Swinging Francois out of a hairpin, we catch up with a campervan from the Netherlands and the pungent smell of burning hot brake pads invades our helmets as we slow to enjoy the scenery, unable to pass on the narrow mountain roads. The spring air, heavily laiden with pollen from fields of canola, announces the onset of spring and the looming presence of holiday makers, then as we slow for traffic the stench of manure hits erasing the clean fresh smells of spring. As we approach the pass of Schallenberg in Emmental, the heart of Swiss cheese of the same name, we see why the hoards of motorcyclists are craming the chalet as we look behind and admire the undulating green hills with cardboard cutout Alps in the background. We pull over to take a break and immortalise the beautiful scenery enjoying a coffee in the sun.

Salut! Ciao! Grüsech mitenand! Welcome to Switzerland!

We’ve been living in Switzerland for eighteen months now (my goodness, how time flies), so we thought it was about time to share some of our personal reflections and quirky observations about our Swiss life.

Since the New Year, the weather has been fantastic with almost four consecutive months of beautiful azure skies and spring temperatures, so much so that we’re both receiving a wholesome dose of vitamine-D. It honestly felt like spring in January when we were sitting out doors in altitudes above 2000m with nothing but a t-shirt on and beer in hand. Of course, we have been making the most of what little snow there has been this past winter season with Arja learning to ski (downhill) and Pascal snowboarding in his faded and well worn motorcycle suit.

We have also been making the most of our time on the week-ends to explore further afield from our respective home bases of Interlaken (in the Swiss-German part) and Nyon (in the Swiss-French part).  With Arja living in self-imposed exile in Interlaken, she has been hosting Pascal’s week-end visits into the Bernese Oberland and the majestic alpine vistas of the Jungfrau region. The Eiger (“devil”), Monk (“monk”) and Jungfrau (“virgin”) are the most famous mountains in Switzerland, well perhaps after the Matterhorn which notably was the inspiration for Toblerone.

Jungfrau Region

A perfect day under the the Eiger, Monk and Jungfrau, near Interlaken, Switzerland

Arja and her tobogon

Arja and her tobogon

Interlaken is where all foreigners are obliged to come to experience the Swiss Alps. This is most likely due to the fact that Interlaken features on the front page of Lonely Planet, and every other guide used by Arabians to Zulus. Interlaken is the multi-cultural melting pot of Switzerland with more Chinese and Indian restaurants per square metre than Chatswood and Paramatta put together. The Indians film Bollywood movies here, the Arabs come to flaunt their wealth, the Germans come to test out their expensive hiking gear. On a lazy evening after work, drinking a cold Coopers at Hooter’s, Interlaken, you can watch the world pass you by…

On the other hand, around Nyon the region of La Côte from Geneva to Vevey and up to the Jura on the northern side of Lac Léman and Route du Vignoble is strictly French speaking. Any other language still raises eyebrows even though English, Portugese, Italian and German are as common as the blue tit (if you don’t know what one is then we’ll forgive you this once, but it’s the most common small bird in the region which closely resembles a sparrow). Nyon is our home away from home where we frequently enjoy a gelato and stroll by the lake side with splendid views of the Mont Blanc across the lake. So romantic Nyon is at night with it’s Château illuminated that Pascal even mustered up the courage to propose to Arja one balmy night in March.

Of course Switzerland is world-famous for so many things: mountainous landscapes, first-class banking institutions,  ridiculously expensive hand-made watches and how can we forget Swiss cheese and chocolate. But the convenience and the benefits of living in Switzerland come at a price.

Switzerland requires all residents to purchase expensive health insurance.  The insurers are well equiped to sign you up and take your money, that’s the easy part, but changing insurers later on, however, is trickier. You can only switch once a year, in November to be exact, and only with at least one months notice and the completion of a myriad of forms.

New arrivals to Switzerland have to have a few handy tools ready for all the cultural differences that will come their way. The first essential tool to always have on hand is a pocket size hip-flask filled with the national schnapps – Kirch. Not only does it provide courage to face steep slopes whilst skiing it warms you up and helps digest the cheese! Do not even consider coming to Switzerland if you have not already cultivated a taste for cheese. Cheese is a national obsession and is eaten at every meal – the passage down the esophagus aided only by a digestive schnapps or two.

The land-locked island in Europe is home to many things but for us it epitomises wintersports and the countless opportunities to explore mainland Europe by road. It is a dream to ride the alpine roads, at every bend a mountain vista equal to a postcard awaits. But as we all know life isn’t a bed of roses and there is always another side to the coin, a thorn that pricks and leaves it’s mark.

That said all countries have their negative points and well if there is something we’ve learnt over our travels it’s to make the most of what we have and make every second count.

Decorated Cow

The ornate cow bell is a tradition in Switzerland to mark the end of grazing in the mountains and when the cows return from pasture in Autumn