands of lakes in Finland as well (and the Finns take great advantage of these by having weekend lodges close by).
  • There are a huge number and variety of mushrooms and toadstools in the woods. (During one walk, I met a man and his wife foraging.  They had collected at least one big bucket load of one particular type).
  • The woods are not all conifers as I imagined they might be.  There appears to be an equal number of deciduous trees as well.
  • The people are extremely welcoming and friendly.
  • The Finnish language seems to specialise in very long words, which often include double A’s, E’s, I’s, K’s, M’s, N’s or U’s.  The longest word I encountered, which I don’t think is exceptional, was 25 letters long.
  • I don’t know the significance, but many (most?) street or track names end in ‘antie’, ‘entie’, ‘ontie’ or ‘untie’.
  • The peak summer holiday season is from mid-June to mid-August and, before and after that period, you may find some things are not running or closed.  (Though the ferries appear to run all year round – when it’s not completely iced over of course!)
  • In the depths of winter, when conditions allow, it’s possible to drive over the ice to some islands. (No doubt special tyres and a brave or trusting nature are required for this).
  • Last, but by no means least, the beer in Finland (and Stockholm) is pretty good.  They certainly know how to make a tasty IPA. 😊 Cheers! 🍻

Bisse de Savièse – Torrent Neuf, Valais, Switzerland

I promised USAthroughoureyes that I would try to find a new dimension to my walks and so today we have something unusual – a flat(ish) walk in Switzerland.  I have mentioned and posted pictures of ‘Bisses’ before.  They are irrigation channels and there are quite a number dotted about the canton of Valais.  But I think this one must be the most famous, due to the precipitous nature of the path, or at least the original path.  Today, four suspension bridges help the inquisitive walker along the route, but you can still see how the bisse and path were originally built.

All of the images below were taken with my mobile phone (as I went off without my camera) and I just managed to catch the ‘thing’ in the last picture (which was a first sighting for me), before my battery ran out.  I spotted it while looking to take a photo of some butterflies, but it makes a change… 😊  I also saw what may have been 3 Jersey Tiger moths (another first) but, by then, I had no battery left… 😌

Midsummer Festival, Evolène, Switzerland

Every year, on the 15th August, our village is host to one of the most traditional and colourful festivals.  Every other year, it is supplemented by the inclusion of the musicians and dancers from the Célébrations Interculturelles de la Montagne à Evolène (CIME), which takes place in the few days leading up to this and concludes with a final Gala evening performance.

The main event starts with a procession of vintage cars.  This is followed by people dressed in traditional costumes, demonstrating local dancing, music and crafts.  This year it was interspersed with performers from Russia, Armenia, Ecuador, Italy and Montenegro.

As you can see from the photos below (the best ones of which were taken by my wife Jude, as marked), everyone had a fabulous time.   And if you ever wondered where this utopia is that I live, but couldn’t be bothered to look it up, I’ve added a map at the end. 😊