Sunday, 11 July 2010

A Quick Visit from Mum and Dad - Part I

At the beginning of April, my mum decided she wanted to come over to Switzerland to visit Christelle and me in our new apartment. This was partly because she misses us and also because she wanted to have a nose around our new place. In any case, I was just happy that she would be coming over.

She promptly booked her flight to arrive in the evening in Geneva on Friday 14th May and leave again on the Sunday evening. It would be a brief trip, but any time we get to spend together is always fantastic – its funny how we tend to take the people in our lives for granted until we don’t get to see them very often.

It was the same for Chris with her family when we lived in England, and now that the shoe is on the other foot I can certainly understand why she was always so eager to book her flights back to Switzerland to visit the people she missed.

There would certainly be a lot for my mum to see and catch up on since the last time she popped over to Switzerland in November – during that time, I had found a job and grown more accustomed to Swiss life, and we had moved into our own apartment and recently purchased a brand new car. Changes aside, it would also be a good chance to simply have a chat about what has been happening back in England, as I have been somewhat out of the loop since leaving the country.

Initially, it was only supposed to be my mum coming over to see me. Every conversation or text message we had regarding the weekend only made mention of “her” flight and “her” trip. Then, one evening towards the end of April, I was chatting to my dad on the phone and he said he would “see me in a couple of weeks”.

Surprised by this, I asked him if he was also coming to see us, to which he replied “yes, didn’t Mum tell you?”. Either there had been something of a breakdown in communications that resulted in my mum not telling me that my dad was coming with her, or he had just ruined a planned surprise. I’m not sure which one was true, but quite frankly I didn’t care – the fact is, both my parents were coming to see me, and that made me as happy as a kid in a sweetshop.

So, we waited for the weekend to come around, and – after what seemed like a very long time – Friday 14th May finally arrived. Luckily, the 13th and 14th May were holidays in Switzerland (Thursday 13th May was “jeudi d’ascension”, and many employers give their workers the Friday off as well, despite it not actually being an official holiday), meaning we were able to spend the day cleaning, shopping and preparing the apartment for my parents’ visit, including setting up their bedroom (complete with a little chocolate on the pillow).

In the evening, we drove to the airport to pick my parents up. Earlier that week, the resulting ash cloud from volcanic eruptions in Iceland had forced many flights in Europe to be cancelled, so we had very real concerns that their flight might fall victim to the cancellations. Luckily, a day or two earlier the wind had seemingly changed direction and blown most of the ash out over the Atlantic, so the flight was to go ahead as planned.

The flight was supposed to be about 10 minutes late, landing at around 21:30, so we aimed to arrive at 21:15 to make sure we were there to greet my parents when they walked out of the customs area. However, as we parked the car and headed into the airport, the Arrivals board said the flight had landed earlier than normal – surprised, I looked across the room and saw my mum waving at me, as she made her way towards us through the crowd.

I was confused at how they had managed to arrive earlier than expected despite leaving later than scheduled, but was simply too happy to care as I gave a big, welcome hug first to my mum and then my dad.

Outside the airport, we got my parents to play a game of “guess which car is ours?”. They initially pointed at an Audi, but after we reminded them that we are not rich, they then correctly guessed at the shiny black Mazda6 in the car park. After briefly showing them the size of the boot – the polar opposite to the one in my old Peugeot, it made their suitcase look like a handbag – we climbed in and set off for home.

My mum was a little concerned at first, as this was the first time I had driven her in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side. She naturally assumed I would not be very good at driving a car like this, so I was determined to prove her wrong. I confidently drove us away from the airport and onto the motorway, all the while pointing out the various technological features of our car.

I don’t think they were really that interested in knowing about the heated seats or the RVM sensors, but that didn’t stop me explaining how they worked. I think I am quite proud of our car, to the extent of boring everyone else with details of it.

After I had finished my Mazda sales pitch, we arrived at home. Before heading inside, we briefly showed my parents our little plot of vegetable garden, hoping they could give us a few pointers. That wasn’t very likely at this time, however, as it was after 10pm and therefore pretty dark. Gardening advice would have to wait until the morning.

Once inside, we gave mum and dad a tour of our home – it didn’t take that long, in fairness, as our apartment only has five rooms, all on the same floor. Although it was getting fairly late by the time the tour finished, we still sat up for a while and had a cup of tea while we chatted about the latest news from our respective countries. The weather for Saturday was forecast to be cloudy with the odd shower, so we had not planned to spend a lot of time outside, particularly as we only have one umbrella.

In the morning I made a quick run to the local bakery in our village – the “Fleur de pain” – and bought a few croissants, pain au chocolats and a poppy seed baguette, so that we could enjoy a nice breakfast. After eating our fill of baked goods, washed down with several coffees and more chats about life in general, we finished breakfast and turned our attentions to what we wanted to do that day.

Chateau Chillon
With the dreary weather outlook, we decided to only suggest things that were mainly indoors, to avoid a soaking. The idea that got the most positive response was that of visiting the nearby Chateau de Chillon, near Montreux, and so that is where we went.

Generally speaking, when English people think of a castle they imagine drawbridges and fortified walls, with knights and swords and various army-related objects to protect the king or queen or rich person that lives there.

Switzerland, however, doesn’t have a monarchical history or a military background, and so the castle we went to visit turned out to have been used a prison in the past, housing all the nasty people who weren’t behaving themselves properly.

Here's a few photos of us at the Chateau, exploring the dungeons (my Dad found the brightside of being imprisoned here - the lovely view of the lake!) and walking along the narrow rooftop walkways.


It was a very interesting place to visit, with the castle itself built on a large rock in Lac Léman (a couple of meters away from the bank of the lake). From exploring the dark basement where villains were locked up (and occasionally tortured or hanged) to climbing the winding, steep staircases, we strolled around soaking up the history of the place. At one point we came across an information plaque that pretty much summed up Switzerland’s neutrality, so we had a little chuckle at that one.

The plaque describing Chateau Chillon's "rich" military history

The story continues in "A Quick Visit from Mum and Dad - Part II"...

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