Friday, December 30

Year 2005 in Cities

Since moving to live in Europe, we have been taking advantage of the cheap flights and mass of nearby destinations available to us. Inspired by Jason Kottke's post The year in cities, here is the list of cities I spent one or more nights in during 2005.

Adelaide, Australia
Melbourne, Australia
Geneva, Switzerland
Zurich, Switzerland
Venice, Italy
Paris, France
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
London, UK
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Galway, Ireland
Killarney, Ireland
Kilkenny, Ireland
Dublin, Ireland
Zermatt, Switzerland
St Moritz, Switzerland
Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Lucerne, Switzerland
New York, USA
Skopje, Macedonia

Peter's list is almost the same, except with Brisbane and Luxembourg instead of Tashkent and New York.

This is, without a doubt, the most traveling I have ever done in a year. However, I'm sure many of you (such as the 23 Australians I know who came through Geneva on holiday this year!) will have much more impressive lists. Let's see them then!

Tuesday, December 27

Hitting the Slopes

Peter and Jess pre-skiing lessonWe survived our first go at skiing in Switzerland! After 2 hours of learning what is meant to be the easiest form of skiing, cross-country, we were tired but enthusiastic. Peter got the prize for the most improved, and the best at getting up after falling down. Simon dreaming of trying snowboarding instead of boring old cross-countrySimon and I took to it quite quickly, with only a couple of falls or stumbles. Simon did a pretty good job of masking his boredom, whilst looking longingly over at the snowboarding school.

Brettaye was our resort of choice and the slopes were packed with downhill skiers and snowboarders (definitely not a cross-country skiers paradise). Our instructor, Michael, was excellent - very patient and helpful. Now we have a grasp of the basics, it's time to buy some skis and get out to practice! Zydre, Eddie, Dean, Peter and Simon take a late afternoon stroll

Christmas day was great. We spent it with the lovely Pembers, who welcomed us into their home for Xmas with their family and friends. One of the many highlights has to be last night's dinner, when we all went on sleds, pulled by a snowmobile, through the falling snow, to a fantastic Peter, Zydre and Bob at Xmas lunchrestaurant. An incredible and memorable experience for all of us.

Sunday, December 25

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas! It's about 2 degrees here in Geneva and the snow has just started falling. We are about to head up to the mountains for lunch with another Australian family. Tomorrow we'll have our first skiing lesson!

Joyeux Noel et une bonne annee 2006!

Friday, December 23

Ciao Bella!

Claire and JessDuring Claire's last weekend visiting us, she took us out for a scrumptious dinner at Auberge des Trois Coqs (our favourite local restaurant). It was a special night with a small band playing downstairs and lots of atmosphere.

On the Saturday, she and I went into Geneva for some pre-Christmas shopping, lunch and sight-seeing. The shops were packed with people, but we managed to squeeze through the crowds to get our last minute gifts, and buy each other some earrings (Claire got gorgeous little snowflake ones).

Claire in the snow
We climbed the towers of St Peter's Cathedral in Geneva Old Town, up some very narrow spiral staircases, to see the lovely view over the city and lake. It was a bit overcast, the view would be even more stunning on a clear sunny day. See Claire pictured on the balcony of the north tower, just as light snow started falling.

On Sunday, we went driving through the Jura mountains, which was covered in a thick blanket of snow. It's a very picturesque drive from the warmth and comfort of the car. Driving in the JuraToo cold to get out! This is the area we hope to go cross-country skiing. There are many kilometres of trails to choose from.

Once home again, I cooked soup and roast turkey for Christmas lunch a few days early. I must say, it was pretty damn good! I even made stuffing for the first time and that worked out very well. The French champagne was also very nice.

Roast Turkey lunch

Thursday, December 22

Catch up

Time to play a bit of catch up with this website! Since I last wrote we have:

  • been visited by friends Kerrie and Bob;
  • been to celebrate Geneva's l'Escalade;
  • Peter spent a week working as an 'Invited Expert' at a statistics meeting here in Geneva;
  • spent another week with Claire after she returned from her whirlwind tour of Europe;
  • driven Claire to Zurich yesterday to catch her plane to Singapore then Australia;
  • returned from Zurich with son Simon who is visiting for 3 weeks

As you can see, a lot has been happening and I can't believe it's Christmas on Sunday.

Kerrie & BobFirstly our weekend with Kerrie and Bob was spent having a moules and frites dinner in nearby France (yum), market shopping on Saturday morning, spending a freezing cold afternoon/evening at l'Escalade and then a nice Sunday drive in the snow covered Jura.

L'Escalade is an annual event in Geneva celebrating the defeat of the Duke of Savoy's forces when they attacked Geneva in 1602. It is celebrated with lots of vin chaud (hot wine) and lovely soup, reminiscent of the boiling cauldron of soup that was tipped on the heads of Savoyard soldiers by a clever woman.

l'EscaladeThe old town comes alive with heaps of people dressed in period costume (some on horseback like the guy on the left), pipe bands, sword fights, cannon explosions and a general party atmosphere. Pity it was about -5 degrees!

The following Thursday, Claire returned from her tour with senses overload, having visited 8 countries in 12 days. She had a great time, but I think was pleased that it was over and there was no need to get up and on a bus at 6.30 again.

ClaireWe spent her second week here doing a bit of shopping, relaxing, checking out the old town (including climbing the cathedral tower) and having a special Xmas lunch, roast turkey and all. Yesterday Peter drove her to Zurich airport (3 hours away) where he exchanged her for young Simon who arrived about 2 hours before Claire was due to depart. Perfect timing!

Simon was very excited to be here and see his dear Dad again. When I got home from work he was asleep on the couch - exhausted from the 36 hours of travel it takes to get here from Adelaide. I, and probably the roast lamb Peter was dishing up for dinner, managed to rouse him from sleep and we had a great time catching up on all the news. He and Peter visited me at work this morning and we took Simon on a quick tour of the Palais. Tonight I think we are having fondue as it's perfect weather for this - ie freezing.

Saturday, December 3

Claire Arrives

Claire tobogganingMy sister Claire arrived last week for her first visit to Europe. After a good night's sleep to recover from any jet lag, we dragged her up into the mountains to try out our new sled. That's her tearing down the hill in the photo!

During the week she visited the Chateau de Chillon at Montreux, did the tour of the UN and spent time exploring Geneva. We've been out for dinner at the local Korean restaurant and she and I hit the shops at Balexert on Thursday night.

She's now off on a Contiki tour for 12 days and will be back to stay with us for another week after that. We're looking forward to hearing about her travels to Amsterdam, Munich, Innsbruck, Venice, Rome, Florence, Lucerne, Paris and London. Wow!!

Sunday, November 27

Snow in Geneva

Jess walks to work in the snowWell, the first snow of winter hit Geneva on Thursday night - about 10cms of it. This was most unexpected as we were told it doesn't usually snow here before Xmas. It seems that there's been a pattern of freak weather ever since we arrived!

It was so nice to step outside and find this carpet of clean white snow. We still walked to work, all rugged up in coats and gloves. It was cold, but very still and the fresh snow hardly even made our shoes wet. I'll have to get some decent walking boots so I can get some grip up killer hill.

Killer HillClick here for more of our 'snow' photos on Flickr.


Old Skopje Railway StationLast week it was off one plane and onto the next, this time to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. I was going for work and Peter came along as well. We were there for 4 days - just enough time to look around the city. Macedonia is a small country with a population of about 3 million people. It has a troubled economy with unemployment currently around 37%. Skopje is the most populated area and the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1963. The partially remaining railway station bears monument to the event, with its clock still frozen at 5.17pm.

View of Skopje from the FortThe people I worked with were lovely, very welcoming and committed to their work. The country has applied to join the European Union, so agencies are busying themselves with bringing work practices in line with EU standards.

A day or two after we got there it started to snow, the first snow we've seen since arriving in Geneva last March. Peter trudged around in it and took lots of photos.

View from Skopje HotelSkopje has quite a few modern shops, bars and restaurants, but its problems were evident in the crumbling footpaths, unfinished buildings and the number of old cars on the road. The prices of food and clothing were about 25% of Geneva prices and we enjoyed trying the local food - stroganoff style casseroles with rice and vegies. The Macedonian red wine was pretty good too.

Saturday, November 26

New York

I spent the last week at head-quarters in New York, attending an orientation course for 'junior' professionals. The picture on the left shows the view from the ladies' bathroom!

The course was a great opportunity to meet other people and learn a bit more about the organisation. New York is as exciting and huge as I remember from my first visit last March. The main differences this time were the autumn colours in Central Park and the slightly warmer weather.

I used the trip as a chance to catch up on some shopping (slightly cheaper than Geveva) and go to a Broadway show. The show was called Movin' Out - a dance musical set to 24 of Billy Joel's songs. It was different to what I expected, in that there was no dialogue (just dancing and the band), but it was excellent.

Since my last visit the cost of rooms seems to have doubled so I decided to stay in the West Side YMCA. It was a great location (adjacent Central Park), but with a shared bathroom 2 kms down the hall and paint peeling from the walls, it was almost comfortable! At US$70 a night it was cheap for New York. See the photo on the right for my mini-view of Central Park.

Saturday, November 12


FortificationsI (Peter) visited Luxembourg to attend a meeting at Eurostat as part of my work for the UN and Jess has given me a rare opportunity to post this blog entry.

Luxembourg is a seriously small country - its entire population is less than half that of Adelaide. It borders Belgium (don't dare call Luxembourgeans, Belgian!!) and it couldn't think of a name for its capital - so it called the city Luxembourg.

Place Guillame IIIt oozes wealth and cleanliness and is beautifully European. Luckily I had time to walk around the city, including its old town in its late autumn splendor and with hardly a tourist in sight.

I visited the history museum where I saw a rather confronting exhibition "the Grand Pillage" about the stealing of art and other artifacts by the Nazis in World War 2 (Luxembourg was annexed by Germany in 1940 and liberated in 1944).

Excuses, Excuses

It's been very busy here and I'm afraid I've been neglecting to update this blog! No one's been complaining though, so perhaps our loyal readers have been busy too!?

Chateau de ChillonRecent news is the visit we had from Sandy and Peter (friends from Port Elliot) last weekend. They had been touring around Greece, Italy and Switzerland before they arrived in Geneva for a 3 day visit.

On the Friday it was a public holiday. We left Peter home working (he is busy with a couple of UN contracts) and headed off on the famous chocolate factory tour. I was the first opportunity I've had to go as I'm usually the one working! Unfortunately, the factory tours were closed for the winter season, so I still haven't seen it. Good news for my waistline though!

Peter and SandyAfter the failed visit to Cailler, we went to see the chateau at Gruyeres and that was very nice. On the way home we also stopped at the Chateau de Chillon and the Olympic Museum - it was a jam-packed day! Sandy and Peter went off the Paris on the TGV the next morning, where they were spending 6 days before heading home via Singapore.

Saturday, October 29

Train Tour of Switzerland

Gornergrat overlooking the MatterhornWe spent Mum & Dad's last week here on a fantastic train trip around Switzerland. With our first class tickets in hand, we headed off from our local train station to our first destination: Zermatt.

Switzerland in Autumn is absolutely stunning, and with clear blue skies on 6 out of the 7 days, the weather couldn't have been better. Our afternoon in Zermatt was spent taking the railway up to Gornergrat at 3089 metres.

Switzerland in AutumnThe next day was the long (9.5 hours) but wonderful train journey to St Moritz on the Glacier Express, one of Switzerland's famous panoramic railways. Despite the gentle rocking of the train and the sunlight streaming through the windows, we all resisted napping in order to keep our eyes on the spectacular views. Train enthusiasts would have a greater appreciation for the incredible way the railway twists and loops up the valley to St Moritz.

Glacier ExpressArriving at 7pm, we decided to spend two nights in St Moritz to give us a chance to explore the place the following day. Most things were closing for a break between the summer and winter seasons, but we managed to find a interesting museum, then had lunch in a restaurant on a mountain top overlooking the town. We followed this with a much-needed 1.5 hour walk through the forest back to our apartment.

Walking in LiechtensteinThe next day it was off on the train again to Liechtenstein, a tiny country (26 x 12 kms) between Switzerland and Austria. We stayed in the quaint capital, Vaduz (population 5,000) and enjoyed a walk up a steep hill to look at the Vaduz castle, home of their head of state: Prince Hans-Adam II; and his family. We didn't spot any royals though!

Next destination was Zurich, Switzerland's largest city. We decided to keep our visit here to just a few hours, enough time to visit the Zurich Zoo (great!) and then head down to the beautiful city of Luzern, where we stayed for two nights. One of the things I was keen to do was take the cog railway up Mt Pilatus. The railway is the steepest of its kind in the world with a gradient of 48%, but this is nothing compared with what you see from the top. The Swiss AlpsThe views were the truly unbelievable! The sounds of a woman singing and a Swiss horn echoing across the mountains really topped it off.

After a great time in Luzern, we arrived back in Geneva on Thursday afternoon - enough time for Mum & Dad to organise their packing in preparation for flying home on Friday. They would still be in the air as I type this, about 4 hours away from Adelaide after 32 hours of travelling. It was very sad to see them go - it's such a pity Australia is soooo far away and they can't just pop over anytime!!
View over Luzern from Mt Pilatus
Click here for all pics on Flickr of Mum & Dad's visit.

Dee & Ian Visit

Sue and Dee in FerneyDuring Mum & Dad's stay we also had a visit from my auntie Dee and uncle Ian. They were at the end of an 8 week tour of Europe, taking in places such as Slovenia, Czech Republic, UK, Switzerland and others. It was great to hear of their travels and following their recommendation, Slovenia has now edged up on our priority list as a place to visit.

Whilst here, the girls (Dee, Mum and me) hit the shops including the markets at Ferney. See Mum and Dee pictured outside a lovely patisserie after we purchased a calorific and yummy afternoon tea.

Dinner at the Trois CoqsOn the Saturday night we went to dinner at the Trois Coqs, a small restaurant within walking distance from our place. It was a fantastic evening. The restaurant was lovely, excellent food and service, and of course great company!

Tuesday, October 11

A Fine Time

View from far north of Northern IrelandWe're back after 9 days of driving around the beautiful Emerald Isle (click here for all photos). Ireland is a great place - friendly people, non-smoking pubs, Guinness, neolithic sites, dry-stone walls, castles, peat bog, rolling green pastures and suprisingly, very little rain. The weather was not as beautiful as the clear Autumn days we're now getting in Geneva, but apart from making me want to eat big bowls of Irish stew every day (which I did only once), it really didn't affect our holiday.
Peter at Staigue Fort
This trip was my first experience staying in B&B's and there was certainly no shortage of choice. We had only booked our first night's accommodation, leaving us the freedom to decide when and where we wanted to stop for the night. Being off-season there were virtually no problems finding a room. The highlight was the lovely house we rented for three nights in Killarney. After eating a hot breakfast for 9 days in a row, it will be a while before I want to see any more eggs or bacon! I won't mention the black and white pudding.

Mum & Dad at Ladies' View, Co. KerryDad did all the driving, and with the help of our GPS (and three wonderful passengers!), he did a brilliant job of navigating around the country. The roads were challenging - narrow and bumpy, but not too busy. We started off in Northern Ireland, landing in Belfast then driving north to the Giant's Causeway the next morning. From there we headed west to Donegal and drove anti-clockwise around Ireland through Ballina, Belmullet, Galway, Killarney, Waterford, Kilkenny, Dublin and back to Belfast.
Jess & Peter in Dublin
It's back to work for me now, whereas Mum and Dad have headed off to Paris for a couple of days. Peter is back on the tennis court and bike riding while the weather lasts.

Friday, September 30

Mum & Dad Arrive

Mum & Dad at the UNMy Mum & Dad got here last Friday - it's so nice to see them! We spent most of last week showing them around Geneva and of course Peter took them on his standard chocolate tour to Broc and Gruyeres. Yesterday they went up to Bern on the train for a day trip. They are enjoying themselves!

Tonight we're off to Belfast for the start of our Northern Ireland & Ireland holiday. We'll be hiring a car and driving around the coast for the next 9 days. This will be the first visit there for all of us and we're really looking forward to it!

Monday, September 26

Lake Thun

Jess with the pigsWe recently went to visit Lake Thun in Central Switzerland for the weekend. Lakes Thun and Brienz are side by side with the town of Interlaken in the middle - about two hours drive from Geneva. The weather was not great but we were able to enjoy views of the countryside from the warmth of our car.

Peter found a nice hotel in Kattigren called Hotel Seeblick, which as it's name means in German, has fanstastic views over the lake. The highlight of our weekend was a visit to Ballenberg - an open air museum near Brienz. It's set in a beautiful forest and features nearly 100 houses/buildings from all over Switzerland. They have all been painstakingly deconstructed, transported, then reconstructed at Ballenberg. The different architecture mirrors the diversity of cultures that exists in Switzerland, and there are demonstrations of craft and building methods to show what it was like living here 100s of years ago.

Here are some photos on Flickr.

Monday, September 12

London Calling

Houses of ParliamentLast weekend was a long one so we popped over to London on EasyJet, as you do. It was was my first visit there and Peter's first in 27 years. The flight cost us about $150 each - what a bargain!

I loved the city and we had great weather (most of the time). We did the usual sightseeing: a 'hop on hop off' double decker bus tour of the city, cruise on the Thames, visit to the Tower of London, a couple of museums, walked through Kensington Gardens and went to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical called 'The Woman in White'.

It was nice to be in an English speaking country again and we took advantage of the opportunity to stock up on some books. Park LaneThe Woman in White was a fantastic show - the story, music and performances were great, but especially the use of computer imagery and a rotating circular stage to create an amazing set. We definately recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

Our first experience of the Underground was a memorable one. Still reeling from having to pay 2 pounds each for a single trip, we clamoured on board the small, stuffy train, only to be evacuated due to a security alert at Westminster. We then had to sprint across the city on foot to get to our boat tour. We foolishly walked right through the area where there were problems. Police were huddled in big groups, some with machine guns, and some bloke was being questioned and complaining very loudly. Without knowing what the city was like before, the heightened security was pretty evident in most places.

Peter next to John the Giant's armourOur accommodation was really nice. It was called Beit Hall and is student residence at the Imperial College, which doubles as a hotel during uni holidays. The location (South Kensington) was fantastic and the rooms comfortable. At 40 pounds per night for an ensuite room, including cooked breakfast, we were very happy campers!

All in all it was a great trip. If you're interested, there are more photos on Flickr.

Sunday, September 4

Chez Gardner

It's been a busy summer at Chez Gardner, with many Australians dropping in for a visit whilst on their European holidays. We've really enjoyed their pleasant company and while I'm working hard at the office, Peter has the opportunity to hone his tour guide skills. The many visits to the shop at the Cailler chocolate factory are not helping our waistlines!

Last week Peter and Margaret, lovely friends of Peter's from his Canberra days, came to stay for a couple of nights. Despite the long flight from Australia, they arrived full of energy and we headed off to the UN Beach Club for dinner. The next day Peter took them on the obligatory chocolate factory tour, which they really enjoyed.

As well as entertain, we have been continuing to play tennis, go bike riding (see our other website) and I still manage to fit in time to work. The office has been quite busy with people now back from their summer break. Soon I will start getting involved in planning my first meeting (more like a conference really) which looks like being held in the US next year.

Thursday, August 25

Central Switzerland Underwater

You may have heard on the news that torrential rain has caused severe floods and landslides in Switzerland and other parts of Europe. This photo, courtesy of another Flickr user (jr++), was taken in or near Bern, the Swiss capital.

All is fine in Geneva, but elsewhere in Switzerland at least four people have been killed and thousands evacuated. The main areas affected are in the central and north eastern parts of the country, with damage estimated to be around 500 million francs. These before and after photos from the BBC news website will give you an idea of the water level compared to what is usual for this time of year.

Monday, August 22

A trip to the Swiss Capital

Pru & Jess in main market st of Bern

Last weekend saw our first trip to Switzerland's lovely capital Bern, about a 1.5 hr drive from Geneva. We were joined by Pru, a former colleague of Jess's, who was visiting us for a few days during her travels around Europe.

Our drive was guided by Jess's new GPS unit, complete with turn-by-turn voice instructions. Although the voice got a bit annoying, it was very effective in directing us from A to B and finding points of interest.

Swiss National ParliamentBern is a very nice city, with the medieval Old Town recognised as a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site, and over 6kms of covered shopping arcades. The rainy weather and limited time prevented us from seeing many of the major attractions, but we'll be back! We achieved our main aim of doing a tour of the National Parliament (pictured). It's an impressive building and we were given an interesting overview of the Swiss political system.

Pumpkin StallAfter the tour we headed back to Geneva, via Neuchatel, where there is yet another lake. This seems to be the vegetable growing region of Switzerland and we were thrilled to come across a roadside stall selling pumpkins. These have been out of season since we arrived and impossible to buy. Peter made pumpkin soup today - yum!

Monday, August 15

Fireworks in Geneva

Originally uploaded by Athos99 Genève.

This weekend saw the conclusion of the annual Fêtes de Genève, which has been running since 4 August. The main event of the festival is the Saturday night fireworks that are blasted from the banks of Lake Geneva.

We started the evening off with a BBQ at our place with our US friends (Linda, Jason and 16 m.o. Hadley), who brought along their Finnish neighbours, who brought along their visiting Finnish cousins. They were all really nice people and we had a great time.

At about 9.30 we realised we'd better get a move on if we were to make it into Geneva to see the fireworks starting at 10pm. Our walk into town takes about 30 mins, so we got to the banks of the lake shortly after it started. It was very spectacular and went for ages (about an hour in total). Apparently they use 500 tonnes of fireworks! I'd hate to think how much is spent on them. You can buy tickets for 30-50 francs to sit in the best viewing spots, so I guess that helps offset the costs.

Next year I think we should follow our neighbour's example and watch them from one of the many boats out on the lake. Fantastique!

Thursday, August 11

Swiss Style

The longer we spend here, the more obvious it becomes. These Swiss really know how to live in style! The scenery is fantastic and there are so many hiking and picnic spots from which to enjoy it.

Last weekend we were invited up to Gryon with Bob & Zydre to attend a midsummer festival on Sunday. On Saturday we went on a short (2 hr) hike, followed by a lovely picnic lunch, including champagne! Later that afternoon we went to Solalex to check out some art exhibitions. This is where we came across the pictured water trough, cleverly doubling as an esky for the locals.

On Sunday it wasn't too summery, in fact snow was predicted at 3,000 m, so rather than heading up the mountain, we decided to head back down to Geneva where it was still nice and warm. Another great weekend!

Our New Cycling Website

You'll know from reading our earlier posts that we've set ourselves the task of cycling across Switzerland. Well... at least completing the 300km 'Route 1' from Geneva to Andermatt. We hope to go on to greater things, either attempting other Swiss paths, or venturing into France or Germany.

As this is a long-term project, we've created a separate site to keep track of our cycling achievements. Visit it at

You can also check out our Flickr Album for some of the beautiful scenery we've seen riding along the Rhone Valley.