swimming

Limmatschwimmen

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the weekend I participated in the annual Limmatschwimmen. This is where around 4,500 people jump in the Limmat River and float 2 kilometres through central Zurich from the Frauenbad to Flussbad Oberer / Unter Letten. It’s the one day of the year you can do this, the rest of the time there’s boat traffic, not to mention you’re liable for a hefty fine and risk being swept away by the current if you jump in anywhere but the approved spots (eg: Letten). You have to purchase tickets to the Limmatschwim online on the Wednesday beforehand. This year, tickets sold out in 8 minutes. I was lucky enough to get four (the maximum) for myself and three mates.

I was pretty excited before the event. After 2.5 years living in this city, I feel like I know this stretch of the Limmat quite well. I’ve walked alongside it, over it, photographed and looked across it, shown it off to many visitors, even swum in it at Oberer Letten. So the idea of floating the entire “city” length of the river was pretty thrilling to me.

This year’s event, the 52nd Limmatschimmen, was postponed by the organisers by one week and they definitely made the right decision. The previous Saturday was wet and about 19 degrees. This Saturday was gloriously sunny and 31.

Everyone gets given a floatie as part of the ticket. This year they were sting-rays, which my 5yo was very excited about (he loves all sea creatures). In previous years it was a turtle. I rigged up a “waterproof camera” using my old phone and a plastic ziplock bag, so apologies that some pics are a little blurry.

Floating through the city, filled with nervous excitement, grappling with my silly camera, I think I almost forgot to enjoy myself at first. It’s funny, you know. I love water and swimming and I’m a good swimmer, and yet my worst nightmares (as in real, sleeping nightmares) involve tidal waves. Growing up in Australia, my parents taught me to Never Turn Your Back on the Sea. I have a love/fear/healthy respect relationship with water, I guess. Anyway, I finally relaxed about halfway along. The current through the city was not particularly strong and the participants were nicely spaced out. One of the reasons I adore Zurich is for events like this is there’s enough people to feel buzzy but it’s not horribly crowded (I can only imagine how rammed and unsafe-feeling an event like this would be in London!) The river is not particularly cold at this time of year – it flows out of Lake Zurich, which is a balmy 21-25 degrees in summer. Even so, by the end of the nearly-one-hour swim I was a bit chilly, and welcomed the cups of hot, sweet tea they gave out! My friend’s husband and son followed us by road the whole time and took some great pics (in the slideshow) and my husband and kids waited near the end to wave us on (you have to be 12+ to participate in the Limmatschwim). I was on such a high afterwards, I just kept looking at all the photos and couldn’t get to sleep until nearly midnight!

Doing an event like this, such a Swiss/Zurich thing, really makes me feel anchored to this place. I have to take a moment to reflect how far I’ve come from my miserable, lonely first-year in Zurich to rounding off this wonderful third summer here by floating through town on a simply stunning afternoon with friends and family in attendance.

This summer in Zuri has been pretty wonderful in general. We’ve had loads of visitors; from random people passing through town and meeting up for just a few hours to a whole week of my brother and sister-in-law staying right around the corner. We’ve done some great things, which I’d like to note, just to remind myself when I read this back in the months/years to come:

MOUNTAINS CLIMBED: Rigi and Pilatus

FESTIVALS and EVENTS: The once-every-three-years Züri Fäscht, Zurich Street Parade (well sort of, we were in town early in the day swimming at Mythenquai so we caught some of the vibe), August 1/Swiss National Day fireworks (just a local celebration setting of a few poppers with friends), our 5yo’s Indianerfest to celebrate the end of the school year, the Dolder Classic vintage car show and, of course, Limmatschwimmen 2016

SWAM IN: Lake Zurich, Lake Geneva, Evian pool, Thonon-le-Bains pool, the River Töss, the Oeschinensee, Limmat River, Thermalbad Zurich, Novum spa Baden, Baden Freibad, Freibad Allenmoos (our local). I love all the swimming here!

With September fast approaching and the kids back at school /starting nursery, it feels like summer’s just about over now, but it’s certainly finished on a high!

Swimming in the Oeschinensee

Swimming in the Oeschinensee – have you seen enough pics of me in bathers yet?

Advertisements

Overblown

Summer heat

And old friends

drift out and in

shimmering, floating through my life again

carrying currents of warm air

caressing my skin

loosening my brain

Happiness, basking

in gentle-fierce friend-fire

banked round my heart

shored up for colder times

And we swim together

spraying drops of clear water

quenching a soul-parched dry

refreshed and clarified by

your shining eyes

seeing far below the surface

soul-deep, I gaze fondly back

But passing fast and lovely

vibrant summertime blooms

fleeting, beautiful, bounty

against blue, blue skies

And silvery moons…

Your tongues speak treasures

licking my loneliness

clean as a groomed feline

As worlds collide, combine

enfolding my family in kindness

While two little boys delight

in simple joys of a new friend, who’s an old one

Held in sweet stasis, so brief

the heady, overblown, ridiculous emotion

of high-summer moments

A funny thing happened on the way down Bahnhofstrasse…

Ok so it's not Bahnhofstrasse...

Ok so it’s not Bahnhofstrasse…

I’ve lived in Switzerland for 2.5 years now. Things have got easier.

I had this feeling a while ago when I had a random hour or two to spend along Bahnhofstrasse and I ended up chatting to a stylish shop assistant in one of the fancier places for 10 minutes – we had a basic conversation mostly auf Deutsch just about our kids and that my eldest is almost perfect in Schweizerdeutsch and how when she lived in Lausanne for a few years, she wasn’t much good on the French but her kids were experts etc. I didn’t buy anything (it was all Moschino-level stuff, eek) but I left feeling like I’d gained an extra layer of confidence.

Today I overheard a conversation in a hotel where the lady asked for a black tea and the maître d’ said it was available at the breakfast buffet. Small, basic exchanges but I am understanding them.

My own German is still pretty bad – I lack confidence so I say things quietly and tend to mutter, which doesn’t help me OR the person I’m talking to. Then there’s pronunciation problems – I requested Ibuprofen in a pharmacy yesterday, saying it in my Australian way: “Eye-buprofen”. The assistant looked puzzled, until my friend chimed in with “Ih-buprofen” – A-ha! Then telling the same friend (who is Swiss-French) about a feature I’m writing that mentions Crans-Montana there was a moment…. “oh Crhuns-Montana!” (put on your best French). I will amend my pronunciation of this one from now on. Although there’s a certain appeal to Craaaans maaayte!

Anyway, here’s 11 things I am loving about my life in Switzerland right now

  1. More German conversations. Despite the fact I’m still pretty crap at German, more people seem to continue speaking to me in the language now (rather than switching to English), which must mean I’m improving.
  2. I’ve often theorised that the Swiss are the goths of Europe – rebels who like rules, smart, stylish (in their own way), intellectually arrogant, frugal but willing to spend where they see value, difficult and snobby-seeming (which can be basic shyness) but generally worth it when you get to know them. In this respect, I am not intimidated (mostly!) and I kinda “get” Switzerland/the Swiss
  3. My mum and my best friend who visited recently both said as an aside – “You should stay.” Women whose opinions I value.
  4. Wellness – a revelation. I used to think the whole idea was a bit wack but I’m a total convert.Wellness is a big thing - there's even a permanent sign directing you to the wellness hotel district in Baden.
  5. Frühstück / Brunch. They bring coffee then you go help yourself at the buffet. Ticks so many boxes.
  6. Swimming. There’s sooo much swimming here, and there’s water everywhere! Lakes, rivers, fountains. I love it. Although I do miss the ocean…
  7. Mountains. Also a recent conversion. So pretty and picturesque. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. I’m living in a postcard.
    picture-postcard views
  8. Church bells and shopping hours. After you get used to the bells ringing every quarter hour and the shops being shut on Sundays, it’s more a case of why doesn’t this happen everywhere? Shopping as a leisure activity is kind of horrible (although I do enjoy it and miss it). I like the enforced family time of Sundays and the bells… well… you do get used to them and I appreciate quaint old-fashionedy things.
  9. The sky. There’s these beautiful skies in Switzerland… after the grey of London, the skies here are wonderful.
    mountain
  10. We’re mostly happy here – the kids like their school and daycare, Himself is getting into hiking and cycling, the politics are OK (not that we have any influence), the pace of life is less hectic than London or Sydney.
  11. On a similar note, it feels like there’s time to explore some creative pursuits. I really want to see where this poetry thing might lead and I think I have the space to do it here.

 

I really hope we can stay.

Me diving into the Zurichsee. Photo: Katy Albany

Me diving into the Zurichsee. Photo: Katy Albany

More postcard views...

More postcard views…

20160525_155046

… and pretty skies

Diving board

Photo: Markus Spiske

Photo: Markus Spiske

 

I remember jumping off the high diving board

Even climbing up there was kinda scary

The ladder smooth, shinysilver and solid yet somehow light and insubstantial like it was only a few degrees stronger than aluminium foil

Each step stippled with cheesegrater-style divots (not sharp)

The texture of the board: fine sandpaper, grainy, grippy, damp

The colour of the board: light blue

You knew what it looked like from below too – the simple framework of parallel lines, scalloped with rows of water drops

Climbing back down was not an option

Or rather, it was

But how clumsy you’d feel – an inversion of the natural order

Chest flooding with relief for one glorious moment before the tincture of stupid disappointment taints you, everyone can see it

But I was remembering jumping off!

Standing up there, the insubstantial board underneath you, nothing either side

An almost out-of-body sense of how small you looked. How small you actually were

I guess I was around nine or ten?

It’s quiet up there, although you can hear everything

The blue hum and splash of the municipal swim centre

Coaches below blow whistles over the lanes and call out “now six laps freestyle”

Above, on the high board, is your own little world

You’re a soloist; centre-stage

but no one’s watching, not really

OK – maybe that kid over there. No, he’s looked away.

You glance back to your brother, waiting his turn, shivering at the top of the ladder. “Go On!”

Warm flumes of chlorine fumes wafting around

A mysterious coldish breeze on your wet legs

So you jump and faaaallllll

The feeling of your body hurtling down through the air

It would pull your arms out unless you held them really firm by your sides or above your head

Airborne for only a few moments

Not especially graceful

Smacking into the water, feet first

Spa-effect of blue and white bubbles as you plunge down

No way would you hit the bottom

That diving pool was really deep

10 metres?

(The bottom of the pool angled steeply down from the lanes section

You could swim down and follow the slope – the water becoming deeper blue

I remember one time two guys in scuba gear sat on the bottom corner of the diving pool for a game of underwater chess

A stunt I guess. It was long before Youtube. But I digress…)

I did it, I jumped off that high board. And so did my brother James.

And now I see those same kids as us jumping of the high board at our local pool

They’re Swiss kids but it’s the same

One day my sons will want to do it too

They’ll know that fear-churned-with-excitement

And find out how it feels to climb the ladder and screw up your courage and walk out there and it seems so much higher than when you look up from pool level, oh-oh

How it feels to fall through the air and crack through that smooth palette of blue water

No way would they hit the bottom

And the sense of achievement: not maybe as amazing as you’d think, but you’ve done it

Perhaps one of them will ask me if I want jump too, or if I ever did? And I’ll say sure…

I remember

 

Today’s National/Global Poetry Writing Month prompt/challenge was to write a poem based on things you remember. Try to focus on specific details, and don’t worry about whether the memories are of important events, or are connected to each other. 

Where the light gets in

These summer mornings

The sun hits the outside corner of the bedroom

Its lighthot fingers poking in

Through chinks in the curtains and shutters

Making a dot pattern here

and slanting slabs of liquid yellowwhite light there

The warmth!

It reminds me of something

Is it my grandparents’ house for Christmas holidays?

Those little wooden beds in the room I shared with James

Floral coverlets with machined-diamond stitching, and fuzzy wool blankets with those satin edges — both pushed to the floor on hot nights.

Nana made us breakfast

The oriental tin full of her home-made museli. The dry smell of oats and apricots

Perfectly flecked Vegemite on hot buttered toast

The noise of the planes flying over, shaking the summer morning air.

Or is it holiday houses in MacRae?

Houses rented or owned by my friends’ parents, or someone’s Aunty Dot, or Alison’s sister.

That same feeling of waking in a warm room with my brother

not having needed more than a sheet overnight

The languid feeling of summer holidays

Knowing I’ll swim today.

 

 

Feeling better

This place was opposite the Babyhaus store. S*x toys, tupperware, vitamins and everything else a new parent needs!

This place was opposite the Babyhaus store. S*x toys, tupperware, vitamins and everything else a new parent needs!

There’s been rather a  lot of doom and gloom on here so I’m trying to do some more cheerful posts! I had a good day on Friday. Maybe even… somewhat of a breakthrough?

First of all I had my “slacker” German class (it’s back on after 5 weeks’ holiday) and I’m enjoying seeing my fellow students again. Plus, since I’ve sneakily been doing the semi-intensive German course during the break, I am suddenly the dux of the class! (in my semi-intensive class I mostly feel like a dunce). Going back also made me realise that I have learnt lots of German in my six months here. There is tons more to learn of course, but it’s nice to be reminded of the progress I’ve made. From a standing start too!

In the afternoon I had a message from a friend saying she’s up at Bad Allenmoos outdoor swimming pool with her daughter. Her text came at that moment all parents of young children will recognise: mid-afternoon just when you’re wondering WTF are we going to do to get through the next few hours until dinner? So we packed our togs and went – it was not super hot but a lovely sunny afternoon and P adores the water. He’s pretty good with the “swimming” in his rubber ring too :). My friend’s husband also showed up and distracted the kids so we could have a decent natter. Win!

Then, on the way home, I ran into one of the few other people I know in Zurich and we had a nice chat. Amazing how a chance meeting can suddenly make you feel connected and like everything is right with the world. Hey, maybe this is gonna work out OK after all!? I reckon this is also a previously unthought-of benefit of moving to a small town – the more people I am friends with here, the more likely I am to see them. Watch this space for when I start to complain that I can’t go anywhere without running into someone I know. ha ha ha

On the weekend we headed out to the big baby/kids store Babyhaus Wehrli and I had the smug joy of givin’ it straight to some newbie, expectant parents who were buggy shopping: “Don’t worry about the second kid you might have down the track, just get the stroller you want now! You’ll probably get a different one once the kid turns six months anyway.” Ahhh they must have thought I was a know-all cow. But it’s nice to feel like a slight expert in sOMETHIng.

I’ve also been cooking and baking a bit, which is satisfying. Food, especially eating out and/or takeaway, is so pricey here, you really have to cook more often. I do quite enjoy it but I hate feeling like I HAVE to do it. Lately it hasn’t seemed like a chore though so I’ll chalk that up as another Good Thing.

A few more small Good Things About Switzerland that I may not have mentioned:

* When I was a few rappen short on my shopping a few weeks ago, the lady at the supermarket waved it off – bring it next time. That would never happen in London

* Yesterday when I ran for the tram, the driver waited and even opened the back door for me as I panted up to it!

* Every time HI takes P to the farmers market, stall owners give him freebies – an apple, a tiny bag of fresh pasta fur Kinder, etc. So nice.

* It is like the 1980s here – I love the fact that kids still walk to school and there’s not a load of OH&S signs on everything

* There’s two suburbs called Pfaffikon within coo-ee of Zurich as well as Dietikon and Dietlikon, both of the latter have an IKEA

 

Things I don’t miss about London

London. Photo: Claire Doble

I said I’d write this at some point after I posted my Things I’ll Miss About London entry but it seemed a little negative. However, since HI’s back in the UK capital for a conference today, and it’s also two weeks (! only 2 weeks?!) since we packed up our house in Tottenham,  it got me thinking about:

What I don’t miss about London…

  • Swimming Pools All the pools in London are sh*t. Sorry to be harsh but it is true. They are small – usually 25 or 33m ( I heard this is so three lengths is 100m?). There are only two (2!) 50m pools in London and one is outdoors, although heated. As a keen swimmer from a country that is lazy with pools as well as the ocean, I really missed being able to swim easily and pleasantly in London. Zurich has 24 pools for roughly 400,00 people and this week I visited and swam at the Oerlikon Hallenbad. It was great. Like an Aussie pool. Hallelujah!. Of course there may be decent pools in London I never checked out because:
  • Commuting How to convey the terror / boredom / thrill? / anxiety / enforced psychopathic detachment of commuting to work with literally hundreds of thousands of other human beings using a straining-at-the-seams transport system in a megalopolis like London? Unless you’ve done it, you cannot comprehend. If you have, you know what I mean. It’s no wonder it’s often said that one of the top 10 things things that make you happier is a shorter commute to work. In the same vein:
  • John Lewis I know, I know. I love it too… or I thought I did. But somehow that whole Oxford Street ugliness thing, the stress, the busy-ness, the horror, the horror. And the competitive shopping vibe – the fact that shopping is kinda regarded as an enjoyable leisure activity for the family? No.
  • Chicken bones on the street. Along with every other bit of crud, litter, fly-tipped matresses, dog mess etcetera. Disgusting. Nobody cares. London is too big for anyone to have civic pride. HI is often saying London became a world power because of dirt (I think it’s from Peter Ackroyd’s London biography – something about the fact Londoners were too busy working/trading to wash and it’s led to their success and resilience). And I get it – it’s a strength too and the advantage of the huge/uncaring thing is that it means people aren’t all up in your sh*t. But it does wear you down. One time I saw a guy empty his catheter into the gutter at the corner of my street. For reals.
  • English Culture People talk about the stiff upper lip, but en masse, I find English culture can be mawkishly sentimental and soft! They love animals, there’s polite passive aggression, crazy class inequalities, Ant & Dec, plinky-plonky music and “every little helps”.  Aw bless, I love them really. And now I have a whole new culture to cringe at.
  • Tottenham. I want to say I miss it, I’d love to say I loved it, but I don’t and I can’t. I tried really hard to convince everyone – mostly myself – that I did. But it sucks. And a lot of this is due to Haringey Council… ugh. On bad days, Tottenham is a stark example of a combination of all the things I’ve outlined above. On good days, you don’t notice so much. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the challenge and I know some truly wonderful people who live there but I do not miss the area and I don’t know if I ever will. I’m sorry.